|31 Combined MPG||City Fuel Economy||29 Combined MPG|
|250 HP||Horsepower||184 HP|
Call me sentimental, but the midsize sedan segment always retains my interest. Growing up, they still accounted for the majority of family vehicles on the road. Sure, larger families favored the minivan, but if you had three kids or less, the five-seat sedan was where it was at. The rise in popularity of family-friendly SUVs came during my teen years (after I had outgrown family drives) and was well-cemented by the time I had a family of my own. But over time, the appeal of SUVs grew to encompass more than just families. With many drivers coming of age and opting for SUVs over sedans, the recession served as an opportunity for the midsize sedan to reassert itself. However, with more attention placed on the infant hybrid industry (and on vehicles with even smaller footprints), sedan offerings always seemed to blend into the background, without a clear identity or target demographic. With that in mind, I’m always interested in how sedan-offerings are designed, engineered and even marketed, in order to remain relevant. In my opinion, the steps taken by current model years appear more aggressive than ever. Taking cues from both luxury and sport segments, and with an eye to technology, many create genuine excitement. This could be said for both models when we compare the 2017 Chevy Malibu vs 2017 Mazda 6 in Cincinnati, OH.
The former (now in its ninth generation) benefits from a recent redesign, and is priced to start at around $21,680 MSRP. The latter (now in its third generation) has the advantage of being a relative newcomer, with less than fifteen years on the market, and is priced to start around $21,945 MSRP. That said, let’s sidestep the base offerings and jump up to the Premier and Grand Touring trims, and get a taste of the best for each. This puts our price points at $31,850 MSRP (Malibu) and $30,695 (6 Sedan) to start.
When we talk about exterior design, it speaks to steps taken in the interest of relevance. As mentioned above, there are two primary directions an automaker can choose from: sport-inspired or luxury-inspired design. Based purely on aesthetics, these two models sit on opposite ends of that spectrum, yet both seem unafraid to cheat inwards.
The 2016 redesign of the Malibu set aside its fatigued, traditional styling in favor of something a little sportier. While retaining a look that is ‘faithfully Chevy,’ the front-fascia plays it a little less safe than previous model years. Combined with overtly-sculpted body panels, and the slow-rise to and from the cabin, the 2017 Chevy Malibu cuts a sporty profile. That said, there is a refinement that elevates it above its predecessors, gently tiptoeing into certain design notes of more luxury sedans.
The Mazda 6 does the opposite. With a more luxury-inspired aesthetic, it’s simply a beautiful vehicle. From an equally-confident front end, to the sculpted curvature around the front wheel-wells, the entirety of the Mazda 6 conveys intention of design. But, like all of Mazda’s current offerings, there is a playfulness to it.
The strength of both designs, and their diametrically-opposed inspirations make them difficult to compare. With exterior design being the most subjective part of any comparison piece, we’re going to consider this a tie, to be decided by your own preference.
Inspiration for the interior of each seems to follow the same cues as their respective exteriors.
While perfectly spacious (and on par with the rest of the class) the Malibu is designed in a manner that seems to hug its inhabitants. Part of this is due to the low-slope of the rear roofline, but the overall effect is encouraged by the layout of the gauge cluster and control panel. While both are appealingly simple in their design, they appear condensed. This illusion is furthered by the cab-forward placement of the gearshift.
On the other hand, the Mazda 6 creates a much more open environment. Favoring a more lateral, horizontal theme, the resulting effect conveys width and spaciousness, also boasting more comfortable rear seating. This modern feel is bolstered by strength of material choices; so while the Malibu offers a well-designed and sporty interior, the Mazda 6 offers a more luxurious experience for its driver and passengers, tie-ing things up.
If your priority is power, chances are that you’re not shopping in the midsize sedan segment. That said, it’s no less a consideration when weighing one vehicle against another, than overall handling and drivability.
While base trims of the Chevy Malibu comes with a 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine, paired to a six-speed automatic transmission, the Premier trim benefits from a 2.0-liter paired to a nine-speed. Generating 250 horsepower and 260 lbs-ft of torque, it's a confident increase over the adequacy of the based configuration. The estimated 31 mpg combined also serves as a feather in its cap, as do best-in-class braking, athletic handling, and capable acceleration.
The Mazda 6 is powered by a 2.5-liter four-cylinder, with a six-speed automatic transmission. Serving up 184 horsepower and 185 lbs-ft of torque, its fuel economy is estimated at 29 mpg combined. As for overall drivability, the Mazda 6 performs just as confidently as the Malibu, placing the emphasis back on power and economy.
Based on this, and the comparability of pricing, the Malibu takes the early lead
Chevy’s infotainment system stands as one of its strongest attributes, and this is embodied at higher trim levels. Bluetooth-enabled for both phone and audio, the system is built around an 8-inch touchscreen and a nine-speaker BOSE audio system, with satellite radio and various inputs. Add built-in navigation, wireless smartphone charging, along with optional OnStar with 4G LTE WiFi, and there’s little more you could ask for.
The 6 kicks things off on equal ground, with a 7-inch touchscreen and 11-speaker BOSE audio system with satellite radio, and input options. Bluetooth-enabled, it also boasts voice control, and texting capabilities. Bottom-line, there is little not to like about the amenities offered by the 6. The Malibu just manages to out-class it at this level, in terms of available technology (3:2 Chevrolet).