Sometimes the simple things in life bring the most enjoyment. The 2014 Mazda 6 wins you over with the simple things; a rev-happy engine, crisp gearshifts, a willing chassis. The new 6 wraps all these things into the sporty and appealing package that is Mazda’s Kodo design theme. The midsize sedan market is flush with fresh designs from a host of competition. But the Mazda 6 sets itself apart, thanks to one thing the competition doesn’t have: SKYACTIV.
SKYACTIV isn’t just manufacturer jargon. SKYACTIV is a design philosophy that encompasses the engine, transmission, body, and suspension. It starts with the 2.5L 4 cylinder engine. Mazda’s SKYACTIV-G engine combines a high compression ratio, direct injection, and various reductions in parasitic loss. The result is 184hp and 185 lb-ft torque. In our tester, it came mated to a 6-speed manual gearbox. Mazda claims this gearbox is smaller and has shorter throws. We can’t verify the first point, but the second point is clear as day. For those who prefer less pedals, an automatic transmission is available. This drivetrain is mounted to a body that is stiffer and lighter than the previous model. The entire car weights in at just 3,183lbs, but performed well enough in crash testing to be ranked as an IIHS Top Safety pick. It’s all well and good that Mazda has made these changes, but has it impacted the Mazda 6’s driving nature?
Short answer: yes. There’s a delightful connectedness behind the wheel of the 6, a trait lacking in many of its competitors. It takes all of the car’s components working together to deliver such a feeling. The engine is responsive and willing to rev to its 6,500rpm redline. Gearshifts, an oft-forgotten relationship between man and machine, are quick and precise. The gearing works well with the engine’s power characteristics, provided you stay out of 6th gear. When its time to bring things to a halt, the 4 wheel disc brakes, 11.7″ front and 10.9″ rear, offer a firm bite and confident pedal feel. Further confidence is inspired by the 6’s ride. Aided by the lighter and stiffer chassis, the 4-wheel independent suspension keeps things on the level. Out of all the competitors we’ve driven, the 6 is the best at communicating the road surface while maintaining comfort and composure. If we had to pick a weak point, it would be the steering. The electrically-assisted rack-and-pinion-setup felt dull. This might partially be attributed to the fresh set of Bridgestone Blizzak winter tires that came mounted on the 6’s 19″ wheels. We gladly gave up a bit of road feel for the extra grip during our cold and wintery test week.
Our tester was the mid-level Touring model. It sets itself apart visually from the Sport trim with the aforementioned 19″ wheels. There’s no denying that the new Mazda 6 is a looker. The sharply-featured front end and wide, swooping fenders give it an aggressive and unique appearance. While difficult to see in pictures, the front splitter protrudes forward, adding aggression and posing a decapitation hazard to small woodland creatures. Inside, it arrives with leatherette-trimmed seats, blind spot monitoring, and, rear cross-traffic alert, and a 5.8″ infotainment system with Bluetooth. The top-trim Grand Touring adds bi-xenon headlights with LED DRLs, a rear lip spoiler, and fog lights. The Touring trim is the highest available with the optional manual transmission. That means, in the interest of driver involvement, you must forgo leather-trimed heated front seats, integrated navigation, and the 11-speaker Bose sound system. We’re willing to make such sacrifices, though heated seats would have been well received.
Sitting in the 6 is a comfortable experience. The seats are firm and bolstered to match the car’s driving characteristics. Visibility is excellent with the open greenhouse and large side mirrors. Unfortunately, with all the attention to detail on the drivetrain and body, it feels as if some of the interior details were overlooked. There’s a hollow feeling to the doors and many of the interior panels feel dated and plasticy. A far worse problem was the infotainment system. Connecting to and controlling an iPod from the USB port was nearly impossible. Minutes were spent “indexing”. Changing inputs during this time would stop the process, making it impossible to use without unplugging the iPod and starting over. Interestingly, every time you return to the car – even without disconnecting the iPod – the system would restart at the first song on the iPod. The system feels dated an glitchy, not something you’d expect from a recently redesigned car.
We’ve driven a number of the Mazda 6’s competitors. The Nissan Altima, with an optional V6 and CVT, offers more power but less driver involvement. The Ford Fusion handles well, but weighs more and is far more expensive. The VW Passat TDI brought German design and superb economy, but doesn’t offer the same levels of performance. The Mazda 6 offers the best combination of driver involvement, value, and efficiency. It has the lowest as-tested price of any of the cars we mentioned. Over 335 miles it returned 27.5mpg, which makes it the most efficient gasoline-powered midsize sedan we’ve driven.
The 2014 6 makes the most out of Mazda’s SKYACTIV technologies. When it comes to driving, it gets the basics right. It’s engaging and rewarding to drive. With winter tires, the Mazda 6 conquered snow covered roads with ease. We’re also quite taken with Mazda’s latest design. The only disappointment on the week revolved around the 6’s media system. For enthusiasts, its one of the few gasoline midsize sedans that still offers a manual transmission. Sure, the automatic is slightly more efficient, but you lose the interaction and control. Sometimes it’s the simple things.
|2014 Mazda 6 Touring
|Soul Red paint||$300|
|Door sill trim plates||$125|
|Clear film rear paint protection||$75|
|As Tested MSRP||$25,010|