The cars we loved.
It’s funny how new cars are released a year before their actual model years. Marketing may be the culprit, but doing such a preemptive rollout usually signals a drastic measure that was the result of desperation of profound improvement. In the case of Mazda’s fun but often overlooked midsize sedan, it may have been a little bit of both. The 6 promised zoom zoom in a category that had
slowly given way to the charm of a predictable appliance. There were a few performance stars, most notable the Nissan Altima, but recent reboots have yielded a new crop of snappy and efficient sedans across the board. All of this change was overshadowing the 6 even more, as it was always a capable car, but its sales were clearly in the shadow of its factory mate the Ford Fusion. Speaking of the Ford, the G-Series platform of the 6 underpins a whole range of Ford products the least of which is the popular Fusion.
Ford’s version of the platform, called CD3 got a makeover later in 2012 as a new sportier Fusion rolled out. To make matters worse for Mazda, the 6 is built at a joint facility with Ford in Flat Rock Michigan. For every ten Fusions one or two Sixes would roll out of the factory, like a under-achieving child. Mazda builds the 6 in multiple factories all over the world, some with distinctive configurations and engine choices that are not available in North America. That was unfortunate, because one of the most desirable versions of the 6, a four door with stealthy hatchback functionality was only available in America for a short time.
Why Ford beat Mazda to the punch with its updated version of Mazda’s platform is unknown. With a refreshed Fusion, a new 6 could not have been too far behind. Images on the web hinted at a dramatically styled sedan with sports car-like curves. After weeks of leaked images, the production car finally showed up in Moscow at the International Motor Show sporting the “Kudo” design language used in the CX-5. Mazda announced that the 2014 model would be available in early 2013.
The actual 2013 model was a capable car, but was becoming nearly as bland as the old 626 was near the end of its life. Mazda clearly needed to refresh its biggest sedan offering (in North America). Aside from the graceful and very elegant exterior design, the new 6 benefits from an upgraded interior with all the expected infotainment options. More importantly, the 6 rides on a all-new stronger, lighter platform. This new emphasis on lightness and efficiency can be seen with the omission of a V6 in the engine line up. For now, the 6 like many other mid-sized sedans will depend on four-cylinder engine(s). The 6’s sole engine option initially will be a new 2.5 SkyActiv with direct injection and dual variable valve timing. With 189 hp the 6 can move it’s 3,200 lb. up to 60 mph in just under 8 seconds from a stop. The new engine does not need to work as hard as the old 2.5 did with 170 hp. Although the old car’s 272 hp V6 will be missed, its measley 27 mpg will not. In fact, the best the old car could do was 30 mpg with the four-cylinder engine hooked to either manual or automatic transmissions. The 6 was never marketed as an economy car, but the field has become very competitive in the last year or two with 200 hp cars easily getting 35 mpg or better.
In keeping with it’s image as a driver’s oriented car, Mazda has not forgotten the importance of the manual transmission to performance minded drivers (even though shift-it-yourself types are sadly a dying breed). In addition to a six speed manual there will be a six-speed automatic with a race car style paddle shifter. All of this emphasis on sport is not expected to come at the expense of efficiency as Mazda has been aiming to be the most efficient in the mid-sized class. The closest competitor to the 6, the Nissan Altima, currently is the most fuel-efficient at 38 mpg (using rather conventional technology).
Mazda plans to use a start stop system on both automatic and manual cars as well as a brake regeneration system called i-ELOOP. The oddly named system will capture energy from braking to be reused for electric accessories. The system is expected to reduce the load on the engine for improved gas mileage. The i-ELOOP and start stop technology should bolster fuel efficiency in the 6 to the point of rivaling the smaller SkyActive Mazda 3. Full EPA data will not be known until closer to the release date in early January.
The beautifully designed Mazda 6 works as a counterpart to the Aston Martin influenced look of the Ford Fusion. It’s now or never for the 6 to stand out and the new look will go a long way toward capturing more attention. Hopefully that will equate to more sales, as Mazda is counting on looks to draw them in and performance/efficiency to seal the deal. Just maybe the Fusion’s rollout ratio vs. the 6 will no longer be so one-sided in the Ford’s favor. After all, what makes the Fusion great is its basic Mazda underpinnings anyway. It’s time the 6 gets its due.