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2014 Mazda Mazda6 Pros and Cons: Why (Not) This Car?

Mazda6 Sport front angle high
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Introduction

It's easy to option a midsize sedan over, even well over, $30,000. But what can you get for, say, $21,785? Earlier I reviewed the top-level 2014 Mazda6 Grand Touring. How much do you give up with the base car?

One big thing, for better or worse: the automatic transmission. Midsize sedans are increasingly difficult to find with a manual transmission. Is one desirable in a 191.7-inch-long car, even a relatively sporty one?

I've only driven one other three-pedal midsize sedan recently. So once again I'll be comparing the Mazda6 with the Ford Fusion. But quite a few members have asked how the Mazda6 compares to the Honda Accord Sport, so I'll touch on that as well.

Mazda6 Reviews: Mazda6 Sport front angle high

Boldest appearance from this angle. more Mazda6 photos

Mazda6 Reviews: Mazda6 Sport interior

More business-like than others. But easily worthy of a $22,000 price.

Tested: 2014 Mazda Mazda6

4dr Sedan 184-horsepower 2.5L I4 6-speed manual FWD

Compared: 2013 Ford Fusion

4dr Sedan turbocharged 178hp 1.6L I4 6-speed manual FWD

Why the 2014 Mazda Mazda6?

  Compared to the Fusion
Exterior styling
Exterior styling: About the same Better Worse

In my earlier review, I judged the redesigned-for-2014 Mazda6 "a timelessly gorgeous car." From that review:

The latest rendition of Mazda's corporate grille is large but not disproportionate or brash. Like those on the 2009-2013 car, the front fenders on the 2014 Mazda6 break from the body to form arches. But these arches are better integrated with the rest of the design (note how they mirror the roofline). From the front quarter, there's more than a hint of Maserati. An extra inch or so between the front wheel and the A-pillar touchdown point and a trim front overhang (possibly enabled by the lack of a V6 engine option) yield the sportier, more conventionally attractive proportions of a rear-wheel-drive car.

Beyond this front clip the new Mazda6 doesn't push the styling envelope as far as the Ford Fusion does. Bodysides sleeker in profile, fuller in cross-section, and topped by a slightly less sweeping, inch-lower roofline avoid appearing slablike. The Mazda6's lean lines continue into hind quarters much less massive than the Ford's.

In Touring and Grand Touring form, the 2014 Mazda6 rides on 19-inch wheels. The Sport's 17s aren't as sexy. But as base wheels go they suit the Mazda6 better than most, and don't broadcast to the world that you bought the cheap one. In short, the car looks better with the 19s, but the 17s aren't the deal-killer the base wheels can be on other Mazdas.

The Honda Accord is much less eye-catching than either the Mazda or the Ford.


Driving position & visibility
Driving position & visibility: Much better Better Worse

Everything I praised about the Mazda6 Grand Touring's driving position and visibility also applies to the Sport:

Viewing the Mazda6 and Ford Fusion side-by-side, the shape and size of their windshields and side windows don't appear to differ much. But, as with the exterior styling, it's amazing how much difference an inch here and an inch there can make. Drop down into the Mazda's driver seat, and the view forward is far different than in the Ford. You seem to sit dramatically higher relative to a much more compact instrument panel, but without seeming to sit high (as in other midsize sedans with good forward visibility, such as the Honda Accord). This combination promotes a more intimate, more confidence-inspiring connection with the car, the road, and the outside world. Inside the car, knobs and buttons are close at hand, simple, and very easy to understand and operate.


Mazda6 Reviews: Mazda6 Sport rear quarter view

I can't decide--elegantly understated, or a bit plain? Area around the rear wheel lacks something.

Mazda6 Reviews: Mazda6 Sport instrument panel

Simple, easy-to-operate controls and clear instruments. Excellent driving position.

Handling
Handling: About the same Better Worse

Earlier I wondered whether I might come to better appreciate the new Mazda6's handling with more time in the seat. Well, after a week with the car my impression's were much the same as earlier:

Compared to the Fusion, the Mazda6 feels much lighter and smaller. This is partly because it is a couple hundred pounds lighter [with manual transmissions, 3,183 vs. 3,333 lbs.], but also because of the aforementioned driving position and lower effort, less deliberate steering. The Ford wins back points with more communicative (if still far from chatty) steering and more aggressively damped suspension tuning (at the expense of some low-speed ride quality; the Mazda's ride is more pliant, if also a little busier). Push both cars hard, and the Mazda rolls more and loses its composure sooner. In less aggressive driving, though, the Mazda feels more responsive and involving, and so more fun.

But is it fun enough to matter? The Mazda6 feels agile and involving compared to competitors, but this is a low bar to clear. Compared to a well-tuned compact like the Mazda3 or Ford Focus, it feels like...a 191.5-inch-long family sedan.

This time around, the Mazda6 was followed by a Dodge Dart GT. The Dart is very heavy for a compact--heavier, in fact, than the much larger Mazda6--yet due to its lesser length and the tuning of its steering feels considerably more agile than the Mazda. The Honda Accord Sport doesn't feel as sporty as the Mazda or the Ford, thanks to a higher seating position and numb steering.

Compared to a Mazda6 Grand Touring, tires are the only notable difference when dicussing handling. The Mazda6 Sport's treads, though higher in profile and with a lower speed rating than those on the Touring and Grand Touring (225/55VR17 vs. 225/45WR19), are about as grippy. Ride and handling are impacted less than aeshetics.


Fuel economy
Fuel economy: Better Better Worse

This year every Mazda6 has a 184-horsepower 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine under its hood. The 2013's less powerful (170hp) 2.5-liter four managed only 21 mpg city, 30 highway. The 2014 does far better: 26/38 with the automatic transmission and 25/37 with the manual.

When fitted with a 178-horsepower 1.6-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine and manual transmission, the Ford Fusion earns identical EPA ratings. An Accord with a 189-horsepower 2.4-liter and manual transmission checks in lower, 24/34.

In real world driving, the trip computer reported averages in the 30s--and as high as 38--in casual suburban driving and about 36 on a 70-mph highway. With such impressive numbers, I'm tempted to place fuel economy higher in the reasons to buy a Mazda6.


Powertrain performance
Powertrain performance: Much better Better Worse

The Mazda6's 184-horsepower naturally-aspirated four-cylinder engine can't go toe-to-toe with competitors' boosted fours and V6s. But compared to their base, efficiency-oriented engines, Mazda's new SKYACTIV 2.5 feels energetic and voices a satisfying snarl when revved. Acceleration roughly splits the difference between the quicker Honda and the slower Ford.

But don't expect a Mazda6 with the manual to be quicker than one with the automatic. In magazine tests the automatic gets to 60 mph significantly sooner, low 7s vs high 7s, partly because second gear tops out at 57 rather than 62.

The six-speed manual transmission pairs well with this engine. Shift throws, while smooth, feel direct and mechanical, like a well-oiled rifle bolt. Though you'll experience a similar feel in the best sports cars, it's rare in front-wheel-drive sedans.

The Fusion's shifter feels at least as smooth as the Mazda's, but delivers little in the way of sensation, positive or negative. I haven't been able to drive an Accord with a manual transmission. The best Honda manual transmissions are a match for the Mazda's, not quite as mechanical in character but even tighter and more precise.

Does even an excellent manual transmission fit the character of any of these cars?

Given the Accord's feel-free steering and uninvolving character, a manual transmission likely suits it least. The match with the Fusion is iffy for different reasons: the 178-horsepower engine it's offered with is merely adequate when pitted against the Ford's curb weight. With its light weight and lesser focus on noise suppression and refinement, the Mazda pairs best with a manual shifter. But even here the overall driving experience falls short of involving. The manual transmission does not seem at all out of place, and I enjoyed driving the car, but I didn't look forward to driving it. Perhaps with more power...


Why Not the 2014 Mazda Mazda6?

  Compared to the Fusion
Feature availability
Feature availability: Worse Better Worse

Want leather, a sunroof, or nav? Well, if you also want a manual transmission, then you have only one choice among affordable midsize sedans: the Ford Fusion. With the Mazda6 these features are only available with the automatic transmission.


Rear seat room & comfort
Rear seat room & comfort: Worse Better Worse

This one, again borrowed from the earlier review, won't be an issue with most potential buyers:

The Mazda6's svelte, athletically proportioned body comes at a typical price: rear seat room, as in the Ford Fusion, is merely adequate. Sitting behind my 5-9 self, my knees and head have only an inch or two of clearance, my shins none. Among major competitors, only the Chevrolet Malibu has a tighter rear seat. To carve out even this much room beneath the plunging rear roofline the new Mazda6's rear seat cushion is slightly undersized and positioned too low. That in the Fusion is more supportive. A deal killer? Unless space for large adults is a priority, no.

If, on the other hand, space for large adults is a priority, then the Honda Accord and VW Passat are better bets. Even for small passengers, the Mazda6 Sport's rear seat has a key shortcoming. Unlike in the Touring and Grand Touring, there's no rear air vent to help cool the aft cabin in the summer.


Mazda6 Reviews: Mazda6 Sport front view

Big grille, but not too big. Chrome highlight subtly adds visual interest.

Mazda6 Reviews: Mazda6 Sport rear seat

Viable rear seat, but others are roomier and more comfortable.

Materials & workmanship
Materials & workmanship: Worse Better Worse

Though the Mazda6's doors sound a touch tinny when pulled close, little if anything looks or feels downright cheap. But the Fusion leads the pack with interior materials, body structures, sound deadening, and suspension tuning that deliver a decidedly premium look and feel. The Accord falls between the two.

Beyond the middling quality of its materials, the Mazda6's interior (in sharp contrast to its exterior) isn't dressed to impress. Minimalists might discover nirvana in the Mazda6's basic white on black instruments, small and simple information displays, and thoroughly conventional controls. But the general public could be underwhelmed.

These materials seem less of a potential shortcoming in the Sport than in the Grand Touring. Make that much less. While one might wonder if the Grand Touring's interior seems worthy of $30,000, the Sport's interior comes across as "very nice for $22,000."

The Mazda6 Sport's seats are upholstered in solid off-black cloth rather than the Touring's leatherette or the Grand Touring's cream or red-stitched black leather. It's a rugged cloth that comes across as sporty rather than as cheap. Also, this cloth enhances the lateral support of the front seats. So no big loss hear unless you must have hides.


Quietness
Quietness: Worse Better Worse

Mazda didn't attempt the hushed interior of a luxury sedan, and the 2014 Mazda6 doesn't include one. Around town noise levels remain far from loud. But at highway speeds the interior grows borderline noisy, especially on concrete.

The Accord is quieter inside, and the Fusion is quieter still. The Ford also weighs a couple hundred pounds more. These things are connected.


Other features of the 2014 Mazda Mazda6

  Compared to the Fusion
Price or payments
Price or payments: Better Better Worse

Unlike with the Grand Touring, with the Mazda6 Sport price is arguably among the reasons to buy. The least expensive Ford Fusion with a manual transmission costs $3,660 more, $25,445 vs. $21,785. Adjusting for the Fusions additional features narrows the gap, but only to a still sizable $2,100.

The Honda Accord in LX trim lists for $960 more than the Mazda6 Sport. Adjust for feature differences, and the gap narrows to just a few hundred dollars. But the Accord LX doesn't even pretend to deliver the sporty look and feel of the Mazda. For that you must step up to the Accord Sport, which lists for $2,720 more before adjusting for feature differences, and about $1,250 more afterwards.

As these price adjustments suggest, in Sport trim the Mazda6 isn't as well equipped as the other cars. Notably, it lacks a Bluetooth wireless phone and audio connection, which many people now consider a must-have. To get Bluetooth with the manual transmission, you must step up to the Touring. Same for a power driver seat, rear view camera, or the rear air vents mentioned earlier. The Mazda6 Touring's $24,440 list price is nearly identical to the Accord Sport's. The two are very closely matched in features as well. The Fusion SE remains about $1,000 more, but it also looks and feels like at least $1,000 more car.

In short, while the Mazda6 Sport undercuts the others, if you require the Touring's additional features this price advantage goes away.


Conclusion

Back in 2003 I considered buying a Mazda6 with a manual transmission...and ended up with the smaller Protege5. Partly because of its size, the Mazda6 wasn't as fun to drive as I'd hoped. The 2014 is considered larger than that 2003, so I suppose it should come as no surprise that it is also less involving than the best compacts (including the Mazda3).

But if we're limiting our scope to affordable midsize sedans with 175-200 horsepower, then the Mazda6 is the most entertaining of the bunch, especially when fitted with the excellent manual transmission. Opting for the manual transmission also keeps the price under $22,000, well below an Accord Sport or Ford Fusion SE. The Mazda6 seems an excellent value at this price.

If you strongly prefer the Mazda6's appearance with larger wheels, or require a power seat or Bluetooth, then the $24,420 Touring isn't a huge jump. But for this price you can also get a similarly equipped Accord, and can almost get a Fusion. The Mazda6 could still be the one to get, but the decision is less clear cut.

Mazda6 Reviews: Mazda6 Sport engine

Decent power, sounds good when revved.

Mazda6 Reviews: Mazda6 Sport trunk

Competitive trunk space.

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2014 Mazda Mazda6 pros and cons, according to Michael Karesh: the best reasons for buying (or not buying) the 2014 Mazda Mazda6. Join TrueDelta to post your own impressions.
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