Monday, April 8, 2013

Mazda6 - Fresh Midsize Sedan for 2014

For any mainstream automaker, the midsize sedan market is crucial to success in America. For a long time now, the leaders have been Toyota's Camry and Honda's Accord. They offer plenty of room, proven reliability, reasonable efficiency but, until recently, not a lot of style.

Style is where it's at in the car business today, and Mazda wants a larger piece of the action. That's why the new Mazda6 is a real looker.

Tired of also-ran status, Mazda completely redid the new 6, and it shows. No longer saddled with a joker grin up front, it sports the Kodo design philosophy that also helps Mazda's CX-5 compact crossover stand out from the crowd. Kodo, which they say means Soul of Motion, means you get a carefully rendered, rounded shape that features edges that emerge and then recede back into the flow. You see this throughout the car, inside and out, from the front fenders to the dash to the door handles. The face is alert. The proportions are assertive but not overtly aggressive.

In a world of more and more visual bling, the new Mazda6 takes its cues from its revered Miata/MX-5 sports car, with a sophisticated, relaxed cockpit for the driver and smooth transitions to the passenger side. Piano black trim with brushed nickel accents connote elegance without resorting to artificial wood. The gauges are purposeful and also clearly visible in daytime glare and at night.

Despite owing its looks to a glamorous concept car, the new Mazda6 is much more than just a pretty face and body. The SkyActiv technology underneath is meant to get more efficiency from the engine, drivetrain, suspension and structure. That comes from reducing unnecessary weight through more use of high-tensile steel, for example. It also means that the 184-horsepower 2.5-liter engine in the new 6 provides eight percent more horsepower and 11 percent more torque than the same-size unit it replaces. The stronger structure adds safety as well.

SkyActiv incorporates new technologies. For example, i-ELOOP, its name derived from “Intelligent Energy Loop,” is the world’s first capacitor-based brake energy regeneration system to provide power for all the electrical mechanisms in a vehicle. Energy regeneration is an essential component of hybrid cars, but in the Mazda6 it provides electricity without the added weight or complexity of a dedicated electric motor or battery.

The Mazda6 comes in three levels: Sport, Touring and Grand Touring. The Sport is notable for offering a rarity -- a manual six-speed transmission. As perhaps a nod to its Miata/MX-5 sibling, this is good news for drivers who want more interaction with their cars. As usual, the highly intelligent automatic, which is standard in the Touring and Grand Touring, gets one mile per gallon better fuel economy, at 26 City, 38 Highway, 30 combined. I averaged 26.7 mpg.

My Soul Red Grand Touring tester, as a top-level version, had a long list of everything you'd want in a family sedan -- or even in a luxury car. The Sport comes pretty well equipped, but my upscale tester had leather-trimmed seats, a power moonroof, Sirius Satellite Radio, and outside, Platinum Silver 19-inch rims. The Touring model actually adds much of the upgrade from the Sport, with niceties such as blind-spot monitoring for safety and dual automatic climate control for comfort. I expect that the mid-level Touring model is the one most buyers will drive home.

There are a few surprises. My tester offered Pandora through the audio system, as long as you have it set up on your smart phone. We've come a long way from cassettes and FM radio. Of course you can use Bluetooth for your phone and a USB port makes it easy to plug in your iPod.

Pricing starts at a reasonable $21,675 for the manual-equipped Sport and rises to $30,290 for the Grand Touring. The Touring sits right between. These prices include shipping.

Coming later in 2013 is a SkyActiv 2.2-liter clean diesel engine. Like other modern oil burners, it promises prodigious power from small displacement, stellar miles-per-gallon numbers and a lack of diesel aroma, thanks to today's cleaner fuels.

Driving the Mazda6 is pleasant and satisfying. The new engine provides enough power for passing and hill climbing -- and you can barely hear it inside the cabin. The leather aroma adds a luxury touch. In a crowded market, Mazda has given its all hoping you'll give its cars some more attention.


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