Dave Van Sickle, Motor Matters

All new for 2014, the shapely sophistication of the third-generation Mazda6 cleverly hides the new Mazda-engineered technology that lies under its new slippery skin.

Already incorporated in the 2012 Mazda3 and 2013 CX-5, the redesigned 2014 Mazda6 is the next vehicle in the brand's lineup to use SKYACTIV technology. Developed solely by Mazda, SKYACTIV is the umbrella term for a host of performance-oriented, fuel-saving engine, transmission, body and chassis components.

Under the hood a 2.5-liter engine produces 184 horsepower and 185 lb.-ft. of torque. This 13:1 high compression ratio engine offers 8 percent more horsepower and nearly 11 percent more torque than the MZR 2.5-liter engine it replaces. It is for all three trim levels -- Sport, Touring and Grand Touring -- and can be paired with a choice of a six-speed manual or six-speed automatic. On the road, the Mazda6 is a delight to drive and fun to play with all of the built-in toys. Prices range from $20,880 to $29,495 plus options.

The entry-level Sport equipped with a manual transmission, delivers fuel economy of 25/37/29 city/highway/combined mpg. Compared to the previous generation, the 2014 Mazda6 model sees a 19 percent mpg increase in the city and 23 percent mpg increase on the highway.

The 2014 Mazda6 has a sculptured, lean body with an overall length of 191.5 inches and rests on 17-inch aluminum alloy wheels and P225/55R17 all-season tires for Sport models. Touring and Grand Touring vehicles get 19-inch aluminum alloy wheels with P225/45R19 Dunlop SP Sport 5000 all-seasons.

The driver-oriented cabin features intuitive functions matched with a multitude of well-placed operational controls. The contoured dash is uncluttered and attractive. High-quality cloth or leather features are used on the door panels. Gauges in the instrument cluster have lighting that makes them readably clear in bright daylight and darkness.

The three-spoke racing-inspired leather-wrapped steering wheel appeals to enthusiasts and offers standard functional features such as a tilt-and-telescopic adjustable column with steering-wheel-mounted audio and cruise controls.

There's plenty of legroom front and rear with supportive, sport-bolstered front bucket seats and the 60/40-split fold-down rear seats. Six- or eight-way power-adjustable driver's seats are standard on all but the Sport model. It has a six-way manually adjustable driver's seat.

For 2014, the Mazda6 has all-new infotainment and connectivity options. A 5.8-inch touch screen controls intuitive phone, audio and navigation functions. Steering wheel controls also enable a more straightforward operation of the infotainment system.

Other available features include Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity as well as iPod audio playback in which iPod information can be accessed via the touch screen. Standard USB and auxiliary jack connection are located within the center console storage bin. An AM/FM/CD/MP3/-compatible head unit paired with a six-speaker sound system is standard for Sport and Touring models while Grand Touring models feature an 11-speaker Bose Centerpoint Surround Sound System with AudioPilot as standard equipment.

An optional Technology Package adds a TomTom in-dash navigation system, 11-speaker Bose Centerpoint Surround Sound System with AudioPilot, keyless entry, automatic on/off headlights, rain-sensing wipers, auto-dimming mirrors with Homelink, heated outside mirrors and the all-new Smart City Brake Support (SCBS) system.

SCBS is an added safety component designed to assist a driver in avoiding front collisions when traveling at low speeds. When the imbedded laser sensor detects an obtrusive object, and the driver fails to act the system will apply the brakes.

Then there's Lane Departure Warning System, High Beam Control, and i-ELOOP the world's first capacitor-based brake energy regeneration system to provide power all the electrical mechanisms in a vehicle.

SPECIFICATIONS

2014 MAZDA6

VEHICLE TYPE_________________ 5-passenger FWD midsize sedan

BASE PRICE___________________ $20,880 (as tested: $21,675)

MOTOR TYPE__________________16-valve SKYACTIV 4-cyl. w/DI

DISPLACEMENT________________2.5-liter

HORSEPOWER (net)_____________ 184 at 5700 rpm

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

TRANSMISSION_________________6-speed manual

OVERALL LENGTH_______________ 191.5 in.

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

CURB WEIGHT__________________ 3,183 lbs.

FUEL CAPACITY_________________ 16.4 gal.

EPA MILEAGE RATING____________ 25 mpg city, 37 mpg highway