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Joyride: 2014 Mazda Mazda6 Grand Touring

Mazda’s design department hit the Mazda6 out of the park. Thankfully, the engineers weren’t far behind making it one of the only family cars with a soul.

The Mazda6 debuted to rave reviews, and on the surface it is easy to see why. The sleek sedan combines the looks of a high-end sports sedan with range-topping efficiency. Thanks to liberal use of quality materials and Mazda’s sensational Kodo design language, the Mazda6 stands out in a lineup of humdrum family cars like a bolt from the heavens. The picture isn’t quite that simple, though. The Mazda6 may be miles ahead of the competition in many ways, but it also has some big flaws.

Powertrain

The Mazda6’s biggest problem – by a country mile – is its powertrain. Currently, the Mazda6 has precisely one engine option: a 2.5-liter 184 horsepower SKYACTIV four-cylinder, which features direct injection. If this were the entry-level engine, it would be just fine, especially thanks to a class leading 26/38 mpg split.

The Mazda6’s biggest problem – by a country mile – is its powertrain.

This number can actually jump up to 28/40 with the use of the i-ELOOP system. For those not aware with this glob of vowels, it’s an interesting bit of gadgetry that uses a super capacitor charged by regenerative braking to run the electric accessories, reducing engine demand. It’s kind of like a hybrid system that uses normally wasted energy to power not the car but rather its other bits.

Unfortunately, even with the wizardry, 184 horsepower is just barely enough for the Mazda6. 0 to 60 takes a below-average 7.7 seconds and there are parts of the power band where the engine is simply dead. For the average driver, this may not be a problem. For anyone who wants to enjoy the car, the SKYACTIV powertrain is a definite wet blanket.

Mazda has been promising to release a 2.2-liter turbo diesel. Sadly, it’s been delayed more times than Duke Nukem, so we can’t count on it arriving any time soon.

Dynamics

The underwhelming power is an added shame because the Mazda6 is one of the best handling family sedans on the market.

Once I managed to coax the Mazda6 up to speed, I really enjoyed throwing it through the bends. For such a large car, it handles nimbly. Thanks to fast steering, the car changes direction quickly. And while there is a fair amount of body roll, the car is hard to catch out.

Don’t get me wrong; this is still more of a family car than a sports sedan. The steering may be precise, but it also lacks feedback, and the brakes are only adequate. At least these sacrifices aren’t for nothing, as the Mazda has a very quiet and comfortable ride. When compared to the prescription sleep aids that other automakers pass off as family sedans, the Mazda is a real treat.

Upscale everywhere

Even with the sensational handling, what really separates the Mazda6 from the competition is its upmarket character. That starts with the looks. Most midsize sedans look as though they were designed by people who cut their teeth designing toaster ovens, and moreover still really want to design them.

Mazda has made clever use of metal trim and contrast color stitching to give the car a very upscale feel.

Not so the Mazda6. It makes liberal, even scandalous, use of the brand’s Kodo design language. Kodo can be roughly translated as heartbeat, and the long sweeping hood and curvaceous hips are enough to get the heart beating even when the car is standing still. Normally, this kind of design is reserved for high-end sports cars, rather than family haulers that start at a mere $21,190. This means that the Mazda, particularly in blue and red, stands out.

In the $31,000 Grand Touring edition, the interior is similarly upscale. The most obvious features are big, classy leather-trimmed seats. But the interior quality goes beyond the seating. Mazda has made clever use of metal trim and contrast color stitching to give the car a very upscale feel.

The sheer number of features the buyer gets for $31,000 reinforces this up-scale feel. There is a complete suite of active and passive safety features, ranging from back-up camera and blind-spot monitoring to the always pleasant radar-guided active cruise control.

2015 Mazda Mazda 6 center console

The only real downside is that the infotainment system is a bit outdated. Mazda’s latest offering, the Mazda3, comes with an all-new and very competitive system that we will be reviewing soon. In the Mazda6, however, the driver has to make do with a balky out-of-date setup. The worst part of this system is the TomTom navigation, which has a hard time finding the car’s location, constantly searches for signal, and has a really dreadful user interface.

The saving grace of the Mazda6’s infotainment is the clever little command wheel that complements the touchscreen. This handy control makes the system much easier to use, especially for drivers like me, with unreasonably long legs, that need to be miles away from the dash.

Conclusion

Even if the infotainment weren’t an unmitigated disaster, the Mazda6 would still be worth paying attention to. For the money, the Mazda delivers more character, luxury, and beauty than anything else in the midsize market. So for buyers who want to show some soul, it is an obvious choice.

That being said the Mazda6 isn’t perfect; both the powertrain and the infotainment are dying to be updated. These issues hold the car back from real greatness. Fortunately, though, both are fixable. Mazda already has a better infotainment system in the pipeline, and even if the diesel doesn’t pan out, it is hard to imagine that slapping a turbo on the SKYACTIV motor is beyond the company’s resources.

Until then, it is worth overlooking the Mazda6’s problems, because at least when driving it, the owner knows they have a soul.

Highs

  • Sleek sports sedan looks
  • Upscale interior
  • Value
  • Excellent handling for a family car

Lows

  • Outdated infotainment
  • Underwhelming powertrain