Beauty may be in the eyes of the beholder, but the fluid lines of the new Mazda 6 set it apart from more conservatively styled cars such as the Honda Accord or Toyota Camry. The 2014 Mazda 6 incorporates elements of the manufacturer’s “Kodo — Soul of Motion” design language first expressed in last year’s CX-5.
The new set of clothes masks two important changes from the last-generation car — a shorter body length and a longer wheelbase. The latter directly benefits rear seating. Even with a five-foot, 10-inch driver, there is enough head and legroom to comfortably seat a six-footer in the back.
The revamp has also resulted in the 6 shedding a few extra kilograms — the actual amount depends on the model.
A lighter platform means the manufacturer doesn’t have to put in a larger engine. In the 6’s case, a 2.5-litre four developing 184 horsepower and 185 lb.-ft. of torque is the only engine available under the hood. Although it has the same displacement as the outgoing four-cylinder, the new engine is more fuel-efficient. Mazda claims the current engine offers a higher low- and mid-range torque band and emits lower emissions along with providing better economy. The thirsty V-6 from last year is no longer available.
The technology behind it is what Mazda calls Skyactiv. Its suite of features includes an advanced engine and transmission housed in a lighter-yet-stronger body platform.
The 2014 Mazda 6 is the first car that benefits from the complete suite. The Mazda 3 has only the Skyactiv engine and transmission.
I drove a Mazda 6 GT, the top-of-the-line model, with the optional technology package that includes a lane-departure warning system, radar cruise control, forward-obstruction warning and Smart City Brake Support.
The Skyactiv 2.5-litre engine follows the 2.0-litre introduced last year in the Mazda 3. Mazda boasts a reduction in internal friction, a higher compression, direct injection and a 4-2-1 exhaust header as the main components that give the Skyactiv engines better efficiency.
Despite obvious tuning in the name of fuel economy, the 2.5 impresses with its driveability in real-world situations. It is quiet at idle, not obtrusive at normal speeds and, when the pedal is stomped on, doesn’t falter. The 184 horses are enough to have a bit of fun, but not enough to get a driver in trouble. The best compliment, perhaps, is that this engine isn’t one that screams and thrashes about when pushed to the limit.
The engine is mated to a six-speed automatic only in the GT, but lesser models are available with a six-speed manual transmission — a rarity these days in this market segment.
The automatic’s shifts were very smooth — the GT is equipped with steering-wheel paddle shifters to give enthusiasts a bit more fun. The shifter also has a fore-and-aft manual mode. Just be aware that Mazda, like BMW, operates its shifts contrary to everybody else in the industry. To shift up a gear, you have to pull back. To shift down, it’s a push forward. A rev limiter prevents engine damage if a driver makes a mistake.
Despite it being a mid-size family sedan, the 6 handles itself well on country roads, with moderate body lean and an agility that inspires.
Some of the handling prowess can be credited to standard 19-inch alloy wheels shod with low-profile rubber that fills out the wheelwells more than the regular 17-inch rims.
The cabin, especially in the GT, is luxurious, with acres of leather, chrome sculpture panels and soft, padded surfaces. The overall design is richer than before. However, I found the main interface screen for the audio and navigation on the small side. The controller for the various screens is now located on the centre console (south of the transmission shifter), and is similar to ones found in various current BMWs.
Mazda is betting outstanding looks and a heavy dose of technology will be the twin defining advantages of the 2014 Mazda 6.
With its full Skyactiv suite, the Mazda 6 gives drivers a sporty ride without the guilt.
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