First drive: 2014 Mazda6

If, like high fashion clothes, car sales were generated by looks alone, the stylish and sporty looking sedan would clean up. However, the saying that ‘beauty is only skin deep’ applies equally to cars as it does to humans. It’s what’s underneath that counts the most for most folks and yours truly got a peek at what counts during a daylong test drive in the peaceful countryside beyond the crowded environs of Paris.

But let’s take a lingering look at the Mazda6’s body first: It’s truly elegant and follows the new trend of adapting the coupe look for a sedan without reducing rear headroom. It has the fashionable bulbous front end adopted by others in the crowded market segment and the flowing lines that do give the visual impression of an animal about to leap forward.

Mazda say it is the “purest adaptation yet of KODO which was inspired by the movements of animals in the wild and symbolizes Mazda’s distinctive vitality and agility.” Ahem, well I’ll buy some of the animal allusions but my eyes roll when they talk about the driver being at one with the car. I know they are sincere, but when they ask Westerners to imagine the car being an extension of the driver, it sounds like esoteric tripe.

The beauty of the exterior doesn’t follow the driver inside, unless you opt for the two-tone treatment on the inside of the doors. The interior is an improvement on the outgoing version in that it is driver focused and very functional but it seemed plain to me. That said, the seats are comfortable and supportive and rear passengers have good leg and headroom and those features do matter.

I’ll reserve comment on some of the features because frankly we don’t know exactly what we will get when the 6 arrives here in late January. The cars we tested were not full production models, which is why I will forgive some of the excessive wind noise experienced in the two cars driven. And they were made to European specifications so there will be differences.

First up was a 2.2-litre SKYACTIV-D common-rail diesel powered version, matched to a six-speed auto transmission. (I’m saying nothing about the daft SKYACTIV name). Nobody will say if we will get the diesel but we should and it would give Mazda an edge over its rivals.

It had more power than I expected and I would urge anybody interested in a six to take a diesel for a spin.

If they come here, of course. (Smiley Face)

We will get the new 2.5-litre SKYACTIV-G direct injection gas engine. It was positively perky on the back lanes and freeway. Top speed is a few clicks above 220 km/h and the zero to 100 km/h acceleration is a smidgen under eight seconds.

An experience common to driving both versions is the handling. The entrance to and exit from some of the longer corners along the way were indeed smooth with any lean even at higher speeds barely perceptible.

If I told you that the diesel sips fuel at the rate of 4.8 L/100km (combined city/highway use) and correspondingly the gas engine uses 6.3 L/100km, I’m sure you would be impressed. However, use those numbers as a guide. The way fuel consumption is measured in Europe is different from here in terms of weighing urban and highway consumption cycles.

Critical to improved fuel consumption are two fascinating features offered: i-ELOOP and i-STOP. Without getting technical, fuel savings are realized by i-ELOOP’s brake energy regeneration, which stores energy in a capacitor rather than a battery and makes it available for use by the car’s electricity supply. In the case of i-STOP, savings come through the simple stopping of the engine at the lights or in stop-go traffic and there’s the rub. i-STOP will be standard fare in Europe, not sure about their inclusion here because they will boost the sticker price in a market segment hotly contested by the likes of the new Honda Accord, Toyota Camry, Ford Fusion and Chevy Malibu to name but four.

Europeans include a lot more stop-go traffic considerations in their consumption evaluations than we do and therefore these two features demonstrably shine. They would work equally well here but official published figures won’t reflect their efficiency. Changes in measuring fuel consumption are on the way and it’s to be hoped that the kind of stop-go traffic many suffer in our major cities are better reflected in those revisions.

Personally, these features would not be a hard sell, which reminds me of a joke comedian Bill Reiter once told me. It went something like this: “What did the Zen Buddhist say to the hotdog vendor?” The answer: “Make me one with everything.” The guys from Mazda would like that.

Pricing has yet to be announced, but the 2012 starts at $24,145. The new car should arrive in January or February of 2013.

2014 Mazda6.
Photograph by: Mazda