(AP) – Agile and poised, the new-for-2014 Mazda6 mid-size sedan is a major leap over its predecessor in styling, features and fuel economy.
Gone is the ho-hum, Toyota Camry-like exterior. In its place is a handsome, rakish look and larger tires.
The five-seat Mazda6 interior looks nicer, too, with soft-touch plastic all around and nearly an inch more rear legroom than its predecessor. Front seats now have anti-whiplash head restraints, and push-button start is standard on all models.
Thanks to a more fuel-efficient, gasoline four cylinder, the federal government rates the 2014 Mazda6 at 26 miles per gallon in city driving and 38 mpg on the highway, when fitted with a six-speed automatic. This compares with just 21/30 mpg for a similar 2013 Mazda6.
Additionally, when equipped with an optional energy-reclaiming system, the 2014 Mazda6 is rated by the federal government at 28/40 mpg.
Best of all, the new Mazda6 feels stable and controlled, but not heavy. Traveling at good speed on mountain switchbacks, the test car was well behaved and poised. The Mazda6 also is a recommended buy of Consumer Reports magazine, which says predicted reliability should be above average.
Pricing hasn’t changed much from last year. Starting manufacturer’s suggested retail price, including destination charge, is $21,785 for the base, front-wheel drive 2014 Mazda6 Sport with 184-horsepower, four-cylinder engine and six-speed manual transmission. This is up from last year’s $21,520.
The lowest starting retail price for a 2014 Mazda 6 with six-speed automatic is $23,490, or $1,705 more than the base 2014 Mazda6. The reason for the sizable jump in price isn’t just the automatic.
The base, automatic transmission-equipped 2014 Mazda6 also adds the following over the base, manual transmission base model: Rearview camera, Bluetooth hands-free phone calling and audio, 5.8-inch color display on the dashboard, voice command for audio, Pandora Internet radio compatibility, SMS text message and audio delivery and 911 automatic emergency notification.
All 2014 Mazda6s so far this model year come with the new, 184-horsepower, 2.5-liter, direct injection, gasoline, four-cylinder engine. This compares with last year’s 170-horse four cylinder.
A turbocharged diesel four cylinder is due later in the model year as Mazda becomes the first Japan-based automaker to offer a diesel powerplant in a U.S. car.
Mid-size sedan competitors are many and include the top seller _ the Toyota Camry, which starts at $23,045 for a 2013 model with 178-horsepower four cylinder and automatic transmission.
Note that all Camry models come standard with Bluetooth hands-free phone calling and a larger color display screen than the Mazda6 has. In addition, the 2013 Camry includes standard knee air bags to help keep front-seat passengers from submarining under the dashboard during frontal crashes. These air bags are not available on the Mazda6. But the Camry’s base wheels are 16-inchers, while the new Mazda6 has 17-inchers.
Starting MSRP, including destination charge, for a 2013 Hyundai Sonata mid-size sedan with 198-horsepower four cylinder and automatic transmission is $21,990. All 2013 Sonatas include Bluetooth phone calling and the base model wears 16-inch tires.
The top 2014 Mazda6, the Grand Touring model, hits $30,000-plus and includes perforated leather-trimmed seats, 19-inch tires, rear spoiler, eight-way, power driver’s seat, fog lights, bi-Xenon headlamps, Bose 11-speaker sound system and power moonroof as standard equipment. But even on the Grand Touring model, Mazda’s new, energy-reclaiming system that reduces the use of gasoline for the car’s onboard power accessories is part of a $2,080 option package.
This Intelligent Energy Loop system _ i-eLOOP for short _ utilizes regenerative brakes like those on a gasoline-electric hybrid to capture kinetic energy during braking. In the Mazda6, a variable voltage alternator, a DC/DC converter and a high-capacity, electric double-layer capacitor work to capture and store this energy that would otherwise be lost during deceleration. Once stored as electricity, this tapped energy helps operate onboard accessories, such as radio, and means the car’s engine doesn’t have to.
The test car, a Grand Touring model, did not have i-eLOOP. But it delivered a healthy 28.5 mpg in combined city/highway travel without fuss.
The engine got the 3,200-pound sedan moving from startup with spirit, and the Mazda6 held gears all the way to redline during manual shifts of the sport automatic transmission.
Peak torque of 185 foot-pounds comes on at a decent 3,250 rpm. This compares with the Sonata’s 184 foot-pounds at 4,250 rpm.
The Mazda6 engine sounds, however, were evident, even at idle. And during hard acceleration, the Mazda6 four cylinder sounded buzzy. Road noise and the sounds of nearby cars also permeated the cabin.
But there’s something special about driving the Mazda6.
While this sedan now has electric power steering, the system’s 15.5:1 steering ratio provided quick response.
There was a bit of lean to the car body in long sweeping curves, but the ride overall was firm _ so firm that passengers often felt road bumps and vibrations. But they were not jarring.
The Grand Touring front seats had good lateral support for a three-hour, nonstop drive. Even outboard back seat cushions were longer than expected to support nearly the full thighs of a 5-foot-4 passenger. But the middle person in back has to contend with a sizable hump in the floor and can be cramped between two adults. A plus: Rear windows go down all the way.
The 2014 Mazda6, with a shorter overall length, has less trunk space than the 2013 model. The trunk went from 16.6 cubic feet to 14.8 cubic feet, which makes it smaller than those of most other mid-size sedans. Most of the space is under the rear parcel shelf.
Side pillars around the windshield blocked driver views of pedestrians and even some cars during turns.
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