The 2014 Mazda Mazda6 makes the proposition to family car shoppers that a mid-size sedan doesn't have to be boring. Whereas this might have once been a revelation, lately this kind of statement has become more common than one might expect, with the segment increasingly divided into the MOR stalwarts (Toyota Camry, Nissan Altima) and the eye-catching, tech-laden sizzlers (Ford Fusion, Hyundai Elantra).
The completely redesigned Mazda MAZDA6 certainly fits into the latter category, thanks to its stunningly extroverted body work that doesn't scream 'attitude' so much as states it with an air of polished authority. Much like the post-college dating scene, however, looks aren't everything, and most buyers in this class are seeking the total package - a car that scores big in every important category rather than simply tickling the eyeballs. Does the MAZDA6 qualify in an all-around event? I took one for a week-long spin to find out.
Surprising SkyActiv Power
If you can peel your eyes away from the 2014 Mazda MAZDA6's body work for a few minutes and find the time to pop the car's hood, you'll discover the second-best thing about this sedan: its SkyActiv-G engine. The 2.5-liter, four-cylinder unit that comes standard - and exclusively until the upcoming turbodiesel option hits the scene - with the car makes use of an extremely high 13.0:1 compression ratio and direct fuel injection in order to squeeze 184 horsepower and 185 lb-ft of torque from its all-aluminum block.
The version of the MAZDA6 that I drove came with the vehicle's optional six-speed automatic transmission, and despite relatively modest output I can report that the Mazda more than holds its own against modern traffic. In fact, I found the sedan to be relatively peppy both off of the line and when calling on its four-cylinder mill for a rapid passing maneuver out on the highway, besting some of its turbocharged competitors in terms of throttle response.
Frugality Has A Name
Of course, most of the praise associated with Mazda's SkyActiv technology isn't centered around its performance in a straight line, but rather its frugality at the fuel pump. In addition to innovative drivetrain management techniques, the MAZDA6 is also remarkably light, checking in with a curb weight that undercuts that of the BMW M3. This low-mass philosophy combined with my tester's i-Eloop system, which is an optional capacitor that is charged while braking or decelerating the car. When fully juiced the system is able to take some of the load off of the Mazda's alternator by powering its 12-volt electrical system, which is enough to push its official EPA fuel mileage rating up to 28-mpg around town and 40-mpg on the highway (as opposed to 26-mpg city and 38-mpg highway without this $2,080 option, which is part of the GT Technology package).
The i-Eloop system is completely transparent in all driving situations, much more so than any mild hybrid setup I have ever previously encountered. In fact, the only way you'd ever know it was working was by watching the digital charging gauge that is part of the LCD display to the right of the instrument cluster. Better yet, it actually works: I saw 30-mpg in combined driving, which is unusually efficient for such a family-oriented car in real-world conditions with a heavy city component.
All The Room You'll Need
Don't think for a second that the 2014 Mazda MAZDA6 sacrifices interior comfort or room in order to satisfy the weight requirements laid out by the automaker's engineers. The MAZDA6 is actually gifted with a spacious passenger compartment, especially in the rear seats which are happy to accommodate full size adults on long-distance trips without eliciting any complaints. Those riding up front will also be satisfied with the Mazda's well-bolstered seats, which were heated and wrapped in leather in my top-level Grand Touring trim test vehicle.
There are a few corners that have been cut inside the MAZDA6, however, that keep me from giving it a perfect grade. In particular there's the car's navigation and entertainment system, which is housed within a small touchscreen set way back into the center stack. It's much smaller than the units offered by many of the brand's competitors, and it's also not quite as intuitive to use as it really needs to be - especially when the associated rotary knob on the center console is called into play. I found that this particular dial was more confusing than beneficial to use, and so I left it alone.
The trim inside the cabin is mostly nice to look at, but again, there are some plastics that are not up to par with the more elegant cabins offered by rival sedans. The MAZDA6's passenger compartment isn't quite capable of meeting the standard set by its gorgeous sheet metal curves.
Not Pictured: Fun
I've established that the 2014 Mazda MAZDA6 is quick, gorgeous, and roomy - but does it live up to the dynamic standard which has been set by so many of the other automobiles built by the Japanese brand? While the MAZDA6 is certainly no slouch when it comes to cornering, it simply doesn't engage drivers in quite the same way as the Miata, the MAZDA5, or the MAZDA3 do as compared to their respective class-mates.
Yes, the MAZDA6 is pleasant to drive, but it wouldn't be my first choice for a Sunday drive on a two-lane country road with three passengers along for the ride - whereas I would have no hesitation reaching for the MAZDA5's keys in a similar situation. A compromise has been made when designing the chassis of this mid-size sedan, which is understandable considering that Mazda would prefer to sell thousands of examples of the four-door to buyers seeking a comfortable and compliant ride rather than merely hundreds of models to dedicated enthusiasts.
A Well-Rounded Family Ride
A Well-Rounded Family Ride
The 2014 Mazda MAZDA6 scores big on style, and when examining its advanced SkyActiv engine technologies and sky-high real-world fuel efficiency, it's clear that it's got the substance needed to back up its first impression. Sure, the sedan's not going to put too big of a smile on your face should you ever find yourself spending an extended amount of time on a twisty mountain road, and yes, it does give up considerable 'wow' factor in the infotainment department when compared against many other cars in its class, but the MAZDA6's comfortable ride, enormous interior, and skimpy monthly fuel bill more than make up for these perceived shortcomings. The MAZDA6 might not raise the family car stakes, but it certainly improves Mazda's status amongst family shoppers.