Whoa! Who knew four doors could be such a blast? Three of the most solid sedans get extreme makeovers and the results are stunning.
Mpg: 26 city, 35 highway
Zero-60 mph: 6.4 seconds
Mazda always takes the road less traveled, offering a more performance-oriented lineup than the competition. In the past, such sporty fare wasn’t for everyone, especially families or drivers wanting a luxe-like ride. But this year the updated Mazda6 offers it all, with a fresh exterior — almost as sexy as an awesome Alfa Romeo Giulia — and a fine, spacious cabin.
With the streamlined dash and comfortable seats, there’s a Lexus vibe here. Same with the long list of amenities, especially in the higher trim levels: 11-speaker stereo, heated steering wheel, heated/ventilated front seats, heated rear seats and a head-up display that projects your speed and other traffic info. There’s also smartphone integration, voice control and USB ports for front- and rear-seat passengers. While the base engine on this midsize sedan is so-so, there’s now a sweet four-cylinder turbo for more oomph.
And it’s difficult to overstate just how smooth and nimble the Mazda6 handles, thanks to compliant steering and tight suspension. Tackling tight corners is a breeze and there’s virtually no body roll. As for safety, automatic emergency braking and blind-spot warning are now standard. Splurge for the top-of-the-line Signature model to get microfiber suede, real wood, LED ambient lighting, 360-degree parking camera and a frameless rearview mirror. Such goodies boost the price above $35,000, but that’s a bargain compared to a Lexus ES 350 or similar high-end sport sedan.
TOYOTA CAMRY XSE
Mpg: 28 city, 39 highway
Zero-60 mph: 5.8 seconds
Zachary Quinto is sexy. Ellen and Portia are sexy. But Toyota Camrys? These middling sedans are definitely not sexy — until now, that is. Completely redesigned this year, the cocky-looking Camry is longer, lower and lusher than ever. It’s also livelier, if you opt for the sport-tuned XSE model with optional V6 engine. All Camrys come with automatic LED headlights, rearview camera and scads of safety features: 10 air bags, pre-collision alert with pedestrian detection, lane departure warning and automatic high beams.
Blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert also are available and there’s plenty of headroom, legroom and cargo space, along with four cup holders and four bottle holders. But it’s the bad-ass XSE that boasts a menacing look, with its black grille, flared rocker panels, machine-finished wheels, dual exhaust outlets and rear spoiler. Notable options: panoramic sunroof, burgundy-red interior and 10-inch color head-up display.
Inside, the seats are firm but comfortable, with faux-metal trim on the futuristic and user-friendly dashboard and center console. Rev the engine for an exciting exhaust growl. Accelerate sharply through switchbacks with flawless control. Maneuver over potholes and speed bumps with nary a shimmy. In short, the beefed-up Camry XSE has muscled its way from functional family hauler to serious sport sedan.
VW JETTA SEL PREMIUM
Mpg: 30 city, 39 highway
Zero-60 mph: 7.7 seconds
With a dashing design and added features, the all-new VW Jetta shows off its style and substance. The sheet metal is nicely chiseled with a wraparound front end and flashy grille accents. At 185.1 inches long, the compact Jetta has been stretched to within spitting distance of many mid-sizers.
That means more room for passengers and an increase in cabin storage. But curiously, trunk space is slightly reduced. The improved interior is quieter, with better build quality and more ergonomically attuned seats. Under the hood, it’s the same four-cylinder as before, which means a competent but less-than-thrilling acceleration. At least the new transmission helps boost fuel efficiency. And the tight handling and braking make for a refined ride, even in the base model.
But opt for the top-of-the-line SEL Premium, with remote start, larger alloys, foglights and heated everything: front/rear seats, steering wheel, even the windshield washer nozzles. Jazzy ambient lighting comes in choice of 10 colors, and a clever, high-tech “digital cockpit” replaces the standard speedometer and tachometer with a 10.25-inch screen. Another plus: the brilliant BeatsAudio premium stereo, with eight speakers and a bangin’ 400-watt subwoofer.