In certain circles, the mid-size Mazda 6 sedan earned the earmark of a trail blazer when debuting a decade or so ago in the 2003 model year. What may seem almost a given (thanks to the benefit of hindsight) today was not so obvious at the turn of the most recent century.
Asian midsize sedans posted big sales numbers as the world ushered in the second millennium (surviving most Y2K doomsday prognostications). Toyota's Camry and the Honda Accord continued their reign as Kings of the Court thanks to reliable reps and engines lasting long beyond 100,000 miles. Never mind that exterior and so too interior styling remained, well, plain vanilla.
When Mazda 6 arrived, replacing the serviceable Mazda 626 sedan, it started with a completely different mission statement; call it a spumoni strategy. Occupants indeed could look stylish while on their way to Woodfield Mall with a moderately-priced non-luxury import. Recently, South Korean based automakers Kia and Hyundai grabbed a page from Mazda's playbook with eye-catching, aerodynamic revamps of the Optima and Sonata sedans respectively.
But...it's the third incarnation arriving for the 2014 model year (on sale since January 2013) that so far rates as the charm.
Gone is the V-6 option, replaced by two all-new, four-cylinder choices, including the first clean diesel from an Asian automaker (available later in the 2013 calendar year). While fuel-extending diesel technology has a long history in Europe, eastward of the Ural Mountains, it's just starting to gain large-volume traction.
The all-new 2014 Mazda 6
rates as the third vehicle incorporating 'SkyActiv' interactive hardware, joining the compact Mazda 3 sedan and midsize CX-5 crossover. SkyActiv is Mazda's umbrella philosophy combining several next-generation technologies related to engines, transmissions and chassis structure. Engines incorporate higher compressions, helping stretch mileage while a lighter chassis retain 30 percent more rigidity.
As with the first two generations, all 2014 Mazda 6s feature front-wheel drive exclusively; no all-wheel or rear-drive variants are sold. Choose any number of doors; as long as it's four. No hatchback or two-door variants are offered. A welcomed, scaled down, three trim level format (Sport, Touring and Grand Touring) retires the 'Touring Plus' choice from last year.
All trims feature push-button start, compact disc-MP3 player, USB port-Bluetooth connectivity inside the center storage bin/arm rest, six air bags, air conditioning, traction control, anti-lock brakes and steering-wheel mounted cruise/audio buttons. A simplified option package portfolio includes a $2,000 Technology Package (heated side mirrors, upgraded stereo, rain sensing wipers and in-dash navigation) in Touring models (standard in Grand Touring) while a $900 radar cruise control and forward obstruction reader package is solo to Grand Touring. An advanced package adds lane departure warning and all-new brake regeneration later this year in Grand Touring.
Long a staple of gas-electric hybrids this technology repurposes braking energy to power the 6's electrical systems through a variable voltage alternator. It's the first Mazda to offer this option.
Our 2014 tester featured an exceptionally-smooth, 184-horsepower, gas-powered four cylinder, although visions of the upcoming, highly anticipated clean diesel is dancing in our heads. The all-new gas-powered four replaces the outgoing 2.5-liter, 170 horsepower four from last year. Listen carefully; this four is the quietest Mazda ever offered. A six-speed manual transmission comes standard in Sport and Touring while a six-speed automatic resides in Grand Touring and optional in the two lower trims. Mazda 6 continues offering enthusiast-friendly manual shifters while most mid-size sedan rivals have shifted solely to automatics.
Mazda supplied a base Sport model with a $20,880 starting tab; the lowest-priced 6 available. It's refreshing when automakers throw base models into the test-drive rotation. The temptation is to supply top trims and sprinkle options liberally; always welcome, but a better test of a vehicle's soul many times start within base structure and value. Other than a six-speed automatic transmission ($1,600 extra) the base 6 offers no factory options, relegating our bottom line to $21,675 with $795 delivery factored into the equation. The top-level Grand Touring trim starts at $29,495.
Estimated fuel economy of the 2.5-liter four cylinder checks in near the top of its midsize class at 26 mpg city and 38 highway with automatic transmission (one mile less in each category with six-speed manual). This marks a 19 percent increase in city mileage and 23 percent better highway compared with the outgoing four. By comparison, a four-cylinder Toyota Camry (completely revamped in 2012) checks in at 25 mpg city and 35 mpg highway with standard automatic transmission. During rear world testing utilizing the smooth-gliding manual transmission, we averaged a very respectable 35 miles per gallon combined on a vehicle with just 4,000 odometer miles. Regular, eighty-seven octane fuel fills the 16.4 gallon tank. Expect more mid-size offerings to go solely with four cylinders as higher mandated fuel economy standards kick in.
Driver's seat height is best described as "Ma Ma Bear;" not too tall, not too short; just right. After three straight hours of behind-the-wheel travel within the confines of cloth trimmed bolstered seats, zero back fatigue was evident (expect leatherette seating in the upper two trims). Rear leg room increases in 2014.
Mazda resisted a trendy urge seemingly inspired by Apollo module layouts with enough buttons, dials, bells and whistles to make first contact with the nearest galaxy. Three same-sized dials monitor ventilation functions below a centered digital clock. Kudos for keeping ergonomic s simple yet intuitive; albeit our trim was sans the 5.8-inch audio display (and rear-camera feed) standard in Sport trims with automatic transmissions and the two upper trims. All models offer black interiors with Sport and Touring adding a Sand color choice and Grand Touring boasting an Almond selection. Soft-touch materials adorn side doors and dashboard.
Both trunk and gas release buttons are located on the left-side lower dash, a more convenient local than the floor. Front buckets and the three-spoke steering wheel column manually adjust.
Exterior wise, the raised trunk lid is a few inches longer than some rivals, but remains stout in overall appearance. Side front fenders incorporate an aggressive, arch-type boldness. Narrow side windows and high side belt incorporates a sloping back-to-front design while a bottom swath curves upward from the lower front doors through the rear doors. Even base Sport trims include chrome-type highlights surrounding the windows enhancing the thin "C" pillar. Tail light structures, now housing LED combination lights, resembles a boomerang design curving around the sides with a thin, narrow design. From its profile stance, Mazda 6 generates an ambiance of a pricier vehicle.
The trunk accommodates 14.8 cubic feet of space, average for the segment but down from 2013. Two pull tabs unlock the 60/40 split rear seat back, allowing each to fold flat upon the cushion. Interior, goose-neck type hinges get wrapped by a protective casing, reducing any chances of damaging precious cargo.
While assembly of the first two generations of the Mazda 6 took place in Detroit suburb of Flat Rock Michigan, 2014 models are now assembled in Japan. Mazda first American sales began in the early 1970s. At a Glance2014 Mazda 6Price as tested:
111.4 inches Length:
Height: 57.1 inchesEngine:
3,232 poundsCity/Highway economy:
25 mpg city/ 37 mpg highwayPowertrain warranty:
Five-year or 60 monthsAssembly: