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2014 MAZDA6: No more the bridesmaid

Mazda6 GS leapfrogs favourites in family-sedan market

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The 2014 Mazda 6's styling captures what Mazda calls its "Soul of Motion" design language.

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The 2014 Mazda6 was named the Canadian Car of the Year by the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada last week in Toronto.

In the past, the Mazda6 has played the bridesmaid to the likes of the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry. It was traditionally smaller and, in spite of its Zoom-Zoom qualities, it never quite managed to live up to expectations.

The reworked 2014 Mazda6 and its Skyactiv technology now has to rank as one of the top contenders, especially for those who want more than just a family conveyance.

Where the previous Mazda6's cabin was, to be polite, cosy, the new car is considerably roomier. Up front there's plenty of head, leg and elbow room, along with comfortable seating. Slide rearward and there is plenty of legroom (credit goes to the 60-millimetre stretch in the wheelbase) and enough width to support three adults with better-than-expected comfort.

Likewise, the trunk, at 14.8 cubic feet, is capable of holding a family of five's luggage with ease. In other words, it has the size, especially in the rear seat, needed to compete.

Likewise, the cockpit is very nicely attired and logically laid out. In the test car, it included all of the usual power toys: a power moonroof, rear-view camera and rain-sensing wipers.

It also had the $1,800 Luxury package, which includes an eight-way power driver's seat and leather upholstery, along with a navigation system. The latter proved to be one of the 6's few disappointments. The TomTom-based system was sometimes confused and not as easy to use as the rest of the car. I would avoid it and buy an aftermarket system that's not quite as cantankerous.

At this point, the Mazda6 is powered by Mazda's 2.5-litre Skyactiv-G four-cylinder engine. It puts out 184 horsepower and 185 pound-feet of torque, which is enough to return a surprising turn of speed given the size of the Mazda6.

In the tester's case, this engine was teamed with a six-speed manual gearbox. It features a light clutch and a precise gate. The combination was such it proved to be easy to negotiate the gate with the speed required when hard acceleration was demanded.

Its performance was a welcome departure from the family-sedan norm. I did wonder how many other do-it-yourself shifters might be potential customers, but I could easily live with the powertrain combination.

The manual also delivered respectable numbers. The Mazda6 ran to 100 kilometres an hour in 7.9 seconds and it completed the 80-to-120 km/h passing move in 5.8 seconds. And it managed this while returning a test average of 8.2 litres per 100 kilometres, which was better than I expected.

The Mazda6's intriguing engine alternative promises to be the 2.2L four-cylinder turbodiesel. It twists out 175 hp, which is rewarding in its own right. However, it excels in the torque department -- 310 lb-ft across a very broad range. It also promises to return even better fuel economy. Talk about having your cake and eating it, too.

In spite of being eight-per-cent lighter, the Mazda6's platform is 30-per-cent stiffer, which means a better base for the suspension. True to its sportier intentions, the Mazda6 is firmly sprung, but that's not to say it's harsh -- the setup reminded me of a finely honed European sedan.

Factor in the larger footprint and there is noticeably less pitch and roll than the previous car. In the family-sedan segment, it certainly has the sportiest feel when pushed toward the limits of adhesion. Through my favourite set of esses, the body roll remained flat and the feel afforded by the steering was both light and precise.

The GS's P225/55R17 tires also did a good job of taming unwanted understeer -- it does begin to push, but it does so at just about the same time as the stability control system begins to enter the picture. Given the weight bias over the front wheels, the Mazda6 proved to be remarkably neutral to the feel. It also felt pleasingly light on its tires during moments of exuberance. If there were a wish, however, it would be to have the GT's larger P225/45R19 tires available on the more affordable GS model.

As for the highway ride, well, it surprised me. It proved to be comfortable despite the sporty suspenders and sharp dynamics. In fact, only large expansion joints filtered back into the cabin.

The Mazda6's combination of style and dynamics not only makes it one of the top contenders in the family-sedan segment, for me it has leapfrogged the perennial favourites.

I didn't expect to enjoy stirring the gears of a manual in what is a family sedan, albeit one with decidedly sporty road manners, but it proved to add a welcome extension -- driving fun. Sure, most will take the automatic box, but if you like to do the driving rather than be driven it's worth taking the manual for a spin.

-- Postmedia Network Inc. 2014

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