Blog: Car Shopping, Differentiation, And The Mazda6

By Tom Martin

May 16, 2011

Okay, I’m going off the reservation on this blog. I admit I’m kind of flummoxed by the Mazda6. Rather than write up the Mazda6 in a straightforward way, I want to use it to invite some input. Because the Mazda6, and other cars like it, create a problem for me and I need to know how the WR community thinks the problem should be solved.

I’m not normally in this position. I drive a huge number of cars each year. I’ve spent years studying how they work and developing our methodology for evaluation (both the philosophy “For Drivers” and analytical tools like the Involvement Index and the upcoming Comfort Index). As other staffers know, I can hold forth on just about any car and driving experience. But the Mazda6 throws a wrench in the works.

Compared to the Ferrari 458 or the Jaguar XJL or the Mazda RX-8 or the Cadillac CTS-V, the Mazda6 is a forgettable lump. The dynamics are bland, the design is okay, the comfort acceptable, the price middling. The problem is, how do you objectively differentiate cars like this for would-be buyers?

As I think about it, I don’t understand why someone would pick this over the Hyundai Sonata for example, which seems just as good and less expensive. I also can see why someone might pick an Accord or a Camry over this, even though they take bland up a notch, because those cars have a brand-level reputation—in our popular culture—for reliability that the Mazda can’t quite match. The issue isn’t my feelings (subjective as they are), but that I don’t see the Mazda6 as standing out in a way that would be objectively meaningful, except in the tiny slice of the market that very much wants Japanese reliability with ever so slightly more verve than the well-know alternatives.

While that sounds slightly negative on the Mazda6, that isn’t my point. I prefer the Mazda6 to the Camry and Accord. So, I could equally say, “The Mazda6 seems like it has the best combination of quality, brand cachet, and driving attributes among its competitors.” That would be correct, too, only I’m bothered that the objective differences seem tiny.

The problem I’m having is that the Mazda6 seems like a coffee maker or a food processor to me. Now, I’m not a foodie, so to me a food processor is the kind of thing where you go to the store (Amazon in my case) and look around and pick one that best fits your counter top and design sensibility and price range. You might easily be swayed by a rebate, because the objective and subjective differences are small.

My point is that appliance-like products (e.g. food processors or the Mazda6) are tough to review because they are so alike one another and therefore purchase is exceedingly dependent on your personal concerns. So, class, today’s question:

If you have or are actually shopping for a mid-sized, mid-priced sedan, what are the “need to know” items that you want us to delineate in a review of a car like this? What are the “make or break” criteria you’re looking for? Or do you agree with the first impression that there isn’t much difference on offer here, and you decide by price and small personal preferences? Leave your answers below, in our comments section.