2011 Hyundai Elantra

February 23, 2012

The 2011 Mazda6 is like that nice guy who wins your heart after you've finished dating bad boys — in this case SUVs and sports cars. It's an affordable, good-looking midsize sedan that could easily win over car shoppers if only given a chance.

With competition like the Honda Accord, Toyota Camry and Hyundai Elantra, the 2011 Mazda6 isn't always at the top of car shoppers' lists, but it should be because of its edgy design and fun-to-drive V-6 engine.

So, how do you fall in love with a nice guy? Give him time. I was glad to have two weeks to test drive the Mazda6. I learned that a smooth, quick ride isn't the exclusive domain of the bad boys. The optional V-6 engine also made me happy not only because of its pep, but because it takes regular gas.

The 2011 Mazda6 has a starting MSRP of $19,990. At $28,305, my test car, the s Touring Plus trim, wasn't exactly a cheap date, but it was a fun, affordable one.

EXTERIOR

The Mazda6 has sporty details that are missing on other midsize sedans. It looks slick coming and going with its aggressive headlights and angled taillights. Add in the angled tailpipes and any parent would look hip driving the Mazda6 in the school drop-off lane.

Adding to the Mazda6's appeal is school-age kids can get in and out of it with ease, though adults might hit their heads on the rear doors' roofline when assisting smaller kids. Such is the hassle with sleeker-looking sedans these days, and it's a sacrifice we make for style. The doors are easy to open for younger ones, and even better is they close easily from inside.

The Mazda6 has a sizable trunk that could easily handle a week's worth of groceries or even a stroller. Parents with jogging strollers will want to check if it fits in the trunk, though.

The optional 272-horsepower, 3.7-liter V-6 is paired with a six-speed automatic transmission. The only thing missing for me was a manual transmission, which only comes with the Mazda6's 170-hp, 2.5-liter four-cylinder. The downside of having the V-6 is it gets an EPA-estimated 18/27 mpg city/highway. The four-cylinder gets 21/30 mpg when paired with the six-speed manual or 22/31 with the five-speed automatic transmission.

SENSE AND STYLE

Family Friendly (Not Really, Fair, Great, Excellent): Great

Fun-Factor (None, Some, Good Times, Groove-On): Good Times

INTERIOR

It's the interior where the Mazda6 seems to be the most nice guy-ish. The styling isn't horrible, but it's a bit bland and is where the five-seater's value aspect is most prevalent.

Above the center control panel, there's a dot-matrix-looking readout and some unconvincing metallic-looking plastic. At least the Mazda6 was trying to dress up like the nice guy who wears a tie for a date. It has faux-wood trim that keeps the interior from looking too bland.

There were some requisite creature comforts such as a standard tilt/telescoping steering wheel and a sunroof in my test car, but I wonder if it's enough to keep a gal, er, consumer interested for the long haul. Fortunately, there was lots of space in the center console and glove box. All my gadgets had a place to go. Neat and tidy is a good thing!

The backseat had plenty of legroom for my two kids, and the cupholders in the fold-down armrest were easy for them to reach. The rear seats are split 60/40, making it a cinch to haul longer items.

IT'S THE LITTLE THINGS THAT COUNT

Storage Compartments (Puny, Fair, Ample, Galore): Fair

Cargo/Trunk Space (Puny, Fair, Ample, Galore): Galore

SAFETY

The 2011 Mazda6 received the highest score of Good in frontal-offset and side-impact crash tests by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. It received the second-highest score of Acceptable in the roof-strength test, and the second-lowest score of Marginal in rear crash tests by IIHS.

The two sets of lower Latch anchors in the outboard seats were easy to use, as were the three tether anchors. Even better, I could fit a rear-facing infant seat behind the driver's seat when it was adjusted to my preferences. There was even a little room to spare! The kids' boosters fit well, too. This was a revelation as many sedans have sculpted rear seats that are comfortable for adults, but not good for boosters.

The Mazda6 has standard front-wheel drive, all-disc antilock brakes with electronic brake-force distribution, an electronic stability system with traction control, blind spot warning system, and six airbags, including side curtains for both rows.

Photo Courtesy of Ian Merritt, MotherProof.com

Photo Courtesy of Ian Merritt, MotherProof.com

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