The 2014 Mazda6 is a slickly redesigned mid-size sedan that retains Mazda's sporting nature, while providing lots of practicality.
The new front-drive Mazda has to be good because it's in a tough market. Rivals include the well-established Toyota Camry and Honda Accord-besides the popular Hyundai Sonata and new Ford Fusion.
Virtually everything about the made-in-Japan 2014 Mazda6 is new, including the body, interior, powertrain and suspension. The stiff new unibody has straighter frame rails and more high-strength steel.
A really nice thing about the new Mazda6 is that all systems work together flawlessly, making the car feel "just right." The quick electric steering is nicely weighted, and the ride is supple. Handling is sharp, helped by anti-roll bars and dynamic stability and traction control systems. The strong anti-lock disc brakes have a firm pedal with a progressive action.
Safety items include air bags and side curtains, and you can get radar cruise control and forward obstruction and lane-departure warning systems.
Models include the base Sport, mid-range Touring and Grand Touring. List prices go from $20,880 to $29,495.
I tested the lowest-cost Mazda6-the entry level Sport with a 6-speed manual transmission, which has hill-launch assist for those who fear rolling backwards. Why a manual? Well, Mazdas are partly supposed to be about driving kicks, aren't they? The Touring model also can be had with the manual, and the Sport also is offered, like all other Mazda6 models, with a responsive 6-speed automatic.
The manual-transmission Sport is well-equipped, with air conditioning, push-button start, tilt/telescopic wheel, cruise control, 17-inch alloy wheels, AM/FM/CD/MP3 6-speaker audio system, split fold-down rear seatbacks, power windows and door locks with automatic door locks and remote keyless entry. Dual exhaust outlets visually hint at good performance.
The automatic-transmission Sport adds such items as a full-color touch-screen display and rearview camera.
The Touring adds leatherette seat material, 19-inch alloy wheels, blind spot monitoring system, cross-traffic altert, dual-zone automatic air conditioning, power driver's seat and center console sliding armrest.
The Grand Touring has such things as leather-trimmed seats, power sunroof, power passenger seat, heated front seats, paddle shifters on the steering wheel and a rear-lip spoiler.
Options include a navigation system.
Although it has front-wheel drive, the new Mazda6 looks more like a rear-wheel-drive premium Japanese sedan. That's largely because windshield posts have been pulled back to lengthen the hood and visually move the front wheels forward. Also, body overhangs are reduced. Styling is derived from a Mazda concept car that's designed to represent forward motion. But the Mazda6's low front end can be damaged if a driver isn't careful.
The quiet, all-new interior is roomy, helped by a longer (111.4-inch) wheelbase. It has an easily gripped leather-wrapped steering wheel, supportive seats and commendably large climate and sound system controls. The front armrest has a covered storage area, and there are moderate-size door pockets. Rear windows lower all the way.
There's a good amount of black interior plastic, but it doesn't look cheap. And sculpted door panels and padded surfaces provide an upscale look. Available two-tone off-white and black leather for the seats and door trim patches brightens the interior.
The V-6 engine is gone, as is the old four-cylinder. They've been replaced by a smooth, responsive 2.5-liter multivalve four-cylinder. It has a high compression ratio, direct injection, dual overhead camshafts and long, tuned exhaust runners.
The result is a 184-horsepower engine that provides smooth, rapid acceleration for the 3,183-3,232-pound (depending on the transmission) car in town and on the open road. The 0-60 mph time is reasonably quick (7.6 seconds), with solid low- and mid-range response.
A diesel engine arrives later this year for the Mazda6, but no details haven't been provided yet.
While the easy shifting manual makes driving more fun, at least out of heavy traffic, most buyers are expected to get the automatic transmission because the Mazda6 is mainly a family car. The manual shifts nicely and works with a light, but rather long-throw, clutch. I found third and fourth gears best for 65-75 mph passing.
The engine only eats regular-grade 87-octane gasoline. Thanks to Mazda's "Skactiv" fuel-saving technologies, the Mazda6 delivers 25 miles per gallon in the city and 37 on highways. Numbers with the automatic are virtually identical: 26 city, 38 highway.
The roomy trunk has a wide, but somewhat high, opening and uses manual hinges. The lid has a handy interior pull-down indented area to help close it. Rear seatbacks sit very flat when flipped forward, and the pass-through area between the trunk and backseat is large.
The hood is especially heavy and held open only by a prop rod-not hydraulic struts.
The 2014 Mazda6 is stylish and practical enough to have much broader appeal than previous Mazda6 models.