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2014 Mazda6

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When Mazda began its SkyActiv program a couple of years back, the first model to hit the bricks was the CX5. But the architecture of the CX5 was also designed for the Mazda6 sedan. In fact, one of the fundamental facets behind SkyActiv is to streamline the manufacturing process and make the absolute most out of what you’ve got. In other words, less pie in the sky concepts, dramatically reduced manufacturing costs, fewer dreamy ideas, and more boots-on-the-ground, practical, manufacturing principles.

It seems to have worked. The CX5 has, in the words of Mazda Canada’s CEO and president, Kory Koreeda, been a “massive success on a global scale”. To the point where Mazda has been forced to increased production capacity for the compact CUV three times to meet demand.

And now there’s a second SkyActiv model….the one which was originally used as a template for the whole shebang: the 2014 Mazda6.

Based on what Mazda is calling their “jinba-ittai” manufacturing concept (translated as ‘rider and horse as one’…..whatever that means), the new Mazda6 loses its V6 engine and is a completely new automobile, from front to back. Apparently, it shares no common parts with the current version, and there will be two fresh engine choices: a 185-horsepower, 2.5 litre SkyActiv four cylinder, and later in the year, a 2.2 litre turbodiesel. This latter engine will mark the first time an Asian manufacturer has put a diesel engine into a sedan for the North American market since the early 1980’s Nissan Maxima. Look for it in the late spring or summer.

Here’s something kind of cool. The aforementioned 2.5 litre four cylinder is essentially identical to the 2.0 litre engine found in the current CX5….only larger. No new architecture or redesign….just the same engine made bigger. This, according to Mazda, results in massive production cost savings and allows them to spread the technology around a little. It features a Miller cycle arrangement, which means the valves stay open a titch longer under throttle, and fuel economy is apparently 20 per cent higher as a result. Technologically, it’s similar to BMW’s Valvetronic set-up, and runs contentedly on regular gas.

There will be two transmission choices: six-speed manual, and a “hybrid” six-speed automatic. Hybrid because it features both a traditional torque converter and a clutch, which results in enhanced efficiency and a better “kickdown” when power is needed. Thankfully, Mazda decided not to go with a CVT.

Stylistically, it’s a whole new ball game. Apparently, the previous version – especially the front end treatment – caused some “polarization” in the North American market. Translation: the Americans didn’t like it. So, a whole new front end treatment, and a complete re-think for the body. Again, using one of their own catchwords, Mazda describes it as “kodo”, which means “the soul of motion” (where do they get these things?). According to Mazda design director, Derek Jenkins, the new 6 has more emphasis on stylistic precision and is less “soft” than before.

The present 6, by Mazda’s own admission, had fallen into kind of a rut. Rivals, such as, oh, the Hyundai Sonata, Honda Accord, Toyota Camry, VW Passat, and Ford Fusion have kind of passed it by and Mazda wants to “rebuild its momentum” in this key and highly competitive segment of the market. They are targeting the Passat as their benchmark.

“It will be the most technologically advanced 6 we’ve ever built,” remarked Mazda’s senior director of sales, marketing and regional operations, Dave Klan, at the launch, in Texas. “It’s all-new from bumper to bumper, and has been designed from scratch.”

There will be three trim levels: GX, GS, and GT. All will have the 2.5 litre engine, and, with the FS and GT models, the manual transmission and automatic will cost the same. With the entry-level GX, the automatic will run you an additional $1200. Prices will start at $24,495, going up to $34,195 for the technology package, and you can order extras such as full leather interior, Sirius satellite radio, a navi system and a full-zoot safety package that includes lane departure warning, radar cruise control, and a “smart” brake assist system. This latter feature is part of the 6’s “i-ActiveSense” safety package, and applies the brakes automatically if the guy in front of you does something stupid. We experienced it first hand during our drive around Austin, and it works.

CX-5 GETS A NEW ENGINE

The Mazda6’s kissing cousin, the CX5, will also be on the receiving end of the 2.5 litre engine for 2014, which will solve this vehicle’s main drawback: an almost paralytic lack of power. It may be good on gas, but the current CX5 is disappointingly lethargic. With the addition of the larger engine, however, it gains all kinds of snap and reserve power, and with the surprisingly good handling that Mazda has built into the CX5, it may now be the best handling compact CUV on the market. Mazda also “re-visted” the suspension set-up of the CX5, and handling is easily on par with the VW Tiguan, or Ford Edge, for example. The smaller engine will still be offered as well, and the CX5 continues to be available with either 2WD or AWD.