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Roadshow Video Reviews
2014 Mazda6 i Grand TouringThe new Mazda6 can stop making apologies now.
It's been a number of years now since Hyundai and Kia took over the role as alternatives to the holy old trio of Camry, Accord and Fusion. Now, they've got more than Kim Jong-un to keep them awake at night 'cause the Mazda6 is back and gunning for them. Let's find out how well it's doing as we check out this 2014 Mazda6 iGrand Touring and check the tech. Now, right off the bat you can see Mazda tore everything up and started over again. Look at this car. I mean, it used to be in a perennial race with Camry to be the car you least wanted to be seen in. Now, it's entirely the opposite. They de-goofified the face and got rid of that dopey Pixar Grand that all the other Mazdas are still stuck with. This is a handsome car. I see this metamorphosis a lot like what happened with the recent Ford Fusion redo except this car stays hot all the way around the rear where the Fusion kind of gets a little lumpy around the butt. As with the exterior, Mazda blessedly threw out everything in the interior. Their cars used to look like they had a majority stake in a recycled plastics factory. Now, you've got great materials at least on this Grand Touring one. First off, the navigation; right here under a very simple nav button, you get a TomTom-powered nav. One of the things I like about it is simplicity. If you get stuck or lost, you're not a techie, all you gotta is stab at the screen and up comes the home menu to do simple things. That's part of the TomTom DNA right there. From there, if you are a TomTom user, this is gonna look really familiar to you and there are tens of millions of them out there, maybe hundreds of millions-- I don't know, but it's a damn popular platform. So, this will not require learning for a lot of folks who buy this car. And if you don't wanna poke through and enter your destinations through the touch screen that is generally pretty responsive, you can also use this controller. This is kind of a take off from the iDrive controller in that it has a lot of shortcut buttons around it. That's a page they've taken from BMW along with turn, kick and push. Pandora's built in at extreme level as well. It's one of the best I've used also and that it completely works without any fussing. Once you pair the phone for Bluetooth handsfree, Pandora's up and running, period. Now, we have SMS text message handling in this head unit as well. It's a mixed bag. You'll see I'm gonna get a big sort of interruption screen. It says a message has arrived. Doesn't tell me who it's from or anything more about it but I have to decide to download it or not. Shouldn't it automatically be reflected in the head unit? I mean, it's connected by the way. This typically is where it really falls down. I did a bunch of tests with text message. It took 18 to 20 seconds on average for the text to download. It's already on my phone. So, you're telling me it takes that long for that SMS to go from here to here? Then I get this very long download completed screen that I can't interrupt barely and then I can finally read this thing. Now, once you get it, you can reply with canned responses only. There is no sort of voice dictation free form reply which also limits the system. It blocks out reading while you're driving, that's why you have text to speech. "Message: Seriously that is a M-A-Z-D-A 6?" It's only a little ironic that the car can't read its only brand name and has to spell that out. Now, before I tell you about the engine of this car, let me tell you about Mazda's family of engine technologies because they go by the name SkyActiv which doesn't tell you anything about them. It's one of the worst engine brands I've heard of. Here's what it consists of though. First of all, very high compression-- 13 to 1-- which gets a lot of power out of a given amount of fuel. The downside is it always wants to pre-detonate, spark knock basically. To manage that, they've got several technologies including a 4-2-1 exhaust manifold and outlet that they say draws heat away from the engine faster, combating pre-detonation. And they've got a proprietary piston design here. It's basically a piston with a big old well drilled on the top and the middle of it which they say is a key combustion technology to managing that higher ratio of compression. And finally, there's a regenerative braking technology called Ei LOOP or some nonsense, another horrible branding exercise. What it does is regeneratively gather energy from braking-- which a lot of cars do-- but instead of putting it into a battery or the service battery, it puts it into a giant capacitor that is used to run the onboard systems in the cabin. Okay, that, plus they say an advanced transmission-- they're all advanced these days-- is SkyActiv; 2-1/2 liters side saddle inline-4, direct injection like a lot of motors have these days. Beyond that, nothing fancy like turbos or anything else going on here. It's naturally aspirated. 184 horsepower, 185-foot pounds of torque, move this 3200 pound car to 60 in 777.8 seconds, somewhere in there. And you're gonna get 2638 MPG unless you get the manual transmission only available on the bottom trim car, by the way, and that drops you a 1 MPG city in the highway, not a big deal. Before I noticed the engine, I noticed the transmission. I was sure it was a CVT, a continuously variable transmission. It's not. It's a 6-speed automatic and that's no compliment. But that's how kind of vague and almost slippery I find this transmission. I'm not sure if it's the gear box, or if it's the way that the programming is operating power flow to it but either way, it's not a real, well-engaged feeling. It always feels kind of rubber bandy. So, once you get through all that, how's the engine? It's nothing notable. I don't know if it's the transmission getting in the way or not but there's no urgency on this engine. It doesn't mean it's not adequate but there's no urgency, there's no real kind of, you know, cut and thrust in there. It's very-- It's very numb in some aspects. None of which is to say this is not a fun car to live with as much as it is not a fun car to drive. You know the difference? I mean, one is about driving lean forward; the other one is about using the car every day, real good in the latter, not so much in the former. Okay, they sent us a Mazda6 iGrand Touring and that's probably the right model I'd go with to go CNET style. Here's how I'd set it up. Start with that top trim car, it's 30,006 delivered. Then there's an option for 900 bucks to get adaptive cruise control which we have here and forward collision warning tech-- kind of the same technology doing different things. I'd roll that in as well. Bottom line, this is now the most incredibly competitive sector in autodom. You've got Hyundai, Ford, Kia, Chevy, Toyota and Honda, these guys all offering outstanding cars that all look good. I would envy you.