The 2014 Mazda6 is the midsize messiah we've been waiting for, a banisher of beige and a bringer of fun to a segment that desperately needs some. When I had a go, I said the best version to buy was the Touring with the manual trans. Problem is, that model didn't exist yet. But who needs facts to form an opinion?
(Full Disclosure: I asked Mazda for a car to get team Jalopnik around LA during the LA Auto Show, and they kindly obliged with a Mazda6 Touring with a 6-speed. In addition to around LA duties, I took it 400 miles north to San Jose and back down to Los Angeles. A thorough test.)
When I first drove the 6, I was thrilled with almost everything about it, other than the clutch (a clutch is what the third pedal in a manual transmission car is for). Thankfully, time has been kind and the clutch is actually better than I remember in the 6 I just drove. It engages at a natural point instead of on the floor and has a linear progression. It went from being awkward and strange to a bonafide joy, as if it just finished going through puberty.
Steering is still a tad light and overboosted, but I decided to give the whole handling and braking department a a real test by taking California's famed Route 33 through Ojai. If you haven't driven 33, you really need to. This is one of the best roads in America with a great variety of corners and straights. There is also some truly breathtaking scenery. It's California at its best.
It's here where you can see the performance chops of a car. And, unfortunately, after a short aggressive run, the brake pedal got long and soft (that is not what she said). When I pulled over to check it out, smoke was billowing out of them. This isn't a race car, of course, and it speaks to how much fun the 6 is to drive that you'd actually brutalize it. Like the Mazda3, it encourages you to get on it and drive quickly. With upgraded brakes (and a stiffer suspension to curb body roll), it'd be on par with much more expensive sports sedans in the twisties.
On the highway, the 6 got gas mileage in the 30s at around 80 MPH which is pretty good, though below the EPA's 40 MPG number. I spent seven straight hours behind the wheel yesterday and was never uncomfortable. The seats are fantastic and all the dash materials feel better than the strange, super soft, nearly Memory Foam, plastics in the first 6 I was in.
Now, the infotainment system, that was frustrating. See, it has this button that says "nav" on it. In this car, pressing that button does precisely nothing because it doesn't have nav. Mazda says you can upgrade to it later, which is a nice idea, but if you don't order it in the first place, what's the likelihood you'll decide to buy it later on? You'll use your phone for nav. And instead you'll have a nav button taunting you, looking all smug, knowing you'll want to press it but nothing will happen.
The system also decided my iPod couldn't play through it, and my iPhone could only work sometimes. Bluetooth audio playback from the phone initiated a phone call, and it wasn't high quality. Bruce Springsteen sounded like he was in even more of a tunnel than usual.
But those are minor compared to how much better this car looks and drives than any of its competitors. I think that after my second drive, I'm even more impressed by the 6. And the most impressive part is that the Touring with the manual that I drove cost just more than $24,000. In my book, that makes the Mazda6 the bargain of the century.
We once said that you'd have to be an idiot to not consider the Ford Fusion if you were shopping for a midsize sedan, and an even bigger idiot if you didn't consider the Mazda6. Well now you'd be an idiot if you don't just buy the Mazda6. To take a line Louis CK once said about farts, you don't need to be smart to buy a Mazda6, but you'd have to be stupid not to.
Don't be stupid.