2014 Mazda Mazda6
2014 Mazda Mazda6 Expert Review:New Car Test Drive
New Car Test Drive
Sharp, all-new sedan is not your typical family car.
With a stunning new design, a retooled powertrain and more standard features, the 2014 Mazda6 is a great alternative in a sea of boring family sedans. Combined with Mazda's famously sporty driving dynamics, the Mazda6 earns its place as one of the coolest cars its class, without sacrificing the practicality of a midsize four-door.
Everything is new, from bold exterior lines inspired by Mazda's Shinari concept car to the powertrain. Even the manufacturing process was retooled at Mazda's assembly plant in Hiroshima, Japan for faster, more flexible production.
The Mazda6 uses Mazda's Skyactive technology, a collection of systems and techniques first employed on the CX-5 crossover that reduce weight and increase efficiency. At the heart of it lies a 2.5-liter inline-4 that makes 184 horsepower and 185 pound-feet of torque (Mazda said sayonara to the old V6). A new injection system and race-style exhaust manifold help the new Mazda6 achieve more torque and power than the previous engines, while reducing emissions.
The standard transmission on the base model is a 6-speed manual, which now comes standard with a hill-hold feature. An all-new automatic transmission is standard on the mid-level Touring and upper Grand Touring model. It's a hybrid of a traditional torque converter, which kicks in at speeds of less than 5 mph, providing the driver with the familiar creep of automatic transmissions, and a dual-clutch that operates at higher speeds, providing quicker, more seamless shifts. Like most cars in this class, Mazda6 is front-wheel drive.
Other elements of Skyactive include a lighter, more efficient frame, which engineers tweaked using straighter lines and different welds. High-tensile steel comprises 58 percent of the Mazda6's body weight, which is a relatively lean 3,183 pounds on the base model with the manual transmission. That's a few pounds lighter than the Honda Accord, and nearly 300 pounds lighter than the Ford Fusion. Other changes include fully electric steering and a revised suspension, which result in a more dialed-in feel, with less road shock and more stability under braking.
The new package results in a significant improvement in fuel economy over the outgoing model. EPA estimates for the 2014 Mazda6 are 25/37 mpg City/Highway with the manual and 26/38 mpg City/Highway with the automatic, up from 21/30 mpg in the previous model with either transmission.
New standard features make their way onto the new Mazda6, including push-button start, a USB port, 17-inch alloy wheels on the base model, and 19-inch alloys on the top-tier Grand Touring trim. Strangely, though, Bluetooth does not appear on the base Sport trim with the manual transmission; this requires a step up to the automatic. It's a curious move, considering Bluetooth connectivity comes standard on many smaller cars these days, not to mention that someone who drives stick could benefit even more from the hands-free feature.
Standard on the top-tier Mazda6 Grand Touring model and optional on the mid-grade trim is a bevy of new safety tech, including a blind spot monitoring system with cross traffic alert, lane departure warning, radar-based adaptive cruise control and forward obstruction warning. These features will alert the driver to potential problems, but unlike some current safety systems, the ones found on the Mazda6 won't brake automatically or drive the car for you. Mazda's approach leaves the action to the driver, encouraging personal responsibility in an age full of electronic babysitters.
Later this year, the Mazda6 will be available in a 2.2-liter clean diesel version, as well as in a gasoline variant that uses a proprietary regenerative braking system, called i-ELOOP, which should improve fuel economy over the current Mazda6 models (although Mazda execs decline to say exactly how much of an improvement that might be).
Competitors to the Mazda6 include front-wheel-drive midsize sedans such as the Ford Fusion, Honda Accord, Hyundai Sonata, Nissan Altima and Toyota Camry. The Mazda is the sportiest of the bunch, although those who choose a car based primarily on driving dynamics might also consider the Volkswagen Passat.
The 2014 Mazda6 is available in three trims: Sport, Touring and Grand Touring. All come with the same 2.5-liter engine; all but Sport come standard with the 6-speed automatic.
Mazda6 Sport ($20,880) comes standard with the 6-speed manual transmission, air conditioning, fabric upholstery, six-way manually adjustable driver's seat, leather-wrapped tilt/telescoping steering wheel, steering-wheel mounted controls, power door locks/windows/mirrors, remote keyless entry, push button start, cruise control, trip computer, 6-speaker audio system with CD player, auxiliary jack, USB port, 60/40 split folding rear seat, USB port, 17-inch alloy wheels. When equipped with the 6-speed automatic transmission ($22,495), the Sport model also gets Bluetooth connectivity, HD radio, a 5.8-inch color touchscreen display and a rearview camera.
Mazda6 Touring ($24,495) with 6-speed automatic includes everything on the Sport trim plus dual-zone automatic climate control, 6-way power driver's seat, leatherette upholstery, center console sliding armrest, blind spot monitoring system and cross-traffic alert. Wheels are 19-inch alloys. The Touring Technology package ($2,000) includes navigation, a Bose 11-speaker audio System, Smart City Brake Support (SCBS), automatic headlights, rain-sensing wipers, auto-dimming rearview mirror, auto-dimming driver's side mirror and heated side mirrors.
Mazda6 Grand Touring ($29,495) includes the 6-speed automatic and everything found on the Touring model with the Touring Technology package plus leather upholstery, heated front seats, 8-way power driver's seat with power lumbar and memory function, steering-wheel mounted paddle shifters, satellite radio capability, a power sunroof, bi-xenon HID headlights, fog lamps, LED daytime running lamps, adaptive front-lighting system, an alarm system, a rear lip spoiler and unique paint on the alloy wheels.
Safety features on all models include two-stage front-impact airbags, front side-impact airbags, front and rear side air curtains, antilock brakes (ABS) with electronic brake-force distribution (EBD) and brake assist, dynamic stability control (DSC), traction control, tire-pressure monitor, LATCH child safety seat anchors and hill hold assist. Optional safety features include a rearview camera that can help the driver spot a small child behind the vehicle when backing up.
This is the best-looking Mazda6 yet. It follows Mazda's current Kodo design language, which aims to convey a more athletic, dynamic look. With many design cues coming straight from the radical-looking Shinari concept car that was unveiled a few years ago, Mazda design director Derek Jenkins and his team were able to create a midsize sedan that stands out from the crowd, with looks that are neither blase, nor overdone like some of the car's competitors.
The front end gets a more grown-up face featuring a curving, trapezoidal grille with stretched horizontal lines that make it appear wide, not tall like the big-mouthed Mazda3. Wraparound headlamps and LED foglamps with flared, geometric housings add athletic touches.
From the side, the prominent nose looks almost shark-like. The deep flowing creases over the front fender continue into the front doors, in a cue taken straight from the Shinari concept. The A-pillars are pushed farther back on the new Mazda6, which not only biases the proportions rearward, but it also aids with visibility while driving. Bright trim is used sparingly and tastefully around windows. Standard 17-inch alloy wheels look substantial, and the optional 19s on higher trim levels look even better.
In back, the shortened rear deck curves subtly outward, with an integrated lip spoiler on the line-topping Grand Touring trim. Wraparound taillamps mimic the horizontal shapes of the front end, and here, too, bright work is used to highlight but not overwhelm. Twin exhaust pipes that sit beneath the lower plastic bumper cover are subtly sporty.
In true Mazda style, the cockpit of the Mazda6 is centered around the driver. The steering wheel is smaller than before, and buttons and knobs on the center stack are within easy reach of the driver (even though many functions are duplicated on the steering wheel).
Materials inside are a mixed bag; the soft-touch dash and instrument panel are of good quality, but the plastic around doors, including window switches, have a generic parts-bin look. Still, there were no glaring fit or finish issues, and we daresay everything inside is on par with other cars in the class.
In front of the driver is a trio of gauges that are simple and easy to read; speedometer, tach and driver information display. The center instrument panel is equally clean. Knobs for the climate control sit three abreast. Beneath is a small cubby for a phone or keys. The center roll-top compartment can fit two average-sized water bottles, while deeper cup holders in the door fit larger beverages.
On cars equipped with Navigation, (sourced by Tom Tom), a 5.8-inch color touch screen sits front and center on the instrument panel, with its large control knob and related buttons located in the center console in front of the shifter, in a similar setup to those found on German luxury cars. While the screen is clear and easy to read, we found using some navigation functions annoying and non-intuitive, such as setting, changing or canceling a destination. It also takes some time to figure out how to change the map view.
Leather upholstery on the upper Grand Touring model has sporty, but not gaudy, red contrast trim stitching. We didn't find the leather particularly supple and prefer the soft, Alcantara-like fabric on the entry-level Sport trim.
The standard audio system found on the Sport trim is adequate but nothing special. The 11-speaker Bose setup is a much better choice for audiophiles.
Visibility is good all around, especially in front with the pushed-back of design with the A-pillars. Headroom and legroom is on par with the class, and the rear seats can accommodate a six-foot-tall passenger without any knee cramping or head bumping.
At 14.8 cubic feet, cargo space in the Mazda6 measures less than other cars in its class, compared with 16 cubic feet of space in the Ford Fusion, 15.8 in the Honda Accord and 15.4 for both the Nissan Altima and Toyota Camry. Still, the long, deep layout accommodates plenty of luggage and gear. A videographer on site remarked that he was easily able to fit his tripod without folding the legs, something he can't always do in other vehicles.
Like all Mazdas, the Mazda6 is tuned first and foremost for fun. The chassis is solid, with minimal body roll around corners. MacPherson struts at the front and a multi-link setup in the rear make for a sporty ride that's firm and compliant, without sacrificing ride quality.
Mazda has moved to all-electric power steering on the new Mazda6. While old-school enthusiasts might bemoan the abandonment of the old hydraulic setup, we think it's a vast improvement. The new electric system is more efficient and surprisingly responsive, keeping the driver connected to the road without feeling overly heavy.
For fuel economy reasons, Mazda has dropped the six-cylinder engine on the Mazda6 and gone solely to an inline-4. Like all smaller displacement engines, the lack of power can be felt in demanding driving situations, such as climbing steep hills. But with the pedal to the metal, the Mazda6 achieves enough oomph to get you where you need to go.
Low-speed maneuvering was a tad less nimble than expected; we had to pull a few three-point turns in tight spots. Its turning circle of 36.7 feet didn't feel as lithe as the Toyota Camry's nearly identical 36.6 feet. Still, the Mazda6 is much more agile in the parking lot than the bulky Ford Fusion at 37.7 feet and the Honda Accord's girthy 38.1 feet.
The new automatic transmission is remarkably smooth. Its unique design uses a torque converter, like those found in traditional automatics, to propel the car and provide creep at speeds less than 5 mph. At higher speeds, a multi-plate transmission changes gears, providing quicker shifts that are tuned to hold revs longer and give plenty of thrust when needed.
Still, we preferred the manual transmission, with its crisp feel and easy clutch. Mazda expects the stick to account for only about 5 percent of its model mix, however.
We did notice quite a bit of tire and wind noise while motoring along, even at a moderate pace. In the car equipped with the manual transmission, we also noticed significant vibration in the shifter, especially at highway speeds.
With a sexy design, engaging driving dynamics and respectable fuel economy, the new Mazda6 is an delightful alternative to the usual suspects in the midsize sedan segment.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent Laura Burstein filed this report after her test drive of the 2014 Mazda6 models near Austin, Texas.
2014 Mazda6 Sport ($20,880); Touring ($24,495); Grand Touring ($29,495).
Options As Tested
Mazda6 Sport ($20,880).
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