2022 Mazda 6 Manual Review: The Sporty Everyday Sedan That Got Away

In typical U.S. fashion, we didn’t know a good thing when we had it, and let the objectively wonderful Mazda 6 sedan slip away.

byJerry Perez| PUBLISHED Nov 8, 2022 11:00 AM
2022 Mazda 6 Manual Review: The Sporty Everyday Sedan That Got Away
Jerry Perez
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Remember being a kid and losing one of your favorite toys? Maybe it was a stuffed animal that accompanied you everywhere, or perhaps a crusty blankie you were infatuated with. Either way, that gut-wrenching feeling when you realized it was gone was a sucky thing to experience. After driving a 2022 Mazda 6 for several days—one that came equipped with a six-speed manual—I walked away feeling a similar way.

Like many great sedans, the 6 is a thing of the past in the United States. The last manual rolled out in 2018 before Mazda pulled the plug on the midsize sedan in 2021. You might be wondering, then, how I got to drive a 2022 model with a manual. Well, I had to hop across the pond. Like much of Europe, the United Kingdom is still home to many vehicles we don’t get in the States. The Mazda 6—and its awesome wagon sibling, the Mazda 6 Estate—is one of them.

Jerry Perez

One thousand miles of English and Scottish roads allowed me the opportunity to reflect on this now-forbidden fruit. Did we, the U.S. car-buying public, make a mistake by letting Mazda’s sleek sedan die a slow and painful death? Or maybe it’s the opposite and we shouldn’t give it a second thought? Here’s what I found out.

2022 Mazda 6 Review Specs

  • Base price: £23,750 (approx. $23,607)
  • Powertrain: 2.0-liter four-cylinder | 6-speed manual | front-wheel drive
  • Horsepower: 163 @ 6,000 rpm
  • Torque: 157 lb-ft @ 4,000 rpm
  • Curb weight: 3,267 pounds
  •  Seating capacity: 5
  • 0-62 mph: 9.4 seconds
  • Top speed: 134 mph
  • Cargo volume: 14.7 cubic feet
  • WLTP fuel economy: 42.2 mpg (combined)
  • Quick take: The Mazda 6 doesn't need to be this good, yet it is.
  • Score: 9/10

The Basics

For 2022, the Mazda 6 is available in two body styles, Saloon and Estate, and three different trims: SE-L, Sport, and GT Sport. Two different gasoline engines with three different power ratings can be had: the 2.0-liter four-cylinder with 143 or 163 horsepower, and the 2.5-liter four-cylinder with 191 hp. In the U.S., the absence of the 6 makes the compact Mazda 3 the only sedan offered by the Japanese automaker. 

Jerry Perez

The Mazda 6 is certainly one of the most handsome (non-luxury/non-performance) sedans designed in recent times. Its exterior is svelte but shows hints of athleticism throughout its smooth profile, speaking to Mazda’s ability to design and engineer practical cars that are fun to look at and drive. The narrow, hawk-eye headlights add a touch of sportiness to the front end, while the distinct grille and floating Mazda emblem balance things out with classy and refined styling. Out back, the taillights wrap around the corners while pointing up, as if following the smooth lines that run across the beltline. Good design can be found in other understated areas of the car, too, such as the exhaust pipes, which aren’t too big or too small—just the right size. And the side mirrors and wheels, too, while they don’t scream for attention, are also sharply penned.

This carries into the cabin, where simple lines give the idea that things were quickly or lazily designed, but that’s not the case. Brushed metal trim runs across the dash before swooping upward over the gauge cluster and continuing into the door panels. The center console’s theme is Less Is More, housing vital HVAC controls and absolutely nothing else. Other functions such as GPS, media, Apple CarPlay, et cetera can be seen through the eight-inch screen nicely mounted at eye level, and controlled via the funky knob/joystick concoction Mazda dearly loves. More on this later.

The 2.0-liter, Skyactiv-G four-cylinder engine under the hood produces 163 hp and 157 pound-feet of torque. The engine is responsive and loves to rev, especially when paired with the manual. It’s also mighty efficient. It can feel underpowered at times, especially on steep hills, but this shouldn’t overshadow its performance under normal conditions, nor how economical it is.

Driving the 2022 Mazda 6 UK Spec

For starters, the steering wheel is on the wrong side of the car, and I was expected to drive on the wrong side of the road. As a first-timer, I found the experience to be extremely trippy—one that came with a huge responsibility given that I was chauffeuring my teenage son and 70-year-old father. By my third day on the road, however, I felt like a native, passing on the right lane and properly signaling my way through roundabouts. I actually enjoyed the experience. At least until I used my left hand to pull on the handbrake switch instead of my right hand to operate the window switches. It’s the little things.

Like every Mazda, the 6’s greatest strengths are its agility and fantastic steering feel. It’s a lively sedan that wants you to feel what’s happening at all times. It wants to engage you rather than leave you in the dark wondering what’s going on. The steering is direct and sensitive to minor adjustments, though it’s not finicky or jerky. There’s some play in the wheel that’s quite welcomed for long highwa… erm motorway stints. Whether in London traffic or in twisty countryside roads, it offers the right amount of feedback without the need to switch between Sport, Sport+, Maybe Sport, Ultra Sport, Hyper Sport driving modes. In fact, there aren’t any additional driving modes—just one normal mode—and it’s perfect.

The little four-banger, however, isn’t quite as dreamy if you’re looking for a speedy time behind the wheel. There is nothing wrong with the engine, but its 163 ponies can make it feel short on power at times. When it was just one or two of us and no luggage was in the trunk, the zippy 2.0-liter accelerated away decently before running out of juice. Loaded with the three of us and our junk in the trunk, however, required an additional downshift—or two—to get us up a hill. In the mountains of the Glenlivet Estate near Aviemore in Scotland, first and second gear were my best friends.

After driving a wide variety of roads ranging from narrow, single-car bridges to six-lane motorways, it was evident that the Mazda 6 could excel in every scenario. More importantly, it was a comfortable, fun, and reliable way to do mundane things like running daily errands or more enjoyable things like exploring new countries. 

The Highs and Lows

It’s all about the driving experience. The Mazda 6 is above and beyond what it should be for a normal, relatively inexpensive sedan. It doesn’t have to be this good, this fun, yet it is. The fact that the mid-range Sport test car was also equipped with every option I could need and want speaks highly of its value proposition—and let's not forget that frugal-yet-lively engine.

Mazda’s infamous knob used to control the infotainment isn’t one that I particularly hate—for the most part. However, when used with Apple CarPlay, it is downright maddening. It takes way too much effort and time to select the right option, and if you happen to miss it, get ready to spin the thing another 27 times until you land on the right option again. While it’s not a dealbreaker, it’s certainly not an enjoyable experience—one that simply shouldn’t be this hard.

Sustainability

If you’re looking for efficiency—and that’s important in a country where fuel can run about $10 per gallon or more—the 2.0–liter Skyactive G is ideal. Over the course of nine days and roughly 1,000 miles, we averaged 48.1 mpg. Adjusted to U.S. standards (Imperial gallon versus American), that’s still 40 mpg. And that figure was considerably higher before venturing into the steep hills of the Scottish Highlands. An impressive performance, considering we had stuffed the sedan’s trunk to the brim.

Mazda 6 UK Spec Features and Options

The Sport trim features 19-inch alloy wheels, adaptive front headlights with LED daytime running lights, leather interior, front power seats with memory function in the driver’s seat, three-setting heated front seats, heated steering wheel, 11-speaker Bose sound system, wireless Apple CarPlay/Android Auto and smart keyless entry. In terms of active safety, it was equipped with a rearview camera with parking aids, blind spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, automatic emergency braking, and traffic sign recognition. Total price is £23,750, or approximately $23,607.

Verdict

So, did we, the car-buying American public, let the Mazda 6 (manual or not) die a slow painful death due to our obsession with trucks, crossovers, and SUVs? I am afraid the answer is yes. It’s almost embarrassing to competitors like the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord how good the 6 is, and to know that it’s no longer available back at home is just an absolute shame.

It’s not the newest and certainly not the shoutiest-looking sedan out there—something that the youths and mid-level managers may not find to their liking. Hell, a Camry TRD and Accord Sport make the Mazda 6 look boring, but that impression disappears once you get behind the wheel. When a car with four doors, a horsepower rating that starts with a 1, and a five-figure price that starts with a 2 can make you smile this much, you know you’ve stumbled across something truly great. In typical U.S. fashion, we didn’t know a good thing when we had it.

Email the author at jerry@thedrive.com