2013 Mazda Mazda6 GS-I4View Vehicle Profile
Review: Jazzed up Mazda6 stands tall in the saddle
Reinvented sedan takes on Texas’ country roads with dash
The roads down here in Texas hill country can get very twisty, very quickly.
They dip and rise through dry creek beds — there are yardsticks beside the asphalt to show how high the flash floods reach — then they whip off to the left and back to the right before you know it.
This is no place for exotic, low-slung sports cars, although there’s still lots of money for them among the “Dellionares” and academics who call Austin home. Ferraris and Lamborghinis would crack the front air spoilers within a few minutes of leaving their gated communities.
But it’s a great place for a regular car with some sporting aspirations, like the all-new 2014 Mazda6.
Not the previous, fifth-generation of the Mazda sedan. That was very much average in every sense of the word. Good value for money, like any Mazda, but boring to look at and even more boring to drive. It needed extra large cup holders to carry all the coffee its drivers needed to stay awake.
The new Mazda6 is not at all boring, and especially not down here, twisting and turning its way through south Texas, slopping overly-full lattes onto the seat leather.
If you want to order one, there are nine configurations available among three trim levels — but only one engine.
The cheapest stick-shift GX starts at $24,495, while the most expensive GT is $32,195, with a technology package available on top of that.
The car was unveiled late last year at the Los Angeles Auto Show but it’s taken till now to get it on the road. One Mazda engineer says it’s “a complete ground-up revolution in the way we do things,” and the sales manager calls it “the most technologically advanced car Mazda’s ever made.”
They’re talking about the new engine, which is a more powerful high-compression 2.5 L four-cylinder that’s the first of its size to offer all of Mazda’s SkyActiv-G fuel-saving features.
They’re also talking about the i-ELOOP system, which, wait for it, is a fast-charging, capacitor-based brake energy regeneration system that helps power all the electrical mechanisms without needing a special motor and battery. This saves even more fuel, apparently, although it will take hours to explain to your passengers.
And they’re talking about the car’s lighter weight, which is up to 200 kg less than the previous generation and therefore saves yet more gas and boosts performance.
It all sounds impressive, but does the new Mazda6 come through on all that promise?
Well, it looks good before you even slip inside, thanks to a much-needed bumper-to-bumper redesign. The car is supposed to look like a crouched animal ready to pounce, with bulging flares over the front fenders and a high trunk line.
When you do get in, the interior is thoroughly upgraded with high-quality leather and soft-touch plastic in all the right places. The controls are well-located and easy to figure out on the fly. The seats are comfortable and there’s plenty of space in the back for passengers taller than 6 feet to stretch without bumping their heads.
But you can see this in any showroom. It’s once you start the engine and hit the road that the front-wheel-drive Mazda6 impresses most.
The 2.5 L engine is smooth and makes 184 hp near its red line, but better than that, it makes 185 lb.-ft. of torque halfway to that point, at just 3,250 rpm. That means there’s plenty of acceleration whenever it’s needed, without downshifting.
Power is up 10 per cent over the previous generation, but it feels more than that because of the lightness and better response of the new car. Steering is tighter, too. The ratio is 15.5:1, which is almost as quick as the MX-5 roadster.
Sawing through Austin’s switchbacks, it’s rarely necessary to move my hands from the wheel, especially with the various controls for cruise and entertainment mounted directly on it.
The car I drove most was the top-of-the-line GT version that included paddle-shifters mounted to the wheel. These come at no extra cost with the six-speed automatic of the middle-range GS and top-range GT models, and Mazda’s quick to point out that the automatic also comes at no cost over the six-speed manual.
This might be a bit cheeky, though, since most customers expect a discount for choosing the stick. Perhaps those standard buyers are paying a premium instead. If they are, though, it’s worth it. Both manual and automatic are a pleasure to drive.
Road noise inside the car seemed a bit loud, but it was a windy day. It certainly wasn’t excessively loud, and my bad singing quickly covered it.
Mazda claims that, despite the extra power, the SkyActiv technology saves up to 20 per cent of fuel, with a claimed consumption for the automatic of 7.6 L/100 km in the city and 5.1 on the highway. The manual is a bit worse, at 8.1 and 5.3.
That’s using regular gas, which is surprising for such a high 13:1 compression ratio and, frankly, remarkable for such a responsive car.
If you want more, just wait until the summer when Mazda confirms it will bring over Europe’s diesel-powered sedan. That car will be even more fuel-efficient and torquier than the gas version.
With its two-stage turbocharger and very low compression ratio (at least, low for a diesel, but at 14:1, higher than the gas motor), it should burn cleaner and will need no fuel additives to control its emissions.
They’d bring it over now, but apparently the Japanese have been buying the diesel version at five times the expected rate. The car is built there, so I guess Japan gets preference. Too bad for us, but the wait should be worth it.
The diesel edition will make the Mazda6 more competitive against the VW Passat, which Mazda says is its main target.
The Honda Accord will also be looking for the same buyers and will probably win over quite a few with its new redesign and title of AJAC Car of the Year for 2013 (for which the Mazda6 was not available to enter). It’s not quite so sporting in its feel on the road, though, so probably the Mazda will win drivers who want to cut and carve instead of just commute.
Its pricing is also competitive against those other cars, although their most basic versions are a thousand bucks or so cheaper. Once you start adding features on the GS and GT editions, then it’s a bit less apples to apples.
If you want, you can have blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert and a moonroof, on the mid-range $28,395 GS.
The top-range GT adds 19-inch wheels and LED headlamps. The $2,000 tech package offers some really fancy stuff: radar cruise control, front object warning, lane-departure warning and even smart brake support that will brake the car in an emergency.
All this, and lots of fun on winding roads, too.
PRICE: $24,495 to $32,195
ENGINE: 2.5 L 4-cylinder
FUEL CONSUMPTION (L/100 km, claimed): automatic: 7.6 city, 5.1 hwy.; manual: 8.1, 5.3
POWER/TORQUE: 184 hp/185 lb.-ft.
COMPETITION: Honda Accord, VW Passat, Chevy Malibu, Ford Fusion, Nissan Altima, Toyota Camry, Hyundai Sonata, Kia Optima
WHAT’S BEST: Great fuel economy; sporty response; high-quality interior.
WHAT’S WORST: Limited packages sell you unwanted options, a little loud for road noise, where’s the wagon?
WHAT’S INTERESTING: Mazda calls its performance “jinba-ittai,” which means “rider and horse as one.”
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