2014 Mazda6 Grand Touring Road Test

Thanks to the Mazda6, there's no longer an excuse for buying a boring family sedan

What It Is
Mazda's daring entry into the midsize sedan segment.
Best Thing
It's fun, feels high-quality, and achieves great mpg numbers.
Worst Thing
It's more of a four-passenger car than a true five-seater.
Snap Judgment
It's not for everyone, but rarely is anything ever. If you're talented at producing children and love driving, this is the one to get.


During our five-car family sedan comparison we had some months back before the 2014 Mazda6 made it Stateside, I made two conclusions: 1) While the Honda Accord was undoubtedly the best of the five cars we tested, I didn't fall in love with it, and 2) why is it so tough to make a fun family sedan? Only the Accord and Nissan Altima roused any driving appeal.

Admittedly, most shoppers prioritize safety and affordability before they start reliving their childish fantasies with sports cars and carving up mountain roads. Most shoppers don't even care about having a fun midsize car. That's what a second or third car is for. But not everyone has been desensitized by parenthood. That's why the 2014 Mazda6 exists.

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Entering its third generation, the Mazda6 is the first midsizer in decades that Mazda has developed without former parent company Ford's oversight. As a result, it allowed Mazda to get a little more resourceful on how it would build its cars--and rebuild its image in the shape of what the company wants. The 2014 Mazda6 adopts a lighter, leaner look if only because it's both. Shedding 150 pounds from the outgoing model, the car is 2.2 inches shorter, but it retains the same width and actually has two inches added between the front and rear wheels, where you sit. The result is a more purposeful shape that's finished in Mazda's "Kodo: Soul of Motion" design theme, making it one of the slickest-looking family cars on sale today. Having it for a week, we just wondered if that gorgeous design and performance bent would somehow damp its kid-hauling credentials.

What We Drove

The 2014 Mazda6 comes in three flavors: Sport, Touring, and Grand Touring. Starting at $21,675, including $795 for destination and handling, the Mazda6 is a lot of car for the money, coming with standard 17-inch alloy wheels, cruise control, push-button starter, remote keyless entry, steering wheel-mounted controls for the stereo and cruise control, and carpeted floor mats. Alas, if rowing the gears yourself through Mazda's six-speed manual transmission isn't your cup of coffee, you'll have to opt up for the automatic-equipped Mazda6 Sport that includes a standard touch 5.8-inch audio display, Bluetooth phone pairing, and HD radio at $23,290.

Next up is the better-equipped Mazda6 Touring, which starts at $23,230 for a manual model or $1,050 more for one with a six-speed automatic transmission. Both feature 19-inch wheels, dual-zone climate control, a six-way power driver's seat, rear vents, blind spot monitoring, and cross-traffic alert.

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But rarely are the vehicles we're supplied not the ones with all the bells and whistles, so we had the top-level Mazda6 Grand Touring, which starts at $30,290 and comes with a power moonroof, xenon headlights, LED headlight accents, a navigation system, heated front seats, and a Bose audio system, among other features. Our car also had Soul Red paint ($300) and forward collision alert and active cruise control ($900), bringing our total up to $31,490.

All Mazda6s currently come with a 2.5-liter SkyActiv four-cylinder engine that nets 184 horsepower and achieves 26 mpg city/38 mpg highway when paired to the six-speed auto. A diesel engine and Mazda's i-ELOOP mild hybrid system that will allow the 6 to breach the 40 mpg barrier will come over the next few months. On the safety front, Mazda has aced it with a Top Safety Pick+ rating from the IIHS, but it has not been evaluated by the NHTSA yet.

The Commute

If the newest midsize sedan you've driven is even a few years old, you'd be perfectly okay in thinking the 2014 Mazda6 is in a whole 'nother league from the cars that came before it. Heck, practically luxury car league. From the first time you're changing lanes and see the blind spot warning system throw up a warning, to the adjustable xenon headlights, like other modern midsizers, it screams of class.

The Mazda6 rides like it, too. It's not terribly difficult for an automaker to provide us a ride that soaks up the dips and heaves in the road; it is when the car still proves an able handler on twisty stretches or emergency maneuvers as well. It's more difficult when the car provides as fruitful of fuel economy as our car did: We saw between 24 and 27 mpg on average during our week with plenty of bumper to bumper traffic and back-road barnstorming punctuating our commute.

Inside, we were serenaded with a Bose audio system that wasn't especially rich in quality, but it was clear and more than did its part to envelop the cabin. Shifts from the car's six-speed automatic were plenty smooth, and the car felt buttoned down and well-controlled, no matter the road surface. We surmised that some drivers used to softer cars like Camrys and Hyundai Sonatas may not like the tightly bolstered seats, which we found to be of great benefit in aggressive driving. Those people may also think the 6's steering is a bit twitchy, but we found its directness refreshingly engaging for a car of this size.

The Grocery Run

Despite being among the longer cars in its class and certainly one of the wider ones, too, we found the 2014 Mazda6 incredibly easy to drive in crowded parking lots, as its light steering weight makes getting around a cinch.

When loading up groceries, we found the 6's trunk to be on-par with its rivals. Although it's down on space--its official measurement is 14.8 cubic feet versus the Ford Fusion's 16 cubes--it's nearly as capacious, engulfing 19 of our standard-issue grocery bags versus the Ford's 20. With a Britax stroller, the Mazda6 still managed a commendable 12 bags.

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Perhaps if there were a grievance to be filed with the 6, it would be with its rear seat. While providing plenty of leg room for its two outboard passengers, the Mazda6's design compromises comfort for the middle guy in the name of style. There's nothing about this car that doesn't grab your eye, the seat design included, but the cushion for the middle passenger is narrow, and there's a noticeable hump in the floor that inhibits foot space. Were this car out 20 years ago, we wouldn't complain. But with Honda and Toyota having nearly flat floors in back, it makes the 6's design seem a bit arcane.

Calling it a five-passenger vehicle isn't quite an accurate description. It's more of a four--five in a pinch--type car.

The Weekend Fun

As we set off for the canyons on a Sunday afternoon, it quickly became apparent that this is where the Mazda6 excels as so many others don't. We wouldn't be surprised if Mazda tests its prototypes in and around Malibu, an expanse of open roads that weaves in and out of mountains and canyons. Sure-footed as it may be to drive to and from your 9-to-5, it's just much better when you get the chance to wring the car out.

A Few Photos of this Vehicle

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Though not the fastest car in the world, the Mazda6 feels like it's a step above everything else in its class when it's time to let loose on kinked roads. It's the only midsize sedan I'd feel comfortable taking to an autocross course and then driving home a few hours later. Its transmission is responsive, whether in full automatic mode or being manually shifted with the gate or the steering wheel-mounted paddles. Its brakes are linear, never experiencing a bogging feeling in the brake pedal that some other midsizers have with overly aggressive ABS systems. And rivaled by few, the Mazda6 has among the best steering feel in its class, light, linear, and progressive. We know most drivers will never use a Mazda6 to set a fast lap, but all of this can come in handy with confidence in emergency handling situations, where the Mazda6 is bound to excel.

When it came time to go home for the night, we programmed the Mazda6's TomTom system--the same smallish unit found in the Mazda CX-5--with ease, thanks in part to ultra-large font on the display. But with roads designated with pink lines and the route shown in red, it made it a little confusing to see which way we were supposed to go upon departure.

Summary

The 2014 Mazda6 is not for everyone, nor should it be. It's for people who bemoan the fact that the Honda Accord supposedly lost its way with a larger, softer sedan instead of the sports sedan on a budget it used to be. It's for those who aren't convinced the VW Passat has the looks to back up its prowess; the 6 is far more extroverted and expressive. And it's for those who don't want to compromise driving a fun car just because they have a successful track record of producing kids.

Outside of the rear seat's plus-one layout, our only other wish is that the standard Mazda6 had more power, as the engine feels strained when passing on the highway. The impending diesel engine option should more than make up for that.

We won't be surprised if plenty of people pass the 6 up for a shade of gray rather somewhere between this car and the cushy Hyundai Sonata at the opposite end of the spectrum. Some people just want a commuter car that will comfortably, anonymously get them from one point to another. But for those who want a car that makes them feel involved in the driving process and consider it a passion, we think the 6 will resonate both as a practical and an emotional favorite.

Spec Box

Price-as-tested: $31,490
Fuel Economy
EPA City: 26 mpg
EPA Highway: 38 mpg
EPA Combined: 30 mpg
Cargo Space: 19 grocery bags/12 with Britax stroller Child Seat Fitment, Second Row: Good
Estimated Combined Range: Combined multiplied by fuel tank size
Intellichoice Cost of Ownership: N/A

Notebook Quotes

"Will this dethrone the Accord and Camry? Probably not. But, as Keith has said, the Mazda6 was built for buff books to pick in comparisons." -Trevor Dorchies, Associate Editor
"As nice as the Mazda6 is--and it's very nice indeed--I can see why some buyers in this segment would pass it over. The seats are aggressively bolstered on the sides, for example, and some might think they're too narrow. It's fun and quick, no doubt, but the same things that make it so narrow its appeal. Still, it'd be on my short list." -Keith Buglewicz, News Director

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