Goodness comes to those who wait for the Mazda6


The 2014 Mazda Mazda6 is a handsome sedan. The sleek sedan is possibly the best example yet of the automaker’s Kodo design language and does anything but blend into a crowd — especially when wearing the premium Soul Red paint that our tester arrived in. Despite seeing the sedan at what feels like every car show of the 2012-13 season, I found myself simply admiring its curves and creases in the sunlight for some time.

But helping you to choose the right midsize sedan isn’t as easy as picking the best-looking car, so I forced myself to tear my eyes away from the exterior to settle into the almond leather-trimmed driver’s seat, fiddle with the now familiar TomTom-powered navigation system, and put the Mazda6 and its assortment of SkyActiv engine and construction technologies to the test.

SkyActiv Technology
The lowercase “i” designation in the 2014 Mazda Mazda6’s i Grand Touring’s lengthy full model name indicates that this sedan is powered by the 2.5-liter, 4-cylinder SkyActiv-G engine, which is the same engine that can be found motivating the previously tested Mazda CX-5.

The stated output of 184 horsepower and 185 pound-feet of torque is a respectable showing for an engine of this size, but it’s also not an overwhelming amount of grunt. That said, Mazda’s four-banger is doing work with less fuel thanks to direct-injection technology. The new 2.5-liter has about 14 more ponies at its disposal and twists its crank with almost 20 more pound-feet of torque than the outgoing model did.

Compared with the 2013 Toyota Camry SE’s 2.5-liter engine, which boasts similar on-paper stats, the Mazda’s power comes on much later in the power band, which typically makes an engine feel less alive during around-town driving where low-end torque rules. However, whatever SkyActiv low-friction, low-mass magic Mazda has worked inside the engine makes the mill feel more alive than the Toyota and more willing to reach into those upper revs for the power that it needs. Additionally, the Mazda6 feels just as capable at highway speeds and never seems to be wanting for passing power — particularly when the driver preselects a lower passing gear with the steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters.

Engine bay

The 2.5-liter engine makes a respectable amount of power thanks to direct injection technology and low-friction construction.

(Credit: Josh Miller/CNET)

The SkyActiv-G engine is complemented by the SkyActiv-Drive six-speed automatic “sport” transmission, which sends power to the front wheels. There’s nothing particularly sporty about this conventional torque-converter gearbox, unless you count our Grand Touring model’s steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters and manual shift program. The gearbox seems to lack a dedicated automatic sport mode. I suppose that Mazda would have us believe that the normal D mode is sporty enough, but the emphasis of this default is economy, which explains why fellow Car Tech editor Wayne Cunningham described the Mazda6 as “gutless” after a short spin. You’ll need to fiddle with the manual shift mode if you want to take full advantage of the power locked away in the upper reaches of the four-cylinder engine’s RPM range, and even then you’ll have to temper your expectations of the sleek sedan’s forward thrust.

A six-speed SkyActiv manual transmission is available on the entry-level Mazda6 Sport trim level, but our top-of-the-line Grand Touring model and the midrange Touring trim are only available with the automatic.

The EPA estimated 30 combined mpg breaks down to 26 mpg and 38 mpg in the city and on the highway, respectively. I only managed to average about 25.9 mpg during my lead-footed testing, which included and required a bit of aggressive driving to test the acceleration capabilities of the SkyActiv-G engine and SkyActiv-Drive gearbox. While I consider my results to be a bit of a worst-case scenario for heavy-footed drivers seeking the Zoom-Zoom promised in Mazda’s adverts, I think even miserly owners will have a hard time approaching the 38 mpg mark.

Zoom-Zoom handling
What the 2014 Mazda6 lacks in pure forward thrust, it makes up for in agility and handling. Now I’m not going so far as to say the the 6 effortlessly rides around bends on rails like its much smaller sibling the MX-5 Miata or even muscles and powers through them like the Mazdaspeed3, but for what is ostensibly a large sedan measuring 191.5 inches from nose to tail (about two inches longer than the Camry and nearly equaling the Honda Accord), the Mazda6 is surprisingly light on its toes.

That’s partially thanks to Mazda’s suspension engineers’ ability to dial in a ride that is both supple and responsive, but the sedan also has its lightweight construction to thank. At 3,232 pounds, the Mazda6 is no bantamweight, but it carries its mass well.

A fully independent suspension, consisting of MacPherson struts up front and a multilink independent setup out back, helps to keep the sedan planted while also soaking up all but the most unreasonable of bumps. The rubber meets the road in the form of 225-width all-season tires wrapped around 19-inch alloy wheels. The ride isn’t as quiet as the Camry or Accord, but a bit of extra road noise isn’t annoying and is in keeping with the “sporty” image that I believe Mazda is trying to project.

steering wheel

Like many new models, the 2014 Mazda6 makes use of electronically assisted power steering.

(Credit: Josh Miller/CNET)

The Mazda’s steering rack is electronically boosted, now a common fuel saving measure. The wheel doesn’t offer much in the way of feedback, but the 6 has a good seat of the pants feel coming up from the suspension. The sedan exhibits roll and understeer when pushed — which is fine, trust me — but turn-in is rather good, which gives the Mazda6 notable emergency lane change responsiveness.

Tech by TomTom
The Grand Touring trim level comes fully loaded with all of the bells and whistles that the 2014 Mazda6 offers, with few proper options available.

Standard features include a 5.8-inch, touch-sensitive Mazda infotainment system that features navigation powered by TomTom. Like the system that we’ve tested in the Mazda CX-5 and Mazdaspeed3 models, this system duplicates the interface of TomTom’s portable navigation devices, complete with its menu system for address entry and destination search. Pros include TomTom’s excellent routing algorithms and SD card-based map data that is easily updatable. In the Cons column, there’s TomTom’s sometimes confusing interface. On the whole, I like this system which features traffic data.

In addition to the touch screen and voice command for many functions, the Mazda6 driver is also able to make use of a control knob on the center console to make onscreen selections by twisting and pressing. This knob is surrounded by shortcut keys for its four major infotainment functions (audio, phone, navigation, and setup) along with a pair of back buttons. This is the first time that I’ve seen a physical controller with this generation of Mazda infotainment. I like the fact that Mazda gives its drivers so many options for interacting with the tech.

Turn-by-turn directions and audio sources reach your ears via a standard (for the Grand Touring model) 11-speaker Bose audio system that sounds good for this price point, but not great. Digital audio sources include HD Radio tuning, SiriusXM Satellite Radio, USB and iPod connectivity, Bluetooth connectivity for hands-free calling and audio streaming, and a single-disc CD player with MP3 decoding capability. Analog audio sources include AM/FM radio and a 3.5mm analog auxiliary input.

TomTom navigation

Turn-by-turn navigation is powered by TomTom and features the familiar interface from the portable devices.

(Credit: Josh Miller/CNET)

Pair a smartphone that is running Pandora Internet Radio and the Mazda system can even take control of the app, allowing users to browse their stations, skip tracks, and assign thumbs-up and -down ratings from the touch screen.

Users can access a number of vehicle options via the 5.8-inch screen, including controlling the behavior of the automatic HID headlamps, automatic windshield wipers, and power locks with keyless entry and push-button start. Physical controls exist elsewhere for activation of the Adaptive Front Lighting feature that steers the headlamps with the wheels to illuminate around bends.

Mazda infotainment

Mazda’s infotainment system is simple and easy to understand despite offering a large number of audio sources.

(Credit: Josh Miller/CNET)

Standard safety tech includes a rear-view camera, which also makes use of the 5.8-inch screen. While this system does display static distance markers, those lines don’t move when you steer the wheel to predict your trajectory. Users can add optional Rear Backup Sensors to the mix for $475 for an extra layer of auditory warning.

In the side mirrors, you’ll find small LEDs for the blind-spot monitoring system, which also beeps if the turn signal is activated with a vehicle in way. This system also includes cross-traffic alert, which beeps when a vehicle approaches from the side while you’re reversing. This is a great standard feature for drivers who often navigate crowded parking lots filled with large, vision blocking SUVs, and I’m happy to see it showing up on more vehicles.

Finally, our Mazda6 was equipped with a $900 Mazda Radar Cruise Control (MRCC) and Forward Obstruction Warning (FOW) Package adds, well, radar-guided adaptive cruise control and a Forward Obstruction Warning system that beeps to warn an inattentive driver if the system detects that a collision with a vehicle or pedestrian is imminent. In combination with the Smart City Brake Support system, the FOW system can also begin applying the brakes in an attempt to reduce the speed and severity of the accident or avoid the collision.

Pricing and sum
The entry-level Mazda Mazda6 i Sport starts at $20,880 with a fairly basic level of in-dash technology and cabin comfort. Our 2014 Mazda Mazda6 i Grand Touring, on the other hand, is an all-inclusive, full-loaded upgrade at $29,495 with all of the cabin technology currently available to the sedan, a good showing of standard safety tech, and plenty of cabin comfort and styling upgrades.

Our as tested price of $31,490 also includes $900 for the MRCC and FOW package, $300 for the Soul Red paint (money well spent, IMHO, on a gorgeous deep color), and $795 in destination fees. This vehicle will no doubt be cross-shopped with the 2013 Toyota Camry and 2013 Honda Accord and will compare favorably in styling, tech, and value. However, I think that the most dangerous competition to the 6 comes from the 2013 Ford Fusion, which is an equally good value when comparably equipped and is also available with such advanced driver aid features as lane departure warning, lane-keep assist, and the crowd-pleasing Active Park Assist automated parallel-parking system.

2014 Mazda Mazda6 i GT

The 2014 Mazda Mazda6 i is an attractive sedan, but I’d hold out for the 2.2-liter turbodiesel model.

(Credit: Josh Miller/CNET)

Of course, patient prospective 2013 Mazda6 owners can wait until the $2,080 Advanced Package comes available in late May; it adds a lane departure warning system, automatic high-beam headlights, and Mazda’s i-ELOOP system, which replaces the alternator with a regenerative braking system that recaptures energy when decelerating to charge a capacitor, reducing drag on the engine, freeing up to 10 percent more power for actual driving, and boosting the fuel economy a few ticks. But that’s not the only reason to hold off on buying a new Mazda6.

 

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