Cars & Trucks

Behind the wheel of vehicles of all types

2014 Mazda6 — a somewhat different competitor in the midsize sedan segment.

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In the wide and deep playing field of midsize sedans, there is plenty of choice these days and therein lies the problem. Which car? The field is dominated by Toyota’s Camry and Honda’s Accord, but there are also plenty of others – Nissan Altima, Ford Fusion, Chevy Malibu, Hyundai Sonata/Kia Optima (sisters under the skin), VW Passat and Buick Regal and, if you stretch your imagination, several others.

What about the Mazda6? It’s in there, one of the major players, but it stands apart, looks askance at the other players, and therein lies the conundrum that is Mazda. This is, after all, the company whose biggest stars were offbeat – the rotary-engine RX7 and the Miata (an MG/Austin-Healey/Triumph TR4 that will complete the journey without giving up on its electrics or its water pump or a myriad of other British sports car disasters.)

A bit different from the others

Sorry. We were talking about the Mazda6, a car that joins the pack of midsizers but, in its own distinct way, is different from the others. This year, the Mazda6, which was introduced 10 years ago, has a fresh new look. First, there’s the bold look of the grille, as it dives deep down, and the muscular front fenders, which taper into cateye headlights. In the back, a svelte strip of chrome connects the taillights, which have an elliptical shape complementing the headlights. Compared to the others in its class, the Mazda6 appears slightly racier, a bit like the first-class runner in the starting blocks who you think is tense, yet better prepared than his competitors. It’s a subjective thing.

Mazda’s latest technology drive is called Skyactiv and in its simplest form it means making the car better by cutting weight and improving the engine’s efficiency. Mazda figured that, hybrids and full-electrics aside, the internal combustion engine is going to be around for a long time – it’s cheaper to produce and engineers have figured out how to make this 100-plus-year-old power plant run reliably. Hence, Skyactiv.

How this translates into a standard motor car doing all the standard things expected of it – grocery-getting, children-hauling, vacation-traveling, etc. – is not that noticeable once you’re in the car. But there are some aspects, possibly attributable to Skyactiv, that rise to the surface.

First off, its fuel efficiency. Its EPA mileage of 26/38 mpg, city/highway, is at the top end of the four-cylinder, non-hybrid cars in the midsize class. At the same time, Mazda squeezes 184 horses out of the 2.5-liter engine, all of this going through a six-speed automatic transmission. It’s enough power to be noticed in that perennial seat-of-the-pants part of the road test that calls for zooming up a freeway on-ramp. By the time you’re merging into freeway traffic, the Mazda6 has got you up to 60 mph or whatever speed you need to keep from being trampled by the horde.

More and more rearview cameras in cars these days

Inside, Mazda has done up a serviceable, if not outright luxurious interior, with all the instruments clear and readable in their normal places. The TomTom-provided navigation system is on a relatively small screen (5.8 inches) that does double duty as a rear-view camera when the car is in reverse. (Is it my imagination or have we come to a point where nearly every new car has a rear-view camera, no matter its station in the pecking order of autodom? If so, it’s a good nod toward safety.)

The car we tested was the Mazda6 Grand Touring sedan, which topped out at $31,490. The Mazda6 line starts, however, at about $21,000, competitive with all those other midsize sedans, and works its way up the price ladder, trim level by trim level. Our car included a $900 “Mazda Radar Cruise Control” option, which uses radar-based technology to keep your distance from the car in front of you when you’re barreling down a freeway. Fortunately, in the interests of still leaving us some individual control over our driving destiny, we can turn it off.

In the end, I think the potential buyer seeking a midsize family car is almost overwhelmed with the number of choices. But since emotion and personal feelings play such a big part in the purchase of a new car, the Mazda6 errs on the side of those who want something slightly offbeat, something that has more of a performance-styled edge and something that shows you’re not running with the herd. If that’s who you are, then it won’t hurt to take a look at this car.

Categories: General
miketttt@att.net (Michael Taylor)

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