Let's face it: Most of us, if we're shopping in the midsize sedan segment, just want the safe choice: the car that will get us through three to five years with as few hassles as possible. There are plenty of such cars, all of them optimized to deliver low risk for buyers whose loyalties lean more toward practical than provocative.
The Mazda 6, however, which is all-new for 2014, has something most of its competitors desperately need.
It drips with charisma in places where its competitors offer only convention. There's identity in its styling both inside and out. Its front seats alone offer comfort and support utterly lacking in most of its competition. And if there's even one midsize sedan that's remotely interesting to drive, it's this one.
The question, then, is this: Can the 2014 Mazda 6 be both desirable and practical?
Power and Efficiency
The all-aluminum, direct-injected 2.5-liter four-cylinder under the 6's hood follows the same streamlining strategies as the engine used in the smaller Mazda 3 sedan. The big four utilizes balance shafts, which keeps it smooth all the way to its 6,500-rpm redline and an even higher 13.0:1 compression ratio. It's a smooth, slow puller, but one that's every bit as powerful as it needs to be. Sensitive ears will notice the telltale clatter of direct fuel injectors at idle, but overall this engine offers every bit of refinement you'll find in the class leaders.
It cranks out 184 horsepower and 185 pound-feet of torque. Mazda recommends regular 87-octane fuel and there's an optional regenerative braking system designed to enhance fuel economy, though it wasn't present on our tester. A 2.2-liter diesel will be the optional in the second half of 2013. Expect it to be better performing, more efficient and more expensive.
Still, this gasoline-fired mill is plenty efficient on its own. When equipped with the six-speed automatic transmission, the 6 is rated at 38 highway mpg. Its city rating is 26 mpg and the EPA says it should achieve 30 mpg in mixed driving, which places it ahead of the Toyota Camry in all three categories.
But these are EPA numbers. The real world often tells a different story and it did with our 2014 Mazda 6. We only managed a combined 27.1 mpg in mixed driving.
About That Personality
Though none of the current crop of midsize sedans will arouse honest enthusiasm among driving geeks, the 2014 Mazda 6 identifies itself as the athlete of the group. Though it might not run away from others on a back road, its driver won't want a divorce when the curves end. Traditionally we'd thank Mazda's attention to chassis calibration for this quality, but much of the credit here also goes to the six-speed automatic transmission, which is as penalty-free as any we've driven.
Mazda's automatic transmission manages to be a key component in the car's efficiency and in its engaging driving character, which is a groundbreaking achievement in any segment. Rev-matched downshifts are ripped off with precision, and the torque converter remains locked most of the time. The result is an honest connection between the engine and the front wheels, a situation that's becoming less common as CVTs become the go-to fuel-saving solution.
Shifts are triggered either from a manual gate on the console shifter or using wheel-mounted paddles. Response is immediate, yet appropriately suited to a car designed more for hauling kids than hauling ass. Don't worry. Your mother-in-law will never suspect the subtlety of shifting gears means so much. And should she get anxious, "Drive" is only a click away, achieved by holding the upshift paddle for a few seconds.
Ride and Drive
And when the road straightens, the 2014 Mazda 6 acquits itself with admirable ride quality considering the 19-inch rubber it wears at each corner. Sure, if you want a softer ride, there are plenty of choices: Accord, Camry, even the Sonata. Certainly the 6's ride is well controlled, but it's not likely to draw attention to itself from anyone except the most sensitive passengers.
You'll be reminded that it comes from a group of people who assume driving means thinking about what you're doing, even if it's just getting the kids to school. Possibly it's this philosophy that killed the Mazda MPV minivan and relegated the previous 6 to an also-ran sales position among midsize contenders.
Whatever the case, Mazda's refusal to shy from the strategy is both bold and honorable. There's ample damping to control the chassis during lively driving and the tires are easily the limiting factor in any dynamic maneuvers that matter. Medium weighted steering communicates the 6's modest limits better than that of most of its competitors. But if you're into drop-throttle oversteer, you can forget about it here: a point likely to increase your favor among the in-laws.
A Few Numbers
Our 3,287-pound Grand Touring model produced 0.82g around the skid pad and 63 mph through the slalom — numbers that don't thoroughly live up to the promise made by its lively controls, immediate chassis response and edgy design. Its slalom speed is quicker than the last four-cylinder 2013 Nissan Altima we tested (61.9 mph) but slower than Honda's 2013 Accord EX, which managed the cone slither at a surprising 65.5 mph.
Lateral grip falls right in line with the Accord and Camry despite the fact that the Mazda offers the largest tires in the class (225/45R19). The meaty tires don't make a big impact on the Mazda's stopping distances either, as its shortest stop from 60 mph was 128 feet, an average distance for the class.
Though it's close, the 6 accelerates quicker than most of its four-cylinder rivals. Its 7.6-second 0-60 time is a few tenths quicker than the Altima and Accord and a full 0.9 second quicker than the four-cylinder Toyota Camry.
By the end of the quarter-mile, the gap to Altima and Accord is smaller, with the 6 crossing the line in 15.7 seconds at 88.1 mph, only 0.1 second ahead. The Camry requires another half second.
Inside the 2014 Mazda 6 is warm and shapely and, besides being cozier than some rivals, a genuinely nice place to spend time. Its front seats are a big part of the equation, but Mazda's assembly and materials quality are among the best in the business. Leather covers the door pulls and shifter as well as the seats on Grand Touring trim levels. The steering wheel, which is small and thick, hints at the car's dynamic character.
Heating and ventilation controls are simple and easy to use, with knobs controlling temperature in each zone. The unembellished center stack favors function over flash. There's an optional 11-speaker Bose audio system, which was included on our tester, but Mazda still trails the leaders in the segment when it comes to technology integration. The 6's 5.8-inch touchscreen is small, with low resolution, and the optional TomTom navigation system it displays isn't as intuitive or refined as systems from Honda or Nissan. A center-console-mounted multifunction controller goes a long way in integrating functionality of the audio and navigation controls, however.
There's the expected array of safety nets including Mazda Radar Cruise Control and Smart Brake Support (SBS), which applies the brakes if it senses closing speed is too high to an object in front. Adaptive cruise is a welcome feature in any car, but it's better when it will manage vehicle speed all the way to a stop, a feature this system lacks. And while SBS will no doubt save a few bumpers, it'll also give you regrettable seatbelt burn should you approach a toll gate too rapidly, thereby negating any mother-in-law points the 6 has earned elsewhere.
With 2.1 additional inches between its axles relative to the current Toyota Camry and Honda Accord, the 6 has few excuses for a lack of interior space. Fortunately, it needn't make any. Rear legroom is comfortable for passengers up to 6 feet, 2 inches, even when the front seat is occupied by a similarly lanky frame. Headroom, too, is adequate for large adults in the rear.
But the shapely exterior doesn't come without a price and in the 6 the compromise is two-fold. Small rear windows reduce the new Mazda's perceived space despite interior volume that's only a few cubes smaller than both Camry and Accord. This reduced sense of space contributes to a confined feel relative to others in the class, despite ample room to spread out.
Trunk volume, at 14.8 cubic feet, is adequate for the segment but marginally smaller than the Accord. Rear seats are 60/40-split folding and fold almost completely flat. Overall, functionality inside the 6 is on par with its contemporaries.
Starting under $22,000 makes the 2014 Mazda 6 one of the least expensive midsize sedans in the segment. At $31,190 our Grand Touring trim test car was on the other end of the price spectrum, as it was equipped with virtually every amenity available. Still, it's a price point that puts the 6 right on par with similarly equipped four-cylinders from Honda and Toyota.
Thankfully, you don't have to pay full pop to enjoy the 6's most attractive features. Both its styling and its driving character can be had for entry-level money, though you'll forgo the striking 19-inch wheels.
Considered through the lens of the prosaic midsize segment, the Mazda 6 is undeniably attractive. Yet the compromise it makes to achieve that desirability is small in comparison. It is at once efficient, fun to drive and easy on the eyes. Being practical and having personality are just a bonus.
The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.
Leave a Comment
Edmunds Insurance Estimator
This is the estimated average annual insurance premium being charged in your state. The premium has been determined based on annual premium data for defined coverages (liability, comprehensive and collision) from a major insurer.
While this information is specific to vehicle make, model, model year and body type, your personal information is not taken into consideration and could greatly alter the actual premium quoted by an insurer. Factors that will affect your rate include your age, marital status, credit history, driving record, and the garaging address of your vehicle.
The Edmunds TCO®
monthly insurance payment for a 2014 Mazda 6
in VA is: