I drove a Mazda 6 wagon and a CX-5 crossover back to back with the same engine and same gearbox. It made me realize that Mazda actually needs to make a Subaru Outback. Why? Because it’d be a hit in America. That’s why.
We said the best mid-size sedan you can buy overall is the Hyundai Sonata, but if you also want to enjoy driving your family car, you really need a Mazda 6. The best version of that car is the wagon, but of course that’s not available in America. Neither are Mazda’s SkyActiv diesel engines for now, and you are missing out big time.
My test car had the 2.2 diesel producing 175 horsepower and 309 foot pounds linked to a six-speed automatic. The interior was wrapped in white leather, and while this is the point when I should explain why a manual gearbox would have been better, this automatic version turned out to be the best family car I’ve ever driven.
It all makes sense. With this engine, the 6 has plenty of power. The automatic does a fine job, shifts quickly enough and with Mazda’s zoom-zoom handling taking care of the corners, my wagon felt plenty fast.
Yet with the auto box and the torque of the diesel, it was also smooth and very easy to drive. If the sole purpose of a journey is to get from A to B, that’s fine, the Mazda 6 is not a sports car and it won’t intimidate anybody.
But it looks just as sporty as it handles to keep dad happy, and with the leather seats and the higher trim, it also feels premium enough inside. Yet after a few years when that white leather starts to show its age, you won’t mind if the kids puke all over it, because - well - it’s just a Mazda.
You can probably tell by now that I really liked this car, so the following CX-5 had quite a lot to live up to.
The CX-5 is based on a different platform than the 6, but it’s also a mid-sized family car costing roughly the same sort of money. Americans buy so many of these crossovers that Mazda sold more than a million in just three and a half years. Just look around on the street and you shall find CX-5s everywhere.
That’s okay, because the CX-5 is also a great car and a solid choice as a family hauler. Unfortunately, the one I drove had the same 175 horsepower diesel, six-speed auto box, red paint and leather seats as the 6 wagon a week earlier, so this had to turn into a showdown between wagons and crossovers that settles the question once and for all.
People who claim they buy the bloated versions of regular cars for their superior interior space and all-wheel drive capabilities instead of the feeling of safety and the higher seating position should know that the Mazda 6 wagon is more spacious inside, mostly because it’s a bigger car overall.
As for the off-roading part, the CX-5’s optional all-wheel drive will certainly help you out in many cases, but that drivetrain is also available with the wagon and the crossover’s ride hight wasn’t raised enough to make a real difference on a muddy dirt road.
I took it to one, and she didn’t like it much. Now, I’m not sure how many people who live in more remote areas will go through the trouble of fitting their CX-5s with more aggressive tires and some underbody protection, but the fact remains that some tuning will be required if you want to use this car as a pair of Wellington boots.
Personally, I would go for the Kaddis’ version from the Tokyo Motor Show. Looks solid.
On tarmac, the CX-5 handles very well for what it is while the cabin is comfortable with an infotainment system that’s very straightforward, so there’s really not much not to like. Having said that, it remains a fact that the crossover is at least ten percent worse at everything than the wagon. It feels heavier and consumes more fuel, it’s harder to park in the city and the 6 would smoke it on asphalt using the same amount of power.
But what can you do? Mazda isn’t offering the 6 wagon in the US because Americas won’t give up on their SUVs and crossovers, and why would the Japanese go against the current as long as the CX-5 sells like hotcakes? I mean, the only Mazda to reach the 1 million mark faster than the CX-5 was the 3. A much cheaper compact.
It seems that Americas want to read ‘Unnamed Road’ on their satnav screens quite often while believing strongly that their visually beefed up car will take them there and back under all circumstances.
That’s all very well as long as we Europeans can have our fun wagons, but since there are people in America also who want something a bit closer to their childhood’s AMC Eagles, Subaru came down from heavens twenty years ago to create the Outback.
The Subaru Outback gets away with the whole crossover styling because at heart, it’s still just a wagon. A rather fat one with lots of pointless plastic, but a wagon nevertheless. That why those American wagon mafiosos buy them, which is no surprise since their European colleagues do the same thing.
But if you, an American lusting after a Mazda 6 wagon can’t have that, how about a Mazda 6 Outback? Would that cut it for you over a small SUV?
Mazda, I call that money in the bank already. And since driving the 6 is so much fun, as an added bonus, the lifted version would also make Subaru go like this:
Until that happens though, just keep sending those letters to Mazda USA about how you want sexy diesel wagons just like the ones in Japan or the old continent. Or get a CX-5. It’s a pretty good car.
Photo credit: Máté Petrány/Jalopnik
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