Mazda’s New Mid-Size Entry

Photo courtesy of Mazda North American Operations

2014 Mazda Mazda6 Grand Touring.

The story of Mazda’s mid-size Mazda6 sedan kind of reads like a portion of the Goldie Locks children’s tale. The first generation was too small. The second generation was too big. The new 2014 Mazda6 is just right, size-wise anyway.

The mid-size segment is a tough one, a competitive one, and a lucrative one if done right. Witness the years-long success of the two cars that dominate the category, the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord. Never too flashy, never too daring. But always a sensible choice, at least when votes-by-wallet are tallied.

When Mazda brought out the original Mazda6 in 2003, replacing the 626 in the company’s lineup, it left a lot of people scratching their heads a bit. Next to its competitors (like the Camry and Accord) it was about a half-size smaller. Mazda’s reasoning was that their car was an enthusiast’s choice, as the trimmer size made for a car that was more fun to drive.

But while enthusiasts were sated (for the most part – not every car enthusiast is in the market for a mid-price 4-door sedan), people who cross-shopped the Mazda6 against the others in the segment felt it wasn’t worth the money. Lots of shoppers buy their cars by the pound, or perhaps the inch.

Mazda want back to the drawing board in 2009 and came up with an all-new Mazda6. It was no longer the smallest car in the segment, it was the biggest. At a press introduction, company officials even showed overlays of how much bigger their car was compared to the competitors.

Oops … that one didn’t quite ring the bell either. It might have been large, but it lost a lot of its Mazda soul, thanks in part to some platform sharing with then-partner Ford Motor Company. Rather bulbous and somewhat slab-sided in appearance, the second-gen Mazda6 missed the mark as well.

Now, Mazda is sure it’s gotten things right with the 2014 Mazda6. It’s an all-new car with an all-new design. The body is not slab-sided at all, but instead has flowing character lines. And perhaps most importantly, the size is just about perfect.

The traditional Mazda sportiness is still there, which will help this stand out in a sea of mid-size sedans on the market right now, almost all of them redesigned within the last few years. Accord, Ford Fusion, Chevy Malibu, Camry, Hyundai Sonata, Kia Optima, as well as the lesser-known sedans like the Subaru Legacy.

Mazda really seems to have gotten it right both inside and out, as the car is distinctive and handsome whether you’re walking toward it in a parking lot or looking across the dashboard while on the road.

Special attention was paid to fuel economy, with the Mazda6 being the latest of the company’s products to get what they call SKYACTIV engine and transmission systems. The engines use every trick in the book to boost fuel economy, including 13 to 1 compression (something normally only found in race engines), direct injection, and variable valve timing and control. Together, these help the Mazda 2.5 liter four cylinder achieve impressive EPA fuel economy numbers of 26 city and 38 highway (with automatic transmission).

And if you want to do even better, wait until this summer. Mazda will be the first Asian manufacturer, and the first of any company in the mid-size sedan segment, to offer a diesel engine. The upcoming SKYACTIV-D clean diesel promises better torque than a V6 along with hybrid-like mileage ratings.

Speaking of ratings, the car just received the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s “Top Safety Pick” rating. Given that many buyers place safety high on their list of desirable attributes, that accolade should help the Mazda greatly.

Base price for a Mazda6 i Sport (with 6-speed manual transmission) is $20,880. The next trim level is i Touring for $24,495, and the high-end Mazda6 i Grand Touring is $29,495. You can add packages to these prices, and all price levels are right in line with the competitors in the segment.

Mazda seems to have really gotten this one right, unlike its previous efforts at the Mazda6. Or perhaps as a certain character from a kids’ story might say, “just right.”

I’ll see you down the road.

Dave Kunz is the automotive reporter at KABC-TV Channel 7 and can be heard on “The Car Show” Saturdays at 9 a.m. on KPFK, 90.7 FM. E-mail Dave at TVCarz @ Twitter: @dave_kunz, Facebook: ABC7Dave

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