For years we’ve called the Mazda6 the athlete among midsize sedans, often recommending it to new-car shoppers who need a family sedan but want something that’s fun to drive. With its nimble manners and excellent chassis, the Mazda6 put a smile on our face immediately when this latest generation of it launched in 2013. Since then it’s had multiple updates to keep it fresh inside and out.

Yet for as well as the Mazda6 sedan can take a corner, it had a notable omission:  the option of a more powerful engine. The standard 2.5-liter 4-cylinder was laudable for its efficiency and free-revving nature, but with only 184 horsepower, it can leave the driver wanting more. Mazda listened and has answered the call, giving the 2018 Mazda6 much more indeed thanks to a turbocharged engine that truly changes the nature of this vehicle.

Turbo-power boost

Mazda didn’t have to look far to find this potent power plant. The turbocharged 2.5-liter 4-cylinder that’s new to 2018 Mazda6 debuted two years ago in the Mazda CX-9 midsize SUV. As it does in that 3-row crossover, the 2.5-liter turbo-4 in the Mazda6 midsize sedan makes up to 250 horsepower. We have to add the “up to” caveat because that number comes via 93-octane premium unleaded gasoline. On regular 87-octane–on which this engine can run fine–it makes 227 horsepower. Running on 91-octane for our test, Mazda engineers told us the new Mazda6 would make a number somewhere in the middle.

Thankfully the octane rating doesn’t affect this engine’s prodigious torque. At 310 lb-ft, its low-end grunt trails only that of the voracious twin-turbo V6 Ford Fusion Sport (380 lb-ft) among mainstream midsize sedans.

Unlike some rivals, this upgraded engine isn’t confined to just one or two trims. And while it comes with a premium price over base models, it can still be had for thousands less than a rival with a V6 engine that makes comparable power. That’s because for 2018, Mazda has reshuffled the 6’s lineup across five trims. The base Sport and Touring models retain the standard, non-turbo 2.5-liter 4-cylinder, which now makes 187 horsepower, up 3 vs. last year. But the three higher trims–Grand Touring, Grand Touring Reserve, and the new topline Signature–come with the turbocharged engine.

New engine, newfound zeal

Behind the wheel, the 2018 Mazda6’s newfound gusto is immediately apparent. Acceleration is noticeably swifter. Whether from a stop or for higher-speed passing, the power is abundant. After wending the turbocharged Mazda6 from Pasadena to Southern California’s Angeles Crest highway with its ribbon of twists and turns, we couldn’t help but smile while piloting Mazda’s family sedan. With the potent new engine, the 2018 Mazda6 now feels like it has come into its own, backing up its formidable handling with power to match. As with the CX-9, the turbo power from this engine comes with little noticeable lag. Delivery is smooth, linear, and nearly immediate.

Before driving the car, a potential consequence we feared was torque steer. On paper, sending 310 lb-ft of twist to the front wheels seemed like it could result in a wrestling match with the steering wheel. Thankfully, that wasn’t the case. The torque is managed well, and torque steer was barely noticeable except for the most aggressive starts from a standstill.

Also: See the 12 Kelley Blue Book Best Buys of 2018

Speaking of steering, in general the feel is stiffer than that of rivals, which speaks to this sedan’s sportier nature. And it is what it is; there are no electronic adjustments for “comfort,” “sport” and the like. It takes a little more effort at lower speeds, but not so much that it will give you a workout. And if you’re the type of person who likes to steer with their pinky, then this probably isn’t the car for you.

As for the transmission, Mazda has retained a 6-speed automatic. Again, on paper this might seem dated compared to rivals that are using 8- and even 10-speed automatics. But Mazda’s engineers tell us the number is intentional, as it helps the engine dole out power the best way possible while still maintaining efficiency. We found the 6-speed automatic indeed works remarkably well, and its 31 mpg highway rating certainly seems realistic. Note that if you’re a manual transmission fan, one can still be had on a 2018 Mazda6 sedan, but only in base Sport form with the less-powerful engine.

Another bonus: Apple CarPlay and Android Auto

For this midcycle refresh, the latest Mazda6 receives a revamped interior. As the brand strives for more of a premium feel, the new Mazda6 Signature model is adorned with accoutrements such as Japanese hardwood inlays, ventilated front seats and supportive yet comfortable Nappa leather.

That’s all well and good, but what Mazda really needed was to finally get on board with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto integration. It’s among the last automotive brand to not offer the smartphone systems as part of its infotainment system. Thankfully that will change. Mazda said this sedan will be the first to offer CarPlay and Android Auto. But it’s not immediate, and it comes with a catch. The two systems will be standard on Touring and above trims, but won’t be available until July. At that point, if you’ve bought a 2018 Mazda6 you’ll have to take it to a dealership for the update. Mazda reps say it won’t be until December that the cars will ship from the factory with systems installed.

At this point we had the same questions many customers are asking: Will older Mazdas be able to get the upgrade, and what about other models, like the popular CX-5? Unfortunately Mazda didn’t have answers at this week’s event. “Stay tuned” seemed the words of choice. But, at long last, at least Mazda is finally getting on board with these two popular smartphone systems.

2018 Mazda6 pricing and availability

The new Mazda6 is on sale now. Including the $890 destination charge, a manual transmission Sport model starts at $22,840 (a base automatic is $23,890). The next trim up, a Touring, begins at $26,590. From there we jump to the Grand Touring, the first of the trims to include the turbocharged engine. That model starts at $30,090. The Grand Touring Reserve is $32,160, and the topline 2018 Mazda6 Signature like the one we tested starts at $35,640.

If you can do without the premium Japanese Sen wood, Ultrasuede trim and other high-end touches, we think the Grand Touring is a great choice. You’ll still get amenities like faux leather seats, dual-zone climate control and active safety features like blind-spot monitoring, lane-departure warning/lane-keep assist, radar cruise control and automatic emergency braking. Moreover, you’ll get the turbocharged heart this Mazda has always deserved.

Check out our Midsize Sedan Buyer’s Guide for a look at what’s new and what’s next.

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