The six-speed automatic transmission on our test car surely helped the 6's efficiency rating. The gearbox upshifted eagerly, searching for the highest possible gear. It does have a manual mode and paddle shifters, though the shifts in this setting lagged a bit.
But the car's crisp handling is what sets it apart. The 6 weighs about the same as its peers but carries it like a well-toned athlete. Family sedan buyers may not prioritize handling, but when it's paired so effectively with efficiency and safety, it never hurts.
That safety is handled by six air bags, stability control, traction control and anti-lock brakes. The loaded Grand Touring model we tested added blind-spot monitoring, adaptive cruise control and a rear traffic alert system. The 6 also garnered the coveted Top Safety Pick Plus designation from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
At $31,190, this version also represents a savvy investment. Mazda piled on amenities such as heated leather seats, a touch-screen navigation system, a Bose sound system, backup camera, 19-inch alloy wheels, LED daytime running lights and moon roof. And you can't put a price on the car's looks — sporty and elegant in a class full of wallflowers.
If this car had a Lexus badge on the front, you could add $15,000 to the price. Unfortunately, the sexy exterior comes at the expense of rear headroom and trunk space, which trails most competitors'.
Another mark against the 6 is its interior. The cabin lacks the refinement of competitors such as the Accord, Altima and Fusion. The navigation system, built by TomTom, proved slow and cumbersome, and the overall design of the cockpit rated a step below Mazda's peers.
Nitpicks aside, the 2014 Mazda6 shouldn't be hard to sell. Mazda's fortunes are already on the upswing. The automaker reported Friday that it had climbed back into the black from deep losses the previous year. Mazda Motor Corp. reported a profit of $347 million in the fiscal year that ended March 31 and expects a profit of $707 million in the next fiscal year.
But the company isn't taking any chances. In the coming months, consumers will see Mazda6 ads on, for instance, the season finale of "Grey's Anatomy," ESPN's "Sportscenter" and billboards in Times Square in New York and along Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles. Print ads are planned for "Glamour," "Esquire" and "Money."
The company also has a tie-in for the Mazda6 with advertising for the upcoming "Star Trek" film. Meanwhile, Mazda is spending 40% more than last year on digital advertising.
"I'm just trying to make people a little more aware that they have an alternate choice," Mazda's Wager said.
The Associated Press was used in compiling this report.