Copywriter, technical writer, translator (FR>EN, ES>EN, IT>EN), journalist

Right fit in the Mazda6

I didn’t expect the 2014 Mazda6 GT to roar when I pushed the engine start button, but the quiet that met my ears once I did so left me wondering why it sounded so civilized. It wasn’t hybrid-start quiet, but I expected more of an announcement that the engine was ready for business.

Then I put it into first gear and pulled away from Mazda Canada’s Richmond Hill offices. Once on the road, I dropped it to second and gave it a push. Lesson learned: don’t let the quiet of an engine fool you into thinking that the car isn’t ready to sprint.

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photo courtesy Josephine Pica

It may not roar, but this Mazda stands like a sport sedan any way you look at it. The unapologetically vertical front grille leads to “swept-back” headlights and subtly muscular haunches that sit atop the optional 19” bright finish alloy wheels on my tester. Designers dialled back the aggression towards the rear of the 6, keeping it handsome throughout.

Leather completely covers the steering wheel and parking brake lever. The manual shift knob sports both leather and metal. Subtle red stitching accents sporty adjustable leather seats.

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photo courtesy Mazda Canada

I could do without the tester’s modest power moonroof. I’d rather have the extra inch of headroom the thing occupies. It’s a short moonroof since Mazda mounted reading lights in the centre of the ceiling for rear-seat passengers.

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photo courtesy Mazda Canada

This is a fairly long car, and you need only open the trunk to see where Mazda used a lot of that length. With a little extra height and overhead lighting, you could play squash in there. (Note: Mazda Canada does not endorse the playing of racquet sports in the cargo areas of it vehicles.) Seriously, this trunk would swallow two hockey bags with ease. (I neglected to take my habitual “hockey bag” photo. I hope the following picture gives you some idea of the cavern Mazda fit into the rear of the 6.)

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photo courtesy Mazda Canada

Not visible in this “trunk” photo is the little recess inside the trunk lid to the right of the trunk latch. That recess lets you gently pull the trunk closed without putting your hand on the exterior of the car. A little thing, I know, but a thoughtful touch nonetheless.

Thoughtful touches extend to the technology Mazda put into the 6. For instance, use your turn signal to indicate a lane change (just like you learned in driving school), and the Blind Spot Monitoring (BSM) system beeps at you if there’s a vehicle in your blind spot. The beeping supplements the blind-spot warning lights mounted on the side-view mirrors. As with any such system, I wouldn’t rely on it to the exclusion of turning my head to check the blind spot, but it’s still a great feature.

That Mazda would include a switch on the dash to turn off the system puzzles me. This technology ought to make its way into more cars, in my not-so-humble opinion.

Mazda also offers a Rear Cross Traffic Alert (RCTA) that warns you if a vehicle approaches while you back out of a parking spot.

I’m partial to engine start/stop buttons and keyless entry, so I appreciated the intelligent key system. Rain-sensing wipers (look for the “Auto” setting on the stalk) and the BOSE audio system also made my list of favourite conveniences and luxuries.

My Snowflake White Pearl tester got its get-up-and-go from its SKYACTIV-G 2.5L DOHC 16-valve 4-cylinder engine. Mazda gave the SKYACTIV moniker to the 6-speed manual transmission, the body and the chassis as well as the engine.

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photo courtesy Mazda Canada

This holistic approach results in a whole that provides more than enough oomph on highway entrance ramps or wherever else you need it. Shift ratios aren’t particularly long, so you’ll quickly rev up near 3,000 if you go much over posted speed limits.

As well as performance, Mazda is touting SKYACTIV’s resulting fuel economy and lower emissions. If tracking fuel economy is your thing, Mazda has a simple gauge you can use. Just to the right of the tachometer and speedometer is a third “circle” containing a digital readout (in the spot that simply reads “Mazda6” in the image below).

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photo courtesy Mazda Canada

Certain data, like fuel level and outside temperature, stay on the top and bottom of this screen. The middle of the sandwich shows various mileage-related numbers, like how many litres you’re burning every 100 kilometers. An “info” switch mounted on the left side of the steering wheel toggles between the various choices here.

That the L/100km number fluctuates, going up into the 20s or 30s, or more, during vigorous acceleration or climbing hills, made sense. What surprised me was that during certain stretches when I let off the gas, this number floated down to 2, 1, even 0. The engine was running – I could hear it and see activity on the tach.

Mazda Canada’s helpful PR rep went to the technical team, and here’s the explanation they gave him:

It is possible for the engine to experience 100% fuel cut on a downgrade or even when traveling in a straight line with the throttle off as long as the engine RPM is above 1000.

In fact the engine may cut fuel to 2 of 4 cylinders depending on the degree of grade to help the vehicle maintain speed with throttle off using a controlled amount of engine braking.

When the fuel is cut, the engine is essentially being driven by the driveline as opposed to the engine driving the driveline when under power.

Navigation, phone and audio features run off a dash-mounted touchscreen flanked by buttons and knobs. Mazda thoughtfully added an HMI Commander Switch, a combination knob/joystick/button between the shift lever and the cup holders. Buttons that are also found on the dash flank the commander switch.

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photo courtesy Mazda Canada

This control is easy to get used to whether you’re changing display options while driving or programming a destination while stopped. (Mazda, like other carmakers, wisely prevents the use of concentration-intensive activities like setting a destination when the car is in motion.) I’m surprised this control hasn’t made its way into more vehicles.

Tried-and-true buttons and knobs control the heating, cooling, window defrosters and front heated seats.

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photo courtesy Mazda Canada

In case you’re wondering, I’m finding it difficult to come up with any real shortcomings in the Mazda6, so I’ll resort to one that the 6 shares with every other vehicle I know of: insufficient audio controls for today’s connected smartphones.

Shortly after playing a video on my iPod Touch for friends, I got into the car, turned on the audio system and let it connect to the iPod via Bluetooth. The Mazda tried to play the audio from said video, which is not what I wanted. Trying to switch out of the web browser and play my music would have involved taking my iPod out of my pocket, something I’m uncomfortable doing while the car’s in motion.

Here’s the crux of the problem. The iPod, which shares its operating system, iOS, with iPhones and iPads (I hear there are a few of these in circulation.) puts different types of audio into different apps. I use one app for music, another for podcasts, another for audiobooks, another for voice memos… you get the idea. Other mobile operating systems work the same way.

Audio controls in the Mazda6 do not allow you to switch between audio apps. The system just plays from whatever app was last used. You need to safely stop the car away from traffic to set your device to the right app, or get a passenger to do this for you.

The problem isn’t insuperable. It would require collaboration between mobile OS developers, carmakers, and developers of third-party mobile applications. In a nutshell, choosing the Bluetooth option from the audio controls would bring up icons on the touchscreen for each audio-playing app. Using the commander switch, you pick the app. The touchscreen shows the app’s contents and you scroll through your audiobooks, podcasts, music or what-have-you.

A truly ideal solution would display options near the speedometer as well as the touchscreen, so you don’t need to divert your eyes quite as much. Voice controls would also extend to app and file selection, so the vehicle would leverage the voice control systems that ship with many of today’s smartphones.

That I had to resort to an unimportant flaw shared by other carmakers probably tells you what I think of the 2014 Mazda6. The Automobile Journalists Association of Canada shares my opinion. It’s a treat to look at, a treat to drive, and I suspect people who buy one will say it’s a treat to own.

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