Have you seen the all-new 2014 Mazda 6? If you haven’t you really should. The new 6’s “Kodo” design language instantly vaults it from a forgotten mid-size family sedan to a flashy alternative to the likes of the ho-hum Big Three from Japan – the Toyota Camry, Honda Accord and Nissan Altima.
Previously joined at the hip with Ford (Ford owned 1/3 of Mazda), the last-generation Mazda 6 was based on the Ford Fusion. Both were rather unremarkable and, by all accounts, the lucrative mid-size market had passed over Mazda. In 2012, for every Mazda 6 sold, Toyota sold 12 Camrys and Honda sold 10 Accords.
Last year, Ford shook up the mid-size family sedan segment with its sensational 2013 Fusion. Sporting an Aston-Martin inspired nose and swoopy 4-door “coupe” styling, the Fusion instantly vaulted Ford into mainstream consciousness. Great styling can sell a car without spending a dollar on marketing.
Together with the new Fusion, the 2014 Mazda 6 represents a new paradigm in what was once the blandest segment of the automotive industry: The mid-size family sedan. The corporate fleet car. The airport rental.
Left to its own devices, without the development dollars or meddling influences of outside managers, Mazda’s engineers cooked up the company’s SkyActiv smorgasbord of technologies to create a complete automotive banquet.
The umbrella term “SKYACTIV” (I hate the all-caps) includes the use of ultra-high tensile steel, lighter and stronger wheels, direct gas injection, high compression, lower-friction materials, i-Eloop (yeah, another loopy name) regenerative braking and the new SkyActiv-Drive 6-speed automatic transmission with faster shifts, lower friction and smarter software.
All you really need to know is that it works in perfect harmony. The new 2.5L 4-cylinder Sky-G direct-injected gas engine makes 184 hp and 185 lb-ft of torque. (It’s also the only engine currently available.) Coupled with the 6-speed SkyDrive automatic, the Mazda 6 is rated at 38 mpg on the highway (26/30/38). If you opt for the Grand Touring model with the Technology Package (that includes i-Eloop regenerative braking), all the fuel economy numbers are pushed up by 2 mpg, which allows the Mazda 6 coveted 40 mpg bragging rights.
The styling is muscular and sleek, like a cheetah waiting to pounce. The designers used some slick tricks to make the hood look longer – like a rear-drive car. The roof slopes in like those far more expensive 4-door coupe models such as the Volkswagen CC or the Mercedes-Benz CLS. The taut metal is creased and molded with evocative purpose under Mazda’s Kodo design theme – which Mazda says loosely translates to “Soul of Motion” to showcase the “graceful movement of nature.” Yeah, I can see eyes rolling now.
If you skip all the designer hyper-babble and just step back and enjoy the view, you know it all works beautifully. This great design starts at $21,000 – proving that mass market, mass segment transportation doesn’t have to a boring appliance.
The Mazda 6 feels and drives lighter than other mid-size sedans. The new electric power steering was light, but communicative and you could easily toss it into curves and turns. The leather-wrapped steering wheel felt great in my hands.
The chassis seemed tight but flexible. It was able to soak up road imperfections with ease and without fluster. I didn’t feel punished like I do when driving a BMW with its rock-hard run-flat tires.
I don’t love everything about the new 6. I found the engine a bit lacking in low-end torque and it had to be pushed hard to move quickly. A turbo would perk up this excellent engine and I’m sure Mazda engineers are working on one (even if they say they aren’t).
Inside, some of the plastics felt cheap, particularly in the base model. The 5.8” full-color touch-screen infotainment and navigation screen worked well, but felt small compared to the 8” MyFord Touch unit in the Ford Fusion or the 8.4” U-Connect screen in my Dodge Charger.
There were lots of dead buttons and I hate that. Of course the answer to this problem is to pop for the top-of-the-line Grand Touring (GT) model with all the option boxes ticked. Then there are no dead buttons to remind you that something was missing.
I think that the $30,490 GT with the $2,080 Technology package is a real bargain, considering the raft of cool tech all bundled together. In fact, for many years now, Mazda has led the way in loading expensive luxury technology into affordable mainstream products like its volume-leader Mazda 3.
The list of useful, affordable high-tech features is long and impressive:
- Dual-zone automatic climate control
- 19-inch aluminum-alloy wheels with premium finish
- 8-way power-adjustable driver’s seat with power lumbar adjustment and memory settings
- 4-way power-adjustable passenger’s seat
- Dual power side mirrors with integrated turn signal indicators
- Power windows with driver’s one-touch-down/up feature
- Tilt and telescopic steering wheel (manual)
- Steering-wheel-mounted audio and cruise controls
- Advanced front air bags, front side-impact air bags and side-impact air curtains
- Dynamic Stability Control (DSC)** & Traction Control System (TCS)
- Auto-dimming rearview mirror with HomeLink
- Auto-dimming driver’s side mirror
- Rear seat heat and A/C vents
- Blind Spot Monitoring System
- Rear Cross Traffic Alert
- Hill launch assist
- Bluetooth® hands-free phone and audio streaming
- 5.8″ full-color touch-screen display
- Back-up camera
- HD Radio
- Pandora Internet radio
- SMS text message audio delivery and reply
- Power sliding glass moonroof
- Bi-Xenon headlights with auto on/off
- LED daytime running lights
- Auto rain-sensing wipers
- Steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters
- Mazda Advanced Keyless Entry with push-button start
- Navigation system with real-time traffic updates
- Heated front seats
- Leather-trimmed seats
- Bose® Centerpoint® Surround Sound Audio System with 11 speakers (including subwoofer)
- SiriusXM Satellite Radio with 4-month trial subscription to the Sirius Select Package
- Smart City Brake Support
- Advanced Technology Package (Grand Touring trim level) $2,080:
- Radar Cruise Control
- Forward Obstruction Warning
- I-Eloop regenerative braking system with capacitor storage
- Lane departure warning
- Automatic high beams
- Remote Engine Start – $575
- Rear Parking Sensors – $475
There are only a couple of things I’d like to see on this list. Cooled front seats would be nice, particular in warmer climates like we have in Los Angeles. All four windows should be one-touch up/down – it costs nearly pennies. A thinner smart key would be better for pants pockets.
Do I want it? No, but that’s just me. I’m waiting for a different power plant. Before the end of 2013, Mazda will introduce its first diesel engine in the U.S. market. The all-new SkyActiv-D is reported to be a gem, boasting the world’s lowest-compression ratio. The low compression ratio cuts emissions enough to eliminate the need for expensive exhaust treatments and it meets both European and U.S. standards.
The 2.2 liter engine gets a two-stage turbocharging system with a small turbine that boosts low-end torque while a larger turbo increases high-end horsepower. It should produce around 173 hp and a whopping 310 lb-ft of torque. The diesel should deliver stellar mpg. Car and Driver reported an estimated highway 43 mpg while Popular Science predicted 56 highway mpg. With the 6’s 16.4 gallon tank, it could have a hybrid-busting 700+ mile cruising range. That’s what I want!