2014 Mazda6: Sneaky good, but it's no surprise

by Aaron Cole :: posted in Reviews on November 4th, 2013
Despite what you may have heard, there’s no instant certainty that comes with importance. They are wholly separate, and likely never to occur simultaneously. “Citizen Kane” wasn’t deemed great until Orson Welles was nearly dead, French Impressionists weren’t really appreciated while they were alive and Frederic Chopin died mostly broke.



For those reasons, I don’t expect many people to pine over Mazda’s current lineup until 2051.



Their new cars are fantastic, and this is proof: I have yet to meet a fellow auto critic who can’t find one car in their lineup they don’t like. Getting auto critics to agree on anything is like getting 50 toddlers to share a single toy. We’re all fantastically fussy folks.



That would be assuming that critical acclaim isn’t the kiss of death. It certainly is. If the world listened to critics we’d never have Led Zeppelin or French Impressionists. So for those reasons, I’ll tell you that the 2014 Mazda6 is totally awful. You should definitely run away from this car. Because if you don’t, you might be forced to gaze longer at what a perfectly mid-size, well-built sedan is supposed to look like.



Here’s what I mean. The Mazda6, in nearly all its iterations, has been a good car. My uncle tried to run one until the earth stopped spinning, and my guess is that the only reason he stopped was because he realized automatic shoulder belts would be just as annoying in zero gravity. So he ditched his Mazda after a bazillion years and a bazillion more miles. And guess what Uncle Jimmy: those shoulder belts are gone for 2014.



But more to the point, the Mazda6 is a superb mid-size sedan because it does everything well, not just one or two things great. In my weeklong quest to quantify why I liked the Mazda6 so much, I found no such evidence — and that’s a good thing. The exterior is fantastically handsome. Is it as striking as the Ford Fusion? No. But the Fusion may look dated in a couple years, whereas the Mazda6 is both handsome and classy like a dry martini. Is it as eco-awesome as the Passat TDI? No, but the Mazda6’s 28/40 mpg mileage is better than average. (Yes, there’s a stateside Mazda6 diesel coming, but I haven’t driven it.) Comparing the Mazda6 to a BMW 5-series is unfair only because the $19,960 starting price for the Mazda is less than half of the Bimmer’s. That’s it.



Put that all together and you have a compelling case for a car that gets overlooked more often than parsley in the last recipe you tried.



You want details? I’ll give ‘em. First, the Mazda6 is no hog on the road. Despite having a styling overhaul in the past few years, the 2014 Mazda6 specimen before us is neither boring nor hulking. The exaggerated front fenders and shoulders do the car justice without being annoying. Despite it’s braggadocios posture and big wheels, the Mazda6 is downright nimble and quick.



The Mazda’s direct-injection 2.5-liter, four doesn’t get the credit it deserves here. Unleashed a few years ago during the gas crunch, and saddled with the decidedly vague and unexciting moniker of “SkyActiv” there were many consumers and critics who didn’t quite know what to make of the gas engine that didn’t quite fit either mold of “revolutionary” nor “evolutionary” — and I’m included in that category. In reality, the Skyactiv engine takes the approach that a lot of little things make a big difference. Lighter weight, direct injection and other small fuel-saving technologies help bump the Mazda6 toward the vaunted 40 mpg highway mileage mark that looks oh-so-good on billboards. Could you get 40 mpg in a perfect world? Yes. Do you have to select the right technology packages to get there? Of course.



But that’s not quite the entire story, because the Mazda6 thrives on the little things to add up to big value. The automatic transmission is predictably boring (read: eco-minded) until you ask it not to be. Stand on the throttle and the Mazda6 springs to life like a sports sedan. The chassis has a tight quality — derived from lessons learned in the Miata, no doubt — that’s sneaky good. There are so many little things that add up here.



Our weeklong tester, optioned up to Touring package that added navigation, Bose stereo system and a whole host of other goodies that made the final sticker price $32,845, was simply great to drive. No one quality stood out on our weekday drive to the office that made the Mazda6 better than every other sedan on the road. But rather it was the combination of a comfortable ride, practical price and better-than-average fuel economy that left many passengers saying, “Yeah, you’re right. That is a pretty good car.”



And it’s all an interesting plan. Mazda’s lineup from top to bottom is rock solid, perhaps more rock solid than any other automaker’s lineup at the moment. It’s just a shame people are more inclined to overlook excellence when it stares them in the face for the first time.



Aaron Cole is a syndicated auto columnist. He appreciates hearing from readers. Reach him at aaron.m.cole@gmail.com. 



Photo by Nathan Leach-Proffer.
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