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Six represents a crucial number for Mazda. No longer tethered to Ford, it leaves breathing room to develop all-new powertrains, which we've seen with SkyActiv. It also means Ford's financial backing is no longer an option, meaning getting the formula right for the Mazda6 is absolutely imperative.
If the success with the CX-5 is any indication, getting the Mazda6 right should be a piece of cake. And boy, is it ever a delicious slice. It not only represents a complete revolution from the previous generation, but it is now Mazda's flagship model.
Let's begin with what lies beneath the sculpted and admittedly gorgeous sheet metal. For 2014, the Mazda6 gets the obligatory suite of SkyActiv technology. Contrary to many other mid-sized sedans on the market, there is only one engine option, a 2.5-litre in-line four. Identical to the heart that beats under the top-line CX-5, it puts out 184 horsepower and 185 pound-feet of torque.
The caveat is that the engine is standard across all trim levels, meaning there is no option for a more powerful engine, be it a turbocharged four or a normally aspirated six. Having sampled the six-cylinder engine in the Accord and the Fusion's 2.0L turbocharged four-banger, the Mazda6 could benefit from the option of having a bit more ponies for those seeking a mid-sized sedan with more of a kick in the pants.
That said, apples to apples, the Mazda6's 2.5L four is among the best in its class. With the six-speed manual transmission and peak torque available at just above 3,250 r.p.m., it is very easy to keep the engine in its happy place.
To put that into perspective, the 2.4L four-cylinder Accord has its peak torque of 181 lb.-ft. available at 3,900 r.p.m., whereas the 2.5L normally aspirated Fusion offers its 175 lb.-ft. at 4,500 r.p.m.
Cold starts, however, are not the Mazda6's friend. After sitting in chilly March temperatures, the engine idles louder than most for the first few minutes before settling down.
Natural Resources Canada does not have official fuel-economy ratings for the 6, but Mazda claims it sips 8.1 litres per 100 kilometres in the city and 5.3 on the highway. Over the week, the trip computer displayed a real-world average of 9.4 L/100 km.
Historically, Mazda has made some of the best-handling passenger cars, and the 6 is no exception. Steering is direct and provides excellent feedback, while its MacPherson struts up front and multi-link setup out back make the 6 feel very planted and agile, although its limits are considerably lessened due to the tester's winter rubber.
It is against every bone, muscle and nerve in my body to lament Mazda for offering a manual transmission on the 6, especially on the GS and GT trim levels. Throws are short and the clutch pedal bites relatively early, but the shifter itself seems loose, almost imprecise, especially when shifting from neutral. It is not an awful gearbox, but Honda can sleep comfortably at night, assured that the Accord's six-speed manual remains best in class.
To call the Mazda6's interior class-leading is an understatement. Quite honestly, it is among the best interiors in the mid-sized sedan realm. The layout is functional, with the exception of the iDrive-esque knob on the centre console, which controls the entertainment system. Simply put, it is redundant. It is much easier to input an address into the GPS or change the radio station via the touchscreen sitting atop the dashboard. If the CX-5 can live without the knob, so can the 6.
Regardless, the interior is a very nice place to spend your time. Materials are borrowed from the top shelf, quite possibly the same place where Audi and BMW shop. The dashboard and door panels are soft to the touch and sport a swooping design, with curves flowing across the doors and into the dash.
If weight equates to quality, then the Mazda6 is a figurative heavyweight. The doors close with a hefty thump, and each button, switch and knob provides tactile feedback reminiscent of cars with a price tag upwards of $40,000.
While the seats are not as tight as a set of Recaros, they have absolutely superb support. As part of the luxury package, the seats are coated in leather. Along with the door inserts and armrest, they are accented with snazzy red stitching.
Curb appeal is another one of the Mazda6's strengths. It wears Mazda's Kodo design language, pulling off the five-point grille quite well while bearing a strong resemblance to the Shinari concept from a few years ago.
The sweeping curves and flares continue along the side, rounding off at the back with a pair of narrow tail lights connected by a matte silver trim piece.
If there is one nit to pick with the exterior, it's the wheels. At 17 inches, they are rather small, filling the wheel wells and fenders with more rubber side wall than alloy.
The compulsory alphabet soup of electronic nannies are standard throughout the lineup. The base Mazda6, the GX, comes with enough standard equipment that, if listed, could fulfil the word-count requirement of a university-level English literature essay. Goodies such as a push-button start, LED tail lights, rain-sensing wipers and Bluetooth are included in the $24,495 price tag.
Opt for the GS and that adds a moonroof, fog lights, a backup camera and even a blind-spot monitor. Tick the box for the luxury package and that adds power leather seats and GPS navigation for an extra $1,800 to its $28,395 sticker price.
Go for the GT and it takes care of the small wheels, upsizing them to 19 inches. But is it worth the $32,000 premium? It depends on whether or not goodies such as a Bose audio system, HID headlights, auto-dimming mirrors inside and out and a power passenger seat tickle your fancy. A lane-departure warning system and adaptive cruise control are optional on the GT. Of course, a six-speed automatic is a no-cost option, with paddle shifters included on the GS and GT.
With its refined interior and sweeping curves, nothing can quite match Mazda's new flagship. Those wanting more horses under the hood might look elsewhere, but for a four-cylinder with torque available early, it's easy to keep passing power on tap.
And while the six-speed manual could use a little more mechanical feedback, when you're doing a double take in a parking lot or look at it through the window of your home, few cars cry out, "Where the hell do you think you're going? Get back here and drive me!" as loudly as the Mazda6.
-- Postmedia News