Mazda is on a big push to improve the efficiency of all its new vehicles by using a suite of technologies called SkyActiv. The company already dropped a new 40-mpg SkyActiv four-cylinder engine into the 2012 Mazda 3, launched the efficient 2013 CX-5 crossover, and now is following up with the 2014 Mazda 6 sedan. Like the CX-5, the new midsizer is designed from the ground up to follow the SkyActiv mantra of reduced weight and improved efficiency. The car made its official debut at the Moscow Motor Show in Russia, and will go on sale around the world later this year.
Mazda had dropped strong hints about the design of the new Mazda 6 with its previous Takeri concept, and much of that language has made its way to the production car. As the CX-5 did, the 2014 6 follows Mazda's new kodo design philosophy. The semi-circle front grille, angled headlights with chrome eyebrows, and angular lower fascia are all reminiscent of the CX-5. As on the Takeri concept, aggressive flares over the front wheels taper softly into the front doors. The headlights get Mazda's first-ever use of LEDs, for a halo ring illumination. While the front half of the 6 has plenty of styling drama, the rear is much more sedate. The roofline and rear glass slope gently into a stubby trunk with an integrated spoiler. Narrow taillights wrap onto each fender, and a silver chrome strip connects the lights above the license-plate indentation.
The sheetmetal is built on a new SkyActiv-Body principle that uses more high-stength steel than the old Mazda 6, allowing the car to be lighter yet 30-percent stiffer than its predecessor. Measuring 191.5 inches in length, the new sedan is about two inches shorter than the outgoing model, but Mazda says that better packaging and a slightly longer wheelbase improve interior room. Rear-seat legroom grows by 1.5 inches while knee room increases 1.7 inches. The trunk opening is 1.25 inches wider, and it uses a "swan" hinge that doesn't impede on cargo room.
The cabin itself is smart but understated. The instrument cluster has a three-binnacle design, with the right-most spot occupied by 3.5-inch LCD trip computer. The tidy center stack, large touch-screen radio, and clear three-dial climate controls are all familiar from the CX-5. The interior is composed mostly of dark plastics, but satin metal trim pieces help break it up and keep the design from being too dull. Based on our experiences with the CX-5, all cabin materials should be pleasant to touch and well put-together.
One of the biggest goals of 2014 new Mazda 6 is to offer drastically improved efficiency, so to that end the Russian-specification car is launching with two SkyActiv-G four-cylinder gasoline engines. Mazda will announce final details on American powertrain options later this year, but they should closely mirror the choices seen here. The 2.0-liter engine produces 148 hp and 155 lb-ft of torque, and can be mated either to a six-speed manual or six-speed automatic transmission. Mazda says this engine will return the equivalent of 39 to 40 mpg combined. The larger 2.5-liter engine makes 189 hp and 189 lb-ft, and is offered only with an automatic transmission. It's claimed to return a combined 37 mpg.
To further increase fuel economy, both engines can be fitted with i-stop, Mazda's stop-start system that can restart the engine in as little as 0.35 second after the car has been idling. The 2.5-liter engine also is offered with i-ELOOP, a system that recharges a capacitor when the car decelerates. The capacitor can power some accessories like the radio and climate control while the car is idling, reducing engine load from the alternator. Mazda says i-ELOOP can reduce fuel consumption by as much as 10 percent.
Other nods to efficiency include underbody trays and the aforementioned trunklid spoiler, which conspire to keep the aerodynamic drag coefficient down to just 0.26 Cd. A weight-loss regime compared to the old Mazda 6 also helps bolster fuel economy. The 2014 model is claimed to weigh as little as 2954 pounds, a drop of nearly 300 pounds compared to the 2012 car.
Despite the quest to save every drop of gasoline, Mazda claims it hasn't neglected the sporty driving characteristics that endear us to the company's vehicles. Mazda says its SkyActiv-Chassis design has agile suspension, direct steering, and strong brake feel that are meant to "give the driver the feeling of being in complete control." The electric power steering has been specifically tuned to keep the car stable at high speeds and reduce "pull" on uneven road surfaces. The brakes, steering, and accelerator are all said to have a linear, consistent feel. The Russian-spec car shown in Moscow has either 17- or 19-inch alloy wheels.
On top of that, the 6 receives an array of new active safety gadgets. Automatic high-beams and adaptive headlights help with night visibility. A new feature called Emergency Stop Signal makes the taillights flash rapidly when the driver brakes especially hard. Designed to attract attention from other drivers, the system is unlikely to be legal under America's strict lighting standards. A lane-departure warning system and Smart City Brake Support, which can apply the brakes to prevent collisions at speeds up to 19 mph, are more likely to be sold on the American-spec Mazda 6. Hill-start assist and a blind-spot warning system also are available.
Ready For Primetime?
The Mazda 6 has long struggled in America's highly competitive midsize sedan segment. The 2014 version faces an even tougher crowd, as it must face off against Ford's brand-new 2013 Fusion, Hyundai's Sonata, the ever-popular Toyota Camry, and the upcoming 2013 redesign of the Honda Accord. Mazda hopes its blend of daring design, improved fuel economy, and an engaging driving experience will make the 2014 6 sell in greater numbers than its predecessor ever did. While the first two of those aspects are sure to help Mazda fight the segment mainstays, it remains to be seen whether midsize buyers have any interest in driving enjoyment. The 2014 Mazda 6 goes on sale later this year.