Apart from promising better mileage than the stick, the automatic transmission also makes the four-cylinder look good, providing low-speed smoothness and precise shifts at higher speeds. The automatic is responsive; it will kick down quickly if you mash the gas pedal.
More than the automatic, the manual transmission reveals the four-cylinder's lack of low-rpm power. Acceleration is modest from a standing start, even when letting the engine rev to its limit before shifting gears. The four-cylinder feels less stressed when snaking along winding roads at a steady clip.
The manual shifter itself is exceptional. Its precision is rare among midsize sedans, and the light clutch pedal is well-suited to the car.
Cabin Design & Roominess
The cabin's dominant design feature is the vertical-face dashboard. The control layout is simple, and it's easy to understand the controls within a matter of minutes, which is far from a certainty today with the introduction of "advanced" technologies like Ford's MyFord Touch interface. The Mazda6 has its share of available features, but they're self-contained.
Materials quality is mostly good. There are lots of soft-touch surfaces, and the cabin's metallic accents are a good imitation of real metal. The power window switches and the trim around them is of a lower grade than the rest of the cabin, but materials consistency is otherwise good.
Whether you choose the standard cloth or optional leather upholstery, the front bucket seats are comfortable and have just enough bolstering to keep you situated when rounding a fast corner — but not so much that you feel confined during less aggressive driving. In moonroof-equipped cars, there's little extra headroom when the driver's seat is raised.
The backseat ranks among the more spacious ones in the segment, with room to spare for taller passengers like me (I'm 6 feet 1 inch); the seat cushion is high enough to provide some welcome thigh support.
The car comes with a standard 60/40-split folding backrest with release levers in the trunk. When folded, the backrest is nearly flat with the trunk floor, and the lack of a ledge between the two sections provides an uninterrupted surface. The trunk measures 14.8 cubic feet.
Touring and Grand Touring trim levels bundle a range of features in option packages. For $2,000, Touring models can have a Technology Package that includes a Bose premium stereo, a navigation system, keyless entry, automatic headlights, rain-sensing windshield wipers, heated side mirrors and the Smart City Brake Support system. This infrared braking system works from about 2 to 18 mph and can prevent or reduce the severity of a low-speed rear-end crash.
For $900, Grand Touring models get radar-based adaptive cruise control and forward obstruction warning. Forward obstruction warning won't apply the brakes if it senses an impending collision like Smart City Brake Support does, but it will warn the driver with an alert.
Beginning in May 2013, Grand Touring trims will be available with the $2,080 Advanced Package, which adds to the adaptive cruise control and forward obstruction features a lane departure warning system, automatic high-beam headlights and Mazda's i-ELOOP regenerative braking system. This system captures energy that would otherwise be lost during deceleration and uses it to power electrical components.
As of publication, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration have not crash-tested the 2014 Mazda6, though its status as a mainstream family sedan means it will likely be tested at some point by the agencies.
Standard safety features include side-impact airbags for the front seats, side curtain airbags, antilock brakes and an electronic stability system . A blind spot warning system, rear cross-traffic alert and a backup camera are optional.
For a full list of safety features check out the Features & Specs page.
Mazda6 in the Market
In a market dominated by two nameplates — the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry — it's not easy for something new to break in. Hyundai and Kia have had some success with the Sonata and Optima, respectively, but the Mazda6 hasn't registered with family-sedan shoppers on the same scale.
Will this latest redesign change its fortunes? The final fuel-economy piece appears to be in place, but the car's debut couldn't come at a tougher time as a number of competitors have recently redesigned their family sedans, too. Regardless, the new Mazda6 is good enough to grow its presence in the segment and is worth a test drive.