COAL: 2016 Mazda6 6MT – “The One That Got Away”

The “sexy 6” as my wife calls it.


As life moves forward, we sometimes have to make hard decisions. Decisions from the outside do not make sense to others, but to us, are the right decision. This was one of those cases where I made a hard decision, but looking back, it was the right decision to make, even though others around me thought I was crazy.


In the fall of 2015, my mom purchased a new Mazda CX-5. When my parents were at the dealership, my father’s eyes kept going back to the sleek lines of the Mazda6. I was with them at the time and told my dad they came with a 6-speed manual. I could see the gears turning in his head about how that would be a nice car to have. When I purchased the Dart from my dad in December of 2015, he went down to his local Mazda dealer and purchased a brand new 2016 Mazda6 Touring with a six-speed manual painted in Mazda’s beautiful soul-red-metallic. Upon delivery of the car, it was inside the showroom. The dealer, who is a car guy (and sells VW’s, Mazda’s, and Audi’s) said this was a beautiful and very uncommon car.

My parents had two brand new 2016 Mazda’s in their garage, both in middle Touring trim. I always thought (and still do), that the Mazda6’s were a better value in Touring trim. My dad’s 6 had leatherette seats, 19″ aluminum wheels, dual climate control, a backup camera, blind spot monitoring, and rear cross-traffic alert. The fit and finish of the 6 were very impressive. The first time I sat in it, I was blown away that this car was listed for $25k new. It was the nicest interior of any vehicle I had sat in. It felt expensive. My mother’s CX-5 included these features, but had 17″ rims, cloth seats, and single zone climate control. That car listed closer to $28k (also had AWD). It was nice, but not as nice, or commanded the same “premium” presence like the 6.

My actual car from the dealership’s listing.


The first time I drove the car, I could not believe how smooth and crisp the 6-speed manual was. I had driven many manual transmission cars up to this point, but all the FWD ones had a very sloppy and rubbery feel to them (Fiero’s included). The RWD vehicles (Firebird, Trooper, Rangers, etc.), had a more direct feel but felt very notchy. The 6-speed in the Mazda felt almost RWD-like in how direct it was. Coming from the Dart, it was a night and day difference at how much nicer and satisfying it was. I was always envious of this car. Every time I went to their house, I would try to sneak a drive in the Mazda. I loved driving this car. It rode very nice, yet when pushed, was sporty. It had a solid feel to it yet felt agile. The Dart did have a very solid feel to it but did not feel as sporty as the Mazda did. It really felt like a whole different class of vehicle compared to what I was used to.

In the fall of 2017, my dad changed jobs and no longer needed a traveling vehicle for work. This was also the same time that I was starting to think about a replacement for my Dart. Up to this point, I had actually test-driven a couple of different Mazda’s, knowing that I wanted a Mazda manual transmission in my next car. I test-drove a CX-5 with the 6-speed manual. The transmission felt just as crisp as the 6, but it was a lower Sport trim and lacked many of the features I had grown accustomed to in the Dart. I also test-drove a Mazda3 sedan with the same 6-speed manual. That car was a blast to drive and really felt like the larger 6. However, my dad offered me a deal on his 6. I would give him the Dart back and cash for his Mazda. Deal made. We decided we would exchange vehicles at Christmas time.

Large bodies of water can affect the weather in weird ways. Roads along the southern tip of the lake are some of the worst driving roads in the country during winter. As I write this, I am stuck in Michigan as a blizzard has made traveling west impossible for Christmas.


Come Christmas, I headed towards Iowa in the Dart. We exchanged money, and I was the owner of my beautiful Mazda. At the time, it had just a hair over 30,000 miles. The factory tires on the car were Hancooks. I do not remember the specific tire, other than I was told they did poorly in rain and snow. For those not familiar, the stretch of land from the southern tip of Lake Michigan up to the Grand Rapids, MI, area is known to get consistent dumping of lake effect snow that makes winter traveling very difficult. As I was getting ready to leave for Michigan, there was a 100% chance I would be driving in heavy snow. The tires on the Mazda did not give me the confidence I would make it home without an accident, so off I went to Michigan in the Dart with its Blizzaks. Once I got home, it was a good thing I took the Dart, as the roads were very poor.

Just before I purchased the Mazda, I happened to be at my roommate’s wedding in Chicagoland. My friend’s wife really wanted me to meet her friend at their wedding. I was very relucent and politely told her I was not interested. Well at the wedding, here my friend’s wife had placed me at the same table as her friend. By the end of the evening, we exchanged phone numbers and were making plans on when and how we could see each other again. Just after Christmas, we were officially doing long-distance dating. This meant we were taking turns driving the 3 hrs. between Chicagoland and Holland, MI. As soon as the Mazda made it to Michigan, I had a set of Michelin Ice-X tires mounted on 16″ wheels from Tire Rack. The Michelin’s were not as good as the Blizzaks, but soon got many miles I drove back and forth between Holland and Chicago.

I still find these striking cars.


If you recall, in the fall of 2017, I sold the white Ranger to simplify my life. However, not long after the Ranger was gone, the Saturn entered my life, and the simplification was thrown out the window. I ended up using the Saturn as my work/week car and got the Mazda out for weekend use as I headed west to Chicagoland. The Mazda quickly earned the title of a highway cruiser, as my girlfriend and I drove all over the Midwest as we entered that chapter of our lives where all of our friends were getting married. My girlfriend could not and did not want to drive a manual, so I did all the driving, which I was okay with. I really enjoyed the Mazda as a highway cruiser. It was quiet, comfortable, roomy, required regular fuel, and got almost as good fuel mileage as the Dart. It was a true delight to own.

When I would give people rides in the Mazda, everyone would comment on how nice of a vehicle it was and would ask how expensive it was. Everyone was blown away that it was 1) a Mazda and 2) not that expensive. I personally think Mazda is a hidden gem in today’s automotive landscape. Mazda has been trying over the last decade to improve its position in the automotive landscape and deliver semi-luxury vehicles. Mazda’s worldview is one where the car and driver should be one. The car is more than just a tool. Mazda engineers take time to think about how the driver reacts to the vehicle and aims to deliver a product that is well thought out and not just another appliance. In looking at the construction of the Mazda over the Dart, I could tell the Mazda was better built and engineered. When it came time to do oil changes, the oil filter and drain plug were easily accessible, something that was not the case on the Fiat 1.4L. When it came time to do a transmission fluid change, I was blown away by how easy it was. I remember the radiator had a cutout in it for a wrench to be applied to the transmission fill plug. Only a Japanese company with put this level of thought into its vehicles.

My dad searched the midwest for a red car equipped with a tan interior. Not many manual 6’s came equipped with this exact spec. I have yet to find another manual transmission 6 that has a light tan interior. 90% of Mazdas come equipped with black interiors.


2016 brought mid-cycle updates to the Mazda6 that included the current infotainment system that is operated by buttons and a control dial near the cupholders. Mazda limits touchscreen use on their infotainment screens to when the vehicle is stopped. Much has been written about Mazda’s systems all over the web. Most automotive journalists do not like this system and bitch about them limiting touch screen use. After living with the system, I have to completely disagree with their stance and am Team Mazda. My senior year of engineering school required us to take a class on the history of technology and a philosophy of engineering class. Before I took the courses, I thought they would be a waste of time. After completing them, they were some of the most enjoyable courses in college, because they made me think about how engineering interacts with the world on a much deeper level. One concept we learned about is aesthetically pleasing designs. These are designs that in use are simple but can be complex to produce. The idea is the engineer should think about how the user will use the product and will take into account their interactions. A product that requires no or very little instructions is considered an aesthetically pleasing design (think Ikea instructions or an iPhone). HVAC controls in cars are a prime example. Three dial controls (one for temperature, one for fan speed, and one for the air setting) are in nature very simple to use. Almost zero thought goes into using them. Almost everyone can figure out how to operate them on first use. How many times have you gotten in a different vehicle with a more complex system that uses various buttons and screens. Frustration and confusion start, as you cannot figure out how to turn the fan off. Because more complex cognitive thought is required, these are considered to not be aesthetically pleasing designs. Mazda was aiming for this with their current infotainment systems. Old-school radios had physical buttons. One could drive, and without thinking, reach down and adjust the volume, change channels, or preset, and not have to actually think about what they were doing and most importantly, take their eyes off the road. Mazda incorporated switches on the central counsel to try to recapture this inherit tactile feeling. Many cars with touchscreens do not give you a tactile feel when you change an input. As a result, you take your eyes off the road and switch your focus on driving to a focus on trying to change your fan speed, turn your heated seat on, or change a radio preset. This is a long-winded way to say, I understood where Mazda is coming from in their current infotainment systems and fully will defend their systems. Are they perfect, no, but they seem to be the only automaker that is more focused on not distracting passengers.

Sunday afternoons I like to handwash my vehicle. Washing this car was always a delight. I love the body lines on these 6’s. I still think they are one of the most attractive vehicles on the road today. I thought the exterior updates in 2018 further improved their attractiveness and made them seem even more premium. I think Mazda’s soul-red-metallic paint is very attractive. I would always turn around and look at the car after I parked it and would admire the deep color. If I was the CEO of Mazda, I would make all Mazda’s come in any color, as long as they were soul-red-metallic. I think it is gorgeous paint.

Do you mean other people make trunks this nice other than VW?


As time moved forward, my girlfriend and I found we really enjoyed spending time with each other and did not like living multi-states away. In the summer of 2019, my girlfriend became my fiancée. The Mazda was still serving its function of taking us all over the Midwest as we prepared for the wedding by traveling between our parent’s homes. My fiancée and I spent so much time of our relationship in the Mazda traveling, that it was only fitting we used the vehicle as the “get-away” car at our wedding in January 2020. After we got married, we then had four vehicles in our driveway, which was too many. My wife had a nice car, and I had sold the Saturn and had a different work vehicle, as well as a fun toy. The Mazda spent its time in the garage and did not get driven much if at all. The vehicle I was using for commuting was much older, not as fuel efficient, or as nice as the Mazda, but was serving all my needs. Since my wife had a newer, nice vehicle, there was very little reason to keep the Mazda around.

By this point, it had just over 65,000 miles on it. I loved owning this car. For those that do not know, Michigan is the most expensive state to insure a car. This is not good for vehicles that sit and do not get driven. With these reasons in mind, I listed the car for sale in February 2020. I listed it for $13,500, which included two sets of wheels and tires. At the time, this was a “high” price for the car, but I knew what it was and was willing to wait for the right buyer. I had zero interest in the car since it was a manual, but I waited. A few weeks went by and in the first week of March, the right buyer came along at the right time. He knew exactly what the car was and paid me what I was asking. He was very excited to have the manual “sexy 6” in his life. Money was exchanged and the car went to a new home. Now I sold my car just before Covid happened, which resulted in used car prices falling quickly before they shot off to outer space. Do I regret not waiting? No, because no one had any idea what was going to happen. I was just glad to see the car go to someone who would appreciate it. When I sold it, everyone thought I was crazy to get rid of it, but I could not justify having such a nice vehicle. I do not regret selling it, but I wish I could have kept it. Does that make any sense?

The backseat was very spacious.


I had zero issues with the car. My own experience was very enjoyable. The improved reliability, ownership experience, and vehicle construction made me start to think that better vehicles come from Japan. To this day, when I see a Mazda6 of this generation in soul-red-metallic, I always stop to look at it. I loved my Mazda and really think highly of these cars. At the time, I was a late 20’s single guy who was driving a manual transmission, family sedan. My good friend Paul thought I was crazy for liking this car so much. Paul is similar in age to me and believes everything needs more power and boost. He did not understand why I sold the Dart and bought this “mundane” car. However, the week of my wedding he spent a lot of seat time driving this around Chicagoland running errands, picking up guests, and transporting presents back to Michigan. When we returned from our honeymoon, he told me he understood why I liked this car so much.

In the last couple of years, Mazda dropped the 6 from their US lineup. It is a real shame because these were great cars. What is even more of a shame, is the Miata and the current 3 hatchback in highest trim are Mazda’s only US manual transmission cars. I really wish Mazda still had this transmission available in their whole lineup (could you imagine a current CX-9 with a 6-speed manual?!?), as it is a great gearbox. It is a real shame we are watching the death of the manual transmission. I would not have expected that in my lifetime. I guess all we can do is hold on to what we have and try to keep manuals alive when we purchase newer vehicles.

This past fall, I went to Germany for a quick work trip. I did not have much time, so sightseeing was out of the question, but I did a lot of walking from my hotel to the business convention I went to. In my many walks, I got to partake in the joy of seeing European forbidden fruit. My favorite car I saw was a Mazda6 wagon. I remember seeing one and stopping dead in my tracks. Just gorgeous.  Maybe if I make it rich someday I’ll import one in 25 years.

My ultimate dream car.


Next week we will learn what vehicle my wife and I purchased just before we got married. I’ll give you a hint that my Mazda ownership had a big influence on what would come next.