The Mazda6 took over where the old 626 left off, serving as the standard midsize offering, infused with Mazda’s usual zoom-zoom design philosophy. The first-generation 6 was offered in three bodystyles (sedan, hatchback, and wagon), and offered a fresh alternative to the usual Japanese offerings that everybody else seemed to be buying. The second-generation brought the 6 in-line with its competitors in terms of size and amenities, but unfortunately dropped the hatchback and wagon for North America. Driving dynamics have always played a major role in nearly all of Mazda’s recent designs, and their new SkyActiv program only helps to reinforce that fact. I had the chance to drive the 2014 Mazda6 GT, painted in a Snowflake White Metallic.
Mazda introduced their Kodo “soul of motion” design language in their Shinari concept car in 2010 to critical acclaim. Since then, many have waited to see how Mazda would incorporate this look into their entire model lineup. This first item is obvious when you see the car. The 2014 Mazda 6 is a great looking car. From the headlights to the contours running down the side and over the fenders, you can see how sculpted and muscular the 6 is. To me, it becomes the best-looking car in the midsize segment by a long shot. Several people have discussed whether the competing Ford Fusion should have that title. Others have expressed praise for Ford’s design – I personally am not a big fan of the Aston Martin-style grille and the slightly frumpy-looking taillights. Moving to the interior, the dash layout can be described as clean. There is a good mixture of satin silver pieces mixed with glossy piano black surfaces. Build quality in the Mazda 6 is also good, with tight panel gaps and the generous use soft-touch surfaces all around. The steering wheel in particular stands out as not only good-looking but great to handle. Lastly, the presence of an actual hand-operated parking brake is much nicer than the foot-operated units that most midsize sedans typically offer.
The GT package adds keyless entry with push-button start , sunroof, integrated TomTom navigation with full Bluetooth, blind spot monitoring, leather seating, HID headlamps with adaptive front lighting system (swivels as you drive through a corner), among a few other options. What’s interesting is that Mazda does not ask for any additional premium if you choose to go with the automatic transmission, but will ask for $300 to paint the car in Snowflake White Pearl. As tested, my GT tester rang up at a MSRP of $34,090 before taxes. If you can forego some of the fancy gadgets, the base GX trim will set you back $24,495.
Mazda’s SkyActiv program aims to improve fuel efficiency through smarter engineering, while also keeping driver enjoyment high. More extensive use of high-strength steel in strategic areas means overall weight can be reduced. High-tech direct-injected engines run at a high-compression ratio to extract the most out of a single litre of regular fuel. The SkyActiv-Drive automatic transmission features some trick technology I’ll be getting into later. I was able to experience this entire suite for myself earlier this year with the Mazda CX-5 and found it to meet a lot of my criteria as far as a practical crossover is concerned, while still being decent to drive day in and day out. The Mazda 6 utilizes the same powertrain, minus the all-wheel-drive and its associated weight gain, so I came into this week expecting a great overall driving experience.
Under the hood of the Mazda 6 lives the standard direct-injected SkyActiv-G 2.5L four-cylinder motor, producing a healthy 184 horsepower and 185 lb-ft of torque. A V6 is no longer offered in the Mazda 6, which may turn some buyers off, but I don’t think the additional power is required. It would add weight and negatively impact fuel efficiency – both things the Mazda philosophy would be against. My tester, with the automatic transmission managed approximately 8.1L/100km in mostly city driving. What is notable is the large 62L tank – this makes for great range between visits to the gas station. The SkyActiv-Drive transmission deserves a lot of credit – it is one of a few double-clutch boxes that I have driven with that actually does a good job staying smooth and composed at low speeds. Many double-clutch automatic transmissions can exhibit some herky-jerky behaviour as the car tries to manage the clutches and throttle inputs as you slowly creep along. Not so with the Mazda: the torque converter works at low-speeds (0-5km/h) to ensure a smooth, seamless launch, and the double-clutch portion of the transmission takes over for quick shifts as you get up to speed. While this is not the fastest double-clutch unit I have driven (in terms of shift speed), it sure beats a traditional automatic transmission.
Mazda promotes driving dynamics as being an important part of every car they build. The Mazda 6 has the good looks on its side, and I am happy to report that it is pretty good to drive, too. The relatively low curb weight of 3200lbs not only helps driving dynamics but fuel economy as well. The electric power steering firms up nicely and does provide some feedback – more so than then its competitors. About the only disappointing thing that stuck out are the factory 225-section Dunlop SP Sport 5000M mounted on 19-inch wheels. Traction in the dry is adequate, but when it gets wet, you had better exercise additional caution as the grip levels really fall off. Understeer in the wet is not terribly fun, and even less so if it is not expected.
One minor gripe I had with the similar Mazda CX-5 was its enormous side mirrors. It seems that Mazda has raided the parts bin and gave the Mazda 6 the same mirrors. Large mirrors are great for seeing what’s around you, but I had to sit up numerous times to see over the mirrors in order to spot pedestrians about to enter the intersection. These side mirrors would be at home on a large full-size SUV – not so much on a midsize family sedan. As well-rounded as the powertrain is, I would have liked it to sound a little better. While it never really sounds or feels strained, it never really sounds inspiring. What Ford (with the Focus ST) and Honda (with the Civic Si) do with their creative piping and ducting to the engine firewall does wonders to the overall feel of the car as the revs come up. A motor that can sing with the best of them always gets points in the fun department. These are two very minor items that stuck out to me in the course of a week with the 6 – neither of which are dealbreakers by any stretch.
The midsize family sedan segment is so incredibly competitive and continues to be as new products from every manufacturer are being rolled out. The usual choices (Accord, Camry, and Altima, just to name a few) have really stepped up to the plate lately in nearly all metrics. The Mazda6 has always been a smaller (in terms of sales) solution in the segment, so for those who are looking for something slightly different than the usual choices, the 6 is a great place to start looking. It offers great styling inside and out, impressive fuel efficiency, smart engineering, and good driving dynamics that will keep the drive exciting no matter where you are going. It becomes my choice in the class. The difficult question for me is whether to go with the manual or the excellent automatic transmission. I’m just happy Mazda gives you that choice.
2014 Mazda6 GT Gallery