The Mazda6 four-door sedan is a good-looking car that won’t break the bank. And if the i Touring Plus version is too expensive at $24,240, you can bump down two trim levels and get a base version for a hair under $20,000. Of if you want more luxury and performance, there are three more trim levels above the one we tested. Just for comparison, the top-of-the-line model, the Grand Touring version, costs just under $30,000. So consumers have a fairly wide choice just among Mazda6’s.

The front-wheel-drive Mazda6 sedan we drove was powered by a 170-hp in-line four coupled to a five-speed automatic, giving it plenty of smooth acceleration without guzzling too much gas (EPA estimates: 22/31 mpg). The engine carries an aluminum block and head, chain-driven DOHC, and coil-on-plug electronic ignition with platinum-tipped plugs. The transmission uses adaptive-shift logic and a manual shifting option.

Some of the smooth acceleration and ride is thanks to the MacPherson strut and stabilizer bar up front and a multilink rear suspension and stabilizer bar. It’s easy to drive, comfortable, and responsive.

On the inside, there’s room for four, but the two in the back better not be too tall or wearing top hats — not a big surprise with today’s sedans. The dash and console lack the display screen many of the more upscale vehicles carry to display navigation data, backup camera images, and other controls, but that’s the price you pay for a lower sticker price. Although the screens can be a nice touch, they are far from necessary, as this car proves.

And if you need a new gadget to explore, the i Touring Plus version comes with BSM, aka blind-side monitoring. Radar transmitters/detectors mounted on the rear bumper’s outboard leading edges check for moving vehicles to the rear and sides of the car. When they detect one, a lighted car icon appears in the left or right outside sideview mirror, depending on which side the other vehicle is on. If the driver then signals for a turn toward the same side, a warning beeper starts sounding. BSM only works when the car is going faster than 20 mph, and drivers can switch it on or off.

The car earned a top government rating for rollover protection, but the other categories — front and side crash safety — have not yet been tested. But the Insurance Institute, a private agency, is ahead of the government’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and gives the car its highest rating for frontal and side impacts.

Mazda equips the car with a pollen filter on the air conditioner, a tilting and telescoping steering wheel, and front and side air bags, along with side air curtains, traction and stability control, ABS, and fog lights.

The only option our car had was satellite radio ($430). But the i Touring Plus trim level added the following to the base model: a power moonroof, power side mirrors, slightly large wheels and tires, Bluetooth phone and audio capability, an eight-way power driver seat, upgraded stereo, electroluminescent gages, and some small touches of leather and interior trim. I couldn’t find anything wrong with the car, other than I had to give it back.

— Stephen J. Mraz

© 2011 Penton Media, Inc.