By David Colman
Hypes: Wealth of Included Niceties
Gripes: Underwhelming Grunt Below 3,000 rpm
Styling concepts pioneered by Mazda’s Shinari and Takeri show cars have reached fruition in the all new Mazda6. After taking it for a spin over challenging back roads, I can attest to the fact that this voluptuous looking reincarnation of the formerly prosaic Mazda6 is more than just a pretty new face. The revamped Mazda6 proved its mettle with refined handling, precise balance and high grip levels. It should come as no surprise that Mazda has been fielding a team of Mazda6 sedans in the GTX category of the American Le Mans Series (ALMS) this year. What should come as a surprise, however, is that these race-prepped Mazda sedans are currently vying with a Porsche Cayman S for the series title with just a few races left to run. Although the ALMS Mazda6s are Diesel-powered, our test vehicle’s 2.5 liter 4 cylinder engine ran on gasoline — so efficiently that we couldn’t use even a half tank of it after a whole week of running. The EPA rates the gasoline version of the Mazda6 at 32 MPG overall, and the turbo Diesel version, coming later this fall, will even improve on that skinflint economy.
The Mazda6 is a lot of sedan for the money. Its base price of $29,695 includes 4 door seating for 5, leather trimmed, heated sports seats up front, and a 60/40 fold down arrangement for the rear seats. Given the reasonable price, it was a surprise to find Mazda has included in the base car’s specifications a Bose 11 speaker audio system, SIRIUSXM and HD radio, and a 5.8 inch color touch screen display for the navigation system. The 185hp motor feeds its power to the front wheels via a new 6-speed automatic gearbox featuring manual gear selection via small paddles on the steering wheel spokes, or tap shifting from the floor-mounted stick. The steering wheel face also provides audio and phone controls on the left hand spoke and cruise controls on the right hand spoke. The standard issue, adaptive Bi-Xenon headlights deserve special praise not only for their brilliant illumination but also their magical ability to turn in the direction the sedan turns.
Nor did the Zoom-Zoom company default on suspension equipment. Standard 19 inch alloy rims provide secure mounts for Dunlop SP Sport radials (225/45R19) at all 4 corners. These all-season tires provide reassuring grip when you’re tackling switchback turns, or building speed on long, arcing freeway on-ramps. Handling of the Mazda6 is predictable and precise, despite the fact that 59% of its 3,185 pound curb weight rests on the front axle. Torque-steer is absent because the engine produces just 185 lb.-ft. of torque, which is never enough to cause the front wheels to slip while turning. In fact, the downside to the Mazda6 lurks under the hood, where the 4 cylinder engine’s lack of horsepower and torque is especially evident at low rpm in second gear. Just when you most need passing punch, the “Skyactiv” motor is loathe to deliver the required zest. Once you spool the engine past 3,000 rpm, however, the sedan becomes a serviceable performer.
A $2,080 “GT Technology Package” brought our test Mazda’s final price to more than $32,000. The package adds radar cruise control, regenerative braking, forward obstruction warning (FOW) and lane departure warning (LDW). Although the radar cruise control makes long distance running effortless, the benefit conferred by the other inclusions are less helpful. In fact, the LDW light on the instrument cluster flashed errantly for most of the week we spent with the car.
In view of the 2.5 liter four’s proclivity for sloth, we’d be inclined to hold out until the turbo Diesel makes its debut in a few months. After all, the Mazda6 platform is otherwise so good that it would be a shame to handicap its handling potential with a sub-par power plant.
2014 Mazda6 Grand Touring
- Engine: 2.5 liter DOHC Inline 4
- Horsepower: 184hp
- Torque: 185lb.-ft.
- Fuel Consumption: 28 MPG City/40 MPG Highway
- Price as Tested: $32,845
- Star Rating: 7.5 out of 10 Stars