When Mazda began its SkyActiv program a couple of years back, the first model to hit the bricks was the CX-5. But the architecture of the CX-5 was also designed for the Mazda6 sedan. In fact, one of the fundamental tenets 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 has worked. The CX-5 has, in the words of Kory Koreeda, Mazda Canada’s CEO and president, been a “massive success on a global scale” – to the point where Mazda has had to increase production capacity for the compact CUV three times to meet demand.
And now there’s another SkyActiv model – the one originally used as a template for the whole shebang: the 2014 Mazda6.
Based on what Mazda is calling its “jinba-ittai” design concept (translated as “rider and horse as one,” whatever that means), the new Mazda6 loses its V-6 engine and is a new automobile, from front to back.
It shares no common parts with its predecessor, 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 will mark the first time an Asian manufacturer has put a diesel engine into a sedan for the North American market since the Nissan Maxima. Look for it in the late spring or summer.
Here’s something cool: the 2.5-litre four-cylinder is essentially identical to the 2.0-litre engine found in the current CX-5 – 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 it 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 20 per cent higher as a result. Technologically, it’s similar to BMW’s Valvetronic setup and runs contentedly on regular gas.
There will be two transmission choices: a 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. The previous version – especially the front-end treatment – caused some “polarization” in the North American market. Translation: Americans didn’t like it. So, a whole new front-end treatment and a complete re-think for the body. Again, using one of its 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 a rut. Rivals, such as the Hyundai Sonata, Honda Accord, Toyota Camry, Volkswagen Passat and Ford Fusion have passed it by and Mazda wants to “rebuild its momentum” in this key and highly competitive segment of the market. It is targeting the Passat as its benchmark.
“It will be the most technologically advanced 6 we’ve ever built,” Dave Klan, Mazda’s senior director of sales, marketing and regional operations, said 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 GS and GT models, the manual transmission and automatic will cost the same. With the entry-level GX, the automatic will run you an additional $1,200.
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 driver in front of you does something stupid. We experienced it first hand during our drive around Austin, and it works.
Price Range: $24,495-$34,195
Engine: 2.5-litre, four-cylinder
Horsepower/torque: 184 hp/185 lb-ft
Transmission: Six-speed manual/automatic
Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 7.6 city/5.1 highway (automatic); regular gas
Alternatives: Honda Accord, Hyundai Sonata, Chevrolet Malibu, Ford Fusion, Chrysler 200, Nissan Altima, Toyota Camry, Volkswagen Passat