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With the excellent new 2014 Mazda6, the automaker shows that its 'zoom-zoom' personality really does scale up into a mid-size car. And furthermore, it proves that the company's core SkyActiv initiative—aimed at keeping cars lean and frugal yet engaging to drive—works.
The outgoing 6 was an often-overlooked model that we've consistently rated one of the most enjoyable to drive models in its class. As for the current model, it's now one of the best-driving mid-size sedans, wrapped in a far more charming, almost sexy exterior.
From the new corporate grille and front end (more of a refined, masculine face than the clownish smile of some other recent models), to the rippled, muscular-looking front fender lines, the arched roofline, and the smooth, surprisingly refined tail and rear lights, the 2014is just gorgeous. Pacing around at 360 degrees, it's impossible to find an awkward angle on this car. The proportions are the best they get in this class, and it's a knockout. Open the driver's door, and what you get is a little farther from fantasy. The Mazda 6 interior isn't going to flat-out seduce you the way the exterior does, but it's neat and quite attractive, with tastefully coordinated materials, just enough brightwork, and trims that place just enough soft-touch surfaces in the places where hands are likely to go.
Again perhaps at odds with the sexy sheetmetal, the Mazda 6 has a rather simple powertrain lineup; it's powered by a new 2.5-liter 'SkyActiv' in-line four-cylinder engine, fitted with direct injection, variable valve control, and a very high 13:1 compression ratio (unleaded gas is just fine)—altogether making 184 horsepower and 185 pound-feet of torque, and good for up to 38 mpg on the highway. All versions have front-wheel drive, and the engine is fitted to two all-new transmissions: a six-speed manual, or a six-speed automatic. But it does get better once you're behind the wheel. Mazda has cut lots of weight while strengthening the body, and with a curb weight of just 3,200 pounds the new 6 feels friskier than the output numbers suggest. The new SkyActiv engine needs to be revved in order to access most of its torque; luckily both transmissions tap into that character easily. For the automatic, you get crisp, very quick shifts and almost the feel of a dual-clutch unit; and the manual (our favorite) has short throws and clean, precise action. The Mazda6 isn't sport-sedan firm, yet it handles near the top of the mid-size class; steering is quick and well-weighted, too, although somehow it loses its feel of the road.
If you've spent any time in the new Ford Fusion, or even the new Nissan Altima or Honda Accord, it's likely you'll concede—like we did—that the Mazda6's interior appointments aren't quite on the high ground that those models set. The seats in the Mazda6 are the exception. They're excellent, and even if you go for the base Sport model you'll find great lateral support. The rear bench seat lacks the headroom that taller adults need, and it's positioned quite high up. A roomy trunk and flip-forward rear seats provide that extra dose of practicality that's now the norm for this class.
In addition to all the usual airbags, plus stability control, and four-wheel disc brakes with Brake Assist, some Mazda6 models are offered with Blind Sport Monitoring with Rear Cross Traffic Alert—a system that helps spot cross traffic as you're backing out of a parking space, or warn of an adjacent vehicle when changing lanes. There's also Lane Departure Warning, and Forward Obstruction Warning, which detects vehicles ahead and sounds a warning; Smart City Brake Support is also offered—helping prevent collisions due to inattention, at speeds between 4 and 19 mph. Adaptive Front Lighting and High Beam Control are also on offer. The Mazda6 also fits in among the safest models on the market, as an IIHS Top Safety Pick+.
Standard features on the base Sport include air conditioning, power windows and locks, remote keyless entry, cruise control, push-button start, a USB audio input, and 17-inch alloy wheels (there are no steel wheels in the lineup). Get the automatic-transmission Sport and you add Bluetooth, HD Radio compatibility, and a rear-view camera system, with a 5.8-inch color touch screen. Touring models get dual-zone climate control, a power driver's seat, blind-spot monitoring, Rear Cross Traffic Alert, rear-seat vents, leatherette seats, 19-inch alloy wheels, and the so-called Commander Switch with alternate controls for the screen. And at the top of the lineup, Grand Touring models add leather upholstery, heated front seats, a memory driver's seat and power passenger seat, a fog lamps, steering-wheel paddle-shifters, satellite radio, a power moonroof, bi-xenon headlamps, LED running lamps, and adaptive front lighting. Both the mock-iDrive Commander Switch and the TomTom navigation system are flat-out disappointing, with a laggy response to some of their features, poor map detail, and oddly coordinated menus. But the Bose sound of the 11-speaker premium system is excellent.
- Curvaceous new exterior
- Confident, sporty driving feel
- New active-safety features
- Excellent fuel economy
- Sweet, refined powertrains
Next: Interior / Exterior »
- Roofline limits backseat space
- Infotainment feels dated at launch
- Lack of stronger V-6 or turbo engines
- Bluetooth not included in base model
- No longer made in the U.S.A.