Monday, March 24, 2014

2014 Mazda 6

The 2014 Mazda6 is proof positive of two things: that Mazda can scale its 'zoom-zoom' personality up into a mid-size car, and that the company's core SkyActiv initiative—aimed at keeping cars lean and frugal yet engaging to drive—works. The outgoing 6 was an often-overlooked model that we've consistently rated one of the most enjoyable to drive models in its class. As for the current model, it's now one of the best-driving mid-size sedans, wrapped in a far more charming, almost sexy exterior.

From the new corporate grille and front end (more of a refined, masculine face than the clownish smile of some other recent models), to the rippled, muscular-looking front fender lines, the arched roofline, and the smooth, surprisingly refined tail and rear lights, the 2014is just gorgeous. Pacing around at 360 degrees, it's impossible to find an awkward angle on this car. The proportions are the best they get in this class, and it's a knockout. Open the driver's door, and what you get is a little farther from fantasy. The Mazda 6 interior isn't going to flat-out seduce you the way the exterior does, but it's neat and quite attractive, with tastefully coordinated materials, just enough brightwork, and trims that place just enough soft-touch surfaces in the places where hands are likely to go.

Again perhaps at odds with the sexy sheetmetal, the Mazda 6 has a rather simple powertrain lineup; it's powered by a new 2.5-liter 'SkyActiv' in-line four-cylinder engine, fitted with direct injection, variable valve control, and a very high 13:1 compression ratio (unleaded gas is just fine)—altogether making 184 horsepower and 185 pound-feet of torque, and good for up to 38 mpg on the highway. All versions have front-wheel drive, and the engine is fitted to two all-new transmissions: a six-speed manual, or a six-speed automatic. But it does get better once you're behind the wheel. Mazda has cut lots of weight while strengthening the body, and with a curb weight of just 3,200 pounds the new 6 feels friskier than the output numbers suggest. The new SkyActiv engine needs to be revved in order to access most of its torque; luckily both transmissions tap into that character easily. For the automatic, you get crisp, very quick shifts and almost the feel of a dual-clutch unit; and the manual (our favorite) has short throws and clean, precise action. The Mazda6 isn't sport-sedan firm, yet it handles near the top of the mid-size class; steering is quick and well-weighted, too, although somehow it loses its feel of the road.

If you've spent any time in the new Ford Fusion, or even the new Nissan Altima or Honda Accord, it's likely you'll concede—like we did—that the Mazda6's interior appointments aren't quite on the high ground that those models set. The seats in the Mazda6 are the exception. They're excellent, and even if you go for the base Sport

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