---- — The new Mazda6 is the kind of car that could rattle some solid structures in the auto kingdom.
As a medium-sized sedan, the Mazda6 stands in the most populous sector of the car business — more people drive mid-size sedans than any other type of automobile. Therefore car companies stake a lot on the models they sell in that category, building franchises around such perennially popular vehicles as the Ford Fusion, Honda Accord and Toyota Camry.
But the re-modeled Mazda6 isn’t like other mid-size sedans. It boldly charts its own course, with a svelte and sinuous, muscular appearance, with assured and satisfying performance, useful technology and affordable pricing. Its go-it-alone route is so appealing that the Mazda6 could force larger car brands to notice and, hopefully, imitate some characteristics that Mazda builds into the new model.
As an encouraging first step toward that outcome, drivers are signaling approval.
Following a brief quiet spell right after the next-generation Mazda6 arrived at the start of this year, “the vehicle has just taken off,” said Anthony Scenna, general sales manager of Lannan Mazda in Lowell. “After about two or three months, it was like the floodgates opened up. Through July and August we were taking deposits on cars that were still on the ships coming from Japan.”
The Mazda6 is manufactured in Hiroshima, Japan, where the company’s global headquarters also is located. Mazda North American Operations, based in Irvine, Calif., has been selling cars in the U.S. since 1970.
I felt like I was driving something special each time I motored in the Mazda6 I evaluated last week. Approaching the car in my driveway or in a parking lot, I noticed its stand-out shape, its youthfully athletic attitude and its gleaming finish. Inside the cabin I felt well attended by a stylish, comfortable, and invitingly functional environment. In motion I was assured by the effortless precision and easy power that the car put beneath me. And I loved the fuel economy, averaging 35 miles per gallon through seven days of mostly around-town driving.
Even the over-the-top technology in the high-end version I test-drove seemed to go higher over the top. For example, at night I noticed that the adaptive headlights on the Mazda6 — which pivot slightly when you enter a turn to give you a better view around the corner — provided legitimate, noticeable and helpful around-the-bend illumination. Similarly, its automatic highbeams — which toggle off and on in response to approaching light — operated promptly, precisely and consistently. Some other automatic highbeams have simply annoyed me, because I didn’t trust their judgment. Some other adaptive headlights, even in high-ticket luxury cars, have made me squint and struggle to notice any bending at all.
Significantly, while the Mazda6 makes such advanced features useful and trustworthy, it is not a high-ticket, unapproachable car. The 6 is nicely priced at a list of $21,675 at the starting level, which comes with a six-speed manual transmission, and adds such niceties as large, 17-inch alloy wheels, power outside mirrors, steering-wheel-hub audio controls and cruise control, satellite radio on a six-speaker system, and a split, folding rear seat-back. A six speed automatic adds $1,615, and brings along such additional equipment as a backup camera, touch-screen control center, Bluetooth wireless link, and more sophistication in the audio system.
Sure, higher level versions with the more advanced features cost more. The model I drove last week topped out at close to $33,000, after a $2,080 option package that included radar cruise control (which worked impressively), and a system for capturing energy normally shed while braking, then using the energy to power accessories. The set-up boosted fuel economy by two miles per gallon, to 40 mpg on the highway.
My test model’s advanced equipment, on top of the solid engineering and the dapper and dashing appearance of the Mazda6, made me feel like I was driving a luxury sedan. So I wasn’t surprised to hear Scenna of Lannan Mazda report that many shoppers are placing the model in the upper class of cars.
“We’re selling more of the upper trim levels, with all the bells and whistles,” he said. “It’s bringing in people who are comparing it to a Lexus sedan and the BMW 3 Series.”
At the same time, the new 6 is attracting a strong contingent of drivers from other Japanese brands, notably Honda and Nissan, said Scenna.
“It’s bringing in a whole different person than what we were used to,” he said.
The prior Mazda6, now replaced by the re-made 2014 model, had been around long enough to blend in. Today’s version not only reverses that position, it catapults the sedan to prominence for its luxury-leaning style, zesty performance and generous accessories. It’s another winning model for Mazda, complimenting other recent successes.
In Lowell, Lannan Mazda has sold about 40 percent more cars so far this year than last. That’s a huge leap, and Scenna says it’s due to new models, particularly the 2014 Mazda6 and the CX-5 crossover wagon introduced as a new vehicle for 2013. Now arriving is the 2014 Mazda3, a compact five-door designed to make practical, efficient driving more expressive and exhilarating.
With so much going on at Mazda, other car companies have to be paying attention. Let’s hope they follow its example.
Vehicle type: 4-door, 5-passenger, front-wheel-drive mid-size sedan
Price range: $21,675 to $30,290 (plus options)
Warranty: 3 years/36,000 miles basic warranty; 5 years/60,000 miles powertrain warranty; 5 years/unlimited miles corrosion warranty
Engine: 2.5-liter I4
Power: 184 horsepower at 5,700 rpm; 185 lb.-ft. torque at 3,250 rpm
Base transmission: 6-speed manual
Fuel economy: 26 mpg city; 38 mpg highway (with auto. trans.)
Wheelbase: 111 inches
Length: 192 inches
Width: 72 inches
Height: 57 inches
Weight: 3,183 pounds
Fuel capacity: 16.4 gallons
Turning circle: 36.7 ft.