Monday, October 20, 2014

The best midsize sedan?

The Mazda 6 has surely been a favorite of auto journalists across the globe, each having their own reasons. Yet, it has never quite caught on with the mass population of the car buying public. So Mazda has seriously upped their efforts with the new 2014 model. The result is a more stylish, more fuel friendly car that is still practical, roomy, and quite fun to drive.

     The 2014 Mazda 6 has one of the best looking designs in the class, and is a rival to the Ford Fusion, at least in terms of styling. Under the sleek, almost sexy looking skin is a new, 184 horsepower 2.5 liter 4 cylinder engine that provides good performance, along with subdued noises that will be pleasing to some ears, and an impressive 30 mpg combined estimate. Unfortunately, as a sign of the fuel economy times, a V6 option is no longer offered. Instead, Mazda will introduce a 2.2 turbocharged diesel 4 cylinder that should arrive later in the model year. That engine should return close to 40 mpg highway, while giving you better acceleration than the base gas engine.

     The 2014 Mazda 6 is a five-passenger sedan offered in Sport, Touring and Grand Touring trim levels.

     Standard features on the base manual-transmission Sport include 17-inch alloy wheels, cloth upholstery, a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, air-conditioning, cruise control, full power accessories, a 60/40-split rear seat, a 3.5-inch multi-information display and a four-speaker sound system with a USB/iPod interface and an auxiliary audio jack. If equipped with the optional automatic transmission, the Sport also includes Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity, a 5.8-inch touchscreen, a rearview camera and audio upgrades (voice commands, HD radio, Pandora, text-message display function and automatic 911 notification).

     Stepping up to the Touring trim adds 19-inch alloy wheels, premium vinyl (leatherette) upholstery, dual-zone automatic climate control, a sliding console armrest and a six-way power driver seat. An optional Touring Technology package adds keyless ignition/entry, automatic headlights, rain-sensing wipers, auto-dimming rearview and driver-side mirrors, heated side mirrors, navigation, an upgraded 11-speaker Bose audio system and the Smart City collision mitigation system.

     The Grand Touring includes all of the above as well as unique wheels, a rear spoiler, adaptive/bi-xenon headlights, LED running lights, foglights, a power sunroof, leather upholstery, an eight-way power driver seat (with power lumbar support), a four-way power passenger seat, driver memory functions, heated front seats and satellite radio.

Optional for the Grand Touring is adaptive cruise control bundled with a forward collision warning system. An Advance package (late availability) includes those optional features as well as lane-departure warning, automatic high beams and an energy capture system called i-Eloop ("intelligent energy loop") that can store energy during deceleration to a capacitor, which can then power air-conditioning, lighting and accessories for about a minute while the stop-start system shuts down the engine at a stoplight.

     The 2014 Mazda 6 is powered by a 2.5 liter 4 cylinder engine that produces 184 horsepower, and 185 lb.-ft of torque. You can pair that engine with either a 6-speed manual or a 6-speed automatic transmission. With the 6-speed automatic, you get paddle shifters on the steering wheel. The auto cames standard on the Grand Touring model.

     In testing, my automatic transmission equipped tester made the run to 60 mph in about 7.5 seconds, making it one of the quicker cars in the class. Fuel economy estimates clock in at 26 city/38 highway, with the manual transmission equipped models coming in at 1 mpg lower across the board. With the Grand Touring models optional i-Eloop, those numbers rise to 28/40 mpg.

 Mazda has loaded the 6 with a heap of safety features including things like ABS, traction and stability control, front seat side airbags, full length side curtain airbags, and active front head restraints. The Touring and Grand Touring models include blind spot, and rear cross traffic monitoring.

     The Grand Touring alone has Mazda's Smart City Brake Support, which is a accident aviodance system that uses an infrared laser sensor at the top of the windshield to detect an impending collision. It can automatically stop the car at slow speeds if the system detects no input from the driver. A seperate package on the Grand Touring model combines a forward collision warning system and lane departure warning.

     In brake testing, my tester came to a stop from 60 mph in about 130 feet, which is a tad longer than average for this class.

     In IIHS crash testing, the Mazda 6 earned an acceptable in the small frontal overlap frontal offset crash test. It earned the highest possible rating of Good in the moderate overlap frontal offset, side impact, and roof strength tests. The head/seat restraint design that the folks at Mazda gave the 6 was also given the rating of good for whiplash protection in certain accidents.

     With legroom being plentiful in the rear, the 6's passenegrs may feel as though they have been given a first class ride, rather than a flight in coach. Headroom is also on the generous side, even for the passenegers that are over 6 feet tall. Though, the sloping rear roof line might give you a more claustrophobic feel than say, a Toyota Camry. Luggage space is also pretty good, giving you 14.8 cubic feet of space for your things.

     Inside, the design is clean and funtional, although maybe a touch on the boring side. Polished aluminum trim accents the cabin space, while the Grand Touring leather upholstery has contrasting stitching. Material quality, as well as fit and finish are among the best in this class. Most of the controls are simple, and user friendly, but the touchscreen interface found in most of the models is a bit behind the systems found in other cars in the same class. The screen, and the touch buttons on the interface are small, and it doesn't always like to play nice with Apple products. However, and the plus side, a multi-purpose knob located due south of the shifter grants a nice and handy level of control redundancy. On the downside though, the High-Beam control option found in the Grand Touring model can sometimes default to on, or just not work at all, leaving the high-beam headlights on, causing major frustration, and possible dangerous situations for the driver.

The one major standout of the 2014 Mazda 6 is the powertrain. The base 2.5 liter 4 cylinder engine is smooth, and rather quiet, and gives you almost smile inducing acceleration. Although many automatic transmissions in cars that claim high mpg numbers quickly upshift, and are very hesitant to downshift, the auto in the Mazda 6 is quite responsive to inputs from the gas pedal and never really feels unsure of itsself when you need to pass on the highway. And as a bonus, if you enjoy the thoughts of rowing through the gears yourself, you will be happy to note that there is a 6-speed manual option, an option that is going away more and more every model year.

     The same athletic feel is still in play when it comes to handling. With the car having a communicative, laser sharp precise steering, and sporty chassis tuning, the 2014 Mazda 6 feels quite happy and willing to go around sharp corners, which is a stand out for the class. The downside of this is that the 6 does ride a bit more stiff than the others, especially if you have the 19 inch wheels. With all of that being said, if you enjoy driving like some do, and you need your car to be practical, than the 2014 Mazda 6 might very well be the best choice for you. It certainly does warrant a test drive at the very least.

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