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2014 Mazda6 reaches for the sky
The re-engineered Mazda6 gets the full Skyactiv treatment for engine design, lightweight construction and styling.

The 2014 Mazda6 is at long last what faithful followers have always known was possible from this creative company.

The re-engineered midsize sedan benefits from Mazda’s full Skyactiv treatment for engine design, lightweight construction and styling. The result is a solid family car that drives like a sport sedan but is more comfortable and functional.

Of the dozen or sedans in this segment, the Mazda6 is among the few that offers a manual transmission — and a good one, not just a balky box for low price-point advertising.

Sold in three trim levels, all models have a 184-horsepower Skyactiv four-cylinder engine and six-speed transmissions. Pricing ranges from $21,675 to about $31,500 for the top-line Grand Touring with automatic and the option group for radar cruise control and forward obstruction warning ($900).

Next month, Mazda will add the i-Eloop engine, a fuel-economy extender that uses a capacitor-based brake energy regeneration system. The capacitor (sort of a short-term battery) powers the cabin features and headlights rather than burning more fuel to generate electricity. The system will add 2 mpg city and highway and reduce drag on the engine, which frees up horsepower. I-Eloop will be available on the Grand Touring model as part of the new GT Technology Package, $2,080.

And by fall, there will be a 2.2-liter, twin-turbocharged four-cylinder diesel engine. (It is being track tested now in a Mazda6 in the Grand-AM Rolex Series.)

For now, the 2.5-liter gasoline engine uses direct injection and balances power and economy. The 184-horseower four-cylinder doesn’t launch the car off the line, but there is strong pickup between 30 and 70 mph. The EPA cites fuel economy of 25 mpg city, 39 mpg highway (on 87 octane). With careful shifting and adhering to speed limits I coaxed the mileage to 28.8 mpg, which is on the way to the 29 mpg combined average. And in a test with the automatic, I got up to 28.6 mpg combined.

The base Mazda6 Sport is a shocking value and an ideal choice for the mega-commuter. It has enough size for safety and enough comfort, including a six-way manual driver’s seat with lumbar support, for 125-mile round-trips. With a 16.4-gallon fuel tank, the thrifty driver can expect more than 470 miles between fill ups.

The manual Mazda6 is forgiving, neat and precise in its shifting. The clutch is light and the gears knit with a pleasurable smoothness. And there’s a hill holder that functions whether pointed uphill or down. There’s no excuse to fear the creeper!

Sightlines are good all around, but upgrade to the automatic transmission ($1,615) and the package adds a rearview camera, Bluetooth phone and audio connection, a 5.8-inch color touchscreen and HD radio.

The new styling is a contemporary theme of muscle and movement. But beyond that are sleek aerodynamics, which measure a low 0.27cd on the base model and 0.26 on Grand Touring. Compare those numbers to 0.25 for a Toyota Prius.

The new model is tight and well soundproofed. There still is some tire noise, some road noise and some wind at the side mirrors, but the drivability silences that white noise.

The car feels coiled and energized. The steering is light but precise, the four-wheel disc brakes are sure and the throttle rolls on without hesitation. Base 17-inch tires give a trim 36.7-foot turning circle, growing a bit with the 19s on the Grand Touring. Safety features include six air bags, ABS with electronic brake-force distribution and brake assist, stability and traction controls.

The door openings allow comfortable entry for long-legged drivers and there’s decent headroom at 38.4  inches. Back seat legroom is also long at 38.7 inches with good support and back angle.

The basic black interior can be monotonous, but there is a no-cost choice for sand leatherette, which adds variety and a cooler seat bottom in summer. The Grand Touring adds heated front seats but no ventilation. And while the driver gets eight-way power seat adjustment, the front passenger gets just four and no height adjustment.

Mazda’s Skyactiv philosophy is really a Driver-activ treatment. It began with the simple tenet of the MX-5 Miata to provide an oneness with car and driver. And it now infuses every model of Mazda.

There are many acceptable midsize sedans that fill a role of dutiful, basic transportation. For those who don’t care what they drive, they won’t know what they are missing in the Mazda6.