According to the International Ice Cream Association, vanilla ice cream is the USA’s favourite ice cream flavour and beats out chocolate. More exotic flavours like Butter Pecan or Rocky Road fall into 4th or 5th.
One can draw a similarity when it comes to mid-sized family cars. The top selling car in America is the Toyota Camry. A competent but safe choice, sort of like vanilla ice cream.
Even Honda played it safe with the Accord’s styling when the sedan was redesigned recently. The top selling sedan has been criticised for looking too derivative even though the new shape is certainly an upgrade over the prior model.
The Mazda6? Well it’s sort of a wallflower among the big selling midsized sedans. While it’s probably never going to sell in the same numbers as the Camry or the Accord, consumers would be remised in passing it up during their shopping.
Personally, I’ve always enjoyed Rocky Road ice cream. So when I recently had the chance to get the keys to a 2014 Mazda6 GT with <gasp> a 6 speed manual transmission, I knew I had to give it a go.
The Mazda6 is definitely one of the sleekest sedans you can buy. Mazda’s Kodo “Soul of Motion” design language, which is supposed to mimic the calm and furious states of nature, has resulted in an aggressive front fascia and plenty of attractive character lines along its profile.
In fact, Mazda says that their new 6 is probably the purest expression yet of the Kodo design language.
In this case, the aggressive front end is supposed to look like an animal that is crouched and ready to spring into action.
Overall, I think that the eye-catching coupe-like styling looks quite fetching and the ties the Mazda6 with the Ford Fusion for the best looking mid-sized sedan.
My other favourite exterior design element aside from its bulging front fenders, is the combination LED strip and halo ring within the headlamp unit. It adds an upscale flair to the car, and is something different than the now ubiquitous strip of LEDs along the bottom perimeter of the headlamp.
No matter which trim level Mazda6 you choose, you’ll end up with a car with a roomy and comfortable driving position.
It is a little bit of a pity that the interior design team didn’t have the same exuberance (or perhaps the same budget) as the exterior designers.
The 6’s cabin is an almost identical photocopy of the Mazda CX-5. Not a bad thing but just a bit bland. Then again as discussed at the beginning of this review, vanilla ice cream reins supreme in the conservative midsized family car market and not Rocky Road.
Regardless, the inside of the 6 is neatly trimmed with comfortable and supportive seats. My top-end GT spec car included standard leather hides and all trim levels include generous applications of soft-touch dash plastics.
I like that the steering wheel both tilts and telescopes for maximum adjustability. To compliment it is an 8-way power adjustable driver seat. This makes finding the perfect driving position a clinch.
Previous Mazdas have been so-so when it comes to the interior electronics, but no longer.
A touchscreen now replaces the odd split-control radio headunit design in the previous generation Mazda6. The new system is much easier, albeit a bit plain due to its TomTom borrowed interface.
Thankfully there are many redundant hard buttons for the climate control system, which has not been integrated into the touchscreen interface unlike an increasing number of cars. I prefer this than the fussy virtual interfaces that some vehicles have these days.
One bone of contention. While I appreciated that Mazda has taken the effort to include a rotary BMW iDrive-style knob that also controls the headunit, it seems almost redundant when the touchscreen is so easy-to-use and so close at hand.
On the plus side, almost every 6 will have Bluetooth and a backup camera. The GPS Navigation screen is a bit small, but high resolution. Blindspot monitoring was a standard feature on my GT model and it worked well. Opt for the Tech package and you also get Smart City Brake Support, which can automatically brake to prevent low speed collisions.
Out back, the rear seats have a lot of room. Thinner front seats and widened openings under them mean that rear seat passengers now benefit from extra knee and foot room.
Just how commodious is the space back there? I invited fellow car enthusiast, Mitchell Sayers, to give the rear seats a try. At 6’5”, he’s not exactly what you would call of average height. But even he was surprised by the amount of rear cabin space.
While the lower roofline meant that Mitch had to swoop a bit when getting out, the headroom was more than enough for him. My kudos goes to the Mazda designers and engineers for their clever interior packaging and ergonomics.
SO HOW DOES IT DRIVE?
Being a smaller company, Mazda doesn’t have the resources that Honda and Toyota do. And now that they’re going in alone (without any more Ford resources), they have to play it smart.
As a result, they build their products on a modular structure. The 6 shares the same platform as the well-regarded CX-5 small SUV. It also shares the same engine, a variable valve timed SKYACTIV-G 2.5L direct injection 4 cylinder engine with 184 hp at 5700 rpms and 185 ft-lbs of torque at 3250 rpms.
Mazda wants to be known for its efficiency but does it via conventional ways without expensive hybrids. The key is Mazda’s comprehensive suite of SKYACTIV technology, including direct fuel injection and a race car high 13:1 engine compression ratio.
Some models have an optional system named i-ELOOP (aka Intelligent Energy Loop), which stores power from regenerative braking into a special capacitor. This is used to run electrical accessories such as the lights and the climate control.
Mazda says that capacitors are much better at quick charges and discharges as they don’t involve the same chemical reactions as conventional batteries. As a result, they are much more apt at delivering quick bursts of power, reducing fuel consumption by as much as up to a claimed 10%.
Mazda claims fuel economy ratings of 8.1L/100 kms in the city and 5.3L/100 kms on the highway for my manual transmission car. I averaged 8.5L/100 kms in mostly city driving in my non i-Eloop car. Interestingly, the automatic transmission car gets a better 7.6/5.1L city/highway rating.
Despite just having a 4 cylinder engine, the car lives up to the brand’s zoom-zoom character. My test car felt agile for its size and more than quick enough for everyday situations. There is acceptable amounts of body roll and it is competent in the corners.
Thanks to the SKYACTIV philosophy of reducing curb weight, it also felt surprisingly light on its feet and drives smaller than it is.
The vast majority of buyers will choose their Mazda6 with the 6 speed automatic gearbox. However, one of the main reasons that I was looking forward to testing this car was because of the available 6 speed manual gearbox.
Continuing with the SKYACTIV mindset, this gearbox has also been lightened and modified for less friction in the pursuit of improved fuel economy.
I’m happy to report that the short throws and good clutch feel make the gearbox a pleasure to use. Not only does it snick from cog to cog smoothly and precisely, but there is enough mechanical feel dialed into the system that you never forget the box full of gears at the other end of the stick. Exactly what manual transmission fans are looking for.
This easy-shifting transmission really did do justice to Mazda’s sporty heritage and adds the right amount of excitement this car deserves.
The family sedan market is a very crowded one. But Mazda stands out from the crowd by offering a good looking, well-equipped sedan with the “zoom-zoom” sportiness it is known for.
It’s no wonder that journalists in the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC) voted it as the 2014 Canadian Car of the Year. The Mazda6 also won AJAC’s prestigious award for the 2014 Best New Family Car over $30,000.
So it’s really too bad that the Mazda6 often gets overlooked by many shoppers in the category. It really should be in the spotlight thanks to its blend of sporty driving character, eye-catching coupe-like styling, and excellent fuel economy.
If you need the practicality of a midsized family sedan but don’t want to give up sleek styling or sporty handling (or if you like Rocky Road ice cream and don’t want to own a Camry or Accord), you might want to take a very close look at the Mazda6!