San Francisco, October 21, 2014 — The car market is very competitive and extremely emulous, the Koreans upped the ante with the new Hyundai Sonata & the Kia Optima, followed by the Japanese with new models such as the Honda Accord and Nissan Altima. Not long thereafter, Ford released its just-minted Ford Fusion, Lincoln with its MKZ and Chevy with the new and amazing Malibu. Now, Mazda introduces to the world its new and extremely improved Mazda 6.
So what did this car company from Hiroshima do to shake things up? The same company that likes to shake up the status quo, bringing everything from the MX-5 Miata roadster to the Wankel rotary-powered RX-7. How would they be able to prove to the world that they had yet another winner? Especially when the majority of its competitors had turned to fancy turbocharged engines and elaborate hybrids to increase their products’ fuel economy?
Mazda’s answer is not a radically new type of engine, but it did create the “SkyActiv” system. Flashy name aside, Mazda’s Skyactiv powertrains and chassis rely on both conventional and new technologies. Skyactiv uses average-sized, naturally aspirated four-cylinder engines at its heart, without a battery, turbocharger, supercharger or electric motor in sight. Can this new combination of an old-school engine and new-school tech approach offer the power and fuel economy of its competitors? First, let’s talk about Skyactiv and what in the heck it is all about.
Skyactiv sounds like a piece of equipment from a George Lucas Star Wars movie, yet it is nothing more than a comprehensive suite of changes that is hard to explain in one word, which might explain why Mazda felt the need to invent a new word to brand it.
They first increased the car’s rigidity and lowered the weight compared to previous models by increasing use of high-tensile steel, revising the manufacturing processes and a redesigned suspension system. Secondly, they worked extensively on their Skyactiv-MT (six-speed manual) and Skyactiv-Drive (automatic) transmissions so that shifting and gear processing would reach their optimum performance.
Topping it all off is the 2.5-liter Skyactiv-G four-cylinder engine. To make the most of its small size, Mazda gave it a high 13:1 compression ratio and variable dual sequential valve timing. The engine itself also weighs less and has less internal friction than previous generations. The result of all of these complex changes and engineering designs is 184 horsepower and 185 pound/feet of torque, a superb match for this new midsize sedan that screams awesomeness. Unfortunately, this engine is currently the only choice, in a market where its competitors offer more powerful turbocharged (Ford, Hyundai, Kia) or V6 (Honda, Nissan, Toyota, Volkswagen) upgrades.
Another Star Wars term or word linked to this new sedan is Mazda’s i-ELOOP. This technology is the regenerative braking which collects energy to a capacitor that powers non-drivetrain related systems. But most importantly, the collected power doesn’t go back to work in the car’s electrical system, it’s used to directly power non-drivetrain related systems, like the stereo, headlights and so forth.
That means the car’s engine does not have to work that little bit extra to power the electronic gizmos. According to Mazda, i-ELOOP delivers a 5% boost to fuel economy. And while that doesn’t seem like a lot, when it comes to efficiency, every bit helps. This system, combined with SkyActiv, results in a 28/40-mpg average during city and highway driving.
What this car lacks in pure forward thrust, it makes up for in agility and handling, for this rather large sedan measuring 191.5 inches from nose to tail (about 2” longer than the new Toyota Camry and almost the same in length as the new Honda Accord), it is surprisingly light on its toes and gives a new meaning to the words zoom-zoom handling. All thanks to Mazda’s suspension engineers’ ability to dial in a ride that is both flexible and responsive and its lightweight construction. At 3,232 lbs., this new sedan is not extremely light, yet it carries its build well and agilely.
A fully independent suspension, consisting of MacPherson struts up front and a multilink independent setup out back help to keep the sedan planted while also soaking up all but the most unreasonable of bumps. Those 225-width all-season tires wrapped around in 19-inch alloy wheels surely does make this sedan fun to drive, fun to handle and for sure keeps up with the sporty image the folks from Hiroshima are trying to project.
When it comes to the protection segment of this new sedan, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration gives the 2014 Mazda 6 a 5-star overall safety score, while the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) bestows its highest score of Good in all crash tests, with the exception of the small overlap front test, which earned the Mazda 6 an Acceptable rating. IIHS also lists the Mazda6 as a Top Safety Pick.
The Mazda6 comes standard with stability control, traction control and eight airbags. All models except the manual-equipped Sport include a rearview camera and Bluetooth. The Mazda6’s Bluetooth technology displays text messages on the sedan’s center screen and even reads them aloud so drivers won’t be distracted by their cell phones.
The midsize sedan segment is a very difficult one to conquer and master. The competition is fierce, and customers have wildly different needs, uses, likes and dislikes, but in the pricing department, Mazda has covered all of its bases.
The base Mazda 6 has a starting price of approximately $20,995, which is a price point under most competitors and a step over them with the Grand Touring at $29,695. Our test vehicle had an MSRP of a shade over $31,500, which at that price point, you’d be hard pressed to find a sedan within this segment that will give you so much pleasure, “zoom-zoom” fun and be as fuel efficient as this new Mazda 6.