Drive: The 2021 Mazda6 ‘injected fun’ into tired driving routine

For people who want a midsize sedan that gets from point A to point B and back, the list of alternatives is long. While the real action is in the crossover and sport-utility segments, automakers persist in luring a declining number of Americans to the traditional 5-passenger midsize sedan that melds people-moving prowess, cargo room, safety and economy.

Then, there's the Mazda6. It's fun to drive —all the more so with the 2.5-liter, turbocharged engine that produces 250 horsepower. It's also comfortable and refined, mixing sporty and near-luxury character.

The memory is a tricky thing. We've had test cars that left virtually nothing behind except a few hundred words of commentary. The Mazda6 left us with a memory of driving three or four miles along rural roads in Bethel, Conn. It was as if we'd never driven there before, though we had, many times. The Mazda6 injected fun into the dull routine.

And that's really what this car is all about. Like a strong, well-trained horse, it seems to know what the rider has in mind before the rider does.

In just two respects, the Mazda6 comes up short of major competitors. Unlike the Toyota Camry, it provides no bragging rights about fuel economy. The Mazda6 is rated at just 23 mpg city, 31 highway, when equipped with the 250-horsepower engine —compared with up to 53 mpg on the highway with the Camry. And unlike the Subaru Legacy, Nissan Altima, Camry, Dodge Charger and a few others in the Mazda6's price range, the Mazda6 cannot be equipped with all-wheel drive.

The Mazda6's strengths greatly outnumber its weaknesses.

Aside from its sparkling road manners, it's quiet and comfortable on the highway. Interior accommodations, from switchgear to inner panels to seating material, are flawless and of high quality. The trunk is spacious, though the opening is comparatively small. As always, we found Mazda's Commander control conveniently located between the front seats and easy to operate.

While it lacks a few features that would boost sales numbers that have been sagging since 2015 -- namely, AWD and hybrid system -- the Mazda6 is well-equipped. The $25,720 Sport model comes with a 187-horsepower, normally aspirated inline Four; 6-speed automatic transmission, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay integration, blind-spot and rear cross-traffic alert, LED headlights with auto-leveling, cruise control, push-button start and 8-inch touchscreen. It's rated at 26 mpg city, 35 highway.

2021 Mazda6 Signature

Price: $37,290

Engine: 2.5-liter turbocharged inline Four, 250 horsepower, 320 lb.-ft. torque

Transmission: 6-speed shiftable automatic

Drive: front-wheel

Weight: 3,582 lb.

Suspension: MacPherson strut front, multi-link rear

Wheels: 19x7.5-in. aluminum alloy with Brilliant Silver finish

Tires: P225/45R19 all-season

Seating capacity: 5

Luggage capacity: 14.7 cu. ft.

Fuel capacity: 16.4 gallons

Fuel economy: 23 mpg city, 31 mpg highway

Fuel type: premium unleaded gasoline (recommended)

Our test car, sticker-priced at $37,290, was much more lavishly equipped, with such features as leather upholstery, heated and power-adjustable front seats, navigation system, satellite radio, power glass moonroof and a heated steering wheel.

Mazda reportedly is preparing to launch a redesigned Mazda6 for 2022, with a new inline 6-cylinder engine, mild-hybrid system and rear-wheel drive. (The current platform dates back to 2014.) It’s likely an AWD option will be available in the new version.

The 2021 Mazda6 has been designated a Top Safety Pick Plus by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. It also received a 5-star overall rating in government crash tests.

Steven Macoy (semacoy@gmail.com) is a longtime car enthusiast and full-time editor who lives in Bethel, Conn.