Mazda has always traded on their talent for building true driver’s cars in a world where dull and bland are king. As we found on a short drive recently, the midsize 2016 Mazda6 sedan wears its “Driving Matters” credo on its sleeve, no apologies.

Competing against the big kids on the block like the Toyota Camry, Honda Accord and Ford Fusion, Mazda’s mid-size front-driver has consistently offered something more cerebral to the senses, a choice more exciting if not virile.

The 2016 Mazda6 comes with a host of improvements and refinements that continue this lineage but adds a healthy dose of what Mazda calls “Mazda Premium”. Translation, Mazda is looking to move slightly upmarket.

Priced at $33,210 our Grand Touring tester had most of the tricks up its sleeve. These start with refined exterior accoutrements like a bolder and more sophisticated trims at the front and rear. Headlamps are more intense in their steely glare – especially with the LED adaptive units ours had.

Finishes are honed to a more premium aura, something you really notice at the grille and its surround. The sculpting and execution of the pieces show a lot of effort was spent to make it all flow together with the same character before but with more polish.

The interior of the Mazda6 has always been a unique space, but in our drive the supple leathers, aluminum trims and a host of the latest expected tech features impress. Seats up front were exceptionally comfortable and the use of controls or what we call ergonomics well sorted.

The infotainment system remains the center high mounted screen and console puck we have panned before in other Mazda models. It’s a touchscreen when you’re stopped, but once moving you are forced to use the console knob and buttons.

This is bad because the menus are not logically laid out, the graphics hard to follow while you are driving, and it never stays where you leave it. It’s frustrating and unfriendly to use at worst and less than intuitive at best.

Driving aids and safety systems like lane departure warning and radar cruise control worked flawlessly, and even better give the driver the option of turning them off.

16-Mazda6-16So far we’re impressed. And when it comes to power, Mazda manages to keep the buzz on even though it doesn’t offer a more powerful V6 or turbocharged four-cylinder engine as a high-performance option.

Its 2.5 liter SkyActiv four-cylinder is the sole power-plant, putting out 184 horsepower and 185 pound-feet of torque. It delivers this in our tester through a six-speed automatic transmission, also available with a six-speed manual.

While the new turbocharged 2.5 liter from the CX9 or a manual transmission might be nice, we weren’t let down at all with the Mazda6’s spirit and refinement. In Sport Mode, the engine revs happily and smoothly to please, providing enough forward force to make it fun.

16-Mazda6-15Fuel economy does come out quite good as a result of this arrangement. The EPA rates it at 26 mpg city, 38 mpg highway and 30 mpg combined. In our drive time which spanned three days and a balance of city and highway driving we achieved 33 mpg. Not bad at all.

The last chime in has to do with its handling and driving character. It feels like it has some bones. This is to say there’s some good life to this four-door sedan made to blend in with the rest of the goody-two-shoe bunch. While giving the quiet and compliant ride most will expect here, it manages a sharpness in how it responds and a steering character that rewards your efforts left and right.

And that gets us to our conclusion. The Mazda6 is a car that lands square in the sea of peers most people call a rental car. From a distance, it even kinda blends in. But get up close and personal with it, the Mazda6 still knows that driving matters. Yes, we just coined their own marketing term but we wouldn’t if it didn’t fit.

Photos: Mazda