It’s a great year for consumers looking to buy a midsize sedan. The market is awash with brand new offerings from manufacturers like Ford, Chevrolet Honda and Nissan, never mind still-fresh entries from Toyota and the Korean makers.
Imagine the challenge for a smaller brand, like Mazda, just to get noticed. But the Japanese maker has come up with the sort of package that should guarantee it some attention from smart shoppers looking for a mix of striking design, solid mileage and spirited driving.
Handsome, economical and fun to drive, the 2014 Mazda6 doesn’t disappoint, we discovered during our first drive of the new sedan,
Simply put, the exterior styling is gorgeous, delivering a refined and sophisticated interpretation of the maker’s aggressive new styling language first seen on the well-reviewed Takeri concept vehicle revealed at the 2011 Tokyo Motor Show – which itself borrowed heavily from Mazda’s so-called Kodo, or Soul of Motion, design language.
It’s a standout in the midsize segment where caution has often been the watchword. Mazda’s designers have managed to give the new Mazda6 a long hood, a distinctive, five-point “signature wing grille,” a nicely raked windshield, strong lines and a nicely tailored silhouette.
The eye-catching proportions and design details might be enough for some manufacturers, but Mazda has also delivered excellent driving dynamics – which in years past it would have described as part of its Zoom-Zoom DNA, a catchphrase the maker seems to have lately decided to abandon.
Under its striking skin, the 2014 Mazda6 is the second all-new model to feature Mazda’s SkyActiv technology. That phrase takes a little explaining as it is more than just a new powertrain, SkyActiv might be considered a philosophy, one that demands efficiency wherever possible, and Mazda engineers have gone at it with gusto, trimming mass down to the gram level. You know they’re serious when they redesign even the lug nuts to save weight.
The new Mazda6, despite the addition of a significant amount of new content, comes in nearly 100 pounds lighter than the outgoing car. The engineering effort has clearly helped yield a more nimble car that is nonetheless solid and well-planted.
Kudos also go to the tuning of the flagship sedan’s electric power steering, a bone of contention with many competing models that can’t deliver the sort of road feel one had grown to expect from conventional – if less fuel-efficient – hydraulics. The Mazda6 EPS system delivers plenty of feedback and confidence even on demanding roads.
The tight suspension also improves on the kind of dynamic ride that Mazda’s fans have come to expect from the company, which has a long and distinguished record in motorsports. The long, 111.4 inch wheelbase and slimmer, 72.4 inch waistlines also helps improve the car’s overall handling.
All in all the driving dynamics of the new Mazda6 should put it at the head of the crowded midsized field in terms of sporty feel and handling even in regular commuter traffic.
Inside, controls and gauges — augmented by well-placed steering wheel controls – translate into a match for the exterior design. What you discover is a cabin that is both handsome and ergonomic, with a decidedly sporty feel backed by comfortable seats. The overall visibility from the driver’s seat is very good.
As we noted, the idea behind SkyActiv is that technical components operate better when the entire vehicle is tuned in harmony. But it is, in the long-run, the engine that has to sing.
The 2014 Mazda6 comes with a 2.5-liter gasoline engine that produces 184 horsepower at 5,700 rpm and 185 lb-ft of torque at 3,250 rpm. The 13 to 1 race-car-like high compression gasoline engine offers 8% more horsepower and nearly 11% more torque than the MZR 2.5-liter gasoline engine it replaces.
To our delight, Mazda has decided to offer not only the requisite 6-speed automatic but also a 6-speed stick which is available on both base “Sport” and midrange variants of the new sedan. The manual is, as we’d effect from Mazda, quick and responsive.
But the maker has also worked its SkyActiv magic on the automatic – which it describes as a hybrid blending the best attributes of a double-clutch and a more conventional torque convertor design. It doesn’t have the buckiness of a double-clutch at lower speeds but above about 5 mph it also delivers the efficiency of the double-clutch.
The engine is reasonably peppy but not a rocket. In most instances you won’t mind the lack of a V-6 alternative, but we still hope to see Mazda ramp things up with a turbo package, like some of its key competitors.
The entry-level Sport trim with the manual transmission will deliver an EPA-estimated fuel economy rating of 25 city/37 highway/29 combined miles per gallon When paired with the automatic, city mpg increases to 26 mpg and highway figures jump to a segment-best 38 mpg – matching the Nissan Altima – with a combined fuel economy is 30 mpg.
The Mazda6 is equipped with a full array of safety equipment, including air bags, electronic stability control and antilock brakes
The mid-level trim package on the Mazda6 also offers, safety related features such as automatic on/off headlights, rain-sensing windshield wipers, an auto-dimming rearview mirror an auto-dimming driver’s side outside mirror, heated outside mirrors and the all-new Smart City Brake Support, which is designed to assist a driver in avoiding front-end collisions when traveling at speeds of less than 19 miles per hour.
When the embedded radar sensor detects an obtrusive object and the system calculates there may be a high risk for collision, the brake pedal travel is reduced in order to hasten braking.
Depending upon which trim and package you opt for you can also load the 2014 Mazda6 up with niceties such as cross-traffic alert, Bluetooth audio, various navigation displays and plenty more.
And there’ll be more to come. Later this year, the maker plans to deliver a diesel version that it promises will approach hybrid fuel economy levels – without sacrificing performance. That package will actually introduce what Mazda officials are describing as their first step into “electrification,” the new e-LOOP system designed to help recover energy lost during braking to reduce engine power normally lost to running the alternator.
The base Sport with manual gearbox will set you back $20,880. The mid-range Touring comes in at $23,495 and the Grand Touring bumps that to $29,495. Add to that $795 for delivery and various option packages.
If the 2014 Mazda6 has a serious weakness it’s the lack of brand awareness, which is too bad considering the overall package the Japanese maker has come up with. For Mazda, the key will be getting potential buyers into the new sedan. If it can, it will have a very good shot at winning them over with a mix of distinctive styling, solid driving dynamics and segment-leading fuel economy.