Today’s consumers want more out of an affordable mid-size sedan than reliable build quality and good gas mileage. They also want luxury interiors, drivability, and good looks. Mazda knows this, which is why it gave the 2018 Mazda6 a significant refresh, which includes an upgraded interior, more powerful engines, and a new trim level.

If you’re in the market for a new sedan and are wondering how the 2018 Mazda6 stacks up against the competition, here’s everything you need to know.

What’s Under the Hood: A New Turbocharged Engine

No one has ever accused the Mazda6 of being a speed demon. For years, its lone engine option was a fuel-sipping 2.5-liter four-cylinder that made 184 horsepower and 185 lb-ft of torque. While serviceable, that engine is painfully underpowered when compared to the 252-horsepower turbocharged four-cylinder available in the 2018 Accord and the 301-horsepower 3.5-liter V6 available in the 2018 Camry.

But that has all changed. The 2.5-liter engine has been given a marginal power boost. It now makes 187 horsepower and 186 lb-ft of torque. This engine also features cylinder deactivation — when paired with the optional six-speed automatic transmission — which Mazda said is a first for North America. That engine is nice, but what really changes the game is the new 2.5-liter turbo pulled straight out of the CX-9 crossover. That engine makes 250 horsepower and a whopping 310 lb-ft of torque when run on 93 octane. As you might have guessed, the turbocharged Mazda6 is only available with the automatic, which the automaker said was tuned specifically for the engine’s large torque output. And for those wondering, no, it doesn’t look like a hybrid Mazda6 is on the horizon.

The Mazda6’s most powerful engine gets an EPA estimated 23/31/26 mpg (city, highway, combined), while the non-turbocharged power plant checks in at 26/35/29 mpg. As Car and Driver notes, the most-powerful Mazda6 is down on fuel economy when compared to the hottest Accord and Camry. Thanks in part to its 10-speed automatic transmission, the 252-hp 2018 Honda Accord gets an EPA estimated 23/34/27 mpg. The V6 Camry checks in with an mpg split of 23/33/26.

What’s Inside: More Luxury Than You’d Expect

The 2018 Mazda6 features a redesigned exterior and interior. The outside changes are a bit hard to spot at first glance. The grille has been redesigned, as have the headlights, which are now slim and trim like the ones found on the CX-5 and CX-9. The 2018 Mazda6 comes with standard LED headlights and taillights.

The cabin has also been given a facelift. The front seats and dashboard were completely redesigned, and the standard infotainment touchscreen has been enlarged from 7.0 inches to 8.0 inches. Blind spot monitoring and rear-cross traffic alert come standard, as does what Mazda calls Smart City Brake Support, which automatically applies the brakes in emergency stops when the car is moving under 19 mph.

Mazda also offers the optional i-ACTIVSENSE safety tech package, which includes smart brake support, lane departure warning, radar cruise control, lane-keep assist, high beam control, automatic headlights, and rain-sensing windshield wipers. Additional features include a leather interior, 360-degree view monitor, 11-speaker BOSE premium sound system, navigation, ventilated front seats, a heads-up display, a seven-inch TFT display, and front and rear parking sensors. Noticeably absent is support for Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, although that tech will apparently arrive sometime in 2018.

Official specs for the dimensions of the 2018 Mazda6 haven’t been released, but they’re likely to mirror those found on the 2017.5 model. (Yes, that’s its official designation.) That means you can expect a second row of seats that offers semi-limited headroom thanks to the car’s rakish roofline. That said, second row legroom is comparable to other sedans in the segment. Again, official specs haven’t been released yet, but we expect the 2018 Mazda6 to offer the same trunk space as the 2017.5 version. At 14.8 cubic feet there’s not a ton of space for cargo, but the rear seats do fold down.

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Pricing and Trim Levels: A $13,000 Difference Between Sport and Signature

One of the 2018 Mazda6’s biggest strengths is the price. It’s one of the most affordable sedans on the market with a base MSRP of $21,950 for a Sport model equipped with a six-speed manual. Optioning a six-speed auto pushes that price to $23,000. That’s cheaper than the 2018 Accord, which starts at $23,570. That said, the Accord’s engine is more powerful and comes standard with Honda’s suite of safety tech, Sensing. Adding i-ACTIVSENSE to the Mazda6 pushes the total price to $23,695. The base Mazda6 is also cheaper than the entry-level Camry L, which starts at $23,490. However, like the Accord, the Camry’s engine is more powerful, and it comes standard with Toyota Safety Sense, a suite of safety tech.

Four trims levels sit above the Sport: Touring, Grand Touring, Grand Touring Reserve, and Signature. The Touring trim starts at $25,700 and boasts heated front seats, leatherette seating surfaces, and a power moonroof. This trim also features the six-speed automatic transmission standard. The 2.5-liter turbocharged engine is standard on the Grand Touring trim, which also features an 11-speaker BOSE premium sound system, navigation, heated side mirrors, and paddle shifters. This trim checks in at $29,200. The Grand Touring Reserve ups the ante on standard features with ventilated front seats, nicer leather, heated rear seats, adaptive headlights, a heated steering wheel, and a heads-up display, among other goodies. All this goodness will cost you $31,700.

For $34,750, the Signature trim offers all the Grand Touring Reserve’s standard features plus even more luxurious leather seats, a 360-degree surround view monitor, Japanese sen wood interior accents, something called “gilded UltraSuede NU” with coloring inspired by Japanese kimonos, a seven-inch TFT display, a nicer grille, and a frameless rearview mirror.

The sweet spot for the Mazda6 is the Grand Touring trim. At just under $30,000, you get an engine with decent power and great torque, navigation, and leatherette seats. That said, we don’t think it’s a terrible idea to spend a bit more coin for the Grand Touring Reserve trim, especially if you live in a colder climate.

At $34,750, the Mazda6 Signature is priced and equipped to compete with entry-level luxury sedans. This makes it hard to recommend as most consumers would never cross-shop a Mazda with the likes of an Infiniti QX50 or Lexus IS. That said, those bold enough to do so may find themselves presently surprised by how the Mazda6 Signature stacks up against its more luxurious rivals.

Competition and Final Thoughts

In the affordable mid-size sedan segment, it really is the Honda Accord, Toyota Camry, and then everybody else. That said, the 2018 Mazda6 is nipping hard at the heels of these two legendary nameplates thanks to a combination of stunning design and a commitment to drivability.

The biggest strength of the new Mazda6 is its ability to fit so many niches. Those looking for a cheap sedan with great gas mileage need to look no further than the $21,000 Mazda6 Sport, while those who crave luxury but don’t want to spend $40,000 are well-served by the Signature trim. If you’re in the market for an affordable mid-size sedan, or a sneaky cheap luxury sedan, we recommend checking out the 2018 Mazda6.

tomas devera photo / Shutterstock

Michael Hines is a Chicago-based writer who has covered everything from the automotive industry to emerging internet trends and technology news. His first car was a 1990 Ford F-250 and his dream car is the Nissan GT-R. In addition to Autoversed, you can find him on Twitter @michaelhines_1.