We're very glad we are the ones test driving the Mazda6, not the people who developed the car. Seriously, we wouldn't want to be responsible for a vehicle that has to face a list of competitors which takes two days to read out. However, the 2014 Mazda6 laughs at this and then suddenly stops and asks its competitors: “Why so serious?”
The Japanese model promises to awaken a special feeling inside of you, the one a MX-5 Miata driver has on a track day morning, albeit at a different scale. It does this in a segment where sportiness for the best-selling models usually reaches its climax with a set of big wheels. Sure, some of its enemies have hot versions, but the incarnations that people actually buy come with a long list of assets where emotions can’t be found.
And if we are to give names for the aforementioned competition of the Mazda6, you’ll probably call us followers of the otherworldly cult. That’s because we think we saw the model in two places at the same time.
The Mazda6 first entered the battle of the European D-segment, a fight that’s as old as the continent itself and sees names like the VW Passat strike fear in their opponents. Nevertheless, the Mazda6 is also competing in the first line of the American mid-size class, where the Toyota Camry knows no mercy for its enemies.
Mazda’s 6 has some big wheels of its own, but the model relies on a bit more in its aim to impress. However, if you want to find out its story, don’t try to call Mazda’s head office in Hiroshima, the people there are really busy following the latest instructions. A few years ago, they probably held a huge meeting where employees were shown a few Mazda aficionados and were give a clear direction: “make everybody behave like them!”
Many, many conversations in the highly emotional manner that defines the Japanese people followed. We don’t know their language, but we do know that the international translation, the engineers’ “Skyactiv” and the designers’ KODO, have worked brilliantly on the Mazda CX-5.
Yes, Mazda began reinventing itself with an SUV
- everybody wants one these days, so the choice was obvious. However, it was now time to see what the changes would do for one of the automaker’s established models, so we had to drive the Mazda6.
The Soul Red finish of our test car meant that we started off well, but we couldn’t help wonder is what’s under the metal matches the latter’s declarations. We were going to put this to the test courtesy of Mazda’s new 2.2-liter diesel engine, a unit that’s set to land in the US later this year.
To use some meme-inspired language, we’ll tell you that we don’t always stop in a parking lot to contemplate the lines of a mid-size car, but when we do, this is a Mazda6.
Mazda put on quite a... show at the 2011 Tokyo Motor Show when it unveiled the Takeri
concept. They probably enjoyed getting all that attention and it’s clear that they want to experience the feeling all over again. That’s because a surprisingly high number of the Takeri’s features made it into the metal of the Mazda6.
The car doesn’t even look dull when compared to the Shinari
concept unveiled a year before the Takeri. That’s saying quite a lot, since the Shinari was a pure expression of Mazda’s new KODO “Soul of Motion” design language, which made it as extreme as a piece of catwalk fashion.
The entire car looks like somebody photographed a sedan while this was driven through a floating mass of water. All the forms flow nicely, but there are also elements that aren’t afraid to clash with each other when they meet.
The Mazda6 starts like a storm, with a grille that’s so extrovert that its lower line bursts into the headlights
, a pair of lookers themselves. Mazda has turned to the halo light ring trick for the headlights, but we can’t spend too much time here, as the hood, with its bold creases, is stealing us.
Despite the fact that the profile
has no less than three character lines, its message is clear, neither one of them disturbs the others. The front and rear fender cannibalize each other in terms of grabbing attention, but, as you head towards the back, things become a bit less spectacular.
For example, the roof line
is arched, but this sits somewhere in between that of a sedan and that of a four-door coupe. It’s the same story with the taillights
, which come with nicely rounded elements, but don’t quite have the impact of the front light clusters. The entire rear area is characterized by a rather wide stance.
The interior is to a car what words are for people. A simple face to face conversation is enough to let you know who somebody is, but only if that someone is honest with you. Alas, cars are like people and like to deceive on many occasions. Well, the cabin of the Mazda6 can't tell a lie. This is an honest environment and confesses the car's character from the very beginning.
Get inside the car with your eyes and ears wide open and, once you two have connected, you'll hear it whispering: The Mazda6 is a very dependable car with a few sporty ambitions and can provide pretty good comfort.
Let's take the interior dimensions for example. Mazda wanted the vehicle to be more appealing now, so don't expect to find more room inside it than in the previous generation. The 2014 Mazda6 is, in fact, a tiny bit tighter inside than its predecessor, but this still places it within the class average and allows it to cater to most of your needs.
However, it’s a bit intriguing how such a car received an interior that’s not even close to the exterior in terms of design revolution.
Nevertheless, there are many nice parts to the cabin of the Mazda6 and we’ll start with the materials. Unlike many of its rivals and sometimes even cars belonging to superior segments, the Mazda6 doesn't try to simulate luxurious fittings using modest materials.
For example, the vast climate control area
on the center console may not look like the latest development on the market, but its dark glass-like plastic cover makes it pleasant.
The arrangement had to be a bit sporty but this didn't bring exaggerations. Instead, the shapes themselves give you this impression without saying it directly.
When talking about ergonomics, we'll stick to eight out of ten points. The Mazda6 certainly likes knobs and we approve this. However, it does take a while to get used to controlling the navigation
either by touching it, using the buttons next to it or relying on the big knob
placed on the center console for this.
What we didn't like when it came to ergonomics was the cluttered button arrangement on an otherwise brilliant steering wheel
. And as for the paddles attached to it, these may use the worst plastic inside the car, but they're attached to a system that works well and have the perfect position.
Yes, we know the whole dashboard is borrowed from the CX-5 crossover, but we won't complain too much about this. However, we did dislike the fact that the aforementioned dark plastic was also used around the gear shifter, where it quickly gets invaded by all sorts of scratches.
Our greatest gripe with the cabin was the size of the infotainment screen, but we'll play with its functions in the Gadgets
This is it, we couldn't find any other important bothering parts of the interior. We've got to end this chapter somehow though and we'll use the luggage compartment to do this. The 17.1 cubic feet (484 liters) volume is a god value, but it's still a tad smaller than that of its predecessor. Nevertheless, the good access comes to save the day.
Despite the fact that urban driving isn't placed at the top of the Mazda6's priorities, the car treats this task with the determination of a manager who's putting his latest conquest plan into action.
Most of the times when you put four-cylinder oil burners through the hustle of performing the entire repertoire required by city driving, this exposes their lack of refinement. Fortunately, this is not the case here.
Once the engine gets up to temperature, a quick process, it won't make you feel like you've made a compromise by choosing it over a petrol.
The six-speed auto always finds the right gear, both when you're moving along slowly in the morning traffic and when you're using the full torque of the twin-turbo diesel because you're late for your date.
As for the chassis, this is agile enough to cope with the swift maneuvers required by such a delicate situation.
And when you get there, you just know she's going to be watching you as you park. Don't worry though, there's a reversing camera assisting the front and rear sensors. Speaking of the latter, the calibration is very useful, offering you many areas so that you can always have confidence. The sensors won't spare you from buying her flowers though.
Mazda has even placed a Tamagotchi inside the dashboard instrument on the right. The display placed here can show us when the regenerative braking is working and how much of the system's capacity we've recharged or used. Inside the city, where you always have to slow down, this makes you feel like you're driving a hybrid. Of course, the system's contribution isn't even close to that of a hybrid, but it is a fun and useful toy.
We've only got a few blocks to drive with our foot off the throttle in order to fill up its meter. The electricity nutrition process starts the second you lift off the gas, but that pesky red traffic light up ahead means we have to waste this session. We hope the penalty for not fully feeding your virtual pet isn't that harsh.
The Mazda6 is a car that basically invites you drive it for a long time. It was more than once during our drive that we found ourselves taking a new route back just to be able to drive it on different conditions. You’ll make the most out of it when moving along quick, but not at full throttle.
Slowly, we’re driving slowly. That’s because we’ve just finished having a fair dose of speedy positive emotions. Over the last 20 miles or so, the Mazda6 has proven that it’s not afraid of anything the road can throw at it. We’ve had snake-like corners that tried to bite our rear ends just when we were thinking we’ve gone past them, but the car stood brave.
You’ve got to keep your eyes open if you want to fully connect with the Mazda6. That’s because both the steering and the suspension have their own way of dealing with business and you need a bit of time to adapt.
The steering may seem too much on the light side at first, but once you get used to it you’ll notice that it offers a fair degree of feedback and that its consistency is fine when you’re up to speed.
As for the suspension, one may believe this allows a bit too much body roll. Fortunately, this is just an initial tendency, a phase that gets quickly left behind and after which the car settles on the bend quite nicely.
We’ve had a spirited drive, keeping things at 7 or 8 tenths, in an area where we’d go fast, but a passenger would still be able to enjoy the experience. As for what the car asked in return, the overall efficiency sat at 30 mpg (7.8 liters per 100 km).
We can’t think of another car in this class that handles better. The rear end never comes alive, as safety is a top priority here, but the car is keen to follow your instructions.
It’s the same story with the diesel powertrain. We’ve been using the 2.2-liter unit for a few days now and we’re still impressed with its refinement like we’ve just met it.
The twin-turbo setup gets rid of most of the lag and once you go past 2,000 rpm you’ll have a linear power deliver all the way to the top. By the way, this “top” reaches a Sky(activ)-high level for a diesel, going way past 5,000 rpm. While there’s no use to take the engine there, you will enjoy its availability to be revved. The unit is happy to work at any level and, no matter how much throttle you’re using, it never feels overworked.
The six-speed automatic, which also wears the Skyactiv tag, doesn’t quite match the engine, but it still offers a good experience. There’s only one complain about it and that’s the need for at least a seventh ratio.
Nevertheless, we liked the way in which it knows when to come back into Drive after you’ve taken it out of there by using the paddles. Speaking of these, the gearbox works quite well in the manual mode, even though you’ll probably keep it in the fully automatic mode most of the time.
As for the ride, this is a different story, one that also has an alternate ending. The suspension itself is well qualified for the comfort job. Whenever it encounters a tarmac caprice, it deals with the problem quick enough to make the car stable, but doesn’t rushes on the rebound. Good.
With the 19-inch wheels, the handling is sharpened up, but the gain is not enough to justify the loss in terms of comfort. The larger rims makes the ride unpleasant when going over heftier road irregularities. When the tire sidewall reads “R17”, the handling is still good and the ride becomes pleasant too.
We’ve just went past the road markings a bit for the purpose of testing the Lane Departure Warning System. There’s nobody else on the road, but we still wouldn’t want to explain out maneuver to a police officer. Still, let’s see what we’d tell him if he pulled us over right now.
The system has a nice calibration, as it emits a sound which imitates the one made by tires when encountering the thick markings on the right side of the road. The aural warning definitely wakes you up, but it doesn’t panic you. Officer, on top of this all, you should know that we’re good guys.