Motoring: Mazda6 marries style with function

It is the first fully Mazda developed model since it ceased being a partner of Ford.

All new from stem to stern

All new from stem to stern

More than its flagship model, the 2014 Mazda6 is a showcase for the brand’s new design language and green technology.

It is the first fully Mazda developed model since it ceased being a partner of Ford.

The new, elegant shape really makes the outgoing Mazda6 look dated.

Mazda has gone through some not so great styling phases not the least of which was the “Joker” grinning grille that you either hated or tolerated.

The new mid-size Mazda6 sedan gets its looks from the Shinari concept featured on these pages back in 2010 with the final shape evident in the Takeri concept that made the auto show rounds last year.

Dominated by a wide and deep grille, the body sweeps to the rear in one seamless stroke.

The Mazda6 features a long hood which adds to the sporty look but is also made necessary because the “bundle of snakes” exhaust system is long for maximum exhaust gas scavenging thus requiring a longer engine bay.

That exhaust system is part of Mazda’s proprietary Skyactiv green technology that makes the Mazda6 one of the more frugal offerings in the mid-size segment.

Mazda took the usual step toward greener operation by not opting for a hybrid or plug-in electric vehicle.

Basically it involves gasoline and diesel engines and adopting new technology such as pistons with hollowed tops for better gas ignition, 13:1 compression ratio, lighter internal parts, reduced friction and the Formula One four-into-two-into-one exhaust system.

New, lighter transmissions and “every gram counts” weight saving is applied to every part not matter how small.

The Skyactiv-G 2.5-litre gasoline direct injection quad-cam four-cylinder produces 184 hp and 185 lb/ft of torque driving the front wheels. There are no plans for an all-wheel-drive model at this time, but it does share a lot with the Skyactiv CX-5 compact CUV that features AWD as an option.

A six-speed manual is standard on the base time GX model with a six-speed automatic optional ($1,200). On the mid-trim GS and top trim GT the manual is standard but the automatic is a no-charge option.

Fuel consumption on the manual is 8.1/5.3L/100 km city/highway and 7.6/5.1L/100 km.

Later this year the Skyactiv-D four-cylinder diesel will debut with a 2.2-litre four-cylinder twin turbo engine with an estimated 310 lb/ft of torque and a range on one tank of probably 1,000 km plus.

Also coming on the Mazda6 will be its capacitor-based brake energy regeneration system called i-ELOOP.

Mazda claims i-ELOOP is the world’s first capacitor-based brake energy regeneration system to provide power to all the electrical mechanisms in a vehicle.

There are fuel numbers that Energuide Canada gives you and then there are the real world numbers and that was what I was after.

Thanks to Mazda, I was able to set out on my own on a 321 mile (not km) run from Austin up into west Texas hill country to the Hill Top Café north of Fredericksburg run by Guitar Johnny Nicholas, who happened to be in when I dropped by.

After an exchange of pleasantries it was back towards Austin.

There was city traffic in Fredericksburg but a bulk of the driving was on cruise just below the 70 mph limit.

That’s about 115 km/h and my average was (US) 30.3 mpg or (Cdn) 7.7L/100 km, which is very respectable considering the higher speeds.

Pricing starts with the GX at $24,495 followed by the GS at $28,395 and the GT at $32,195.

The GS has the optional Luxury Package that includes leather trimmed upholstery, eight-way power driver seat, power driver lumbar support, leather-like door trim and navigation system made by TomTom.

The Technology Package on the GT includes SiriusXM Satellite Radio, Smart City Brake Support, Forward Obstruction Warning, Mazda Radar Cruise Control, High Beam Control System and a Lane Departure Warning System.

The driving and safety technologies come under the heading of i-Activsense which is pretty rich stuff in what is basically a family sedan.

I’ve come across an increasing number of radar-based cruise control systems of late, which all measure the distance of the car ahead of you.

If they slow down, the system slows you down to maintain a safe distance.

If they stop, you stop; but there is a drawback.

On cruise at 68 mph and with the radar cruise active, I noticed that when I came up to slower moving vehicle ahead, the Mazda6 dually slowed. But when I went to pass, the Mazda6 would not accelerate but religiously matched the speed of a truck even though it was to the right, not directly in front.

I found that if I accelerate, it would respond but sluggishly.

The best method was to hit the “cancel” button on the steering wheel and then “resume” once I got by.

The navigation system gets two thumbs up from me.

It got me to and from the Hill Top Café with very accurate and timely directions.

But the best part was the lower left of the navigation display which depicted the speed limit. It was uncanny, leaving a town at 50 mph, the very second the speed limit went up to 70, it appeared on a red screen as a prompt and then settled in on a cream-coloured field until the next speed change.

The interior will be familiar to any Mazda owner with the seats firm, but not hard, and supportive especially in terms of thigh length.

The Mazda6 is the harbinger of more to come from Mazda.

With the CX-5 and Mazda6 diesels and a much-anticipated Miata sportscar replacement, the brand is now charting its own course.

The fact Alfa Romeo wants to join with Mazda to jointly build that next sportscar gives some idea of how it is viewed by the rest of the auto industry.

With its sporting looks it still retains that “Soul of a Sportscar” handling and ride, but this time with a touch of green.

Mazda6 2014

Body Style: Mid-size sedan

Drive Method: front-engine, front-wheel drive.

Engine: 2.5-litre DOHC inline four-cylinder (184 hp, 185 lb/ft torque

Fuel Economy: (Regular) six-speed manual 8.1/5.3L/100 km city/highway; six-speed automatic 7.6/5.1L/100 km.

Tow Rating: Not recommended

Cargo: 419 litres

Prices: GX, $24,495; GS, $28,395; GT, $32,195


Jim Robinson is a Black Press contributor.