Diving headlong into the deep end, where no carmaker in its right mind would consider going, Mazda unveiled the all-new 2014 Mazda6 mid-size sedan at the L.A. auto show. That end of the pool is infested with mid-size sharks like the Toyota Camry, Honda Accord and Hyundai Sonata, plus up-and-comers like the Kia Optima and new Ford Fusion. The midsize sedan segment is where the money is, and it's where the biggest bunch of buyers is paying attention.
To call attention to itself in this 4-door warzone, Mazda will continue to play the sport-sedan card with the Mazda6, while adding -- as we learned at Mazda's L.A. show press conference -- the diesel card.
Looking like fun on an auto show stand is no problem, but since we've seen the Mazda6 out on the road, we can assure you that its spit-curl front fender shaping and sinister face give it an amiable public persona. The Mazda6 interior is sporty in that it is enveloping rather than cavernous. The final equipment list has yet to be determined, but Mazda promises a high-tech interior environment offering lots of almost-cutting-edge connectivity -- i.e. Pandora and audio texting -- and in-dash Tom-Tom navigation.
The U.S. version of the new Mazda6 is deliciously close to the talented European-spec model we drove through France in October, where we found it to be a bright new competitor in the midsize sporty-sedan arena. We've not yet driven the diesel, but our faith in the intelligence behind Mazda's Skyactiv initiative give us hope that VW may have to share some of the clean diesel props being heaped upon it.
For the first six months of 2013, the Mazda6 will be offered with a 2.5-liter 4-cylinder Skyactiv gasoline-powered engine -- notable for high-compression, liquid-smooth performance (184 horsepower) and significant fuel-economy benefits (as yet unstated, but Mazda's shooting for #1 in class). During the second half of the year, a 2.2-liter Skyactiv-D diesel 4-cylinder will join the gasoline engine, offering get-outta-my-way diesel torque and braggable miles per gallon. Two 6-speed transmission choices -- one manual, one automatic, both Skyactiv-enhanced for resistance-free shifting -- are available.
Further stacking the Mazda6's deck in favor of fuel savings -- a 5-percent improvement according to the proud Mazda folks -- is an energy storage and discharge technology called "i-ELOOP." The i-ELOOP system retrieves and stores energy created when you hit the brakes and uses it to help power the Mazda6's electrical systems, like the radio and air conditioning. The 2014 Mazda6 is the first application of i-ELOOP.
Another interesting techno-first for Mazda (this time with a slightly more triumphant moniker) is the available "Smart City Brake Support" which uses a laser sensor at the front of the car to detect when a low-speed collision with an object -- be it a car, a post, or a pedestrian -- is about to occur. When the system senses that a collision is possible, it preps the brakes for engagement. If it predicts that the collision is inevitable, it engages the Mazda6's automatic braking function.
Even though the launch of the 2014 Mazda6 is just over a month away, Mazda still isn't saying what it'll cost. We'd like to take that as a sign that Mazda has one more marketing trick up its sleeve: value.