Having heard great things about the food and architecture of Minneapolis, my daughter was excited to learn that her college water-polo team would be competing in a tournament at a school just outside of Minnesota’s largest city. As things turned out, that early-spring trip was a whirlwind event that left little time for anything but polo, sleep, and travel.
So, when the Appel family decided to enjoy a long-summer-weekend driving vacation, Minneapolis seemed like a reasonable destination. I happened to be scheduled for a turn in a 2019 Mazda 6 from Consumer Guide’s short-term test fleet for the weekend of our trip, which ended up being a fortuitous arrangement.
Funny thing: I was initially disappointed that a crossover was not available for my journey. Like so many vehicle owners/shoppers, I now equate family time and long-distance travel solely with crossovers. You might think that memories of my family’s 1975 trip from Chicago to Disneyland in a 1970 Chevrolet Nova pulling a Coleman pop-up camper might still resonate with me, but now, half a century later, even my parents drive a crossover.
The real question was, why not a sedan? Why would three people hitting the road for less than a week possibly need more space than can be found in a modern midsize sedan? Turns out we didn’t. More on that in a bit…
Indeed, I made a point of noting situations in which we might have been better served on our journey by a crossover, and those in which the sedan seemed the better vehicle.
The Mazda 6 is little changed for 2019 after receiving a substantial refresh for 2018 that netted it freshened exterior styling, a redesigned interior, a new available engine, and two new high-end trim levels—Grand Touring Reserve and Signature. Our test car was a line-topping Signature model finished in dazzling Soul Red Crystal paint (a $595 option). The Signature, Grand Touring Reserve, and Grand Touring models all come standard with that new-for-’18 engine: a turbocharged 2.5-liter 4-cylinder that puts out 250 horsepower on premium gasoline, and 227 hp on regular gas. The Sport and Touring models are powered by a naturally aspirated 2.5-liter four that makes 187 horsepower.
The Signature model is essentially a loaded, one-price offering—the only options available are extra-cost paint colors and a few accessories. All told, our tester listed for $36,815. It’s worth noting that a recently tested Mazda CX-5 compact crossover listed for $39,450, though that vehicle was equipped with AWD (which isn’t available on the 6).
On the road, the 6 behaves commendably. The car hunkers down nicely at speed, with a firm—almost too firm—ride that feels very much like that of pricier German sedans. The Signature’s standard 19-inch wheels may have stiffened up the ride some, suggesting that the 17-inch wheels on the base Sport trim level might be the better highway setup.
The 6 is very quiet at speed, though per my kid, noise levels rise somewhat in the rear-seat area. That said, normal conversation was possible at 75 mph, even on fairly rough, “un-blacktopped” stretches of the Interstate. The turbocharged engine provides excellent merging and passing power, even on regular gasoline—we didn’t splurge on premium fuel. Nice bonus: The trip computer reported better than 30 mpg on the trip north.
The roughly 400-mile trek from our suburban Chicago home to Minneapolis takes around six hours without rest stops. Having departed the Chicago area a little after rush hour, we encountered little traffic until we reached the outskirts of Minneapolis. The Twin Cities, as the Minneapolis/St. Paul area is known, is considerably more populous than most Americans likely realize. With a population of more than 3.5 million, the “Cities” are the 22nd largest metropolitan area in the U.S., ranking just ahead of San Diego, California.
I mention the population of Minneapolis because it seems as if everyone who lives in the area A) owns a car, and B) chooses to drive it around the city beginning at 5:00 PM. I will just get this out of my system now: Driving around downtown Minneapolis is brutal. Every single street (this is no exaggeration) is closed for construction, partially closed for construction, or it’s a one-way. For whatever reason, none of the traffic lights have been reprogrammed to allow for the closures, nor does the navigation system in the Mazda 6 seem to have any idea what the hell is going on. One can only assume that in a year or two, once the construction has been completed, Minneapolis will cease to be a driving nightmare. But for now, consider yourself warned.
Worth noting: The Mazda 6’s steeply raked windshield affords excellent overhead traffic light visibility. Unless you’re tall, you can’t fully appreciate how difficult it can be to see up and out of many crossovers, this because the roof extends so far forward in front of the driver.
We stayed at The Normandy Inn and Suites, which is smack in the middle of the city’s business district. The classic hotel has roots that date back to the mid-Twenties, though the establishment’s affiliation with the Best Western chain seems to have sucked some of the charm out of the place. The staff was very helpful, however, and the old sham beams and stucco décor feel homey.
Minneapolis may boast the most vegetarian restaurants per capita of any U.S. city. As non-meat eaters, we were eager to do some serious eatery exploration. Here’s a very brief recap of the places we visited:
Invitingly casual with fun 3-D menus and some seriously inventive pizza options. The food is delicious and the service doting, but somehow we spent $75 for three 10-imch pizzas, one cocktail, and one craft root beer.
For a vegetarian, what could possibly be cooler than an authentic butcher shop that sells only homemade vegan meat and cheese substitutes? Sadly, the store doesn’t sell much in the way of prepared food—just deli-style stuff—and the lunchtime sandwich options are limited to just four. That said, my “bacon-wrapped bratwurst” was fabulous.
This authentic Ethiopian eatery looks like a dump from the outside, and it sort of looks like one inside, too. Perhaps not surprisingly, the service, though friendly, is extremely slow and casual. The food, however, is nothing short of delicious. We ordered the vegetarian platter, which is all sorts of fun to eat with injera (thin, spongy Ethiopian bread) instead of utensils. Very reasonably priced.
This trendy downtown bistro isn’t strictly vegetarian, but it offers plenty of meatless options for those so inclined. The subterranean dining room is fun to descend down into, and the general atmosphere is bright and fun. The food is good, the prices Minneapolis-normal (read: a little high), and the service excellent.
We waited 30 minutes to get into this brightly lit, late-night-destination ice-cream shop, and we were not disappointed. Roughly half the flavors available at any given time are vegan, and many are gluten free. I seriously recommend the PB vs. Everybody (peanut butter and banana), though my kid was all about the Thai Tea. If you’re used to Baskin-Robbins, you’ll find the prices here something of a shock.
Trio Plant Based
Our last meal in Minneapolis was also our worst. This relatively recently opened vegetarian spot looks cute, but suffers from massive disorganization and truly offensive prices. Twenty minutes after placing our order we learned that half of what we wanted was “out of stock.” And, even in Minneapolis, $14 for a burger without sides is absurd. My kid did say good things about the sweet potatoes, though.
Hurts Donut Company
This small Springfield, Missouri-based chain is all the rage among donut aficionados. Nothing vegan here, just good ‘nuts. The location we visited is located just outside of Madison, Wisconsin, about midpoint between Chicago and Minneapolis. And at $12 a dozen, these boutique treats cost little more than more run-of-the-mill donuts. My portion of a shared brownie donut was absolutely worth the stop.
. . .
As for Minneapolis architecture, it’s pretty strange. The city appears to have stopped growing sometime in the late Fifties, and then began growing again with a vengeance in the Nineties. The effect is not unlike that of a college campus that received a generous endowment and built a huge, “edgy” new building among a cluster of small, century-old brick dormitories. Strange can be good, however, and Minneapolis’s skyline is impressive to take in from a few miles away.
A couple of notes from the ride home. Being in no hurry, I spent much of my time on the drive noticing small things in the Mazda 6’s cabin. The build quality, for example, is exemplary, and the trim materials are worthy of a much more expensive vehicle. That said, the infotainment screen is small by 2019-model-year standards, and the console-knob-based control system something of a hassle to use even after several hundred miles of familiarization.
Also, Mazda located the 6’s two USB ports in the center console. To close the console lid/armrest, cords must run through the forward part of the hold, thus rubbing against anything located in the rearmost beverage holder. This may sound petty, but every time a drink is removed from the holder, cords drop into that space, seriously complicating the simple process of taking a drink. With seemingly more space to work with, this is not an issue in the aforementioned Mazda CX-5.
The single most damning critique of the Mazda 6, and really of most modern sedans, came from my daughter. She noted from the back seat that she really wasn’t able to see out of her side window without leaning forward. Indeed, the rake of the roof and the location of the side glass dictate than most rear-seat occupants, when sitting comfortably, will be positioned aft of the rear side windows. As taking in the sights is a fundamental part of a driving vacation, this issue is a serious point in favor of crossovers. Of course, as most kids these days spend the bulk of their free time using a device of some sort, it’s possible this isn’t actually an issue at all.
We somehow came home with more stuff than we left with, though I recall having purchased nothing more than T-shirts. That said, the 6’s 14.7 cubic feet of trunk space proved more than adequate for our weekend foray.
The temperatures outside hovered near the triple digits during our trip, which dictated heavy use of the car’s air conditioning. Factor in the hellish stop-and-go traffic we encountered in Minneapolis, and our fuel economy should have suffered—but our trip average was just under 30 mpg, well above the EPA combined estimate of 26. This efficiency comes without the benefit of engine stop/start functionality, and with a transmission of only six gears (more-efficient CVTs or 8-speed automatics are the norm these days).
So, is the Mazda 6 vacation worthy? Absolutely, but perhaps for just two adults. The 6 is fast, quiet, composed at speed, and easy drive on the highway and through serious congestion. Also, at less than $37,000 fully loaded, the 6 seems like something of a bargain. But when you go to test drive the 6, might we suggest you spend some time checking out the CX-5 as well?
2019 Mazda 6 Signature
|CG Report Card|
|Room and Comfort||B+|
|Power and Performance||B+|
|Fit and Finish||A|
|Report-card grades are derived from a consensus of test-driver evaluations. All grades are versus other vehicles in the same class. Value grade is for specific trim level evaluated, and may not reflect Consumer Guide's impressions of the entire model lineup.|
|Big & Tall Comfort|
|Big & Tall comfort ratings are for front seats only. "Big" rating based on male tester weighing approximately 350 pounds, "Tall" rating based on 6'6"-tall male tester.|
|Engine Specs||250-hp 2.5L|
|Engine Type||turbo 4-cylinder
|Drive Wheels||Front-wheel drive|
Class: Midsize Car
Miles driven: 1015
Fuel used: 34.2 gallons
Real-world fuel economy: 29.7 mpg
Driving mix: 65% city, 35% highway
EPA-estimated fuel economy: 23/31/26 (city/highway/combined)
Fuel type: Premium gas recommended
Base price: $35,100 (not including $920 destination charge)
Options on test car: Soul Red Crystal paint ($595), cargo mat ($75), door-sill scuff plates ($125)
Price as tested: $36,815
The great: Roomy interior, upscale cabin trim, refined powertrain
The good: Fuel economy
The not so good: Small center console, limited outward visibility from the back seats