Which family sedan offers the most, for the least?
2nd Place – Volkswagen Passat SEL Premium
In a surprise second place finish appears the Volkswagen Passat. For anyone who has driven one of these German sedans, this won’t really be a surprise at all. But we have said it before and will say it again; the Passat is the forgotten child when it comes to the mid-size sedan segment. Many forget this vehicle even exists, or assume it is not really a Camry/Accord competitor.
Priced right on top of the Mazda6, the Passat is an incredibly attractive package that seems to never get the attention it deserves. Mature is be the best way to describe this car with its luxurious, subdued looks inside and out; though some might call this boring. The Passat feels like a baby-Audi, which is probably not a coincidence. The interior is well appointed and the fake suede inserts in the seats drew a lot of praise, although the driver’s seat does not feature a separate height adjust for the front portion of the seat and taller drivers found it lacked thigh support.
GETTING ALL THE DETAILS RIGHT
This large square-ish shape leads to great sightlines like we found with the Legacy. But, unlike the Subaru, the Passat also has features a massive trunk; second largest in the test. The Fender audio system sounds great, and is probably the best one here. The steering wheel itself also feels great; an item Volkswagen always seems to get right. Most of the controls are very easy to use, but the Bluetooth audio system proved to be buggy and gave a few of our reviewers issues.
See Also: 2012 Volkswagen Passat SEL V6 Review
With wide tires, Volkswagen’s trademark steering feel and a solid chassis, the Passat is one of the more engaging cars to drive. The 170 hp 5-cylinder engine may trail the other cars in terms of power, but sounds a lot better under hard acceleration thanks to the growl only a 5-pot can make. The downside is that the Passat achieved the second worst observed fuel economy after the Kia and isn’t the most refined engine in this test. The 6-speed automatic though was very smooth and rarely made itself known to the driver; just what you want from an automatic.
The Passat truly is the grown-up vehicle in a segment targeting grown-ups. Next year, the Passat’s main weakness, the five-cylinder engine gets replaced by a more efficient 1.8L turbocharged four-cylinder which will only make this car better.
- PRICE AS TESTED: $31,220
- ENGINE: 2.5L 4-cylinder, 170 hp, 177 lb-ft
- TRANSMISSION: 6-speed automatic
- OBSERVED FUEL ECONOMY: 25.6 MPG
- TRUNK CAPACITY: 15.9 cu-ft
1st Place – Mazda6 Grand Touring
As a brand, Mazda is miniscule compared to every other automaker in this comparison. The manufacturer is in a constant battle against a sea of Goliaths, but this time, the little guy came out on top. So what makes the Mazda6 so good?
Well, first of all, it’s gorgeous. The 19-inch wheels, front grille, curvy wheel haunches and tinted taillights make the 2014 Mazda6 look upscale and sporty. The interior is equally appealing with a simple, elegant design that again feels upscale and premium compared to a lot of the competition.
See Also: 2014 Mazda6 Review – Video
The front seats may very well be the best of the bunch and the steering wheel feels great. The Mazda6 is the only car available here with adaptive cruise control, yet did not have navigation; navigation is a standalone item that needs to be purchased on top of any trim level. Between the front seats is a knob and dial control that mimics similar systems found in BMWs and Mercedes. The only downside inside the Mazda6 is a somewhat tight backseat.
Under the hood is an all-new 2.5L four-cylinder engine that produces 184 hp. The engine is plenty powerful, but the six-speed automatic transmission requires a heavy foot to downshift into a lower gear when more power is required. Otherwise, the transmission glides along and is one of the best units here. Steering feel is superb and, like a good Mazda, the 6 handles phenomenally for family sedan.
ALL AROUND GREAT
Ok, so at this point you may be thinking we simply choose the sexy, sporty car as the winner of a comparison that should be about efficiency, practicality and comfort. Well that isn’t exactly true. What surprised us most about the Mazda6 is that it may well be the most refined car here as well. Despite having 19-inch wheels, the Mazda has one of the smoothest rides that is dead-quiet. Nearly no NVH makes its way into the cabin. Passengers could close their eyes and think they’re in a Lexus. It also barely trailed the Accord in observed fuel efficiency, finishing second overall.
The Mazda6 does deserve the praise it has been receiving. Will it begin to challenge the Accord, Camry or Altima for the sales crown? No, most likely not. But that just adds to its appeal in our eyes; a bit more exclusivity. Either way, a family sedan’s goal in life is to be the best all-around vehicle and the Mazda6 is just that. It excels at nearly everything and is the clear winner of this comparison test.
- PRICE AS TESTED: $31,490
- ENGINE: 2.5L 4-cylinder, 184 hp, 185 lb-ft
- TRANSMISSION: 6-speed automatic
- OBSERVED FUEL ECONOMY: 29.4 MPG
- TRUNK CAPACITY: 14.8 cu-ft