The 2014 Mazda6 — or about 98 percent of it: Motoramic Drives
About a month ago, I had dinner with a friend. I told her I was going to Paris to drive a car. That's not something you hear in every conversation, so she was interested.
"What kind of car?" she asked.
"A Mazda," I said.
She nearly spit out her beer.
"A MAZDA?" she said. "I figured if you were going to Paris, you'd be driving an Aston Martin, or at least a BMW or something. But a Mazda?"
I assured her that I would, in fact, be driving a Mazda, and that it would be fine. But her reaction speaks to Mazda's problem. It's an unglamorous brand struggling to survive in the second tier of car companies. Though 2012 looks a bit brighter, largely because of a successful rollout of its new CX-5 crossover, Mazda has spent several years operating in the red, trying to find a formula that will help it to overcome flat sales and the challenges from larger automakers.
Enter the new 2014 Mazda6, the company's refresh of a product that long ago lost any luster it may have once possessed. The Mazda6 falls into the mid-sized family sedan category, placing it in the industry equivalent of a soccer tournament's Group Of Death. Its direct competitors—the Honda Accord, the Toyota Camry, the Hyundai Sonata, the Nissan Altima, the Ford Fusion, and so on--aren't always the world's greatest cars, and certainly aren't the most glamorous, but many of them sell in vast numbers, have incredible name recognition, and run forever without breaking down. They all possess weaknesses, but this mix of established names and strong up-and-comers make it a steep task for Mazda to establish any kind of leadership in the category.
Let's examine the evidence. The Mazda6 was designed using something known as "KODO-Soul Of Motion," which sounds like the title of an early '90s direct-to-video action flick, but it actually seems to work as a design philosophy. The result is something reasonably slim and aerodynamic-looking, with a strong stance, clear lines, and an overall appearance that's sportier than average for the category. That may have had to do with the fact that Mazda presented it to us in the brightly lit courtyard of a 14th century French chateau, an environment that could make Chris Christie in a prom dress look good.
The inside is equally unfussy, with comfortable leather seats that have great lumbar support, a reasonably roomy rear cabin, and a gimmick-free, mostly analog instrument panel that may owe its existence to Mazda's money troubles rather than some kind of desire to create a throwback to counter the current techno-spread that plagues contemporary vehicles. That said, Mazda hasn't skimped on the safety tech. The car has all kinds of advanced systems — lane departure warnings, automatic braking, even rain sensors — and they were all fully operational and working well. It also had a really nice Bose sound system.
I drove the Mazda6 in, or at least near, Paris, spending six largely flat hours across dull suburban secondary highways, over semi-narrow farm roads, and through featureless suburban towns. That's probably the test that the Mazda6, and most family sedans, deserve. You wouldn't want to tackle Mont Blanc in this thing.