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2014 Mazda6 Grand Touring Sedan Review

The Honda Accord and Toyota Camry sell well. They aren’t bad cars, either, though they’re inoffensive and boring. Honda and Toyota sell quite a lot of them, too. They’re one of the bread and butter sedans you see on American roads. They aren’t the only choices, though. They may not even be the best choices. Even Toyota now seems to realize this, as this week, one of Toyota’s chiefs told the motoring press that Toyota has decided to start making cars that excite 10 people out of 100, instead of trying not to offend all 100. Still, the Camry is what it is, for now.

2014 Mazda6

In opposition to this sort of inoffensiveness, Mazda has released the new 2014 Mazda6 sedan into the wild, and they think it’s perfectly suited to take on the Accord and Camry head-on. The previous generation Mazda6 was…OK. It was a bit of a bodge-up—a car that seemed designed by committee. That almost always ends up as a lowest-common-denominator product. But, even with that, the Mazda6 has always been a pleasant car to drive, and one wonders why the general public doesn’t love the Mazda6 more, and buy more of them.

This time around, given that the 2014 model got a complete redesign from the ground up, Mazda seems to have gotten out of the way of the car guys and said, “Make the car you want to make.” That leaves us with the question of whether the car they wanted to make is the car we want to buy. Will we finally love the Mazda6 as much as we love the Camry and Accord? Even more importantly, is it a car that even enthusiasts might like?

How it looks

It’s a handsome car. Mazda added a little aggression to the look, and toned down the goofy grin that Mazdas usually sport on the front. The styling lines descend from the roof to the nose, giving it a hunched-forward, eager-to-lunge profile. There are no strange flourishes in the styling, and no single element that stands out. Somehow, though, they’ve given the Mazda6 a vaguely sporty, dangerous look. The blacked-out grille helps to give it a more sporty air, too, as do the smaller, squintier headlights.

Moving inside, it’s hard to find much to quibble with, in terms of materials or quality. It’s pretty nice in there. The leather-covered steering wheel is delightfully chunky in your hands. The dash is soft to the touch, and the design of the center console is attractive.

Mazda did go a bit crazy with all the buttons on the steering wheel, though. Yes, you need a lot of buttons to use the stereo, Bluetooth, hands-free phone, USB connectivity, cruise control functions, and all of the other technological gadgets. There are no less than 11 different buttons, most of which are multi-function rocker switches. That seems like a pretty big workload for your thumbs. And your attention span.

The center touch-screen will also take up a lot of attention. It’s a bit confusing, and requires you to flip through to many menus and functions. This is a common and irritating problem. How hard is it to hire a couple of computer interface designers to simplify these things? Kia seems to have worked it out. Practically no one else has. On the other hand, the center screen displays the view from the rear-view camera quite nicely.

2014 Mazda6 interiorThe rest of the interior is quite nice. The analog speedometer and tachometer are easy to read, as is the driver’s color TFT instrument screen. The plastic trim is glossy and color-coordinated with the interior, in pleasing jet black, or dark red. The fake metal bits are chromed, instead of simply making them a cheap-looking, silvery gray—though the bottom spoke of the steering wheel is the gray-colored, fake aluminum stuff, for some reason. And there’s one other thing: the seats look and feel a bit like leather, but aren’t. Mazda’s gone eco-conscious. Instead, the hyde of many naugas was harvested to cover the seats. It’s pleather. It’s fake. May I remind everyone that cows are, in fact, a renewable resource?

Overall, though, for a car that costs a bit over $29,000 in the top-spec Grand Touring trim, it’s actually quite good. For the much-lower $23,700 that the Touring model costs, it’s a very nice interior indeed.

I can’t imagine you’ll ever complain about the interior room, either. Leg room is fantastic, and the rear seats have their own climate zone for the air conditioning. This is a mid-sized sedan, so there’s lots of room in back to stretch your legs, and maybe run a few laps to loosen up during long trips.

It’s far superior to the previous-generation Mazda6, and much better than the interior of the current Camry in every way.

How it drives

Sadly, Mazda does not have a 6-cylinder option for the mazda6—or anything else, come to think of it. Instead there is a torquey diesel option in addition to the traditional gasoline engine. Mazda’s given the new Mazda6 the suite of SkyActive® technologies to improve both power and gas mileage. The 2.5L Inline-4 gas engine offers 184 HP at 5,700 RPM, and, even better, a beefy 185 lb-ft of torque at only 3,250 RPM. That not only makes it perform relatively briskly, hitting 60 MPH in 7.5 seconds with a 15.8 second quarter mile, but also gives you up to 40 MPG on the freeway. The surge of torque makes it seem faster than it actually is, and it’s faster than most 4-cylinder sedans in its class.

The Mazda6 has a 6-speed manual transmission option. You should get that. I love it. It is sexy. I want to buy it dinner and dance with it to slow music. I want to buy it slutty underthings and trail my fingers over its silky thighs, then seduce it into doing awful, awful things. I can’t think of any way it could be improved. The shifter has a short throw, and magically flows from gear to gear, while the clutch allows you to effortlessly find the friction point. The whole setup makes you want to shift gears with priapic enthusiasm.

Then there’s the ride. If the manual gearbox is a sexy mistress, the ride, handling and suspension of the Mazda6 is a young trophy wife. The ride is firm enough to communicate road conditions directly to the seat of your pants, but it’s never harsh or uncomfortable. At 3,200 lbs., the Mazda6 is relatively lightweight for its size, which makes the suspension’s job easier, keeping the car’s body on the straight and level when you blast it through the corners. A stiffer chassis doesn’t hurt either.

The steering also has decent feel for an electric setup. It offers some variable resistance at speed, and is quite responsive, though there’s a relatively large neutral spot at dead center. Frankly, steering resistance at speed could be stronger, as it’s a bit light. It’s good—better than a lot of electric steering setups, in fact—but it could be better than it is.

Still, this all adds up to a midsized sedan that’s light, agile, and enormously fun to drive. There’s no impression of the Mazda6 being an economy car. Instead, it hovers very close to being in sports sedan territory. Straight-line speed may not be the Mazda6’s forte, but it’s very much at home on curvy roads—and at speeds that may be slightly higher than legal. Or prudent.

Mazda says that they tried to give the Mazda6 more of a BMW feel, and, as far as I can tell, they have. I don’t think the BMW 320i, which costs $3,000 more, can give you a substantially better driving experience, or for that matter, is substantially nicer inside. Or, in the lower-spec versions, noticeably nice at all.

Every once in a while, a manufacturer comes up with a car that makes you want to drive it just for the driving experience. BMW makes several of them. Now, with the Mazda6, so does Mazda.

One minor quibble I have with it is braking. There’s nothing wrong with the feel or operation of the ABS setup. But it could be a bit grabbier. The Mazda6 will stop in 128 feet from 60 MPH, which actually isn’t bad, but is a bit longer distance than most other cars in its class. On the other hand, the Grand Touring model has Mazda’s Smart City Brake Support. It will bring the car to a stop from low speeds, if you’re too busy trying to figure out the steering wheel or touchscreen controls to notice that traffic has stopped ahead of you.

The other quibble I might have is the fact that it’s front wheel drive, with the nearly inescapable bane of the modern automobile, understeer at the limit. The modest power, however, means that torque steer isn’t a problem. There is traction control, though it seems like a bit of overkill. The Mazda6 doesn’t really need it—except maybe to offer some help in inclement weather—and it’s very unobtrusive, so you won’t really notice it, even when having a bit of naughty fun.

And you will want to have some naughty fun in the Mazda6. It begs you to blaze into a corner, trail-braking into the apex, then downshifting a gear or two to blast out of the corner. Then repeat. At no point do even the V-6 Accord or Camry make you want to do things like this, despite the greater power. The more modestly-powered Mazda6 makes you want to do it constantly. Think of it as a 4-door Miata.

What’s good about it

The Mazda6 has a very nice interior. It’s chock full of technology. It’s comfortable and very roomy, front and back. It has decent power and enjoyable torque, with very good gas mileage. The driving experience is far better than you expect from an economy sedan. The ride and handling is very sporty and fun, and the manual transmission is sexually arousing. It’s really a fun car to drive, and is faster than most of its 4-cylinder competitors.

What’s bad about it

The braking distance is a bit long. The center screen is a bit confusing, and there are a few too many buttons on the steering wheel. Braking could be a bit better. The leather seats…aren’t.

Conclusion

I can’t imagine why anyone would want to buy a “beige car” like the 4-cylinder Accord or Camry when they could buy this. The Mazda6 is lively, fun, and engaging. But if you drive this car, and then buy a 4-cylinder Camry, I’m just going to assume that you’re soulless and dead inside. The 4-cylinder Accord and Camry are the cars you buy when you’ve lost your will to live.

For my money, I might—might—choose a Dodge Dart GT with the 2.4L Tigershark® engine instead, but only if I would be satisfied with a car that’s slightly slower, slightly heavier, and with substantially less interior room. So, probably not.

For daily commuting, economy, and fun, the Mazda6 is really the only midsized economy sedan you’d ever need. Or should want. If Mazda doesn’t start selling 1,000 of these things a day, I’m going to be quite cross with you people.

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