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2014 Mazda6 Grand Touring: Zoom Zoom in an affordable family car

by: MAZDA NORTH AMERICAN OPERATION - The redesigned 2014 Mazda6 looks good on the road or in your garage.For decades, families looking for affordable transportation had to settle for cars that left a lot to be desired. The typical midsize car did the job of hauling four to five people from place to place in relative comfort, but looked and drove about as exciting as a shoe box.

But no more. Now many affordable family cars are among the most stylish and innovative vehicles on the market. Cars like the Ford Fusion, Hyundai Sonata, Kia Optima and Toyota Camry are swoopy looking and packed with such contemporary features as optional hybrid engines. Interior materials are significantly upgraded over early models, blurring the line between affordable and luxury sedans.

Now Madza is wading into this battlefield with a complete redesign of its midsize sedan, the Mazda6. Although the competition is stiff, the 2014 Mazda6 stands out by virtue of its sexy styling, interior room, nimble handing and good balance between economy and performance.

Our test Mazda6 drew more comments from strangers than any car we've tested lately, except for the provocatively styled Hyundai Veloster. With its sleek lines, bulging fenders, aggressive air dam and integrated spoiler, the Mazda6 looks like a small Jaguar. The dazzling metallic Soul Red paint job on our car helped a lot, drawing favorable comments from many people.

Mazda has thankfully toned down the overly large grills that made some of their recent cars look a little cartoonish. The Mazda6 definitely benefits from the more refined approach.

The interior felt especially spacious, in part because the dash and console did not intrude into the cabin much. It was also very cleanly designed, especially compared to the button-laden approach of many of its competitors. The optional leather bucket seats in our top-of-the-line Grand Touring edition were both supportive and comfortable. And there was an ample amount of legroom in the back seat.

On the road, the Mazda6 felt quick and nimble. Although it is only available with a 2.5-liter inline four cylinder engine, we never felt the need for a V6. Mated to a quick and smooth shifting six-speed automatic transmission, the Mazda6 accelerated quickly and handled well through the corners — more than living up to the company's "Zoom Zoom" slogan.

A six-speed manual transmission is also available if you want Zoomier.

The 2014 Mazda6 includes all of the company's SkyActiv technology, which means every competent has been designed to maximize fuel economy. We recorded just over 30 miles per gallon during a week of driving, which is very good for a midsize car that isn't a hybrid.

Just about the only weakness of the Mazda6 was its dash-mounted touch screen, which is smaller and less sophisticated than most competitors. The simplistic maps looked very outdated, which was especially annoying at night, when they are more obvious. Although that shouldn't be a deal breaker, with so many manufacturers looking for every possible advantage, it was somewhat surprising.

Nevertheless, for those families looking for affordable transportation that stands out and is fun to drive, the Mazda6 is hard to beat. Mazda is promising to bring out a turbocharged diesel engine later this year that should appeal to those looking for something with even better mileage and performance.

Facts and figures (all models)

• Model tested: 2014 Mazda6.

• Manufacturer: Mazda.

• Class: Midsize.

• Layout: Front engine, front-wheel-drive.

• Styles: Four door sedan.

• Engines: 2.5-liter inline 4 (185 hp, 184 lbs-ft).

• Transmission: Six-speed manual; six-speed automatic with manual shift mode and steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters.

• EPA estimated city/highway/mileage: 26/38/30.

• Price: Beginning at approximately $25,000 ($31,490 as tested).