Available at dealers this month, the 2014 Mazda6 carries on the engine size and name of its predecessor, but discards everything else.
Calling a midsize sedan a flagship might seem a little strange, but that’s the case here and Mazda wants to better distinguish it from the compact, though far more popular, Mazda3. Previous model years looked like little more than a scaled up version of the smaller car; and to many that might have been a barrier to buy.
|1. At launch only a 2.5L gasoline 4-cylinder is available making 184 hp and 185 lb-ft of torque.
2. Fuel economy is rated at 26 mpg city and a best-in-class 38 mpg highway for a combined 30 mpg.
3. Priced at $20,880 to start, automatic transmission models add $1,615 more but also include a 5.8-inch color touch screen, Bluetooth, voice commands and more.
4. Available for the first time on a Mazda is Smart City Brake Support (SCBS) system that can detect if an accident is imminent and automatically apply the brakes at speeds below 19 mph.
NEW BODY STYLE SWAPS SMILE FOR SERIOUS FACE
It wears the second production application of Mazda’s new KODO design language, losing the smiling front end and exclamatory headlights for a more pronounced grille and sharper body style.
First seen on the 2013 CX-5 small crossover that replaced the CX-7, KODO is part of Mazda’s stab at staying relevant after splitting ties with Ford. It, and the brand’s heavily-promoted SkyActiv engines are part of a re-imagination for the brand that it says weren’t possible during the partnership. But more on the drivetrain below.
Defined fenders and hips, a high beltline and standard 17-inch alloy wheels on the entry-level “sport” model help promise a stylish package — even at the $21,675 starting price which stays close to the previous entry model in price.
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Sex sells and avoiding steel wheels is a good start, but you’ll really want to rock the more raucous-looking optional 19-inch rollers starting on the mid-level Touring trim. Aside from that, the three packages – Sport, Touring and Grand Touring – look identical.
Predictably, the base price doesn’t give you much, and customers who can afford to spend the extra $3,615 and step up to the Touring trim probably should.
Mazda launches its new 2.5-liter SkyActiv-G gas engine in both the Mazda6 and CX-5 this year. It offers 184 hp and 185 lb-ft of torque. Power from the engine is pleasantly accessible once you get moving. Don’t expect to be squished into your seat, but the new engine doesn’t have any problems getting up to speed.
As good as the larger SkyActiv-G powerplant is, there’s no denying V6 drivers will find it underpowered. That’s especially hard to ignore when you consider Mazda calls this a sport sedan.
While the six-cylinder is gone Mazda says its 2.2-liter diesel powerplant – a modified version of that which powers its new GrandAm race cars – will have enough oomph to keep those drivers happy.
Mazda is still skating around giving an official on-sale date and there’s an undisclosed price gap for the diesel engine. It’s impossible to ignore that unless Mazda takes a bath on its diesel sedans, former V6 owners might feel cheated.
The previous model year’s nicest package, just like the base car, is priced in line with the current top trim’s much less athletic four cylinder.
CARRIES ON THE ZOOM-ZOOM SPIRIT
Still, there are plenty of other non-engine aspects that stay in line with Mazda’s aim to offer a driver-oriented experience.
The tires didn’t squeal or chirp while enduring stint after stint of spirited pitches through unforgivingly winding roads on our first drive.
It isn’t a race car, but a slightly longer stance, roughly 100-lb lighter curb weight and a new chassis all help make the car fun to drive. You’ll also be able to choose between a six-speed automatic or six-speed manual transmission through both the Sport and Touring trims. Unfortunately, trop-trim Grand Touring cars won’t get the six-speed stick.
Thankfully Mazda’s auto-box is a solid offering. Marrying the best of both a conventional automatic and a dual-clutch transmission, the six-speed self-shifter will save gas and changes gears faster than most dual-clutch transmissions, Mazda says.
Even the toughest gear shifts are smooth too. Running from first to second, the transition would be difficult to detect were it not from the whirring engine changing notes. Mileage doesn’t improve all that much on paper, but the test cars logged lower average fuel economy in the stick – probably because the 2.5-liter SkyActiv-G engine is fun to drive hard and more subject to lazy driving habits.
Swipe the term slushbox clear of your vocabulary here – the stereotypes are all but shattered. Place the automatic into “manual” mode and you’ll have strikingly quick gear changes on command. Or, let the car decide and enjoy 26 mpg in the city, 38 on the highway and an average 30 mpg.
AFFORDABLY PRICED, DISAPPOINTING STANDARD EQUIPMENT
More in line with a flagship, the 2014 Mazda6 cabin is a vast improvement. Plastic bezels finished with a “mostly” metal substance actually get cold with chilly temperatures. Aluminum inserts would be a nice option, but the effect is much the same.
A grey satin accent panel runs across the dashboard, almost imitating a popular trend in current Lexus cars. Despite that, you won’t be bamboozled into thinking the entry-trim is luxurious at all. Instead, a spartan center stack is basic, even disappointing.
Then again, much of that can be fixed buy buying the car with an automatic transmission. In fact, picking the manual means missing out on a suite of must-haves.
Pay the $1,615 premium – $23,290 total – and unlock Bluetooth calling, the 5.8-inch touchscreen and its host of tech-friendly features including the rear-view camera and automatic 911 dialing.
Sure, you don’t really need any of that, but those features are becoming increasingly common in entry-level cars. This generation is supposed to be more “aspirational,” and it would hurt to learn scores of cheaper cars are better equipped than yours.
Mazda says it doesn’t plan to sell the majority of its volume in the entry-level trim. Instead, this version of the 6 is meant to be a well differentiated product with an estimated 45 percent of its sales volume targeted toward the “Touring” trim. In that case, the car comes with a standard 5.8-inch infotainment screen, much more attractive 19-inch alloy wheels and leatherette seats.
Elect the middle-of-the-road Touring package and you’ll find a well-appointed car. You’ll get standard leatherette seats and dual zone climate control, but that’s about all you gain.
Exclusive new features on the range topper are few, but include an eight-way adjustable driver’s seat with memory positions along with a power front passenger seat. Paddle shifters and SiriusXM radio are also both exclusive to the most expensive model which will set you back $30,290 fitted with the gas engine.
FURTHER FUEL SAVINGS COMING
While it isn’t available yet, there will also be an even more sophisticated “Grand Touring Advanced” trim with the gas engine. Mazda isn’t selling it until May, but it includes the brand’s i-ELOOP power regeneration system.
Mazda says it can power all the car’s electrical systems by charging a capacitor rather than a battery. The system works in place of an alternator, but if the capacitor is completely depleted, power can also come from an alternator as well.
This will delver a boost in fuel economy later this year when it becomes available, but no specific increase has been mentioned.
Going up to the Grand Touring trim means much nicer options like perforated leather seats, standard 19-inch alloy wheels and steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters that respond with pleasing promptness.
The V6 is gone, but there’s a replacement on the way sometime later this year and while pricing on that diesel isn’t announced, but don’t be surprised if it creeps a few thousand above the most expensive gas model.
The Grand Touring model trimmed with tan leather really does look good, but the fact of the matter is it’s probably not the car you should buy. Neither is the Touring model Mazda is aiming to sell the most of.
Instead, you’ll get almost all the tech goodies in the best-equipped Sport model for thousands less. It won’t feel luxurious, but fooling yourself into thinking otherwise is unnecessarily expensive.
Unless “leatherette” means a lot to you, the best value for your money with the 2014 Mazda6 is easily the Sport trim with the six-speed automatic.
On the other hand, if cloth seats offend you, the Touring trim can be had with a manual and is still a good value with standard Bluetooth and the 5.8-inch touch screen.