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If you are in the market for a new mid-size sedan, then there are likely two models that have stood out to you during your research: the 2021 Honda Accord and the 2021 Mazda 6. Honda and Mazda seem to enjoy battling it out to see who has the best sedans, and the competition can become fierce.
This year is no different. The new Accord shows up with a revised front fascia and a revised trim level line-up in order to set the bar high. Although the manual transmission is no longer available, wireless smartphone app integration is - two changes that reflect developing consumer demands. The Mazda 6 is slightly behind on technology since it just made basic smartphone app integration standard and does not seem to have adopted wireless availability for it yet. The only change it packs in for the model year is the new Carbon Edition appearance package.
So, which sedan will best suit your needs? Is one better than the other? We will go over their respective powertrain options, drivability factors, and safety features. In the end, we will let you know whether the Accord or Mazda 6 has the best value and is the best overall purchase.
First up are the powertrains. The 2021 Honda Accord offers two choices, starting with a 1.5-L turbocharged 4-cylinder engine that generates 192 hp and is paired up with a continuously variable automatic transmission (or CVT for short) that directs power to the front wheels. This comes standard on most trim levels. If you want something even more powerful, there is a 2.0-L turbo 4-cylinder on the Sport 2.0T and Touring trim levels that generates 252 hp. This engine comes paired with a 10-speed automatic transmission instead of the CVT. There is also a hybrid variant of the Accord that you can check out if you want to save even more money at the pump. The base engine gets an EPA estimated 32-33 mpg combined, which is one of the best estimates a mid-sized sedan can get.
Choosing the Mazda 6 means that you get to pick from a couple of different engine options. First, there is the standard 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine that musters up 187 horsepower and 186 lb-ft of torque. A 6-speed automatic transmission comes matched up to it. Front-wheel drive is equipped on every trim level in the line-up. If this engine does not cut it for you, there is the turbocharged version of it, which gets 227 hp and 310 lb-ft when you use regular gas or 250 hp and 320 lb-ft when you fill up on 93 octane instead. When the optional turbo engine is equipped, the 6 gets an EPA estimated 26 mpg combined.
Now that you know a little bit about what is underneath the hood of each of these two vehicles, let's talk about how they actually perform. After all, drivability is something you are going to be looking for while test-driving a car, so it is important to know what to expect. We will discuss acceleration, braking, steering, handling, ride comfort/quality, and overall comfort given to passengers and the driver.
Take the Accord, for starters. While its raw data for acceleration rate is nothing to marvel at (about a solid 8 seconds going from 0 to 60 miles per hour), it does not feel sluggish by any means. This is a pretty typical number for a base engine on a mid-size sedan, and you should certainly expect the more high-powered 2.0-L turbo engine to be a bit zippier. The thing about the Accord's powertrains is that they do respond rapidly to any inputs made by the driver. The CVT is certainly the more efficiency-oriented of the two available transmissions, but it shows no hesitation when shifting between gears. Whenever you need more power, the CVT will deliver it. And the 10-speed automatic does an excellent job as well; you will just have to bear with it taking the car's fuel efficiency down very slightly.
Cornering in the Accord shows no signs of body roll. Everything feels like smooth sailing, so if you have to cut a sharp turn, you can do so with confidence, knowing that the wheels are staying firmly planted on the ground. The brakes are easy to modulate and create some seriously smooth stops. Even when you need to slam on the brakes for an emergency stop, the wheels track straight-on, and the Accord comes to a stop in a shorter distance than most other mid-sized sedans. While the steering column really does not provide a ton of feedback, the wheel is well-weighted and the steering itself simple and accurate.
Comfort is another area where Honda truly excels. The Accord's seats are padded for comfort and won't give out during long road trips. Regulating the cabin's air temperature is easily done via a series of manual controls, and the cabin will stay at whatever temperature it is that you desire. The smaller wheels on the lower trim levels provide ample ride comfort while going over bumps and broken pavement. A little bit of tire noise will come in while you speed along on the highway, but the cabin is otherwise well muted from outside sound. The engine barely makes a peep, so for those who are used to growly engines, you might find yourself checking to make sure it is still running.
Now, about the Mazda 6. It is actually one of the best handling mid-sized sedans on the market right now. It can turn corners with absolute ease, and it remains composed while going over dips in the road's surface. Small and large bumps alike are no match for it. The steering system has a good amount of bulk to it at slower speeds, which means that the driver gets enough feedback from the road.
The one problem the Mazda 6 has is with how it loses steam as it goes. The initial thrust of acceleration is decent enough, but the engine's power just seems to peter out the more you go along on higher speed roads or the highway. The 6-speed automatic transmission is a little bit outdated too. Most automakers have moved away from using them in their sedans, but Mazda holds onto this one for some reason. It gives decent enough shifts between gears but does not do much overall in terms of efficiency.
The Mazda 6's seats are pretty cozy when you have to spend a lot of time in them. They are firm enough to keep you locked in place, but they also hold up well over time. The dual-zone climate control system does not work as quickly as the Accord's does, but it will maintain the temperature you want once it finally gets there.
The Mazda 6's biggest pitfall in terms of drivability is its ride quality. It is far from the plush nature you would expect from a family-oriented mid-sized sedan. The sport-tuned suspension prioritizes fun over functionality, and the Mazda 6's suspension is definitely stiffer than the Accord's. Some wind and road noise will seep in while you are going at highway speeds, but the cabin otherwise remains fairly quiet. It just is not quite as refined and tranquil as the Accord's cabin.
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Since safety is a huge priority for any buyer, knowing which safety features to expect on which trim levels and how a vehicle scores on its safety exams is crucial. When you go to make your final decision, consider which features are most vital to your (and your family's) safety and how well the vehicle's body structure holds up in crash tests.
Take the Honda Accord. Honda is renowned for being virtually obsessed with safety - and that is definitely not a bad thing. Since it is such a priority for this automaker, you can expect the Accord to be loaded to the brim with many advanced driver aids and other active and passive safety features. The Honda Sensing bundle of driver aids comes standard on each trim level. This suite includes forward collision warning (which will apply the brakes in order to prevent or at least minimize the impact of a frontal impact), adaptive cruise control (which will automatically adjust the Accord's speed in order to maintain a safe following distance from the vehicle in front of it), and lane keep assist (a feature that makes small adjustments to the steering in order to keep the vehicle centered within its lane). Upgrading to the EX-L trim levels adds a blind-spot monitoring system and rear cross-traffic alert. It also equips front and rear parking sensors, which will alert the driver to any potential objects near the bumpers that could get in the way while trying to park the vehicle. The line-topping Touring trim level adds low-speed anti-collision brakes, which means the vehicle will apply the brakes while going between 1 and 6 mph in order to stop a bumper-to-bumper accident.
When it comes to safety scores, the Honda Accord ranks high. In fact, The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) gave it a full five scores overall and five scores on every single test. It assigned the Accord a 9.3% rollover risk. The Insurance Institute of Highway Safety (IIHS) gave the Accord 'Good' scores all around.
Let's move on to the 2021 Mazda 6. The Mazda 6 comes with a series of driver aids similar to those on the Accord. This bundle includes pedestrian detection on the automatic emergency braking system, a blind spot monitoring system, lane keep assist, lane departure warning, rear cross traffic alert, and adaptive cruise control. Rear automatic braking, a driver attention warning, and a 360-degree surround view camera system come equipped only on the line-topping Signature trim level.
NHTSA assigned the Mazda 6 an overall five star rating, but it lost a point on both the Passenger-side Frontal Barrier Crash Rating and on the Rollover assessment (which was rated at 10.3%). IIHS gave the Mazda 6 'Good' ratings, placing it right up there with the Accord.
Which Has the Best Value?
When it comes to value, the 2021 Honda Accord beats the Mazda 6. The interior design is more high-end than what you might expect, loaded with high-quality materials all throughout. While the Mazda 6's Signature trim level has a refined vibe, you do have to pay a lot to get it. The Accord's mid-level trims offer more value in this regard and are affordable enough. You will not find too many hard plastic surfaces inside of the Accord.
Which is Better?
Overall, the 2021 Honda Accord edges out the 2021 Mazda 6, even though they are both strong contenders in the mid-size sedan segment. The Accord's lower trim levels are packed with value, and the ride quality is superior to the Mazda 6's. Refinement is key to the mid-size sedan market, and Honda absolutely nails it time and time again with their Accord models.