2014 Mazda 6 Road Test and Review: Introduction

2014 Mazda 6 Road Test and Review: Introduction

Stardom has, thus far, eluded the Mazda 6, but it’s not for the automaker’s lack of trying. Often lauded by driving enthusiasts, and historically offered in sedan, 5-door hatchback, and station wagon body styles, the Mazda 6 has traditionally blended entertaining driving dynamics with an extra measure of practicality, a deserved reputation for reliability, and appealing good looks. And yet, for whatever reason, it has languished, appreciated only by a relative handful of family car buyers looking for something fun to drive and something different from what everyone else parks in front of their homes.

The redesigned 2014 Mazda 6 has the power to change that, despite its entry into the most crowded segment in the marketplace where it competes against some of the most capable vehicles boasting the freshest designs. In terms of styling, fuel economy, and safety, it ranks among the midsize sedan class leaders. Now add a comfortable interior, an affordable price tag, and a list of technology upgrades that some luxury brands can’t boast. That the new 2014 Mazda 6 simultaneously upholds the brand’s “Zoom-Zoom” approach to driving dynamics is simply icing on a very tasty cake.

2014 Mazda 6 Road Test and Review: Models and Prices

Mazda sells the 2014 Mazda 6 only in a 4-door sedan body style, though in other parts of the world it can also be purchased as a 5-door wagon. Three versions are for sale in the United States: Sport, Touring, and Grand Touring.

Standard equipment for the Mazda 6 Sport ($21,675 with the $795 destination charge) includes everything you need and nothing you don’t, though to get Bluetooth, a reversing camera, text messaging capability, Pandora radio streaming, HD Radio, and Mazda’s E911 Emergency Notification service, you must upgrade from the standard manual gearbox to the optional automatic transmission, bringing the price to $23,290.

Most buyers are likely to choose the Mazda 6 Touring ($25,290). The Touring adds a long list of upgrades including terrific-looking 19-inch aluminum wheels, leatherette seats, a power driver’s seat, dual-zone automatic climate control, rear seat heater and air conditioning vents, and a “Commander Switch” for the 5.8-inch touchscreen infotainment display. The Touring model is also equipped with a standard Blind Spot Monitoring System and a Rear Cross Traffic Alert system.

The Mazda 6 Touring can be optioned with a Touring Technology Package ($2,000) that adds a navigation system with real-time traffic reports, a Bose premium audio system with a free 4-month trial subscription to satellite radio, a Mazda Advanced Keyless Entry system providing passive access to the cabin and push-button starting, and a Smart City Brake Support system. Additionally, the Touring Package includes automatic headlights, rain-sensing wipers, auto-dimming rearview and driver’s side mirrors, heated exterior mirrors, and a universal garage door opener.

For a luxury-flavored Mazda 6, try the Grand Touring model ($30,290). Yes, it costs $5,000 more than the Touring, but based on recent statistics, this trim level is roughly aligned to the average amount of money paid for a new car in America. In addition to the contents of the Touring Technology Package, the Mazda 6 Grand Touring is equipped with leather seats, heated front seats, a power sunroof, an Adaptive Front Lighting System with bi-Xenon high-intensity discharge headlights, LED running lights, fog lights, an alarm system, a rear spoiler, and an upgraded wheel finish.

Mazda offers the Grand Touring with a Mazda Radar Cruise Control system and a Forward Obstruction Warning system. Sometime before the end of the year, the Grand Touring will also be available with a Lane Departure Warning system, a High Beam Control system, and an i-ELOOP brake energy regeneration system that converts the kinetic energy created from braking the car into electricity that can be used to power onboard accessories.

All three versions of the 2014 Mazda 6 can be painted Soul Red or Crystal White at extra cost, and Mazda dealers can install a variety of accessories. My test vehicle was the Grand Touring model, dipped in Soul Red paint and equipped with Black leather. The addition of an optional Mazda Radar Cruise Control system and a Forward Obstruction Warning system brought the sticker price to a very reasonable $31,490 for a family car that looks, feels, and is equipped like a luxury sedan.

2014 Mazda 6 Road Test and Review: Design

What’s New:

Completely redesigned inside and out
Second Mazda designed to “Kodo” styling philosophy

Do you like the way the 2014 Mazda 6 looks? Most people I encountered sure did. That bodes well for Mazda after half a decade dithering around with what the automaker called its “Nagare” design theme, which resulted in smiley faces on nearly every model and, on the Mazda 5 minivan, strange and permanent sheetmetal ripples.

Today, Mazda is incorporating its “Kodo” design theme on all of its new models, and is even grafting certain “Kodo” elements onto existing vehicles such as the CX-9 and MX-5 Miata. “Kodo” translates to “Soul of Motion” and this bolder, more aggressive, and to my eye, far more appealing styling approach has produced one of the best looking sedans on the market, regardless of price. My wife still prefers the new Ford Fusion, but that’s just because she finds Aston Martins irresistible.

Inside, the new 2014 Mazda 6 adheres to a Germanic no-nonsense layout executed in quality materials with pleasing textures and tones. The windshield pillars are wrapped in fabric that matches the headliner, the upper door panel surfaces on all four doors are padded, and the storage trays and cupholders are lined with rubber to quell vibration and improve grip. My test car had the Black interior, but I prefer the Almond interior, which creates a 2-tone appearance that looks richer and more upscale. Thoughtfully, the Almond color is offered with every exterior paint hue except for Liquid Silver.

2014 Mazda 6 Road Test and Review: Comfort and Cargo

What’s New:

Interior is completely redesigned

Tidy is the word that best describes the 2014 Mazda 6 when it comes to interior and trunk space. This is a comfortable and accommodating car, but to say it feels roomy would be inaccurate.

Like German luxury cars, the driver’s seat is firm but proves comfortable over longer hauls. Compared to the previous-generation Mazda 6, which was a larger car, the seats feels a little bit undersized under my oversized butt, and because the Grand Touring model is equipped with 19-inch tires offering impressive grip, it turns out that the driver’s seat lacks adequate side bolstering, forcing me to use my legs to brace myself in fast corners. The 8-way power driver’s seat does not provide a separate adjuster for the bottom cushion, either, and while I wished for a thigh support extension I was able to position myself properly behind the tilt and telescopic steering wheel.

The front passenger’s seat is comfortable, too, and though it lacks a height adjuster, it sits high enough in relationship to the dashboard and side glass to keep its occupant from feeling like he or she is sitting on the floor. Both the driver and passenger enjoy a softly padded center console armrest that slides forward for additional comfort.

The Mazda 6 supplies plenty of room for two adults. Legroom and foot room are more than adequate if not quite excellent, and the front seatbacks are softly padded, making them friendly for lankier folks. Thoughtfully, Mazda provides carpeted panels beneath the front seats that are designed to protect the tops of shoes from scratches. However, because the Mazda 6 is a relatively low car, the rear seating position is low and somewhat reclined, making entry and exit harder for people with flabby cores.

The Mazda 6 is equipped with a 14.8 cu.-ft. trunk, which is not as big as several popular midsize sedans. However, the space is usefully configured, and I used this car for a big-box store visit involving bulk purchase of paper towels and diapers.

2014 Mazda 6 Road Test and Review: Features and Controls

What’s New:

5.8-inch color infotainment touchscreen
Bluetooth, Pandora, SMS text messaging
Commander Switch controller on center console

For a vehicle equipped with numerous features and redundant controls on the steering wheel and center console, the Mazda 6 Grand Touring provides a relatively simple and straightforward layout employing large knobs, big buttons, and clear markings.

Though equipped with a touchscreen, the infotainment system has a knob for power and volume as well as a knob for tuning and audio settings. Combined with conventional automatic climate controls on the lower portion of the dashboard, this means the only reason I might require the touchscreen or the Commander Switch is to access the navigation system, Bluetooth, radio station pre-sets, or alternate media sources.

It is easy to pair a phone to the Mazda 6, to run Pandora Internet radio, and to program the navigation system. The touchscreen is responsive, and offers large enough virtual buttons to keep my blood pressure low. But the screen is simply too small. I do, however, enjoy the immediacy of the Mazda 6’s controls and displays. The instrumentation couldn’t be clearer, and Mazda provides tasteful detailing to make them appear more upscale.

2014 Mazda 6 Road Test and Review: Safety and Ratings

What’s New:

Reversing camera
Rear Cross Traffic Alert
E911 Emergency Notification service
Smart City Braking System
Mazda Radar Cruise Control
Forward Obstruction Warning
Adaptive Front Lighting System
Lane Departure Warning System
Automatic High Beam Control

For 2014, Mazda has significantly improved the Mazda 6’s safety ratings and available technology. A reversing camera, SMS text messaging, and an E911 emergency notification system that can help speed rescue to the scene of a collision after the car’s airbags deploy are standard equipment on every 2014 Mazda 6 that has an automatic transmission.

Choose the Touring trim level, and the car has a standard Blind Spot Monitoring system and a Rear Cross Traffic Alert system. A Smart City Brake Support system is optional for the Touring model, scanning ahead for pedestrians or stopped vehicles in the Mazda 6’s path. If the system detects an obstruction and the car is traveling at a speed under 19 mph, it automatically readies the braking system for maximum braking power when the driver touches the brake pedal. If the driver does not respond, the system can autonomously apply the brakes to reduce the force of the impact, thereby reducing injury.

The Grand Touring model comes standard with Smart City Brake Support, an Adaptive Front Lighting System, and rain-sensing wipers. A Mazda Radar Cruise Control system with Forward Obstruction Warning can maintain safe following distances from traffic ahead and also identify obstructions in the road, sounding an alert to prompt the driver to take evasive action.

Additionally, Mazda is planning to offer a Lane Departure Warning system and an automatic High Beam Control system for the Grand Touring model before the end of the year.

2014 Mazda 6 Crash-Test Ratings:

According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), the redesigned Mazda 6 is a “Top Safety Pick Plus.” That means it passed the tough new small overlap frontal-impact test, which is designed to measure vehicle protection levels in the event of a collision with a tree, a pole, or oncoming traffic where the impact is taken on the tested vehicle’s front left corner. Crash-test results from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) were not available as this review was published.

2014 Mazda 6 Road Test and Review: Engines and Fuel Economy

What’s New:

SkyActiv engineering approach
Rated for 30 mpg in combined driving
Optional clean diesel engine coming soon

Right now, as this review is published, the 2014 Mazda 6 is offered only with a direct-injected, 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine making 184 horsepower at 5,700 rpm and 185 lb.-ft. of torque at 3,250 rpm. That’s plenty of oomph for a relatively lightweight sedan that weighs about 3,200 lbs.

Called the SkyActiv-G engine, this power plant is paired with a 6-speed manual gearbox in the Sport model. Most Sport models, as well as all Touring and Grand Touring models, have a 6-speed automatic transmission with a manual shift mode and paddle shifters on the steering wheel. In some regions of the country, this engine meets Partial Zero Emission Vehicle (PZEV) regulations.

With the manual transmission, the Mazda 6 is EPA-rated to get 25 mpg in the city, 37 mpg on the highway, and 29 mpg in combined driving. The 6-speed automatic bumps each of those numbers by one digit, and we averaged 28.5 mpg during a week of driving.

By Christian Wardlaw