In the world of mid-size sedans a few names dominate the landscape. Honda Accord. Toyota Camry. Nissan Altima. Ford Fusion. But quietly Mazda's Mazda6 has cultivated an enthusiastic following of sedan buyers who want a little more emotion from their ride. Yes, mid-size sedans are ultimately meant as practical transportation but do they have to be so boring? The Mazda6 proves that no, in fact they don't.
With the above in mind, we happily accepted Mazda's offer to drive a Mazda6 for one year. Well, technically we'll be driving three Mazda6s over than timespan. Divided into three, four-month stints we'll have the chance to drive a lightly-equipped Mazda6 I Touring trim with a manual transmission, a well-equipped Grand Touring trim with an automatic transmission and finally a Mazda6 equipped with the highly anticipated 2.2-liter SkyActiv-D four-cylinder diesel engine. All of this car swapping is a bit unusual for our long-term test program but in the end we should gain a clear understanding of the Mazda6 lineup, so consider us enthusiastic.
Sporty, yet practical
Car number one is the previously mentioned 2014 Mazda6 I Touring trim. Sitting above the base Sport trim but below the zootier Grand Touring trim the mid-level Touring trim comes decently equipped without being inaccessibly priced. For $25,010, including destination, our car includes niceties like a rear-view camera, dual-zone climate control, 19-inch alloy wheels, a USB input, Bluetooth and a 5.8-inch touchscreen controlled by the awesomely titled "Commander Switch". Toss in the $300 "Soul Red" paint option, a clean black interior and sculpted body lines and you have a car that's highly livable while looking properly sporty.
Under the hood sits the lone engine currently offered in the Mazda6, a 2.5-liter four-cylinder rated at 184-horsepower and 185 lb-ft of torque. To the endless joy of our staff's automotive traditionalists our first Mazda6 came equipped with a manual transmission. It's a good transmission too; easy to shift with a forgiving clutch. Call it a case of modern technological irony but the manual equipped car is also the least efficient Mazda6 you can buy. Among mid-size sedans our car's 25 city/37 hwy figures are admirable but in versions fitted with the optional 6-speed automatic those numbers each rise by one mpg. Spring for the Grand Touring trim's package, with its mystical i-ELOOP technology (which uses recaptured energy to power accessories), and the Mazda6 returns an impressive 40 mpg on the highway. So, while we're happy to spend the next four months shifting Mazda's mid-size sedan for ourselves we won't feel terrible when the automatic arrives.
Cross traffic alert pays off
Supplementing the Touring trim's standard safety roster of stability/traction control, hill start assist and 6 airbags are a pair of welcome additions, rear cross traffic alert and blind spot monitoring. We've already found them to be useful tools in our quest not to damage sheet metal or people during our loan. Recently as one of our editors was backing out of a Guitar Center parking lot the cross traffic alert system warned of a pedestrian walking through his blind spot. Brakes applied; no harm, no foul. Score another point for technology.
It's no secret that people who view cars as more than appliances tend to appreciate the engaging offerings served up by Mazda. The real question is whether a comparatively cool, fun to drive, mid-size sedan alternative can continue to dazzle after the honeymoon period wears off. I suppose we'll know the answer to that question 12 months and three cars from now.
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