Buyers lured by the excitement of a sports car, but understand the reality that a sedan is a more practical choice for a daily driver, are offered a compromise with the new third-generation 2014 Mazda6 sport sedan.

The midsize Mazda6 delivers balanced performance, as well as comfortable interior and excellent fuel efficiency at a competitive price. The 2014 Mazda6 starts at $20,880 for the Sport model, followed by the mid-level Touring, base priced at $23,495, and top-line Grand Touring with a $29,495 starting price. The GT test car, cloaked in special $200 Snowflake White Pearl paint job, has a drive-out price of $31,390.

Sitting on a long 111.4-inch wheelbase and 19-inch Y-spoke alloy wheels, the Mazda6 GT has a striking profile, highlighted by a long, sweeping roofline that meets a short, shelf-like rear deck with lip spoiler. Up front, the sedan flaunts pronounced fenders and a long hood that droops to meet an aggressive colored-keyed snout.

Contrasting with body color is Mazda's signature five-point chrome-trimmed grille with black louvers. The lower fascia with aggressive chin incorporates a black louvered air dam and round inset fog lamps. Mazda reports that the GT's 0.26 coefficient of drag makes it the "sleekest of the midsize-sedan segment."

The "Skyactiv-G" 2.5-liter four-cylinder powertrain propelling the svelte body is a Skyactiv system highlight. It motivates the Mazda6 with 184 horsepower at 5,700 rpm and 185 lb.-ft. of torque at 3,250 rpm. Off-the-line acceleration is crisp, and on hard throttle a pleasingly mild roar bellows from the bright-tipped dual exhausts. Zero-to-60-mph time is in the mid-to-high-7-second range.

Paired with a standard Skyactiv-Drive six-speed Sport automatic transmission with manual shift mode, the GT has an excellent estimated fuel economy of 26 miles per gallon city and 38 mpg highway. Equipped with a standard six-speed manual transmission, Sport and Touring models have an estimated fuel economy of 25 mpg city and 37 mpg highway.

Skyactiv Technology is a bumper-to-bumper engineering approach -- including the chassis and steering tuning -- that affects the car's overall performance. The taut body and suspension contribute to responsive handling that reinforces Mazda's "Zoom-Zoom" character. Generally, ride quality is compliant, but some road irregularities can produce harshness.

In sync with the car's performance, the Mazda6's five-place interior has a sporty feel. The GT's front sport seats are firm and supportive with aggressive cushion and seatback bolstering, and upholstered in perforated leather. The leather-clad steering wheel, which is home for the shifter paddles, has contours for the thumbs to rest.

The rear seat is a 60/40-split bench with flat-folding seatbacks. Headroom and legroom -- front and rear -- are surprisingly spacious, and the trunk is a generous 14.8 cubic feet.

The Mazda6's cabin layout is clean, with a near-board-straight dashboard. Touring and GT models, and Sport models with the automatic transmission, are fitted with a 5.8-inch full-color touch-screen display. On the GT, the screen provides information on the navigation system, which includes real-time traffic updates. The GT also features an 11-speaker Bose Centerpoint Surround Sound Audio System, SiriusXM Satellite Radio and the new Smart City Brake Support System.

The SCBS system helps the driver avoid a head-on collision during low-speed driving. When the SCBS's laser sensor detects an object in the vehicle's path, the system reduces brake rotor travel to enhance braking speed. If the driver fails to execute an avoidance maneuver the system automatically activates braking. Standard on Touring and GT models is Bluetooth hands-free phone and audio streaming, HD Radio, Pandora Internet radio, and SMS text message audio delivery and reply.

Also new is the option of clean diesel technology for the Mazda6. The new Skyactiv-D 2.2-liter is offered in standard and High Power versions. Mazda reports its diesel offers high torque and clean combustion. Assisting the engine is a two-stage turbocharger, designed to deliver a smooth response across the engine range. The clean-burning Skyactiv-D diesel, with an ultra-low compression ratio, requires no additional NOx after-treatments.

The well-equipped, stylish and fuel-efficient new Mazda6 is a strong entry in the highly competitive midsize-sedan market -- created to lure youthful-thinking consumers liking a heavier-than-normal dose of sportiness mixed into a practical four-door sedan formula.

SPECIFICATIONS

2014 MAZDA6 GRAND TOURING

VEHICLE TYPE_________________ 5-passenger FWD midsize sedan

BASE PRICE___________________ $29,495 (as tested: $31,390)

MOTOR TYPE__________________16-valve 4-cylinder w/DI

DISPLACEMENT________________2.5-liter

HORSEPOWER (net)_____________184 at 5700 rpm

TORQUE (lb.-ft.)________________ 185 at 3250 rpm

TRANSMISSION_________________6-speed automatic

OVERALL LENGTH_______________ 191.5 in.

TURNING CIRCLE (curb-to-curb)___ 36.7 ft.

CURB WEIGHT__________________ 3,232 lbs.

FUEL CAPACITY________________ 16.4 gal.

EPA MILEAGE RATING___________ 26 mpg city, 38 mpg highway