The 2018 Mazda6 Is Not A Miata

Late in the process of proofreading the July issue of Road & Track, we noticed three of our four major features referenced the Mazda Miata. We’d compared it to, in ascending order of absurdity‚ a Citroën 2CV, a performance SUV, and a sprint car. A sprint car. Point being, we love to uphold the Miata as the gold standard, even when it makes absolutely no sense to do so.

Mazda itself has the same tendency. Witness the last Mazda 6, introduced for 2014. It was a family sedan that had the same dynamic sensibilities as the little roadster—effervescent steering, crisp handling. Also, however, some of the same drawbacks, like a relatively noisy cabin and weak engine. We loved it of course, recommending it to anyone shopping for a midsize sedan, most of whom nodded politely and bought an Accord.

For the refreshed 2018 Mazda 6, Mazda’s talking less of Miatas and more about Amati. Amati? Yes, Amati. The luxury brand Mazda almost launched in the 1990s. The focus is on a more premium experience, which means higher interior quality and less noise.

The interior improvements are hard to miss, at least in the loaded, $36,040 Mazda 6 I drove. It had supple white leather and was trimmed in suede-like microfiber and open-pore wood. Midsize sedan interiors have, on the whole, become a lot better of late. Even the Toyota Camry’s cabin, which used to look squeezed out of a tube, now boasts stitched-this and soft-touch that. What distinguishes the 6 is how substantial everything looks and feels.

Indeed, it’s all reminiscent of ’90s Japanese luxury cars, which overcompensated for their lack of prestige by trying harder at everything. That early effort elevated brands like Acura and Lexus to near parity with European rivals. Mazda’s Amati, on the other hand, never got off the ground. Driving in serene silence, with Mazda development engineer Dave Coleman riding shotgun, I venture that these days, most Americans don’t associate Mazda with luxury.

It’s a sobering reminder. In our enthusiast corner of the universe, Mazda is a giant. The Company That Makes The Miata. But in the grander scheme of things, it’s a small, relatively obscure company trying to survive in an industry that, more than ever, favors economies of scale.