EDITOR WES RAYNAL: The 2014 Mazda 6 is one of my favorite non-German/ Cadillac ATS midsize sedans. Perhaps even at the top of the heap. It's really, really good.
Love the exterior. What a welcome change from the competitors' mundane shapes (looking at you, Toyota and Honda). The Mazda actually looks new and fresh. It looks crisp with its long hood and short-ish rear decklid, handsome creases and the perfect amount of chrome.
There's enough oomph from the smooth and responsive four to keep things interesting (above 3,000 rpm) and I like the six-speed manual. Though I remember driving the automatic version and I liked that, too. Get over it -- I'm old. The chassis is the best front-driver on the market. Ride/handling is taut with flat cornering and excellent body control, the steering mostly accurate (wanders a bit on center, but not much). The harder you drive it, the more you fling it around, the better it is. It is a precise car.
The interior looks good, and is comfortable and well built with good materials. Doors and dashboards are soft to the touch. In fact, everything you touch is covered in soft materials. The only bright work is a piece of smooth aluminum-look plastic -- just the right touch.
Overall this is much more interesting and engaging than anything else in the class. People in the market for a Camry/Accord should check this out first. It's just an honest what-you-see-is-what-you-get car.
ASSOCIATE EDITOR GRAHAM KOZAK: There's a lot of buzz -- I don't want to say hype because it's not out of control or anything -- surrounding the latest Mazda 6. It's not hard to see why: On the surface, it's an attractive car (improbably so for its segment and price point) with a relatively upscale interior and, theoretically, a dash of that Mazda zoom thing stirred in. Plus, it's inexpensive and efficient, at least on paper.
Having finally spent some time in the car, I can confirm: It is very good, so long as you're willing to trade an abundance of shiny features and flashy styling for something with subtle, restrained lines that is somewhat rewarding to drive. A no-brainer for you, maybe, but not for everyone.
That's not to say the car as tested is ill-equipped (with one or two caveats). The interior is nice to look at and nice to touch, especially by Mazda standards, though for the record I am a fan of their lineup-wide Spartan design ethos.
True, there are blanked-out buttons toward the bottom of the center console. Seat heater switches would, I suppose, go here if the vehicle was so equipped. The weird one was the “Nav” button next to the touchscreen. The car wasn't equipped with a nav system. You have to step up to the Grand Touring trim to get that, and, inexplicably, you lose the option of a six-speed manual (there may be a way to get the system installed in the Touring after purchase).
Beyond that, the infotainment system was simple and straightforward if not cutting-edge -- no complaints. No matter what you make of the blanked-out buttons and missing features, you're not buying a Mazda because it promises the longest spec sheet for the price. You're buying it because it's imbued with some spark and spirit.
On paper the frugal little 2.5-liter isn't much, with just 184 hp and (more disappointingly) 185 lb-ft of torque. On this six-speed manual car, it's surprising how well that motor gets things moving and, crucially, keeps everything humming along. I keep hearing good things about the automatic but I'm skeptical.
For a while I was driving conservatively, trying to save gas and all -- achieving 30 mpg in a nonhybrid midsized has got to feel pretty good, right? But that's tough to do for long periods of time because the 6 is fun and extremely forgiving when pushed. There's not enough power to create torque steer problems, but I was really surprised at the relative lack of understeer.
Granted, I wasn't taking corners with closed-course aggressiveness, but you can tell that a lot of effort went into keeping the car connected to the ground and then connecting you to the car. It's not as compulsively flingable as, say, the Subaru BRZ or the MX-5 or even the humble Mazda 2. It doesn't need to be, though. It's a front-wheel drive family sedan, and a remarkably balanced one at that.
So long as you're willing to deal with a tad less power than our spoiled selves have all become accustomed to lately, you can't really go wrong here at $25,010.
ROAD TEST EDITOR JONATHAN WONG: I get asked by people often about what midsize sedan they should purchase. I ask them what they value the most between ride comfort, fuel economy, tech features, styling, sporty performance, etc. and go from there. Quite often I resort to suggesting a Honda Accord because typical shoppers are looking for something that's bulletproof, good on fuel, comfortable and that will go almost forever. However, when someone tells me they want something that's entertaining to drive, I always point them towards a Mazda 6. The previous-generation 6 was sportiest driving entry into the midsize sedan segment when compared to the likes of the Toyota Camry, Accord, Nissan Altima and Chevrolet Malibu. However, the knock on it was that it wasn't the greatest on fuel.
With the latest generation 6, the fuel economy problem has been remedied with all of Mazda's Skyactiv stuff, including the lightweight chassis, suspension, engines and transmissions. The result is a midsize sedan that, when equipped with the six-speed manual transmission like the test car we have here, gets an EPA fuel economy rating of 25 mpg in the city and 37 mpg on the highway. Things get a bit better when you take a look at the 6 with the six-speed automatic that receives 26 mpg city and 38 mpg highway EPA ratings. Those fuel figures are right up there with volume leaders in the class which should help the 6 appeal to a broader audience. Another thing worth pointing out is that Mazda was able to do that without using a continuously variable transmission like Nissan and Honda do.
As much as I've always liked how the previous 6 drove, I never found it to be a particularly great-looking sedan. I know ... There's not much to get excited about in this class where, for the most part, bland and boring designs are key to selling oodles of cars. Still, I appreciate some styling pizzazz and the second-generation 6 had a little bit in the front end, but overall, according to Mazda North America director of design Derek Jenkins, it was a car that appeared over bodied, which I totally agreed with. With the Kodo design language in full effect on the latest 6, the car's proportions are right and the overall look is sleek and sporty. It's not over-styled like the Hyundai Sonata, but there's just enough to keep things neat, tidy and interesting. The character line that runs through the hood, front fender and into the front doors is nice, as is the front-end treatment that does away with the previous smiley mug. It's a handsome car overall and is among the best-looking entries in the class along, with the Kia Optima.
Where the 6 continues to excel is in how well it drives. Everything from the direct steering, brakes and suspension are tuned to return performance that's lively. Turn the wheel and the car is quick to respond; step on the brake pedal and there's instant grab, and the suspension keeps things tied down and well controlled. Graham mentions the lack of understeer, and he is correct. The 6 exhibits good front-end bite and the back of the car rotates around nicely for a front-wheel drive sedan when you throw it around hard. The sporty behavior doesn't come at the expense of ride comfort, either, with our Touring model riding comfortable enough for daily driving even on the 19-inch tires.
The 2.5-liter I4 brings adequate power to the Mazda 6 party with OK low-end grunt. The engine revs smoothly with good throttle response, and the six-speed manual shifter is crisp and a pleasure to use, along with a clutch take-up that's in the middle of the pedal stroke that I always like. And it's good to see that Mazda offers the manual on the midlevel Touring trim that gets you such goodies like dual-zone auto climate control, six-way power driver's seat, leatherette seats, blind spot monitoring, Bluetooth and the 5.8-inch color touchscreen entertainment system. So don't worry about only being saddled with barebones equipment if you are one of the few consumers who want a manual.
The interior continues with a simple design theme with straight-forward controls on the center stack, nice build quality and materials, and comfortable and supportive front seats. The center touchscreen is a little small, but it does the job and is easy enough to use.
All the work Mazda did on the latest 6 is admirable and puts it ahead of its mostly boring competition. The fact that Mazda will be releasing the diesel early next year will make an already attractive and competitive car even more enticing.
2014 Mazda 6 i Touring
Base Price: $24,240
As-Tested Price: $25,010
Drivetrain: 2.5-liter I4; FWD, six-speed manual
Output: 184 hp @ 5,700 rpm, 185 lb-ft @ 3,250 rpm
Curb Weight: 3,183 lb
Fuel Economy (EPA City/Highway/Combined): 25/37/29 mpg
AW Observed Fuel Economy: 30.3 mpg
Options: Soul red paint ($300); compass/auto dimming mirror ($195); door sill trim plates ($125); clear film rear paint protection ($75); cargo mat ($75)
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