2014 Mazda6 Quick Drive

The all-new 2014 Mazda6 arrives in time to shake up a very good midsize segment.

The 2014 Mazda6 midsize sedan is the Japanese automaker's newest model -- and we'd argue -- its most important to date. In America's most competitive and popular segment, Mazda must compete to show its new Skyactiv strategy -- an overall approach to efficiency -- is the way forward. Pitted against formidable stalwarts like the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry, stiff competition from the Volkswagen Passat and Hyundai Sonata, and even domestic competition from the Ford Fusion, Mazda has its hands full.

A few months ago, we were in France to test drive the European version of the 2014 Mazda6. Instantly, three things became clear: 1) the 2014 Mazda6 looks good. From any angle, the car looks strong, modern, and confident; inside you find a clutter-free, streamlined cabin. 2) All this Skyactiv mumbo-jumbo might actually mean something. Rumor had it the 2014 Mazda6 could get high-30s highway mileage; fast-forward a few months, and the rumor is confirmed. 38 mpg highway on automatic transmission models, and an impressive 30 mpg combined rating. 3) If the U.S. version was to be close to the model that impressed us in Europe, Mazda would have a winner that would warrant consideration from anyone shopping the segment. And it was the U.S. version that we got to recently test in the hill country around Austin, Texas. So, what did we think?

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Model and Price

An entry-level 2014 Mazda6 i Sport starts at $29,675 after delivery, and can be paired with a six-speed manual transmission or a six-speed automatic transmission. Standard equipment includes push-button start; air conditioning with pollen filter; power windows; a tilt-and-telescopic steering wheel column; audio controls on the steering wheel; 17-inch alloy wheels; and an auxiliary and USB port.

The two models we tested were from the top-end Grand Touring trim, priced at $31,190 after delivery. Our 2014 Mazda6 models came loaded with 19-inch alloy wheels; a power moonroof, HID headlights; leather-trimmed seats, heated front seats, and more.

Safety and Key Features

The 2014 Mazda6 comes loaded with a bevy of standard safety features, including: six airbags; anti-lock brakes; dynamic stability and traction control; a hill launch assist feature that's equally handy on steep driveways and mountain passes; and a smart city brake support system that automatically brakes if you're less than 15 feet from the car ahead of you, and traveling at a speed of 18 mph or less. The smart city brake support could reduce low-speed accidents in situations where the driver may be distracted in traffic. A rearview camera also helps when backing out of driveways or parking.

Later this year, the 2014 Mazda6 will get an optional lane departure warning system and a blind spot monitor. These were available on models we drove, and were effective at making the driver more aware of their surroundings. i-Eloop, Mazda's capacitor-based energy regeneration system -- one that can improve fuel economy marginally -- uses power that would otherwise be lost, as a source to power the electronics and other features in the car, rather than relying on fuel. i-Eloop is expected on models later this year.

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Family Friendliness and Utility

While we didn't get to run the barrage of tests we normally conduct on full reviews -- fitting child and booster seats, checking for ease of LATCH point access, filling the trunk with grocery bags, etc. -- we were able to get some preliminary impressions. The sedan's four doors are large and wide, and the Mazda6 is relatively low to the ground. Kids will be able to get in and out of the vehicle easily, and the roomy interior extends beyond the cabin. The cargo area, like most of the Mazda6's competitors, is large, wide, and cavernous.

Comfort and Quality

The 2014 Mazda6 is sensuously styled, and dramatic, but the inside merits attention as well. The clean, simple cabin is remarkably cohesive. The buttons and dials are modern and look like they were all sourced from the same place; there's not a mish-mosh of carry-over assembly parts. The instrument gauges have a timepiece-inspired feel of precision. While there are several soft-touch material sections, not all of them are actually soft, but like on the Hyundai Sonata, they look good. Metallic-like accents adorn key areas, and there are piano-black inlays that look sharp; the simple, three-rotary-dial controls on the center-stack are vaguely Germanic -- Volkswagen-Passat-like -- but work within the driver-centric cabin. The seats are sporty, but comfort doesn't take a backseat, especially important in the family sedan segment. While the 5.8-inch touchscreen and backup camera get the job done, we've recently seen newer, larger screens we prefer. Overall, we think the cabin looks good, and more premium than some other cars at this price point.

How it Drives

Midsize sedans are generally not noted or purchased for their dynamic driving capabilities, but if you could get all the primary features and amenities you want, wouldn't you take the fun-to-drive aspect for free? The 2014 Mazda6 employs a 2.5-liter gasoline engine that cranks out 184 hp, and never leaves you feeling like you need more. And this is especially important when you consider the estimated 26 mpg city and 38 mpg highway on automatic transmission models (manual-transmission models get 1 mpg less, respectively). Moreover, the Mazda6 feels planted, and safe. Turning and cornering are almost intuitive, and the 6 aptly took on everything we threw at it.

On a few stretches of coarse, rough asphalt, the 2014 Mazda6 was quiet, serene, and smooth. The suspension seemed to artfully absorb road imperfections, swallowing them whole before they could ever reach the cabin. Shifts were smooth, and the transmission seemed to work in perfect harmony with Mazda's 2.5-liter engine. Later this year, a 2.2-liter diesel will also be available on the Mazda6. We got to sample this engine on the European version a few months back, and are excited for its arrival on our shores.

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Summary

For Mazda to be successful in the midsize sedan segment, a good offering -- like the previous-generation Mazda6 -- wouldn't do. To compete with the likes of the Honda Accord, Toyota Camry, Volkswagen Passat, and Nissan Altima among others, the 2014 Mazda6 would have to be exceptional. And while it won't realistically outsell the competition, the Hiroshima-based automaker could offer a sedan that was at least as good as those. In more ways than one, this car is just that. The sensuous styling -- the strong, confident stance, like an animal waiting to leap -- will make you pause, desirous of further inspection. The clean, simple, and streamlined interior puts the focus on the driver, and a happy one at that. While family sedans are mostly get-about-town transport, the Mazda6 adds zeal, and feels inspired. For shoppers in the segment, Mazda has built a must-consider offering.

Spec Box

Price-as-tested: $31,190 after delivery
Fuel Economy
EPA City: 26 mpg
EPA Highway: 38 mpg
EPA Combined: 30 mpg
Estimated Combined Range: 492 miles
IntellichoiceCost of Ownership: N/A

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