Redone Mazda6 gets sporty stance
PARIS -- The current Mazda6 was designed to compete with such family favorites as the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry.
That was a mistake, says Hiroshi Kajiyama, program manager for both the current Mazda6 and the redesigned 2014 model that goes on sale in January.
So, benchmarking German sport sedans, he tried to imbue the 2014 Mazda6 with sporty character to compete in a mid-sized sedan segment known for value and practicality.
Mazda designers pulled the sedan's wheels closer to the corners, stretched the wheelbase and reduced the length. The car sits lower but is just as wide, which gives it a sportier stance.
The car rides on a new platform using Mazda's lightweight chassis and body designs, plus new powertrains that boost power and fuel efficiency compared with the current Mazda6. Mazda calls the new technology package Skyactiv.
The U.S. version will get a 2.5-liter direct-injection four-cylinder engine that generates about 189 hp and 189 pounds-feet of torque.
As Automotive News reported in August, a 2.2-liter twin turbo diesel engine will be offered next summer. Mazda officials declined to confirm those plans during a recent media event.
At a media event in September, reporters drove preproduction models outside Paris. The car's suspension was taut and responsive, letting the driver feel imperfections on the road without a sensation of harshness. The U.S. version's suspension likely will be softened to cater to American tastes.
In the cabin, soft-touch materials were used liberally on the instrument panel.
Mazda plans to build about 120,000 units of the Mazda6 next year in Hofu, Japan, for sales globally. The United States, Mazda's largest single market, should account for most of that volume.
Jim O'Sullivan, CEO of Mazda North American Operations, declined to set a sales target for the redesigned model. In 2011 the company sold 35,711 Mazda6s in the United States. Through September, Mazda sold 29,653 of the sedans in the U.S., a 19 percent gain in a market that's up 15 percent this year.
"Will we sell 100,000 units a year? That's not what we're looking for," O'Sullivan said here. "But are we looking to sell more than we have in the past couple of years? Yes."
O'Sullivan said the bad timing of the current Mazda6 launch -- the same week Lehman Bros. collapsed in fall 2008 -- has dogged the sedan.
The company is in a better position this time, he says. The new
CX-5 crossover is in high demand and has won Mazda more attention from shoppers. O'Sullivan expects the Mazda6 launch to feed on that momentum.
Ed Kim, an analyst with AutoPacific Inc., said the mid-sized segment is particularly difficult for small competitors such as Mazda.
"To thrive or even get noticed in the segment, you have to really be exceptional, be an incumbent or have such a combo of standout features that you force the market to notice — or have the marketing budget to cut through the clutter," he said.
Mazda dealer Mike Morais, COO of Open Road Auto Group in New Jersey, agreed.
"That segment is a value-proposition segment," he said. "Unless you make something that is exponentially beyond the competition in style and performance, and it's similarly priced, it's tough."
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