It’s not what you’ve got—it’s how you use it
You’ve heard this one before. It doesn’t matter how good or bad your equipment is. It’s how well you can use it. Alternatively, it’s a poor craftsman who blames his tools. Tires are tools of a type, and the heavily updated 2018 Mazda6 uses them as best it can.
Admittedly, Mazda is asking a lot of the 225/45R19 Falken Ziex ZE001 all-seasons it’s fitted to all four corners of the latest Mazda6. This one tire has to live up to Mazda’s acclaimed handling brand value while also returning competitive fuel economy and good wet- and cold-weather performance. Nearly all of those requirements are in direct opposition to one another when it comes to the chemistry and physics of tire design and engineering. For automotive product planners, balancing these priorities and realities is a full-time job.
Given all that, it’s remarkable what the Mazda6 can do with what it has to work with. In our First Drive of the new model, I compared its handling to that of a German luxury sport sedan. It’s got the same feeling of solidity and graceful body control that companies like BMW and Mercedes-Benz are famous for—but at an as-tested price of just $36,140 USD, which would barely get you in the door of a luxury dealer.
You can see it in the data, too. Our loaded Signature 2.5T tester pulled 0.84 average g on the skidpad and ran our figure-eight test in 26.7 seconds at 0.68 average g. Compare those numbers to the class leader, a similarly loaded Honda Accord Touring 2.0T we tested last year. The Honda, which is more than 100 pounds (45 kg) lighter, pulled 0.85 average g on the skidpad and needed 26.9 seconds to lap the figure eight, pulling 0.67 average g along the way. It’s equipped with wider 235/40R19 Michelin Primacy MXM4 all-season grand touring car tires. The Mazda6’s performance is particularly impressive when you consider the Ziex ZE001 is a crossover/SUV tire.
Wait, hold the phone. The Mazda6 comes with an SUV tire? Same tire as the Nissan Rogue and Subaru Ascent? What on earth for? We asked Mazda, and a spokesperson told us, “The Falken Ziex ZE001 A/S was chosen as the OE 19-inch tire for the 2018 Mazda6 for a variety of reasons, including stable controllability, refinement, quietness, lower fuel consumption, and braking characteristics. While there are off-the-rack versions of the Falken Ziex ZE001 A/S available, the tires equipped on the 2018 Mazda6 were specifically designed in collaboration with Falken, engineered to specification with the program objectives in mind to deliver a refined experience that complements Mazda’s capable chassis dynamics.”
The heavier Mazda6 2.5T wearing SUV tires may outrun the Honda Accord 2.0T in a handling test, but it’s a different story in a drag race. The Mazda out-torques the Honda 310 lb-ft to 273 lb-ft and just about matches it in terms of horsepower, at 250 to the Honda’s 252. (Note: Mazda rates the 2.5T engine at 227 hp on 87 octane and 250 hp on 93 octane. Our tests of both the Mazda and Honda were performed on California’s best: 91 octane.) Yet the Accord needs just 5.7 seconds to hit 60 mph to the Mazda’s 6.4.
Simply put, the Honda puts the power down, and the Mazda doesn’t. Launching the Mazda6 takes practice and a careful foot, as you can easily spin the tires off the line. Even if you get the launch right, it’ll spin the tires again at the top of first gear when the engine hits peak horsepower. As such, the Mazda is 0.2 second slower to 30 mph (48 km/h) and never catches up.
You can feel it in the power delivery any time you wind out the engine. There’s a lot of low-end torque, but acceleration flattens out in the midrange only to surge again as you pass 4,000 rpm. Most customers won’t notice, though, because they’ll never rev the engine that high. Per Mazda, that’s also how customers can save a little money at the pump: The difference in peak horsepower ratings only matters above 4,000 rpm, so there’s no sense buying premium gas if you don’t plan to flog the car.
You also don’t need to buy premium to get good fuel economy. Per the EPA, the Mazda6 will get 23/31/26 mpg (10.2/7.6/9 L/100km) city/highway/combined. We filled it up with 87 octane and strapped on our EQUA Real MPG equipment, and the car over-delivered with 22.9/33.9/26.8 mpg (10.3/6.9/8.8 L/100km) city/highway/combined. Stack it against the Accord, and it looks even better. Although the EPA rates the Accord Touring 2.0T at 22/32/27 mpg (10.7/7.3/8.7 L/100km) city/highway/combined, in our testing it returned 20.7/35.1/25.4 mpg (11.7/6.7/9.3 L/100km).
Of course, the Accord is working with a brand-new 10-speed automatic transmission, whereas the Mazda employs an older but highly refined six-speed. Mazda says an extra half liter of displacement and fewer gears mean quicker throttle response than a smaller engine and more gears to shuffle, and that might be more than just an excuse for using an older transmission. The Mazda6 cruises at a higher engine speed than the Accord on the freeway, closer to its torque peak and with the turbo spooled up, so when you press the throttle, there’s no turbo lag or downshifting. Despite this, fuel economy is dead-on competitive. On the other hand, the Accord’s 45–65-mph (72-105-km/h) passing acceleration is 0.4 second quicker, throttle response be damned.
The tire disparity rears its head one last time in 60–0 braking. The lighter Honda with its sedan tires needs just 116 feet to come to a halt; the Mazda with SUV tires will be 11 feet further down the road, having traveled 127 feet total.
Grippier tires could reduce the stopping distance, not to mention improve acceleration and handling, but at the cost of fuel economy. When you ask a midsize sedan buyer which they put a higher priority on, fuel economy is likely to win, and Mazda product planners know this. However, they also know Mazda customers appreciate the brand’s sportiness, so they and the engineers are investigating potential summer tire options for the Mazda6, which could be offered at the dealer before the car is sold. If Japan signs off on the plan, the Accord–Mazda6 dynamic could shift considerably.
For now, though, we’re left with two highly competitive midsize sedans both pursuing the same two-pronged strategy of segment-busting luxury and sportiness. They’re even priced within a few hundred dollars of each other. I could spend another several paragraphs going over their lush interiors, laundry lists of tech features, comparisons of ride quality, and on and on, but instead I’ll save it for a future comparison test, which might just include the all-new Nissan Altima for good measure. Stay tuned.
|2018 Mazda Mazda6 (Signature)|
|PRICE AS TESTED||$36,140|
|VEHICLE LAYOUT||Front-engine, FWD, 5-pass, 4-door sedan|
|ENGINE||2.5L/227-hp*/310-lb-ft turbo DOHC 16-valve I-4|
|CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST)||3,545 lb (60/40%)|
|LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT||191.5 x 72.4 x 57.1 in|
|0-60 MPH||6.4 sec|
|QUARTER MILE||15.0 sec @ 93.4 mph|
|BRAKING, 60-0 MPH||127 ft|
|LATERAL ACCELERATION||0.84 g (avg)|
|MT FIGURE EIGHT||26.7 sec @ 0.68 g (avg)|
|REAL MPG, CITY/HWY/COMB||22.9/33.9/26.8 mpg|
|EPA CITY/HWY/COMB FUEL ECON||23/31/26 mpg|
|ENERGY CONS, CITY/HWY||147/109 kW-hrs/100 miles|
|CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB||0.75 lb/mile|