First Drive: 2014 Mazda6 reviews mazda first drives
2014 Mazda6. Click image to enlarge
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Manufacturer’s Website
Mazda Canada

Review and photos by Jonathan Yarkony

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2014 Mazda6

Austin, TX – After recently completing an intensive comparison test between some leading family sedans on the market, I couldn’t help but feel perfectly prepared to judge the new 2014 Mazda6 now arriving in Canadian dealerships. Well, the Mazda6 has been judged, and it has been deemed worthy. It offers a mix of value, practicality and character that reflect well the Mazda philosophy – the slogan which shall not be named.

Actually, for several years now, Mazda has been trotting out a secondary brand philosophy catchphrase for us journalists, who so cringe every time we see or hear the letter zed approaching. Jinba Ittai, a Japanese phrase describing the oneness between horse and rider, it is a quality Mazda’s engineering teams seek to design into their cars, a quality that engages the driver in the act of driving, rather than simply delivering you from point A to point B without incident. No easy feat when you must also stay on budget and keep cars competitively priced, deliver excellent fuel economy, and live up to and anticipate customers’ practical needs and industry trends in this extremely competitive segment.

First Drive: 2014 Mazda6 reviews mazda first drives First Drive: 2014 Mazda6 reviews mazda first drives First Drive: 2014 Mazda6 reviews mazda first drives First Drive: 2014 Mazda6 reviews mazda first drives
2014 Mazda6. Click image to enlarge

Unlike many other new product launches, the Mazda6 takes all-new to its very limits. Where other brands will carry over engines, transmissions, platform designs or chassis components, everything short of bolts and other interchangeable parts is new on the Mazda6. When breaking from Ford, Mazda was challenged to find a way to compete with larger companies and match their efficiency and engineering, and saw an opportunity to achieve something of a revolution through evolution. In speaking with Ruben Archilla, Group Manager, Advanced Engineering, Research and Development for Mazda North America Operations (wow, that is a really long title… how does he ever get any work done?), he offered some insight on how they landed on this path to efficiency, “Everything still depends on an efficient internal combustion engine as its base.” Improve the base, improve performance across the board, while leaving the door open to other advanced powertrain technology.

Taking a conventional internal combustion engine and front-wheel-drive layout to its apotheosis by designing every major system to work as efficiently as possible while engaging the driver (Jinba Ittai, remember?) became the goal. Aside from the goofy SkyActiv label, the engineering is simple but brilliant, the separate body, suspension, powertrain, transmission, design and other teams working flexibly toward a common goal. The result is a platform designed for optimum strength, minimizing weight through design efficiency and high-strength materials, while perfectly accommodating the new powertrain options and working in concert with chassis design to provide the best comfort-performance ride compromise. Archilla detailed how they redesigned the body to fit ideal suspension mounting points, and eliminated inefficient frame designs (straight is better than crooked) by building to spec around their core engines, the four-cylinder Skyactiv-G gasoline and Skyactiv-D diesel.

In other words, this car really is all new (except for the bolts…).

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.

First Drive: 2014 Mazda6 reviews mazda first drives
First Drive: 2014 Mazda6 reviews mazda first drives
First Drive: 2014 Mazda6 reviews mazda first drives
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!).

First Drive: 2014 Mazda6 reviews mazda first drives
2014 Mazda6. Click image to enlarge

However, as is normally the case, stick with the manual transmission, and you open up another bucket of torque despite all the clever engineering involved in the design of the automatic, which uses both a locking torque converter automatic-style for low speed starts up to 5 km/h, and a single, multi-plate clutch for gear changes. The manual transmission has also been redesigned for more efficient packaging, shorter throws, and better feel. Check, check, check. The clutch is light, but linear, with good feel for the point of engaging, and the throws are light enough to be tolerable for stop-and-go commutes, with a bit of notchiness just to remind you there is a mechanical action underneath – this is the company that builds the MX-5/Miata, home to one of the best shift linkages extant, and it shows.

DIY shifters rejoice, because the manual transmission is available on all trims, which will ‘save’ you $1,200 on base GX models, though it is considered a “no-cost” option on GX and GT trims. I sure wouldn’t mind saving $1,200 on those upper trims, but Mazda knows that the customer that wants a manual transmission without giving up leather, power seats, or navigation, is willing to eat that.

And now, on to the ever popular trims and prices breakdown… That base GX model with a six-speed manual transmission starts at $24,495 MSRP, and you can add $1,695 for Freight and another $100 for the air conditioning excise tax since all models come with A/C as standard equipment. That price is 1-2K more than competitors’ base trims, some of which come with automatics that will please the masses, so Mazda has thrown in some perks like 17-inch alloy wheels and rain sensing wipers as standard equipment that others offer only on higher trims (or not at all). Just a brief list of notable standard equipment goes like this: disc brakes with ABS, stability and traction control, tire pressure monitoring system, push-button start, cruise control, automatic lights, Bluetooth with audio profile, USB, colour display with trip computer, and heated seats.

First Drive: 2014 Mazda6 reviews mazda first drives First Drive: 2014 Mazda6 reviews mazda first drives First Drive: 2014 Mazda6 reviews mazda first drives First Drive: 2014 Mazda6 reviews mazda first drives
2014 Mazda6. Click image to enlarge

The only option on the GX trim is the $1,200 automatic transmission upgrade, taking the price to $25,695.

The $28,395 GS trim adds moonroof, fog lights, auto climate control, driver seat power lift, leather steering wheel, shift knob, and parking brake, proximity-sensing keyless entry, HMI commander (which is Mazda-goofy-speak for an infotainment control knob on the console), blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, and back-up camera. To get the leather seats to match the steering wheel and shift knob, you have to spring for the $1,800 Luxury package, which also includes eight-way power driver seat (including power lumbar support), ‘leather-like’ door trim, and a navigation system to go along with that ‘commander’ knob.

Loaded models come bearing the GT badge and a window sticker of $32,195. At that price, you get all of the above features, plus your rims are upgraded to 19-inch alloys with 225/45R19 rubber, auto-dimming exterior & interior mirrors, Bose Audio with 11 speakers, auto leveling front lighting and HID xenon headlights with LED signature.

The very pinnacle of the Mazda6 line is the GT with $2,000 Technology Package at an entirely reasonable $34,195 (though it also is a grand steeper than top-trim base-engine models from Honda and VW), packing such gadgets as SiriusXM satellite radio, Smart City Brake Support (a collision avoidance/reduction braking system), forward obstruction warning, adaptive cruise control, high-beam control system, and lane departure warning system. Come June, this package will also add iELOOP, Mazda’s braking energy recuperation system that feeds into a capacitor that then powers many electrical systems whenever it is charged.

First Drive: 2014 Mazda6 reviews mazda first drives
First Drive: 2014 Mazda6 reviews mazda first drives
First Drive: 2014 Mazda6 reviews mazda first drives
2014 Mazda6. Click image to enlarge

It may be worth noting that this package is not available with the manual transmission, which seems a shrewd move on Mazda’s part – I mean, if you want a manual transmission, there’s a not unreasonable chance that you prefer to control your car and have less patience for all these excessive driving nannies. About the only thing I would gripe about would be the satellite radio, but if you like satellite radio that much, you can just as easily stream it via Bluetooth from an external device, which you can then take with you away from the car.

You may be wondering why I have yet to address one of Mazda’s key selling points: its driving dynamics. Well, I had to leave something juicy at the end to keep you reading through the trims, didn’t I?

Well, not to make too much of it, but this car goes straight to the head of the class. Without driving it back to back with its competitors, I can’t peg it exactly, but having just completed our own Family Sedan Comparison Test, I can safely say that this car could easily hang with the Ford Fusion and Honda Accord in terms of balanced driving dynamics, and like the Accord also offers a suitably composed and comfortable ride over all surfaces, though perhaps not to the same degree, displaying a bit of roughness on sharp bumps.

The steering ratio is near as quick as the Miata’s at 15.5:1, and while not as viscerally connected to the road, it never falters or leaves you guessing how much grip you have left, with progressive turn in and firm responsiveness in turns. It’s no sports car, but it sure was a hoot to drive up and down the selection of curving, undulating roads surrounding the Austin, Texas area.

And while it is not our usual standard route, we noted fuel consumption of 9.3 L/100 km and 8.6 on various legs, and this was when driving it with no regard for efficiency on twisty, low-speed roads with plenty of stops that included idling for photo shoots (we did turn the cars off when we stopped at The Salt Lick, for the best barbecue I’ve ever had in my life). Not exactly the demands of rush-hour commuting, but also not just a leisurely highway cruise. If anything, it seemed somewhat of a similar mix as our comparison tests, only the roads around Austin are actually fun to drive, unlike our flat, straight, traffic-clogged GTA roads. Official fuel consumption estimates as per Transport Canada guidelines are 8.1/5.3 L/100 km city/highway with the manual, and 7.6/5.1 for the automatic. US EPA procedures would put it at 9.4/6.4 for the manual and 9.0/6.2 for the auto.

First Drive: 2014 Mazda6 reviews mazda first drives First Drive: 2014 Mazda6 reviews mazda first drives First Drive: 2014 Mazda6 reviews mazda first drives First Drive: 2014 Mazda6 reviews mazda first drives
2014 Mazda6. Click image to enlarge

The new Mazda6 couldn’t have arrived at a better time. With sales in the segment skyrocketing, Mazda is perfectly poised to capture sales from brands carrying mediocre products in the class, and the Mazda6 has the style (seems I’ve run out of room to talk about styling, but let’s just say I’m a fan), practicality, and efficiency to draw a lot of people into showrooms. Its only shortcoming is the limitation of only one four-cylinder engine choice at launch; although it is brilliant, Mazda is competing against brands that have three or four engine choices, with turbos, vee-sixes and hybrids to supplement conventional, volume models. And when reinforcements arrive, it will be the first mainstream brand to challenge VW’s lock on the passenger diesel market, so there is an element of experimentation to it.

First Drive: 2014 Mazda6 reviews mazda first drives
First Drive: 2014 Mazda6 reviews mazda first drives
2014 Mazda6. Click image to enlarge

That being said, the Mazda6 is an excellent car and worth putting on your shopping list if in the market for a family sedan. This car is an impressive flagship for a small brand, and you can feel that Mazda has poured its soul into it, now freed from the demands of partnering to a larger brand, and it is at least on par with the best the segment has to offer in every respect.

Pricing: 2014 Mazda6

GX 6MT: $24,495
GX 6AT: $25,695

GS 6MT: $28,395
GS 6MT Luxury: $30,195
GS 6AT: $28,395
GS 6AT Luxury: $30,195

GT 6MT: $32,195
GT 6AT: $32,195
GT 6AT Technology: $34,195

Freight & PDE for all models: $1,695

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