I have a confession to make – I actually liked the outgoing Mazda6 when I first laid eyes on it.
I felt it had a slick, contemporary design, was nicely finished on the inside and – when equipped with the optional V6 – had plenty of go. Not a performance driver by any stretch, but certainly a capable performer for the everyday. I remember well when it was introduced in late 2008 as a 2009 model that it appeared to be leaps and bounds better than the dated model it replaced.
I use the past tense here because, after experiencing the new-for-2014 Mazda6, the previous gen car now appears to me to be an old, puffy automotive marshmallow. The car that I used to think looked sleek and modern, now appears to be woefully dated and bloated – it now seems older than it actually is. Now I can understand why it had become a slow seller for Mazda, particularly towards the end of its run. It was completely lacking in character; just another anonymous sedan that went about its business with dull predictability.
The 2014 Mazda6 is all of the things the old car is not, especially in GT trim, like my tester.
When I first saw it, my initial impression was the old car had gone on a diet and had a complete style makeover. Gone are the big and round proportions, and in their place is a trimmed and toned specimen with sharp character lines and a more chiselled appearance, in accordance with Mazda’s KODO “Soul of Motion” corporate design language.
The result is a rakish, handsome car that looks fast even while standing still. It has a more angular and creased appearance than its predecessor (especially when viewed from the front), but retains plenty of curves – they’re just not as exaggerated. The small, cat-eye-like headlamps frame a large grille to give the new 6 a more aggressive, performance-oriented appearance. The low-profile rubber and 19-inch wheels complete a thoroughly reimagined look.
In my view, the interior design and execution was one of the outgoing model’s strengths (as it is for most Mazdas), and the new car carries that tradition forward. The black leather-trimmed interior is simply a pleasant, comfortable place to be. The design is straightforward, everything I touch works with a minimal amount of fuss (or figuring out), and the materials ooze a feeling of quality.
The seats look and feel great, offering a pleasing level of support. Finding a good driving position is easy, and the thick-rimmed steering wheel (no clichéd flat-bottom unit here) is just the right size. As for the remainder of the interior, I really liked the metal-ish looking accent bits on the door pulls, dash and centre console. They help to break up the acres of black that covers just about every inch of surface area.
As for the driver interfaces, Mazda has wisely chosen to eschew the glitzy LCD/TFT displays that are becoming increasingly popular in the mid-size and entry-level luxury segments. In its place is the tried and true round, black-face gauges with white needles and lettering. It works for me.
The centre stack and infotainment system are also governed by similar ease-of-use logic. Three round knobs govern most climate control functions and are complimented by straightforward push-buttons which can, incidentally, be operated while wearing gloves. Bonus! I am also quite impressed with the navigation screen, which is powered by TomTom, the same unit I use in my car. It works great, and toggling between the navigation and radio functions is quite easy. A centre console knob – another growing automotive trend – offers redundancy for those not wishing to use the buttons on the centre stack (like myself). I didn’t use it much, but its operation is straightforward and I’m sure if I owned the car it would get more use.
On the road
Surprisingly well. I say surprising, not because I wasn’t expecting to be impressed – I definitely was – but because its performance was so good. Unlike its predecessor, there is no V6 engine option available. The only engine available for the North American market is a SKYACTIV 2.5-litre four-cylinder that puts out 184 horsepower and 185 lb-ft of torque.
Aside – a 2.2-litre turbo diesel SKYACTIV variant, which puts out 173 horsepower and 310 lb-ft of torque (in European spec) is currently available outside of North America, but the company has been vague regarding plans to bring it to our shores. We could be waiting a while, in other words.
So, is the absence of a V6 option cause for concern? No. Mazda’s SKYACTIV efficient performance philosophy works to great effect here.
A high 13:1 compression ratio helps to produce impressive fuel economy numbers (8.1 L/100 km city/ 5.3 hwy), without sacrificing performance. The 185 lb-ft number might not seem impressive at first blush, but given that peak torque arrives at just 3,250 rpm, the 6 delivers snappy performance.
The bottom line is the 2.5-litre mill is more than adequate for real-world driving conditions. Mated to a six-speed manual, standard issue across the line, the 6 offers impressive off-the-line acceleration. I wasn’t recording 0-100 km/h times, but other published reports have put it in the 7.7-second range, which is pretty quick considering the car’s 1,444 kilogram (3,183 lbs.) curb weight. Fuel efficiency is also quite impressive.
Underpinning the 6 is an independent front and rear suspension (MacPherson struts up front, multi-link in the rear), which provides secure, firm handling that didn’t feel harsh. Despite its dimensions, it drives like a small car and feels quite nimble while dodging and darting through city traffic. Cornering is reasonably flat and while the steering didn’t feel worlds apart from other cars I’ve driven with similar electric-powered units, it provided acceptable road feedback.
In short, it feels more athletic and fun to drive than most of its competition. It’s not a track beast by any means, but it does stand out in a segment filled with rather unengaging family sedans.
It’s not hard to see why it has won a pile of industry accolades, including the 2014 Canadian Car of the Year from the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC) – it’s that good.
As good as it is, it will be in tough to unseat the entrenched top sellers in the class, such as the Honda Accord and the Toyota Camry, particularly in North America where they have owned the top of the sales charts for the better part of two decades.
With that said, the Mazda6 is every bit the equal of those two, and in my view, it gets the edge overall because it’s so much more fun to drive. Prospective buyers would do well to consider this car – they’ll likely be pleasantly surprised when they do.
2014 Mazda6 GT
Base Price: $32,195
Price as Tested (Before Taxes): $34,090
Engine: SKYACTIV-G 2.5L inline 4-cyl.
Horsepower/ Torque: 184 @ 5,700 rpm/ 185 lb-ft @ 3,250 rpm
Transmission: 6-speed manual
Fuel Economy Ratings (L/100 km city/ hwy.): 8.1/ 5.3
Basic Warranty: 36 months/ 80,000 km