Mazda6 — A sedan with personality

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

The all-new Mazda6 looks and drives great, offers style and comfort, and is one of the most fuel-efficient gas-engine-propelled mid-sized family sedans available anywhere. To say we were impressed with the upscale Grand Touring edition we drove is an understatement.

While the Mazda6 has generally won high praise from auto critics and customers alike through the years, it has never achieved the sales success of its competition, but this newest version has the stuff to push the sedan up the sales charts. The Mazda6 is the antithesis of the stereotypical family appliance, a tag attached to several mainstream mid-sized sedans over the years. This car has personality, a kind of winning charm that pulls the routine driving chores from the mundane to the exciting.

The Mazda6's shapely appearance draws you to the car. Like the equally stylish Ford Fusion, it clearly stands out from the mid-sized sedan crowd with its appealing lines. It has the ability to turn heads.

Beyond the styling, the new sedan offers an athletic feel on the road, a rewarding driving experience, especially on the twists and turns of our favorite rural-roads. While it won't run away from the competition on the straight-aways, the 2.5-liter four-cylinder making 184 horsepower and 185 pound-feet of torque acquits itself quite nicely. It accelerates briskly, can merge into fast-moving traffic, and pass a slow-moving vehicle on a two-lane road without drama and without the usual cacophony of a four-cylinder working hard.

The power steering is communicative and well weighted sending the car in exactly the direction intended.

By the numbers, the Mazda6 has been measured from 0-to-60 in 7.2 seconds and 15.6 seconds at 90 mph in a quarter mile. That stacks up well against the competitive Accord clocked at 7.5 seconds and Altima at 7.7 seconds. For Toyota Camry fans, its 4-cylinder runs in the mid-eight-second range.

The new six-speed automatic transmission seems to be perfectly matched to the engine with imperceptible shifts and instantaneous downshifts when demanded. The Mazda6 can also be purchased with a six-speed manual for those who like to shift for themselves.

Some folks might be dismayed that Mazda has dropped the rather potent 272-horsepower V-6 found in the 2013 edition, and elected to go with the 4-cylinder as its only engine. But the emphasis these days is on gas mileage, and Mazda joins the leaders at the top of the class, Accord and Altima, with an EPA rating of 26 city, 38 highway and 30 mpg combined. The Accord with CVT is rated at 27/36/30 and the Altima at 27/38/31. And there is more to come as Mazda will add a more powerful 2.2-liter diesel capable of 40 mpg later in the model year.

Also, later in the year Mazda will introduce i-Eloop, a system that can store energy to a capacitor during deceleration, which is then used to power air conditioning, lighting and accessories for about a minute when the start-stop system shuts down the engine at a stoplight. The goal is to lighten the charging load for the alternator thus lessening drag on the engine that could affect mileage.

The interior offers plenty of passenger space for both front and second row riders. Leg room is decent and even taller folks will find head room adequate. While there's decent luggage space at 14.8 cubic feet.

Our test car came with rich-looking almond-colored leather upholstery that features cross stitching, something you would expect on a luxury car, but a pleasant surprise on the Mazda6 Grand Touring edition. Overall material quality is best in the segment and fit and finish impeccable.

Controls are generally easy to use and the gauge cluster is easy to read. We enjoyed the optional 11-speaker Bose audio system found in our test car. On the downside, the 5.8-inch navigation touchscreen is small by today's standards, and actually smaller than last year's 7-inch screen.

The Mazda6 is offered in Sport, Touring and Grand Touring trim levels starting at $21,675 for a manual transmission model. The most popular trim will probably be the mid-level Touring starting at $25,290 including great-looking 19-inch alloy wheels, premium vinyl (leatherette) upholstery, dual-zone climate control, keyless entry/ignition, rain-sensing wipers, navigation and the upgraded Bose audio system.

The Grand Touring model begins at $30,245. Some interesting standard features on the Grand Touring trim include hill launch assist (to keep the car from rolling backwards), cross traffic alert on the backup camera system, and an excellent blind spot monitoring system. Our test car with a couple of options — adaptive cruise control and forward obstruction warning — carried a bottom line of $31,490.

Base price: $21,675; as driven, $31,490
Engine: 2.5-liter 4-cylinder
Horsepower: 184 @ 5,700 rpm
Torque: 185 foot-pounds @ 3,250 rpm
Drive: front wheel
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
Seating: 2/3
Wheelbase: 111.4 inches
Length: 191.5 inches
Curb weight: 3,183 pounds
Turning circle: 36.7 feet
Luggage capacity: 14.8 cubic feet
Fuel capacity: 16.4 gallons (regular)
EPA rating: 38 highway, 26 city
0-60: 7.2 seconds (Car and Driver)
Also consider: Honda Accord, Ford Fusion, Nissan Altima

The Good
• Quick four-cylinder acceleration
• Agile, sporty handling
• Top-quality interior
• Head-turning styling

The Bad
• 4-cylinder only engine option

The Ugly
• Small trunk