When you road-test new cars for a living you start to notice that most automakers send journalists test models that are loaded to the gills with every available feature, gizmo, and gadget. It’s rare to find a brand confident enough in the quality of its product to let it stand up purely on the merit of how well it drives. Many cars try to win you over with things like value, grins per mile, and a bit of exterior style — which never hurts. Luckily, the 2014 Mazda6 has all these attributes in spades — and what’s under the hood ain’t so bad, either.
Exterior & Interior Design
Our test 2014 Mazda6 was the most basic iSport model, equipped with a six-speed manual transmission. It’s so basic, it isn’t available with any options except a six-speed automatic. You can also get a six-speed manual on the slightly more upmarket Touring version of the Mazda6, but there was something pure and simple about our entry-level iSport that suited the way this car drove, handled, and endeared itself to us over the course of a week.
We discovered that you really don’t need seats that blow cold air up your backside in order to enjoy a new car. We also didn’t miss the fact that there was no Bluetooth system, as we figured we could always buy an aftermarket headset — and honestly, did we want to talk to anyone while we were having so much fun driving? Not really, especially not when we were indulging ourselves in some alone time with the stereo at full volume, pumping our top secret Ke$ha playlist.
Whereas the exterior lines are handsome — bordering on sensual — the interior of the Mazda6 is more conservative but obviously purpose-built for the serious business of driving a car. All controls, the shifter, the pedals and the contouring of the seats show that a lot of thought went into engineering what appears to be a simple interior. Simply perfect, we would say.
As for the exterior, the 2014 Mazda6 should be held up as an example for the Hyundai stylists who confused the overuse of curves and slashes with style on the most recent version of the Sonata — to the point that the Sonata already looks dated after just a few years on sale. Oddly, in the looks department, only the Hyundai’s sister model, the Kia Optima, gives the Mazda6 a run for its sexy money.
Our test 2014 Mazda6 iSport model stickered for just $20,880, yet still came standard with features like 17-inch alloy wheels, halogen headlamps, durably upholstered cloth front sport seats, air conditioning, an AM/FM/CD six-speaker audio system with USB/i-pod integration and auxiliary input jack, push-button engine starting, power windows, locks and mirrors, a leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio and cruise controls, and even a set of floor mats. Off the top of our heads, we can’t think of a better bargain in the family sedan class that we’d rather own.
Our tester had a smooth six-speed manual transmission with a clutch that was so foolproof, we’re pretty sure even Lindsay Lohan could handle this car without stalling it or running anyone over. Adding a six-speed automatic pushes the price up over $22,000, which would have us considering the $23,445 iTouring model instead, which adds dual-zone climate control, a power driver’s seat, leatherette seating, Bluetooth, Pandora, 19-inch alloys, rear seat climate control vents, a blind spot warning system, and a 5.8 inch full-color touch screen dash display. Nothing you need, but some things that might be nice to have.
For $29,495 you can go for the Grand Touring model, which has leather seats, a rather slow TomTom navigation system, an 11-speaker Bose audio system, Bi-Xenon headlamps, a power moonroof, a power passenger seat, heated front seats, Sirius/XM, steering wheel mounted paddle shifters, and the same 184 horsepower, 2.5 liter four-cylinder engine you get with the base model. Why wouldn’t you rather have a V6-powered Accord or a turbocharged Kia Optima? Well, if fuel economy is the answer, take heart knowing the Mazda6 is EPA rated at 25 city/37 highway, and we averaged 32 miles per gallon over the course of a week.
First off, the 2014 Mazda6 does indeed crash well according to the IIHS (Insurance Institute for Highway Safety), as it was named a “Top Safety Pick”. Stuff like that is important to know for drivers like Ms. Lohan and any pedestrians or motorists who may suffer the grave misfortune of crossing her path.
Now onto the best part: the driver’s seat of the 2014 Mazda6, which as we said earlier feels purpose-built for the kind of driving that will leave you with smiles and giggles over miles and miles of roadway. The Mazda6 unquestionably has the most communicative and responsive steering system in its class, making this car a joy to pilot no matter where you are. The suspension is expertly calibrated to be not only supple when it needs to absorb bumps and potholes, but it also keeps this family sedan firmly buttoned down, even if you take your favorite tight corners at less-than-legal speeds.
In other words, the 2014 Mazda6 is always there to flatter you as a driver, be it the firm and progressive brake pedal feel or the smooth manner in which it reacts to steering inputs. At cruising speeds, wind and tire noise is muted nicely, as is any engine ruckus from the sewing-machine-smooth 2.5 liter, 184 horsepower four-cylinder — which may not be the most powerful motor out there, but it is one of the best compromises of power and efficiency.
Never will you be left wanting for passing power, as accelerative thrust is just a downshift away. Sometimes you don’t even need to do that, which is nice when you’re feeling like a lazy driver. Or like a ditzy Hollywood ex-child star turned walking train wreck who never learned how to drive a car properly.
When it comes to buying an affordable family sedan with a manual transmission, you really would be making the best choice by purchasing a 2014 Mazda6 in either the iSport or iTouring trims. A truly unbeatable value, the Mazda6 at the sub-$25,000 price point makes both the Hyundai Sonata and Kia Optima seem outrageously expensive. We remember when those brands were supposed to be the value leaders.
Frankly, the biggest competition that the 2014 Mazda6 faces is from the recently redesigned Honda Accord, which also boasts a fine manual transmission option with its lower priced four-cylinder trims like the highly appealing Sport line. Both the latest Nissan Altima and Toyota Camry four-cylinder options turn those vehicles into vacuous kitchen appliances, and their only hope for having any soul is the inclusion of V6 power under their hoods.
This only leaves the current VW Passat, which can’t compete in base five-cylinder form, but as a TDI turbodiesel makes for an interesting alternative. Our best advice would be to also test drive a VW Passat TDI, the Honda Accord and possibly the Kia Optima SX turbo if you crave more power. Or you could just plunk down your money at your local Mazda dealer. We promise we won’t protest that decision.