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Mazda 6: Much more than meets the eye

The 2014 Mazda 6, of which the Grand Touring version is the top model, is an ordinary-looking sedan gifted with extraordinary technology. It belongs at the top of the list for anyone shopping for a high-quality, reliable, safe and enjoyable family sedan. Illustrates WHEELS-MAZDA (category l) by Warren Brown, special to The Washington Post, Moved Friday, May 3, 2013. (MUST CREDIT: Morgan J. Segal)

The 2014 Mazda 6, of which the Grand Touring version is the top model, is an ordinary-looking sedan gifted with extraordinary technology. It belongs at the top of the list for anyone shopping for a high-quality, reliable, safe and enjoyable family sedan. Illustrates WHEELS-MAZDA (category l) by Warren Brown, special to The Washington Post, Moved Friday, May 3, 2013. (MUST CREDIT: Morgan J. Segal)

The engineers won. That much is certain.

Mazda Motor Corp. embarked on a noble mission – to rethink the entire automobile and to treat form and function as one in the process.

The aesthetic goal was to elevate engineering to art. But Mazda partly missed that mark in its 2014 redevelopment of the Mazda 6 Grand Touring sedan.

There is little about the new Mazda 6 that is visually impressive. It is not ugly. But it isn’t memorable or seductive, either. It is the physical manifestation of well-formed “blah.”

But to get stuck on that subjective flaw is to miss the point of everything the company has done with its new Mazda 6, which is a lot – so much that it possibly could change the way Mazda’s rivals develop and design affordable, fun-to-drive automobiles.

Some definitions are needed before we proceed. “Affordable” means cars, midsize family sedans in this case, costing from $20,000 to $35,000. Many gainfully employed people can buy them via personal savings or prudent financing.

“Fun-to-drive” means the joy of movement abetted by a motorized machine – in this case, a fuel-efficient family car that also displays moxie in acceleration and handling on the road.

Unfortunately, Mazda’s marketers chose to wrap all of the Mazda 6’s technological improvements in the moniker of “Skyactiv” – confusing because the car’s technology has the remotest link to things “sky.”

The Mazda 6 doesn’t fly, for example. But it mixes, ingests and burns air and fuel, and exhausts the fumed remnants, in such a way as to allow more of us to experience clear days on which a blue sky is visible.

That is no small thing, especially not in a car with a base price of $29,495 (for the 2014 Mazda Grand Touring with six-speed automatic transmission).

It would take more than the relatively few inches allowed here to accurately and fully explain everything involved in Mazda’s Skyactiv technology package, first displayed on the company’s remake of the 2012 Mazda 3 and now migrating throughout the Mazda line. But it is not hyperbole to say that Mazda looked at practically all components used in automobiles and rethought and reengineered how those pieces fit and work together.

Consider, for example, the matter of the transmission, the component that transmits the torque – twisting power – of the engine to a car’s wheels.

The torque-transfer system in the front-wheel-drive Mazda 6 has been outfitted with a new lockup device that extends the time engine rotation (think torque) is directly linked to the transmission (think transmission rotation), sending power to the drive wheels.

The device in the new Mazda 6 extends engine-transmission lockup time to 80 percent, compared with a 50 percent lockup time in previous Mazda 6 models. And, thanks to the clever redesign and inclusion of new dampers in the transmission, it does that work quietly, free of any discernible vibration.

The result is a more fuel-efficient, smooth-shifting automatic that also can be operated manually with as much aplomb and accuracy as a traditional six-speed manual gearbox.

Other notable changes include weight savings, as much as 220 pounds in the new Mazda 6 body, generated by the use of aluminum, high-strength (but lightweight) steels and composites. The result is a relatively lightweight sedan body, 3,232 pounds minus passengers and cargo, that also is one of the most rigid and most tightly hewn in the business.

I stopped thinking about how the new Mazda 6 looked, or didn’t, after a week behind its wheel. This midsize sedan, hands down, is simply one of the best in the business. It gets a strong “buy.”

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