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2014 Mazda6 Euro-Spec First Drive

Months before the 2014 Mazda6 enters the toughest segment in America, we came to France for a sneak peek and test drive.

What It Is
The 2014 Mazda6 is a sensuously styled, driver-centric family sedan.
Best Thing
It might be fuel efficient, but it doesn't look or drive that way.
Worst Thing
The U.S. won't get some of the models available abroad.
Snap Judgment
The 2014 Mazda6 distinguishes itself among a sea of strong players with an offering that is the most dynamic, and may well be the most well-rounded of the bunch.


I don't know anyone that hates oranges. I know people that don't particularly care for apples or bananas, but they still eat them. In fact, take a moment think of the last three fruits you've consumed. Be honest. Odds are at least two of them were an apple, orange, or banana. For the 2014 Mazda6, this is the quandary. For years Americans shopping the midsize family sedan segment were choosing between apples and oranges, and of late, bananas. They're safe plays: you'll get 90 calories give or take; satisfaction that you're doing the whole "fruit-thing;" and a boost from vitamins you've been able to identify since you could actually almost correctly pronounce the word "vit-a-min." With these learned habits, is there room for a kiwi?

Japanese stalwarts like the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord have dominated the family sedan segment for decades with reliable, safe, and roomy options. The Nissan Altima is all new and boasts impressive fuel economy. The Volkswagen Passat and Ford Fusion are riding a wave of momentum, and newcomers from Korea like the highly styled Hyundai Sonota and Kia Optima are quickly winning over a sizable following.

“Family sedans are generally not driven or purchased for their fun-to-drive nature. But all totaled, if other things equal out, ...”

It's into this hyper-crowded segment, one that impossibly gets more competitive in America every year, that Mazda will soon introduce the newest interpretation of its family sedan. Deviating from a long, semi-successful strategy of making good, fun to drive cars, Mazda is prepping for a new generation of driver. In order to be relevant in this new age of mass driving, you can't ignore efficiency. And judging by Mazda's new Skyactiv strategy—a holistic approach that rethinks everything from the engine down to the nuts and bolts, literally—the aim to achieve maximum fuel economy is apparent. We're months away from a U.S.-spec 2014 Mazda6 going on sale, but Automotive.com traveled to Paris to preview and test-drive European versions.

We dislike clichéd reviews that start off saying "I'm barreling down a two-lane road in the French Countryside…" We didn't do that. We did however snake our way through remote and scenic parts of France, from a Chateau in Mery-sur-Oise to an organic farm, in Etouy, to be specific. Soaking in a little of the French idyll, we wound our way through carefully tended fields, passing one unassuming ancient stone and worn-brick town after another. No, all lives are not created equal. But then again, neither are all midsize sedans. So, how does the 2014 Mazda6 fare?

A Few Photos of this Vehicle

Click thumbnails for detailed view

Walkaround

On first observation, it's not the sleek lines or elegant sportiness that you notice, but rather it’s the sheer presence of this car that you become aware of. We're so used to thinking of these cars as "midsize," that you can't help but wonder what sort of languorous behemoth a "full-size" would be. It's the width and length, the in-your-face-dimensions that really grab you. Seeing it in person, it's as if you're looking at a copy, enlarged 120 percent. Once you take in the size, you're able to appreciate the details, because it's the details here that Mazda paid attention to. For example, maybe the automaker was slow getting on to the LED wagon, but its first application on the headlights is a success.

Looking at the 2014 Mazda6, I'm reminded of what Oscar Wilde referred to as "a kind of momentary Japanese effect," in The Picture of Dorian Gray: the "painters of Tokio [sic] who, through the medium of an art that is necessarily immobile, seek to convey the sense of swiftness and motion." And while a car is certainly mobile, it isn't in that first instant you might see one at a light or stop sign, parked, or in an ad. At first glance, this car gives you that ever-sought-after motion that has been at the innermost core of automotive design. When I asked the Mazda6 chief designer Akira Tamatani what inspired the automaker's newest offering, he said it was "an animal waiting to leap." Specifically, a cheetah.

A quick glance and you can see this is a Mazda, but not like any Mazda you've seen before. This one has a sportiness, an aggressiveness that borders on menacing: the 2014 Mazda6, is not short on road presence. Less Sesame, more Street. Sure, the mirrors and headlights on the production version of the 2014 Mazda6 are a little bigger than on the media darling Takeri Concept, but the transition is as seamless as they come. If nothing else, you're going to want to check out the inside and get that odometer rolling. Apparently the "painters of Tokio" are steeped in great heritage; they're still able to produce that momentary Japanese effect, a dozen decades later.

Sitting Down

Opening the door and peeking in, one thing is glaringly evident: the 2014 Mazda6 conveys an overwhelming sense of cohesion. It's seamless, modern, and streamlined. The seats are sporty looking, but extremely comfortable. The wheel falls nicely to hand. Grooves in the door persist with the notion of movement while at rest. The dash and controls are surprisingly simple and Germanic, not unlike the Volkswagen Passat. It's not all roses, however. The navigation and information screen--also responsible for the back-up camera--is small, and relatively low-res. I loved Atari, but we're in a PS3 era. The navigation system itself featured excellent turn-by-turn directions, but we'd expect Mazda to get a bigger, more modern screen soon. The materials are not all soft-touch, and in fact few of the soft-touch parts are really all that soft. But like the Hyundai Sonata, everything looks premium. Unlike in the class leading Toyota Camry and previous-generation Honda Accord, the parts feel like they could have come from one manufacturer. The interior appears to have been designed by a singular vision. Fit and finish is on par with the best in the class.

A Few Photos of this Vehicle

Click thumbnails for detailed view

Backseat passengers will be comfortable. Mazda says rear-legroom is the best in the segment, but the rear didn't feel as cavernous as the Passat or Accord. And where the Passat features a head-scoop in back for the tallest passengers, here--possibly to keep the sleek, low, sloping roofline of the exterior--taller passengers will notice an absence of head room. But unless your rear seaters measure north of six-feet, the roomy and comfortable back seat will please. Cargo room is abundant, and the rear-seats offer a 60:40 split, and can be folded to store larger, bulkier items.

Driving

We're still trying to get a sense of what the revamped Mazda will be like in the new, efficiency-driven Skyactiv era. But the 2013 Mazda CX-5 did much to ease our apprehension. There, Mazda made an attractive, fuel efficient crossover that while not especially quick on its feet, was still nimble, fun, and pleasing. There's a real value proposition there; would the newest Mazda6 offer the same? Like crossovers, family sedans are generally not driven or purchased for their fun-to-drive nature. But all totaled, if other things equal out, wouldn’t you take the fun for free?

We drove two European-spec versions of the 2014 Mazda6. The first was a journalist's delight: a six-speed, manual transmission, diesel powered Mazda6. The second was the money play, the car that will not only be sold in America, but it will comprise about nine out of every 10 Mazda6 models purchased. This is the automatic transmission, 2.5-liter, four-cylinder, gasoline-powered version. This is the model we'll focus on, but first a few words about the manual-diesel: While Mazda has said it will bring a Skyactiv-D diesel engine to America, it hasn't confirmed which model would be the first to receive it. While obviously serving a niche, potentially growing market, a Mazda6 diesel would be a welcome player alongside the diesel-powered Volkswagen Passat, a very good model in its own right. The six-speed manual transmission is a delight. If only one automaker was allowed to continue making a manual transmission, we'd hope it would be Mazda. And the diesel offered so much gratifying low-end power, that we found ourselves shifting more for fun than necessity. The diesel engine is also very refined, it offers a pleasing engine note and very little of that diesel-whirring and puttering that we've become accustomed to.

But for most Americans, Diesel is a brand of overpriced jeans, and a manual transmission, as my eleven year-old nephew says, "seems like a lot of unnecessary work." Those buyers will gravitate to the 2.5-liter, four-cylinder and six-speed automatic combination. Small tweaks are still being made, and Mazda hasn't released official horsepower or fuel economy numbers yet, but we can tell a lot about what this car is going to be like once it reaches America.

For a city slicker, to be let loose among country roads connecting tiny villages with meditative goats, big sky and open pasture, it's easy to get taken by the serenity. Easier still to daydream of becoming a professional Alsatian beer-taster, one who spends the idle hours mostly blinking and grazing on cheese. But the Mazda6 so thoroughly disrupts the scene that you can't help but focus. The sensuous curves and charged energy are finally sprung loose and a few things are clear.

Engineers nailed the steering. Mazda made a big deal about the effort they put forth here, but when you get behind the wheel, you understand this wasn't all talk. For a segment filled with chunky sedans, the Mazda6's intuitive steering and noticeable cornering ability easily make this the athlete of the group.

Power is appropriate, neither under- nor overwhelming. With a promise of high-mpg fuel efficiency, that's important. The transition between the gears is smooth, and occurs almost without notice. There's good feedback from the brakes, and the pedals are spaced well. We drove versions on 19-inch tires, which will be on the more expensive models in the U.S. Despite the large wheels, only over a brief stretch of coarse asphalt did we feel the road. Most of our drive was smooth, and we expect the suspension on the U.S. version to have even more give. While there wasn't much road noise, we did have noticeable wind noise at higher speeds. The audio system in the models we drove was good, and didn't leave anything to be desired. We even got to fiddle with the adaptive cruise control system, which in our short test was impressively responsive. Our time in the car was too brief, but it was apparent this sedan isn't just transportation for the whole family: It's a car you'll want to drive.

Summary

On the heels of entering the hyper-competitive, midsize family sedan segment, we traveled to France for an early preview of the 2014 Mazda6. Mazda has refocused on efficiency, but to be competitive in this class, it'll need more than just high-mpg figures. It has to show up with a formidable offering.

The 2014 Mazda6 Euro-spec model we drove offers striking, elegant styling that will turn heads; a solid build quality inside and out; a spacious and comfortable cabin; refined driving dynamics and great drive feel. There's a clear sense of cohesion, the details don't go unnoticed. Mazda hasn't confirmed if the Mazda6 will get the Skyactiv-D diesel engine, but it would compete nicely with present offerings in what is a niche market in the U.S. While we're still waiting to see what the final U.S. version will look like, this preview has us convinced that if pricing and fuel economy are competitive, the 2014 Mazda6 could be among the top contenders in the segment, if not leading it.

There may be room for a kiwi, after all.

Basic Specs

2.5-liter, four-cylinder Skyactiv-G gasoline engine, six-speed automatic transmission, front-wheel drive, U.S. pricing and fuel economy yet to be released
2.2-liter, four-cylinder Skyactiv-D diesel engine, six-speed manual transmission, front-wheel drive, U.S. pricing and fuel economy yet to be released

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