Midsize Madness - Day Two

Patrick M Hoey

Mazda 6 vs. Nissan Altima

2014 Mazda 6 Grand Touring

The Mazda 6 has always struggled to find its niche in the midsize segment. From the first, it has played the game like a scrappy minor-leaguer - small and athletic. In its 2003 iteration, we loved it and named it an All-Star, yet people in the real world kept buying Toyota Camrys. Even when it stretched a handful of inches for 2009, the Mazda 6 still played the game like a sport sedan instead of a traditional midsize sedan, and we liked that. Of course, Americans kept right on buying Camrys.

The 2014 Mazda 6 is still relying on the same scrappy strategy, but now every aspect of its game has been thoughtfully improved and the result is a genuine major-league effort. What gives us hope that people will embrace it at last is its styling. "This car is gorgeous, nothing like the generic Japanese cars of the past," notes West Coast editor Michael Jordan. This car's proportions convey a rear-wheel-drive look while its sinuous curves suggest right-size elegance, which is quite a feat since the front-wheel-drive 2014 Mazda 6 measures slightly larger in all exterior dimensions than a Toyota Camry.

This revised platform for the 2014 Mazda 6 has been stretched a couple of inches, so there's plenty of room for passengers, although the interior feels a bit tighter than the Camry and the Honda Accord. "From the driver's seat, the cabin feels spacious and airy," says managing editor Amy Skogstrom. Still, the cabin doesn't live up to the exterior's standard of style, as good fit and finish is undercut by unadventurous design and use of color. The small touchscreen that serves as the interface for the navigation system and radio seems pleasantly unobtrusive to some and too small to use to others. But as always, Mazda has nailed the stuff that matters to drivers, which means legible gauges, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, deeply bolstered sport seats, and an honest-to-goodness handbrake.

The 2014 Mazda 6 doesn't drive like a four-door Miata, but it is fun to drive in that inimitable Mazda way. Its chassis is tautly controlled and nicely balanced, plus the electrically assisted steering is sharp, although it should offer a bit more feedback. The 184-hp, 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine is no powerhouse, but it responds well when you flog it and gets good fuel economy when you don't thanks to Mazda's smooth six-speed automatic transmission. The flip side of such driver engagement is that the sporty Mazda 6 isn't as plush to drive as the Accord or the Camry. "It's a little too lively, as if it's a Mazda 3 in disguise," says Jordan. There's also a bit more road noise than we'd like, especially in the back seat.

As a perennial challenger, the 2014 Mazda 6 can't afford to be exactly like an Accord or Camry for fear of being lost among the taller players on the court. Nevertheless, this latest iteration is sporty and stylish enough to stand apart from its more popular competitors while still meeting them head-on with important things like fuel economy and a package that's easy to drive. - David Zenlea

2014 Mazda 6 Grand Touring
$30,290/$31,490 (base/as tested)

16-valve DOHC I-4
Displacement: 2.5 liters (152 cu in)
Horsepower: 184 hp @ 5700 rpm
Torque: 185 lb-ft @ 3250 rpm
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
Drive: Front-wheel

Electrically assisted
Front suspension: Strut-type, coil springs
Rear suspension: Multilink, coil springs
Brakes F/R: Vented discs/discs, ABS
Tire size: 225/45R-19 92H
Tires: Bridgestone Blizzak LM60

L x W x H:
191.5 x 72.4 x 57.1 in
Wheelbase: 111.4 in
Track F/R: 62.8/62.4 in
Weight: 3232 lb
Headroom F/R: 37.4/37.1 in
Legroom F/R: 42.2/38.7 in
Passenger volume: 99.7 cu ft
Cargo volume: 14.8 cu ft
EPA mileage: 26/38/30 mpg city/highway/combined

2013 Nissan Altima 2.5 SV

The Nissan Altima broke out of anonymity in 2002 by offering more power, more personality, and - most important - more size. By becoming a big, brawny car, it elbowed its way underneath the basket with the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry. The Altima confirmed its enduring appeal last year when 302,934 examples were sold. This makes it the third-most-popular car in the immensely popular category behind the Camry and Accord.

The 2013 Nissan Altima has been comprehensively revised, yet it rides on the same basic platform that it has since 2007 and looks much like it has for the last ten years, only softer and more upscale. It aspires to real style but in a way that won't offend anyone. The same can't be said for the cabin, unfortunately. This affordable trim level of the Altima, with its beige cloth upholstery, looks like it's from the past. "The mouse-fur upholstery looks like something you'd find in a 1970s custom van," says copy editor Rusty Blackwell.

What the interior lacks in style, it makes up for with space. Front passengers enjoy scads of legroom, and the back seat feels more comfortable to us than the competition even though its measurements aren't much different. "I could spend a few hours back here and be happy," notes deputy editor Joe DeMatio. It helps that the seats both front and back are soft and wide enough to please the softest and widest Americans. Traditional, intuitive control knobs and buttons also please us.

Nissan once promoted this model as something of a sport sedan, but the rethought 2013 Altima comes into the game in a far less muscular state of tune. As they say, an athlete's legs are the first to go, and while the Altima's suspension feels fine on the freeway, its knees buckle at the mere suggestion of cornering forces. Flaccid electrically assisted steering also offers no hint of what the front wheels are doing. This big man doesn't show much instinct for speed, either. The 182-hp four-cylinder engine is paired with a continuously variable automatic transmission, and while the combination provides acceptable thrust, the engine discourages hard acceleration by moaning plaintively under full throttle. "If I were deaf, I might like this powertrain," says managing editor Amy Skogstrom.

All this isn't to say the 2013 Nissan Altima drives badly. When we behave ourselves, the 2013 Altima impresses us. "The Altima bounds down the road with a fluidity that many competitors do not possess," notes DeMatio. Even so, this is a long way from being a four-door sports car. "The Altima feels like a big car," adds West Coast editor Michael Jordan, "although in a good way."

The 2013 Nissan Altima plays the game like the established player it has become. It's spacious, comfortable, fuel-efficient and easy to drive. "It doesn't try to be anything other than a midsize sedan, which is actually refreshing," concludes road test editor Christopher Nelson. But for us, this also makes the Altima, in the words of another editor, "the least interesting car in our test." - David Zenlea

2013 Nissan Altima 2.5 SV
$24,880/$27,005 (base/as tested)

16-valve DOHC I-4
Displacement: 2.5 liters (152 cu in)
Horsepower: 182 hp @ 6000 rpm
Torque: 180 lb-ft @ 4000 rpm
Transmission: Continuously variable
Drive: Front-wheel

Electrohydraulically assisted
Front suspension: Strut-type, coil springs
Rear suspension: Multilink, coil springs
Brakes F/R: Vented discs/discs, ABS
Tire size: 215/55R-17 93V
Tires: Continental ContiProContact

L x W x H:
191.5 x 72.0 x 57.9 in
Wheelbase: 109.3 in
Track F/R: 62.4/62.4 in
Weight: 3121 lb
Headroom F/R: 39.1/37.1 in
Legroom F/R: 45.0/36.1 in
Passenger volume: 100.5 cu ft
Cargo volume: 15.4 cu ft
EPA mileage: 27/38/31 mpg city/highway/combined

Winner: 2014 Mazda 6 Grand Touring. The Mazda 6 moves into the final four.

4 of 4
Tony Costa
Mazda 6!
The Optima is way better than the Passat, you people are really crazy.My choices are Optima and Fusion.
Carlos Cueto
Accord is the best in its class
Michael Lagadia
Simone Branchi
mazda ;)
Van K
It's as if they are penalizing the Fusion and 6 for having the effrontery to have the tiniest smidgeon of soul or performance attitude. This sounds more like CR's typical salute to blandness than an enthusiast's view.
Tundra Dweller
The reviewers comments are hysterical!  Altima -  "The mouse-fur upholstery looks like something you'd find in a 1970s custom van," says copy editor Rusty Blackwell. Camry -  Deputy editor Joe DeMatio declares that the exterior look of the Camry is as "exciting as a grocery cart."

Peter Perreira
Nick Ardito
Japan all the way Mazda makes the best!
Manuel Diaz
Manuel Diaz
Marc Hamady
Fusion all the way
Marc Hamady
VW is better
VW Passat over Kia Optima?!?!?!?! common guys, VW looks like a rental and the interiors are awful, I like your magazine, but it seems like you compared the Kia Optima with Hyundai Sonata, and the VW with nothing.
Gregory Easton
Ford - great design.
With the way that middling review of the Fusion went, I did not think it would be the one to advance!
And it's good that they recognize the irony in their own review. Just about every review of the Fusion that I've read says "finally, a sporty mid sized sedan that you'd actually want to drive on the weekends!". Now they say that it's a fault... Ok...
I wonder if I leaf forward to the Mazda6, will they have the same criticism? I doubt it. I bet they laud the sporty ride and would be surprised if it doesn't win the whole damn comparo.
Willian Dagua
los 2 paeswe
Willian Dagua
chevere parse
Jeff Schimetz
Ford all the way.
Dammy Onafowokan
Kevin Celeste
Alienx Trm
(}) Mazda6
Adel Amid
Adel Amid
Marcelo Brenes Hernandez
Weisler Dutes
(zoom zoom)
Erick Ople
Can't wait to see how the new 1.8 liter TSi engine would ante up the game for the Passat!
Erick Ople
John Hand
Whay is the 6 on snow tires?
Brennan Shanks
the interior of that Mazda is at home in a 1992 Oldsmobile.
Why winter tires on the Mazda?
Bruce Ballard
Geoff Ekenstam
Martin Meyer
Geoff Ekenstam
Andrew Cavett
The Altima is built in the U.S. Keep the American economy going
Tim Lucas
These are VERY similarly styled!
Tim Lucas
The Fusion is the most beautiful car in the bunch
Rodney Miranne
The 6 in a walk.
Brian Michael
Nissan with a V6 option for the win.
Brian Michael
Daanesh Chanduwadia
The 6 was on Blizzaks?!
Alsson Mata
Mazda obviously!
Jim Bur
Mazda all the way
Billy Crowe
Mazda 6, I purchased one 4 weeks ago and my dad purchased on about 2 weeks ago. Great car, love the way it drives! Mazda 6 all the way!
Faulkner Mazda
Ryan Merkl
Gimme the sonata here and the Mazda 6 overall
Alienx Trm
Mazda6 in final four as expected
Geoff Ekenstam
Pretty amazing that the Camry and Accord just "happened" to be pulled out of the hat and compared to each other!  

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