Our newest long-termer – the Soul Red 2014 Mazda6 seen here – arrived in my driveway at the end of June. Without hesitation, I immediately put it to work as a daily driver, carpool bus and family vacation sled, and it accomplished all of those tasks with aplomb. Now, more than 4,000 miles down the road, I am left convinced that Mazda's latest midsize sedan is one of the best in its segment.

During the past 60 days, I have subjected the Mazda6 to scorching travel across Southwestern deserts, wheezing climbs over 8,000-foot-high Sierra Nevada mountain passes and basking in the cool ocean breezes of Malibu. It traveled with four passengers and a full load of luggage from Los Angeles to Lake Tahoe, and it braved the bumper-to-bumper freeway congestion on a weekday trip down to San Diego. It accomplished everything that was asked of while hardly skipping a beat – it has only required a regular sip of unleaded fuel to keep it moving forward.
2014 Mazda62014 Mazda6

Looking back through my notes, most of my praise is directed at the styling and chassis. This Mazda looks good in pictures, and it's equally as impressive in person. More than a few passers-by have done double-takes and asked about the car after I parked, many drawn in by its Kodo-inspired styling that helps set it apart from its competitors. Hidden beneath its curvaceous sheetmetal is a very sturdy chassis, and the 3,232-pound sedan has proven to be rock-solid over just about every road surface without exhibiting any signs of body flex, squeaks or rattles within the passenger compartment.

Rear seat passengers have consistently commented on the comfort of the second row, mentioning generous toe room beneath the front seats.

The cabin is equally as remarkable. My six-foot, two-inch frame has been pleased with the driving position, and the well-bolstered seats and thickly-padded center armrest have only added to the comfort. What's more, my six-foot tall son has lodged no complaints sitting directly behind me (I haven't had to move the seat forward even an inch to make room). Rear seat passengers have consistently commented on the comfort of the second row, mentioning generous toe room beneath the front seats, effective second-row air vents on the aft end of the middle console and convenient dual cupholders in both outboard positions (located in the door pockets and on the top of the center armrest). The huge trunk also deserves a mention, easily swallowing luggage for four adults, plenty of camera gear or a 29-inch mountain bike in a pinch.

Of course, there are always a few rough edges. Most cursed is the Mazda6's navigation system and its 5.8-inch touchscreen display. I have found it frustrating to use on many levels. Not only is it slow, it lacks detail and stubbornly refuses to hold a street-level zoom when asked (during more than one trip, I have set my smartphone in front of the factory screen and used it instead). The company has a new navigation system in its 2014 Mazda3, and I'm hoping it's a good system that finds its way into this car with a quickness.

I have also come to realize that the fuel gauge is terribly inaccurate. It reads completely full for 100 miles and then plummets inconsistently as the balance of fuel is consumed (I have learned to rely solely on the "distance to empty" readout). Lastly, we deserve better night illumination on some of the switchgear (start with the driver's door) and a real engine temperature gauge (a tiny blue dashboard symbol that extinguishes after two minutes doesn't cut it).

2014 Mazda62014 Mazda6
2014 Mazda62014 Mazda6

Despite its youthful styling and seemingly aggressive 19-inch wheels, the Mazda6 is not really a sport sedan. It's among the most entertaining of its direct competitors, however, and is very enjoyable around town, with wonderful steering feel, firm brakes and responsive handling. Yet when pushed beyond about six-tenths, its brakes get hot and the suspension starts to understeer in safe protest (I would argue that its stock springs are a bit too soft, especially with four adults on board). But nobody will notice on the highway, as this sedan excels at high-speed cruising where its impressive aerodynamics and stable demeanor take center stage. I should mention that Mazda's optional Radar Cruise Control (MRCC) and Lane Departure Warning System (LDWS) have been very easy to operate, and both are extremely helpful driving aids – I wouldn't order the car without them.

I found the 2.5-liter inline-four more thrifty than thrilling.

I found the 2.5-liter inline-four, rated at 184 horsepower and 185 pound-feet of torque, more thrifty than thrilling. With just one soul on board, the excellent six-speed automatic moves the sedan with ease. However, when more passengers and luggage are added, the four-cylinder quickly becomes overburdened, especially on a hot day or when altitude gets added to the mix. Pulling into fast-moving traffic and overtaking maneuvers requires planning. During a family trip over a high mountain range, the Mazda6 didn't have enough scoot to safely pass a heavy truck – I was left crawling up the hill wishing for a small turbocharger or an extra liter of displacement (or, better yet, the upcoming diesel with about 300 pound-feet of torque).

But that is the cost of fuel efficiency. As of this writing, our sedan has had 6,167 miles pass under its chassis. I calculated that it has consumed a total of 200.45 gallons of regular unleaded, for an overall average of 29.75 mpg (it was delivered with 204 miles on the odometer, so those miles were subtracted). The worst logged fuel economy was 23.24 mpg (nearly all stop-and-go city travel), while the best was 36.78 mpg (pure highway, with four passengers on board at 70 mph). The EPA rates the sedan at 26 mpg city and 38 mpg highway, with a combined number of 30 mpg – note our combined fuel economy is nearly spot-on. With a lighter foot and fewer passengers on board, I have seen 40+ mpg on the open road many times. Also, do note that our long-termer is not fitted with Mazda's new i-Eloop regenerative braking system, which reportedly increases fuel economy numbers to 28/40 mpg (city/highway). Based on the more enthusiastic way in which this car has been driven, I suspect it will be easy for normal drivers to achieve this car's window sticker numbers far more easily than they might in competing sedans.

2014 Mazda6

The Mazda continues to run flawlessly. Well, almost. Its only hiccup occurring just last week during a late-summer hot spell when the car was parked out in the blistering sun. With the outside temperature gauge on the dashboard reading a sweltering 108 degrees Fahrenheit, the automatic mode on the HVAC shut itself down two or three times (the system would go completely quiet). Once the car was cooled, it didn't happen again. Very odd, and it only occurred that time.

Climbing into the driver's seat of the Mazda6 is a pleasure, regardless of the mission ahead.

Last week, the sedan went into Neftin Mazda, in Thousand Oaks, CA, for its first service, which included a vehicle inspection, tire rotation and synthetic oil change. We were treated like VIP customers, and 90 minutes later, they tossed us the keys to our now sparkling clean Mazda6. We handed them $108.51 for the service.

Overall, the new Mazda has left me nothing but impressed. While I have nitpicked more than a few items in this update, the list of pros greatly outweighs the cons. Truth is, climbing into the driver's seat of the Mazda6 is a pleasure, regardless of the mission ahead. Next month, this Soul Red sedan will make a cross-country trip as it heads to Detroit for the winter. It will certainly be missed on the West Coast.

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