Over the course of a week, I got to know our long-term 2014 Mazda6 i Touring pretty well. I didn't do anything "fun," mind you. There were no winding back roads, no long-distance tours up the coast. No, I just drove it around, went to the grocery store, took the kids to school and baseball practice. Regular ol' I-live-with-this-car stuff. The conclusion? It's a mixed bag.

Eye-catching design

I never got tired of looking at it. This is the best looking midsize family sedan you can buy, period. It puts the rest of the segment to shame, and if someone slapped a luxury badge on it and told me it cost $10,000 more than it does, I'd believe them. Getting dried off at an upscale carwash, it looked right at home alongside the Mercedes-Benz and BMW sedans nearby. The interior is very nicely laid out, and feels high quality. I was surprised to discover that the hides on the seats came from a chemical factory, and not a cow. The ergonomics are also good, with a lot of attention being paid to giving the driver options on how to do various functions. Like most midsize sedans, rear seat space is on the tight side for tall adults like me, but my three kids fit without complaint.

The steering, suspension, and slick-shifting 6-speed manual transmission make it pretty fun to drive, too. When I was alone, taking on-ramps and off-ramps, or simply navigating a few left-right turns here and there, the Mazda6 was clearly in its element. This is a sports sedan first, and a family car second, it seemed to tell me. 

Modest performance

Well, mostly. The 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine puts out 184 hp, about average for base engines in this class, but unlike competitors there's no upgrade engine available for the power hungry. While the transmission is a joy to shift, the gearing is set up to conserve fuel. The same is true for the throttle response, and the combination netted just under 25 mpg during my time with the car in mostly city driving. I also thought the clutch was too grabby, making it hard to drive the car smoothly in traffic. Even with the manual, it doesn't ever feel particularly quick, although the sporty suspension lets you carry speed to and through a corner. That sporty suspension also gives the Mazda6 a ride that's a bit harsher than its competitors, and the Dunlop SP5000 tires sang loudly on a variety of surfaces. 

This mid-level model also has an odd hodgepodge of features, and Mazda's pricing and options structure forces buyers into compromises. For example, this $25,010 Mazda6 has a color screen with a backup camera, and a console-mounted multi-controller if you like that sort of thing. But, press the button marked "NAV," and you get...nothing. It's dead, because this model doesn't come with navigation, nor is it available until you move up to the $29,000-plus Grand Touring model. Why Mazda didn't just put a non-functional blank there -- or just a button without a label -- is a mystery.  It also has push-button ignition, but not keyless entry. It lacks automatic headlights. 

The Competition

In comparison, Mazda's competition has more fully fleshed-out equipment lists. For example, the $25,150 Nissan Altima SV gets pushbutton start with keyless entry and automatic headlights standard, and navigation is a $1,090 option. A Honda Accord EX with a manual transmission costs slightly more at $25,670 with a manual transmission, but it includes all of the above, plus Honda's cool LaneWatch side-view camera. 

So my week of schlepping the kids around in this car was a mixed bag. When I was alone, and I had a nice stretch of open road in front of me, it was a lot of fun, and I was on board with Mazda's sporty philosophy. But as an every-day family hauler, with the features I want, this Mazda6 struck me as not quite there. Ultimately, I like the Mazda6. I'm just not a huge fan of this particular model. If Mazda can address the equipment issues, I'd be happier.

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