As much as driver engagement is a Mazda core tenet, it is not the first priority in this segment. First and foremost a car must be reasonably spacious and accommodating in front and rear seats, and the Mazda6 achieves this easily. At 4,895 mm long with a 2,830 mm wheelbase (shrinking in length, but growing in wheelbase from the previous generation), it is actually one of the longer models in class exceeding the Camry, Accord, Altima and even the Passat in both measures. Legroom is sufficient in both rows (1,073 mm up front and 984 mm in back, near best in both categories compared to the above competitors), though it felt more in line with a vehicle like the Ford Fusion than Honda Accord – it’s not tight, but you won’t sit in back astounded at all the legroom. Headroom was also sufficient during all my crawling and positioning for interior shots (though 942 mm is less than any of the above competitors), and the seatbacks fold (60/40 split) for a nearly flat cargo bay. The opening from the trunk is wide and tall as well, increasing the 419 L of trunk space significantly.

2014 Mazda6
2014 Mazda6
2014 Mazda6
2014 Mazda6. Click image to enlarge

The interior is available in black cloth (kind of a strange slippery fabric) on the GX model and white or black leather on GS Luxury or GT models. The leather is the first of many materials that feel rich to the touch, worthy of the flagship status that this intermediate sedan carries. Throughout the cabin, the plastics are soft and have a subtle matte finish, while high-gloss plastic trim and satin-effect metallic pieces are used sparingly but to great effect. Switchgear, too, looks good, feels good, and imparts a sense that this vehicle is creeping into premium territory, much like VW vehicles a decade ago.

In fact, Volkswagen’s Passat is the vehicle in this segment that Mazda was most interested in emulating, and not just in the upcoming availability of a diesel powertrain. Passat sales were crawling along at 10-20K in the States and 2-3K in Canada until last year, when VW sold 117,000 units in the US and 8,000 in Canada. Aggressive pricing (thanks to local North American assembly and lower quality materials), a rewarding driving experience and an interesting mix of powertrain options worked for VW, but Mazda is taking a slightly different approach.

Assembly returns to Japan (and may suffer the inevitable currency fluctuations), and rather than powertrain options, Mazda is coming to market with one engine, though available with either manual or automatic six-speed transmissions. Mazda is actually aiming to simplify their Mazda6 lineup, offering only nine possible configurations at launch, all of them powered by the new SkyActiv-G 2.5L inline-four-cylinder engine. The diesel will follow in the second half of the year. Why so late? Mazda has their hands full supplying the Japanese market, which is snapping up diesels at five times the expected rate.

This base engine is in the sweet spot for a car weighing in at 1,444 kg to 1,466 kg, providing 184 hp at 5,700 rpm and 185 lb-ft of torque at 3,250 rpm, neither of which you will be shy of reaching. The engine spins freely and smoothly up to its 6,500 rpm redline, though the automatic transmission will upshift earlier unless you select the transmission’s Sport mode or are holding gears in manual mode (paddle shifters available on GS models and above).

On the road, it’s the kind of motivation that should go unremarked – you won’t have passengers reaching for grab handles (that will happen in the corners), but you also won’t often be leaning forward using body English to give the car an extra push (CX-5 anyone?) just to get up to highway speeds. We know that because we took an unintended detour onto a high-speed toll-route, in which we had to fully tap the 6’s accelerative abilities. We also discovered that it exhibits excellent road manners at speed, although there was a surprising amount of wind noise, some specifically seeming to come from the rear-window area (yes, I checked that the windows were shut!).

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