The five-seat Mazda6 interior looks nicer, too, with soft-touch plastic all around and nearly an inch more rear legroom than its predecessor. Front seats now have anti-whiplash head restraints, and push-button start is standard on all models.
Thanks to a more fuel-efficient, gasoline four cylinder, the federal government rates the 2014 Mazda6 at 26 miles per gallon in city driving and 38 mpg on the highway, when fitted with a six-speed automatic. This compares with just 21/30 mpg for a similar 2013 Mazda6.
Additionally, when equipped with an optional energy-reclaiming system, the 2014 Mazda6 is rated by the federal government at 28/40 mpg.
Best of all, the new Mazda6 feels stable and controlled, but not heavy. Traveling at good speed on mountain switchbacks, the test car was well behaved and poised. The Mazda6 also is a recommended buy of Consumer Reports magazine, which says predicted reliability should be above average.
Pricing hasn't changed much from last year. Starting manufacturer's suggested retail price, including destination charge, is $21,785 for the base, front-wheel drive 2014 Mazda6 Sport with 184-horsepower, four-cylinder engine and six-speed manual transmission. This is up from last year's $21,520.
The lowest starting retail price for a 2014 Mazda 6 with six-speed automatic is $23,490, or $1,705 more than the base 2014 Mazda6. The reason for the jump in price isn't just the automatic.
The base, automatic transmission-equipped 2014 Mazda6 also adds the following over the base, manual transmission base model: rearview camera, Bluetooth hands-free phone calling and audio, 5.8-inch color display on the dashboard, voice command for audio, Pandora Internet radio compatibility, SMS text message and audio delivery, and 911 automatic emergency notification.
All 2014 Mazda6s so far this model year come with the new, 184-horsepower, 2.5-liter, direct injection, gasoline, four-cylinder engine. This compares with last year's 170-horse four cylinder.
A turbocharged diesel four cylinder is due later in the model year as Mazda becomes the first Japan-based automaker to offer a diesel powerplant in a car.
The top 2014 Mazda6, the Grand Touring model, hits $30,000-plus and includes perforated leather-trimmed seats, 19-inch tires, rear spoiler, eight-way, power driver's seat, fog lights, bi-Xenon headlamps, Bose 11-speaker sound system and power moonroof as standard equipment. But even on the Grand Touring model, Mazda's new, energy-reclaiming system that reduces the use of gasoline for the car's onboard power accessories is part of a $2,080 option package.
This Intelligent Energy Loop system – i-eLOOP for short – uses regenerative brakes like those on a gasoline-electric hybrid to capture kinetic energy during braking. Once stored as electricity, this tapped energy helps operate onboard accessories, such as radio, and means the car's engine doesn't have to.
The test car, a Grand Touring model, did not have i-eLOOP. But it delivered a healthy 28.5 mpg in combined city/highway travel without fuss.
The Mazda6 engine sounds were evident, even at idle. During hard acceleration, the Mazda6 four cylinder sounded buzzy. Road noise and the sounds of nearby cars permeated the cabin.
The 2014 Mazda6, with a shorter overall length, has less trunk space than the 2013 model. The trunk went from 16.6 cubic feet to 14.8 cubic fee.
Side pillars around the windshield blocked driver views of pedestrians and even some cars during turns.
2014 Mazda6 Grand TouringBase price: $20,990 for Sport with manual transmission; $22,695 for Sport with automatic; $23,645 for Touring with manual; $24,695 for Touring with automatic; $29,695 for Grand Touring.
Price as tested: $31,690.
Type: Front-engine, front-wheel drive, five-passenger, midsize sedan.
Engine: 2.5-liter, double overhead cam, gasoline direct injection, SkyActiv four cylinder with VVT.
Mileage: 26 mpg (city), 38 mpg (highway).