The 2014 Mazda Mazda6 is a handsome car. The sleek sedan is possibly the best example yet of the automaker's Kodo design language and does anything but blend into a crowd -- especially when wearing the premium Soul Red paint that our tester arrived in. Despite seeing the sedan at what feels like every car show of the 2012-13 season, I found myself simply admiring its curves and creases in the sunlight for some time.
But helping you to choose the right midsize sedan isn't as easy as picking the best-looking car, so I forced myself to tear my eyes away from the exterior to settle into the almond leather-trimmed driver's seat, fiddle with the now familiar TomTom-powered navigation system, and put the Mazda6 and its assortment of Skyactiv engine and construction technologies to the test.
The lowercase "i" designation in the 2014 Mazda Mazda6's i Grand Touring's full model name indicates that this sedan is powered by the 2.5-liter, four-cylinder Skyactiv-G engine, which is the same engine that can be found motivating the previously tested Mazda CX-5.
The stated output of 184 horsepower and 185 pound-feet of torque is a respectable showing for an engine of this size, but it's also not an overwhelming amount of grunt. That said, Mazda's four-banger is doing work with less fuel thanks to direct-injection technology. The new 2.5-liter has about 14 more ponies at its disposal and twists its crank with almost 20 more pound-feet of torque than the outgoing model did.
Compared with the 2013 Toyota Camry SE's 2.5-liter engine, which boasts similar on-paper stats, the Mazda's power comes on much later in the power band, which typically makes an engine feel less alive during around-town driving where low-end torque rules. However, whatever Skyactiv low-friction, low-mass magic Mazda has worked inside the engine makes the mill feel more alive than the Toyota's and more willing to reach into those upper revs for the power that it needs. Additionally, the Mazda6 feels just as capable at highway speeds and never seems to be wanting for passing power -- particularly when the driver preselects a lower passing gear with the steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters.
The Skyactiv-G engine is complemented by the Skyactiv-Drive six-speed automatic "sport" transmission, which sends power to the front wheels. There's nothing particularly sporty about this conventional torque-converter gearbox, unless you count our Grand Touring model's steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters and manual shift program. The gearbox seems to lack a dedicated automatic sport mode. I suppose that Mazda would have us believe that the normal D mode is sporty enough, but the emphasis of this default is economy, which explains why fellow CNET Car Tech editor Wayne Cunningham described the Mazda6 as "gutless" after a short spin. You'll need to fiddle with the manual shift mode if you want to take full advantage of the power locked away in the upper reaches of the four-cylinder engine's revolutions per minute (rpm) range, and even then you'll have to temper your expectations of the sleek sedan's forward thrust.
A six-speed Skyactiv manual transmission is available on the entry-level Mazda6 Sport trim level, but our top-of-the-line Grand Touring model and the midrange Touring trim are only available with the automatic.
The EPA-estimated 30 combined mpg breaks down to 26 mpg and 38 mpg in the city and on the highway, respectively. I only managed to average about 25.9 mpg during my lead-footed testing, which included and required a bit of aggressive driving to test the acceleration capabilities of the Skyactiv-G engine and Skyactiv-Drive gearbox. While I consider my results to be a bit of a worst-case scenario for heavy-footed drivers seeking the Zoom-Zoom promised in Mazda's adverts, I think even miserly owners will have a hard time approaching the 38 mpg mark.
What the 2014 Mazda6 lacks in pure forward thrust, it makes up for in agility and handling. Now I'm not going to go so far as to say that the Mazda6 effortlessly rides around bends on rails like its much smaller sibling the MX-5 Miata or even muscles and powers through them like the Mazdaspeed3, but for what is ostensibly a large sedan measuring 191.5 inches from nose to tail (about 2 inches longer than the Camry and nearly equaling the Honda Accord), the Mazda6 is surprisingly light on its toes.
That's partially thanks to Mazda's suspension engineers' ability to dial in a ride that is both supple and responsive, but the sedan also has its lightweight construction to thank. At 3,232 pounds, the Mazda6 is no bantamweight, but it carries its mass well.
A fully independent suspension, consisting of MacPherson struts up front and a multilink independent setup out back, helps to keep the sedan planted while also soaking up all but the most unreasonable of bumps. The rubber meets the road in the form of 225-width all-season tires wrapped around 19-inch alloy wheels. The ride isn't as quiet as you get from the Camry or Accord, but a bit of extra road noise isn't annoying and is in keeping with the "sporty" image that I believe Mazda is trying to project.
The Mazda's steering rack is electronically boosted, now a common fuel-saving measure. The wheel doesn't offer much in the way of feedback, but the Mazda6 has a good seat-of-the-pants feel coming up from the suspension. The sedan exhibits roll and understeer when pushed -- which is fine, trust me -- but turn-in is rather good, which gives the Mazda6 notable responsiveness in emergency lane changes.
Tech by TomTom
The Grand Touring trim level comes fully loaded with all of the bells and whistles that the 2014 Mazda6 offers, with few proper options available.
Standard features include a 5.8-inch, touch-sensitive Mazda infotainment system with navigation powered by TomTom. Like the ones that we've tested in the Mazda CX-5 and Mazdaspeed3 models, this system duplicates the interface of TomTom's portable navigation devices, complete with its menu system for address entry and destination search. Pros include TomTom's excellent routing algorithms and SD card-based map data that is easily updated. In the cons column, there's TomTom's sometimes confusing interface. On the whole, I like this system, which provides traffic data.