It's odd that the sportiest car in its class has less engine than the others. The car is the Mazda6, and it only comes with a four-cylinder.
Meanwhile, you can get a V-6 engine in midsized rivals like the Toyota Camry, Honda Accord and Nissan Altima.
But it's not all dreary news.
You can still get a manual transmission in the Mazda6, while the Camry and Altima are automatic regardless of the engine. And the current Accord's optional V-6 only comes with automatic.
The Mazda's also got lines. If there's a better-looking car in this class, I haven't seen it.
What It Is
This vehicle is a Miata with four doors and trunk space. Well, almost. In terms of driving verve, it's close.
Base price is $21,945 for the Sport trim with a six-speed manual transmission; if you prefer to go with the optional six-speed automatic, the price rises to $22,995.
A top-of-the-line Grand Touring with automatic transmission costs $30,695.
The Grand Touring trim comes standard with lane-keep assist, and you can also order a traffic-sign recognition system.
This is the car for the person who wants a Miata but needs extra seats.
Manual transmission is standard.
It has a lower starting price than others in this class.
What's Not So Good
No six-cylinder for this Mazda6.
No turbo for the four-cylinder.
There's a great-looking LCD touchscreen, but the knob input is not so easy to use.
Under the Hood
The Mazda6's engine is a 2.5-liter four-cylinder that has 184 horsepower and 185 foot-pounds of torque. There's no turbo but very high compression, which is great for power and efficiency but usually requires the use of high-octane premium fuel to avoid engine knock. But that's not the case here.
Mazda's SkyActiv technology allows for high compression without high-octane fuel, which is important for more than just power -- it's a significant money saver.
The 6's engine also saves you money the straightforward way by burning less gas. The Environmental Protection Agency rates the manual transmission gas mileage at 24 mpg city and 34 highway; and the automatic transmission at 26 mpg city and 35 highway.
On the Road
Like the Miata, the 6 is not all about the engine. It's easy to make a car go fast -- just add more horsepower and stomp on the gas pedal. It's trickier to make a car fun to drive. The 6 excels at that, in spite of its relative horsepower deficit.
Part of the fun is working the revvy four-cylinder engine (which reaches 7,000 rpms) via the manual transmission: slipping the clutch and heel-and-toe work. This is a pleasure not available in competitors with automatic transmission and a six-cylinder engine.
The 6 also features torque vectoring, an electronic system that works by using engine braking (modulated via subtle alterations of ignition timing and power delivery) to weight the front wheels during corners with high G-force, effectively increasing the car's contact patch and, therefore, its grip on the road.
The system is totally in the background -- unlike traction and stability control, which are reactive systems that you can feel coming on when the brakes are pumped and the throttle is suddenly cut.
These after-the-fact systems may keep the car under control, but they do not enhance the feeling of being in control.
At the Curb
The 6 may not have a six-cylinder, but it has looks in its corner. And it is as practical a car as the cars it competes with.
Front- and rear-seat legroom (42.2 inches and 38.7 inches, respectively) are as generous as in the Camry (41.6 inches front, 38.9 inches rear) and the Accord (42.5 inches front, 38.5 inches rear), and much more balanced than the Altima, which is front-passenger friendly but not so much for back-seat passengers (45 inches front, 36.1 inches back).
Unfortunately, the roomy, versatile wagon version of the 6 is only available in Japan and Europe.
All current Mazdas have an attractive, iPad-style LCD display to the right of the main instrument cluster. It looks great, but the center console-mounted knob controller is a little awkward to use. It takes two steps to do one thing, such as change radio stations.
The center console storage cubby is also very small; there's not much room for more than a smartphone.
The Bottom Line
Despite the Mazda6 not offering a six-cylinder, it is still the standout in this class of car -- if you care about driving -- and has an eye for beauty.
Eric's new book, "Don't Get Taken for a Ride!" will be available soon. To find out more about Eric and read his past columns, please visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.Copyright 2017 Creators Syndicate, Inc.