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A midsize car that's not vanilla? The Mazda6 dares to dream, outsmarts with technology

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Tesla Model S? No, it's the swoopy new Mazda 6. Photo by Kevin McCauley
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The Snowflake White Pearl exterior pops at night. Photo by Kevin McCauley
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The beltline should tell you the 2014 Mazda6 is no ordinary family sedan. Photo by Kevin McCauley
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Bodywork is sleek, but muscular. Photo by Kevin McCauley
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Under the sculpted hood lies a 2.5 liter inline-four that makes 184 hp. Photo by Kevin McCauley
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Optional Xenon headlamps are standard on the Grand Touring model. Photo by Kevin McCauley
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The trunk is deep, but the opening isn't very wide. Photo by Kevin McCauley
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A central command dial sits beneath the gear selector. Photo by Kevin McCauley
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We're not so sure about the 'Almond' colored seats. Photo by Kevin McCauley
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Steering wheel and dials are nicely positioned in the 2014 Mazda6. Photo by Kevin McCauley
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19" alloy wheels on the 2014 Mazda6. Photo by Kevin McCauley
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Dual exhaust tips. Really? Photo by Kevin McCauley
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Mazda has a reputation of building cars for drivers. They take everything that they learn from sports cars and racing cars and sort of infuse it into the lineup, or so the legend goes.

Naturally, we're skeptical that it can be meaningfully done in the most vanilla of auto segments: The midsize sedan.

But here's Mazda's latest crack at it, the 2014 Mazda6. Like the CX-5 crossover we tested last year, the 6 makes use of Skyactiv technology, which, to sum up, is sort of a philosophy of making things lighter, more rigid and more efficient to improve the performance and fuel economy. 
 
What's under the hood?
The 2.5L inline-4 in the Mazda6 produces 184hp and 185 lb-ft of torque, with the help of direct injection and high (13:1) compression.
 
Observations 
Driving
We'll come out right off the bat and say the 6 is probably the best handling midsize sedan we've driven. A steering wheel that feels just right, a stiff chassis and relatively low weight (under 3,200 pounds)  make for a car that seems to shrink around you. The engine isn't particularly powerful, but it's responsive and will deliver when pushed. Paddle-shifters behind the steering wheel give you added control and strengthen the connection between the car and the driver.
 
Styling
The 6 borrows the 'Kodo' design language that we liked on the Mazda CX-5, and drapes it over an even sexier shape. The result is both aggressive and slippery, and filled with smart details like the jewel-like head lamps, aerodynamic-formed mirrors and just the right touches of chrome used to connect different shapes.
 
Comfort
Inside, the 6 has an excellent driving position and steering wheel. The eight-way power adjustable leather seats in our Grand Touring spec'd test vehicle were a great fit and stylishly trimmed.
 
Efficiency?
The Mazda6, with the 6-speed automatic transmission, is EPA rated at 26 mpg city and an impressive 38 highway.
Intriguingly, the 6 uses a system called i-ELOOP to store braking energy, and sends it to a capacitor (instead of weighty batteries) to power the car's accessories — they say this makes it 10 percent more efficient because the electric accessories aren't burdening the engine. Best of all, it functions completely seamlessly.
 
How much does it cost?
The entry level 6 starts at around $21,000. A Grand Touring model like we drove, which comes, for the most part, fully loaded, will set you back $30,000.
 
What's Good?
• Beautifully styled, inside and out.
• Engaging handling and performance. 
 
What's Not?
• The 5.8" touchscreen display just looks almost comically small.
• Most of the screen inputs for Navigation, Setup, etc . . . are redundantly repeated on the buttons on the screen surround and on the command dial on the lower part of the console. 
• Not enough color options
 
Our Verdict
The 2014 Mazda6 is an inspiring performer and a breath of fresh air in the midsize sedan market. But what makes it really remarkable is how it uses innovative technologies to outsmart its rivals and earn better fuel economy as well. The Mazda6 proves there's no reason you should ever have to drive something beige.
 
How we'd buy it:
Since, as of now, there's just one engine, you're basically choosing how many option and luxuries you want. We would choose the middle-line Touring trim in Soul Red.

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