The Truth About Cars » mid-sized http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Thu, 30 Jul 2015 20:00:10 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.2.2 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars editors@ttac.com editors@ttac.com (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars » mid-sized http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/wp-content/themes/ttac-theme/images/logo.gif http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com 2015 Ford Edge Ecoboost Review with Video http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/07/2015-ford-edge-ecoboost-review-video/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/07/2015-ford-edge-ecoboost-review-video/#comments Mon, 27 Jul 2015 14:00:06 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1116857 The large two-row crossover is a rare breed. With compact crossovers getting less compact and folks defecting to supersized three rows, Toyota and Honda chose to kill the Venza and Accord Crosstour while Ford pressed on with a redesign of the Edge. You can think of the Edge as a “tweener” crossover slotting between the Escape and […]

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2015 Ford Edge Exterior Front-002

The large two-row crossover is a rare breed. With compact crossovers getting less compact and folks defecting to supersized three rows, Toyota and Honda chose to kill the Venza and Accord Crosstour while Ford pressed on with a redesign of the Edge. You can think of the Edge as a “tweener” crossover slotting between the Escape and the Explorer while at the same time being the spiritual successor (in modern form) to the Bronco and two-row Explorers of yesteryear. Although Ford says the Edge is a complete redesign, you could be forgiven for thinking this is more of a refresh, and that’s not a bad thing since the Edge was already one the most appealing options in this phone-booth-sized segment.

Exterior
Although the 2015 Edge looks more like a lightly massaged 2014 than an all-new model, it actually rides on a different platform with two all-new engines under the hood and shares surprisingly little with its predecessor in terms of parts. The last-generation Edge was designed around Ford’s “CD3″ parts bin which was co-designed with Mazda and from those building blocks came the last-generation Fusion, Mazda6, MKZ and even the CX-9. For 2015 Ford pulls from the new CD4 parts bin which serves as the basis for the current Fusion and will underpin the new Taurus and Flex among others. Although weight reduction is all the rage these days, the platform swap sheds less than 100 pounds from the Edge’s curb weight.

This change under the sheetmetal explains the Edge’s growth which is up four inches overall with a one-inch wheelbase stretch. The increase gives the Edge a sleeker and less boxy profile than before while offering more interior room. Meanwhile, Ford tacked on a new grille that strikes me as the merger of Hyundai and Ford’s styling cues. Since the Venza and Crosstour are leaving us this year (production has supposedly already stopped) this means the Edge’s direct competition comes in the form of the Hyundai Santa Fe Sport, Nissan Murano and certain versions of the Kia Sorento which comes as either a two- or three-row crossover for 2016. If you want to expand the pool, the Grand Cherokee and Lexus RX are also plausible cross-shops, although the Jeep is far more off-road focused and the RX truly competes with the Edge’s ritzy brother: the Lincoln MKX.

2015 Ford Edge Interior Dashboard

Interior
Having not sat inside an Edge in about a year, I had to hunt one down to figure out what changed. The short answer is: everything. The long answer is: the design is similar enough to the outgoing model that current Edge shoppers will feel right at home, but different enough to give them a reason to lease another. Ford merged the squarish style of the 2014 interior with design cues from the latest Focus and Fusion. Instead of continuing Ford’s button minimalism strategy, 2015 adds buttons to make the infotainment system and climate control easier to use.

Front-seat comfort is excellent, although you’ll find that the new Murano’s seats are a hair softer and the 2016 Sorento (in top end trims) offers a wider range of seat adjustments. Rear-seat comfort is excellent and I found the rear cabin more comfortable than the competition, especially the Jeep which has strangely stiff seat cushions. Seat comfort is, in general, a reason to upgrade from a compact crossover to this midsized category. Much of the increased comfort comes from increased legroom and headroom. For 2015, the Edge gains three inches of combined room vs the outgoing model. The way legroom is measured seems to be a matter of constant debate, highlighted by the similar legroom numbers you get in the Honda CR-V. However, in the real world, the Edge not only feels larger, but it’s larger in practical terms as well. In the Edge I was able to properly install a rear-facing child seat behind a 6’2″ passenger, something I could not do in the CR-V. In the way-back you’ll find 25 to 40 percent more cargo room than most compact crossovers, but less than the average 3-row crossover with the 3rd row folded.

2015 Ford Edge MyFord Touch

Infotainment
Ford’s touchscreen infotainment system is not long for this world. Starting in the 2016 calendar year, we will see the highly-anticipated SYNC3 system start to roll into Ford models. Until the software refresh hits however, the Edge will soldier on with the base 4.2-inch SYNC system or the optional 8-inch MyFord Touch (optional in SEL and standard in Titanium and Sport). Since LCD love is all the rage, SEL models can be equipped with Ford’s ubiquitous partial LCD instrument cluster (standard in Titanium and Sport) where twin 4.2-inch displays flank a large central speedometer. Base models get a 6-speaker unbranded audio system and shoppers can option up a 9-speaker premium option or a 12-speaker Sony audio system as our tester was equipped. The twin-LCD system is starting to look dated compared to the LCD clusters that are optional in high end trims of the Grand Cherokee and Sorento but on par with what’s in the Murano.

MyFord Touch is one of the most maligned infotainment systems on the market, but it is also one of the most fully featured. Even in 2015 there are still mainline brands that don’t offer voice command of your USB-connected music library. At this point Ford has addressed most of the major issues that plagues the MFT system launch, except for the speed. Interacting with the touchscreen requires patience as screen changes are considerably slower than the Kia, Chrysler, GM and Toyota alternatives.

Integrated telematics systems that email you vehicle health reports, allow you to call a concierge, request emergency assistance and know when your airbags have gone off are seeing a renaissance. This generation of Ford’s infotainment system includes SYNC Services which offers OnStar-like telematics without the integrated modem. On the downside, if you’ve forgotten your phone and you get in an accident, the car can’t dial for help.

2015 Ford Edge 2.0L Ecoboost Turbo Engine-001

Drivetrain
Last time we looked at the Edge, Ford made the 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder a $995 option over the 3.5-liter V6. In an interesting reversal, the V6 is now a $425 optional engine and the 2.0-liter is standard. Despite the identical displacement, the 2.0-liter is almost a new engine. Ford increased the compression, fiddled with the fuel and oiling systems and tacked on a new twin-scroll turbocharger for improved efficiency and a broader torque curve. Power is up 5 horsepower and 5 lb-ft over last year to 245 and 275 respectively with a beefier power band. That’s 35 fewer ponies than the optional V6, but 25 lb-ft more. Also different from last year, you can finally get the small Ecoboost engine with all-wheel drive.

Making the Edge Sport sportier than before is another new engine: the 2.7-liter twin-turbo V6 from Ford’s F-150. Inserted sideways under the Edge’s hood, the turbo-six loses a little power but still trumps the outgoing 3.7-liter V6 by 10 ponies and 70 lb-ft (315 hp 350 lb-ft). More impressively, that torque comes to a boil 1,250 RPM sooner. In perhaps the most interesting twist, the Edge Sport doesn’t come with AWD standard. That’s right, all 350 lb-ft of twist are routed to the front wheels only by default. Torque steer? You betcha.

2015 Ford Edge Exterior-001
Drive
Torque steer isn’t just what classifies the 2.7-liter turbo. The 2.0-liter turbo has plenty of that particular demon under the hood as well. (Although I find the act of controlling torque steer amusing, I also willingly bought a new Chrysler LHS at age 18, so take that into consideration.) Put the pedal to the metal and the small turbo engine whirs to life with a hair of lag that’s very similar to BMW’s 2.0-liter turbo. After 7.5 seconds the Edge will hit 60 mph, followed by the 1/4 mile in 15.8 seconds. That’s almost half a second slower than the Murano and V6 Grand Cherokee but only a hair behind the Santa Fe Sport and Sorento with the 2.0-liter turbo. Shoppers should know that a dealer provided 3.5-liter V6 model was just 2/10ths faster to 60 and posted essentially identical 1/4 mile numbers while drinking more fuel. Why is it a $425 option? Because some folks just want six cylinders. (In case you were wondering, a brief test in an AWD Edge Sport (dealer provided) ran to 60 in a scant 5.8 seconds.)

Curb weight ranges from 3,912 pounds in the FWD 2.0-liter Ecoboost base model to a maximum of 4,236 pounds in the FWD Sport model. If you want AWD, it adds around 165 pounds, bringing the AWD Sport to a fairly hefty 4,400 pounds when fully equipped. Despite the weight, the Edge handles surprisingly well. You can thank a few things for that: the wide 64.8 inch track, standard 245-width rubber and a suspension design that’s related to Ford’s global portfolio including the current European Mondeo. Somewhat surprisingly, jumping from the base SE to the Titanium or Sport trims doesn’t buy you wider rubber but the aspect ratio falls from 245/60R18s in the SE to 245/55R19s in the Titanium and 245/50R20s in the Sport. While the aspect ratio and spring rates obviously play a role in lateral grip, the SE and Sport are closer together than you think. (As a late 2015 option Ford will offer an optional 265/40R21 wheel and tire package with summer rubber which we were not able to test.)

2015 Ford Edge Interior Dashboard-004

The hefty curb weight, moderately soft springs and 55-series tires combine to give the Edge a compliant highway ride that wafted over potholed and rough pavement without batting an eye. While not as soft as the new Murano, the Edge has a more pleasing balance because the Nissan often feels too soft on your favorite winding mountain road. Hyundai’s Santa Fe Sport actually deserves its name because it feels the most nimble and athletic in the corners. The Hyundai weighs around 500 pounds less which certainly doesn’t hurt, but the suspension is also tuned on the firmer side of this segment. On the other side is the Grand Cherokee which, thanks to its off-road mission, weighs more, is higher off the ground and feels more ponderous. Meanwhile the Sorento straddles the middle of the segment thanks to a light curb weight and moderately firm springs. Steering feel is numb but accurate and I had no problems understanding what the front wheels were up to.

Priced between $28,100 for a FWD SE model and $48,100 for the AWD Sport trim, the Edge starts more expensive and scales higher than the Korean options. However, shoppers need to look beyond the low starting price with the Kia and Hyundai because base Santa Fe and Sorento models come with a naturally aspirated 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine that is considerably less powerful than the Edge’s base engine and the Koreans have fewer features standard as well. Equip the Hyundai and Kia with a 2.0-liter turbo engine so they compare more directly with the Edge and they ring in at $31,250 and $31,100 respectively, giving Ford the upper hand in MSRP. The value pricing continues against Nissan and Jeep with the Edge undercutting the Murano by around $1,000 across the line and the Jeep by $1,500-2,000 depending on the options.

Nissan’s Murano wins the award for being the best highway cruiser in the bunch. The Jeep is the off-road alternative and the Edge is the value leader. The Kia, however, is my top choice. The Sorento has a fresher look, it’s slightly bigger with a nicer interior and a 0-60 time that’s a bit faster as well. The Sorento handles surprisingly well in its latest generation and top-end trims are better equipped than the Edge. While the Sorento EX is more expensive than a base Edge, you do get more feature content in the Kia and by the time you compare top-end trims the Sorento is less expensive. The only trouble with the Sorento is that Kia attempts to compete with the Edge, Escape and Explorer with one vehicle. Get the base Sorento and it’s Escape priced with 2 rows and a weak 2.4-liter engine. The 2.0-liter turbo Sorento is a 2-row luxury-leaning crossover with optional Nappa leather and HID headlamps. Check the box for the V6 and you get a small third row for your mother-in-law as a smaller alternative to the Explorer. This means that V6 Edge competition gets whittled down to just the Nissan and the Jeep.

After a week with the 2.0-liter Ecoboost Edge I have come to a few conclusions. First up, skip the V6 as it really makes no sense. The fuel economy in the 2.0-liter turbo is better and the performance is nearly identical. Second, get AWD even if you live below the snow belt, unless you really love torque steer. Third, the front-wheel peel in a FWD 2.7-liter twin-turbo Edge Sport made me giggle. If you’re shopping for the best 2.0-liter turbo crossover in this segment, stop by your Kia dealer. However, if you want something this size that will put a smile on your face without braking the bank, the Edge Sport is the CUV you’re looking for. The Edge Sport AWD bridges the gap between the fire-breathing Grand Cherokee SRT and a mainstream crossover like the Sorento and Santa Fe Sport. Think of the Edge Sport as the gravel-road version of the Taurus SHO. I’ll take a red one.

Ford provided the vehicle, insurance and one tank of gas for this review

Specifications as tested

0-30: 2.65

0-60: 7.5

1/4 Mile: 15.80 Seconds @ 86 MPH

Average Economy: 24.6 MPG

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Review: 2014 Mazda6 (With Video) http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/08/review-2014-mazda6-video/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/08/review-2014-mazda6-video/#comments Thu, 08 Aug 2013 17:20:17 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=498456 Whenever I talk to car shoppers, the Mazda6 comes up. No, it’s not because people are confused if it’s a “Mazda 6″ or a “Mazda6″ or a “Mazda Mazda6.” Although, it does top the Land Rover Range Rover Sport Autobiography for the strangest name on the market. (I prefer to call it a Mazda6.) The […]

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2014 Mazda Mazda6 Exterior

Whenever I talk to car shoppers, the Mazda6 comes up. No, it’s not because people are confused if it’s a “Mazda 6″ or a “Mazda6″ or a “Mazda Mazda6.” Although, it does top the Land Rover Range Rover Sport Autobiography for the strangest name on the market. (I prefer to call it a Mazda6.) The reason Mazda’s mid-sized sedan comes up, is because it seems to be a car often shopped, but rarely purchased. In June, it scored 14th in sales for the segment. Surprised? I was. Even the Chrysler 200 and Dodge Avenger (9th and 12th place) outsold it by a wide margin. The low sales numbers piqued my interest enough that I hit Mazda up for a cherry red model to see why.

Click here to view the embedded video.

Exterior

2014 brings Mazda’s new corporate grille to the Mazda6, and I have to say, it’s a beautiful schnoz. I was a little worried the gaping maw would be too large in person, (in pictures it looks enormous) but up-close-and-personal it has to be the second most attractive front end after the Fusion. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but during the week I was unable to find anyone who disagreed with me. So my opinion reigns supreme. I’m worried however, the proportions look perfect on the Mazda6, so what will the Mazda3 be like? Why am I worried? Because if you park the Mazda6 next to a CX-9 or CX-5, the crossovers look more cartoonish than if they park alone. Just like your girlfriend seems pretty until you park her next to Megan Fox. Although the 2014 model looks longer than the outgoing Mazda6, overall length has been cut by about two inches. Adding “visual length” as well as much-needed rear seat room, the wheelbase has been stretched by two inches to 111.4.

2014 Mazda Mazda6 Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Mazda’s nose may be a notch below the Ford in my style-guide, but out back it’s a different story. I find the Fusion’s rump to be a little awkward. It’s almost as if Ford ran out of time and “hurried” the back end of their family hauler. Not so with the Mazda6 which has a finished look from the “raised eyebrow” tail lamps to the twin chrome exhausts. Thanks to the best butt in the business, I call the Ford v. Mazda beauty contest a tie. How about the Koreans? I never warmed to the Sonata, but the Optima is aggressive and attractive, just not as emotional as the Mazda6. Thanks to the low sales volume, the Mazda is also a step outside the ordinary, something that attracts me.

2014 Maxda Mazda6 Interior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Interior
The British would have called the old Mazda6’s interior “cheap and cheerful” with shapes that failed to offend, but plastics that were far from premium. For 2014, Mazda increased the plastic budget and coated the interior with soft injection moulded material. Bucking the latest trend, Mazda skipped the stitching treatment on the dash, although you will find sewing machine tracks on the doors. ZoomZoom also nixed the faux-tree in favor of a black-cherry (or just black) plastic trim panel that bisects the tall dashboard. Aside from the infotainment binnacle that seems a bit too large for the screen, this is the most harmonious and simple dashboard in this segment. I hate to beat on the old Mazda6, but “simple and harmonious” is not a phrase I would have used.

Front seat comfort was excellent for my average six-foot frame, regardless of the trim level. In an interesting move, Mazda chose to make the base manual seat adjust in all the same ways as the optional powered seats. The inclusion of manual lumbar support on base seats is a nice touch as well, something the competition often skips in “stripper” models. In keeping with Mazda’s self-proclaimed sporty image, the front seats feature aggressive (for a Camcord segment car) front seat bolsters and are therefore quite different from the Barcaloungers in the Camry, Accord and Altima. The bolsters aren’t as pronounced as a C63 AMG, but the “like a glove” fit was a huge selling point for me. On the down side, seats like these are less comfortable for larger folks as they provide precious little muffin top accommodation.

Rear seat legroom is up thanks to the increased wheelbase and is now competitive with the CamFusCord. Because the way that car companies measure leg room varies it’s hard to go by the published numbers. According to the numbers the Mazda6 delivers the same rear legroom as the meat of the competition but skimps on front legroom. In reality the Mazda6 felt roomier than its old cousin the Ford Fusion while the Camry still feels larger somehow. Some of that is thanks to the Camry’s generous rear headroom, something that sexy sedan profiles take a toll on. Thankfully Mazda didn’t cut the rear doors as low as Ford did making it easier to get in and out of the Mazda. With more room on the inside and a shorter overall car, it’s no surprise that the looser in this battle is the trunk. At 14.8 cubic feet the 2014 model looses two cubes compared to last year shifting it from one of the larger trunks in the segment to among the smallest.

2014 Maxda Mazda6 Interior, Infotainment Control Knob, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Infotainment & Gadgets

Mazda’s limited budget is readily apparent when you look at the Infotainment system. I’m not talking about the base 6-speaker AM/FM/CD system that you will only find in the most basic trim Mazda6 with the manual transmission, that one is lovely, I’m talking about the 5.8-inch touchscreen. Simply adding the automatic transmission bundles the touchscreen infotainment system on the base model and it’s standard on all other models meaning you can’t get away from it. If you’ve read my reviews before, you know that I love me some touchscreen infotainment, but Mazda’s leaves me scratching my head.

First off, the screen is small. With the Accord boasting two ginormous LCDs in the dash, 5.8-inches is nothing to brag about. The size of the screen’s binnacle makes me hopeful a mid-cycle refresh will being some 8-inch touch-love, but that could be a pipe dream. The software’s graphics are suitably slick and the interface is easy to navigate via the touchscreen or the Audi MMI style knob in the center console. Alas the lord giveth and he taketh away. The software is sluggish at best, some of the control screens are half-baked and the integration of TomTom navigation is clunky. I’m not a huge fan of Chrysler’s uConnect with Garmin software, but at least that system has the screen real estate allowing you to read the awkward menus and stab what you need, not so in the Mazda. When using the control dial it’s difficult to distinguish between the option that’s selected and the cursor position since they are the same color and nearly the same shape.

2014 Mazda Mazda6 Infotainment, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Plug in any music device and you’ll encounter my other beef, and something Mazda forum posters have been complaining about as well. The media interface is incredibly slow. I n c r e d i b l y  s l o w. So slow that at first I assumed the head unit had frozen so I plugged, unplugged, plugged, unplugged to no avail. Then I gave up and listened to the radio. (Gasp!) A full 4 minutes later, the system switched to the iDevice and started to play my tunes. (Yes, I tested it with USB sticks and it did the same thing). If you think this is a momentary aberration, think again. The system has to fully index your entire USB/Android/iDevice music library before it starts playing. It does this whenever you unplug/plug or when you stop/start the car. Every. Single. Time. The larger your library, the longer it takes. Users on the Mazda forum reported a 10+ minute delay when playing larger devices while I averaged just over three minutes. Want tunes on a short journey? I hope you enjoy AM Gold. Mazda hasn’t confirmed a software update, but I pray one happens soon. This was so aggravating it colors my whole opinion of the interface, if Mazda fixed this one thing I could forgive the small screen and quirky menu system.

On the gadget front, Mazda lags behind Ford but does offers most of the gadgetry you’ll find in the competition and a few things you won’t. Our tester had the optional adaptive radar cruise with collision warning, xenon headlamps, blind spot warning, rear cross traffic detection, rain sensing wipers and keyless entry/go. Also available as part of the $2090 Technology Package on iGrand Touring models is lane departure warning and an auto high beam system bundled with Mazda’s i-ELoop micro hybrid system. Notably absent on the Mazda6 are lane departure prevention and self-parking, features starting to trickle down into this segment.

2014 Mazda Mazda6 Engine, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Drivetrain

SkyActiv is Mazda’s fuel saving “brand,” but it’s more than just a set of engine tweaks. Mazda’s fuel sipping umbrella includes weight savings, aerodynamics, optional energy regeneration and a slick new transmission. Lets start with weight savings. At 3,232lbs (automatic transmission) the 2014 is  about three hundred pounds lighter than the old model, 200lbs lighter than a Fusion, and a hair heavier than a Camry or Optima. Under the hood you’ll find the latest 2.5L Mazda four-cylinder engine with direct injection and variable valve timing. Mazda uses a 13:1 compression ratio in the American bound models to allow it to run safely on regular unleaded, so this isn’t exactly the same engine in other markets. Power output is 185 HP and 184 lb-ft which stacks up well against the competition especially when you look at the torque curve which is lower and broader than most of the competition. While Ford offers no less than four engine options in the Fusion, the 2.5L is the only engine available until the SkyActiv diesel appears.

Something that has confused reporters in the past is Mazda’s new transmission. Some describe it as a hybrid between a dual clutch and a traditional automatic, some have even suggested that it can “disable” the torque converter. In addition to the 6-speed manual transmission you can opt for the SkyActiv branded traditional automatic transaxle. Traditional? What about the fancy clutches? Here’s what Mazda did.

Lock-up torque converters are nothing new, having been introduced in 1949, but in our age of efficiency companies are using them more aggressively. By locking the impeller and turbine (input and output) of the torque converter, you increase efficiency by cutting most of the impelling losses in the torque converter (there are still some because it’s still spinning, but it’s greatly reduced). Old transmissions only did this in their final gear and relatively infrequently. Modern automatics like GM/Ford’s 6-speed transaxle spend about half their time in lock-up and will engage the locking “clutch” in most gears. Mazda’s new slushbox is programmed with an aggressive lockup agenda and will lock in every gear. In addition, it spends more time in lockup (80% or more) than a competitive unit on the same driving cycle. The result is a more connected 1:1 relationship between the engine and wheels than you find in a CamFusCord.

2014 Mazda Mazda6 Exterior-002

Drive

The aggressive lockup is noticeable out on the road, especially in hill driving where the Mazda6 feels more connected to the drivetrain than the competition. “Connected” is a word that repeatedly came to mind when driving the Mazda6 in the real world and during an event at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca where Mazda had the guys to let a writer’s group flog a sedan on the track. The Zoom-Zoom brand has long been known for an emphasis on handling, so it shouldn’t surprise you that the Mazda6 is one of the most enjoyable front wheel drive cars on the road, but it also proved amusing on the track. No, not as amusing as the BMW X1 that was on hand, but the Mazda delivered surprising agility, well controlled body motions, little roll and just a hint of brake fade after 6 laps. For a CamFusCord competitor, there is no higher praise. Ultimate grip is easily the equal of the new Ford Fusion, the only other entry in this large segment with any handling prowess at all. Another feather in the Mazda6’s cap is steering with the vaguest hint of feeling, a quality that would have been laughable a decade ago, but in our age of electric power steering even the suggestion of feedback is welcome.

I was a bit less impressed with the Mazda6’s manual transmission, yes it has possibly the best shift feel in the segment, but is that saying much? The clutch pedal feel is superior to the new Accord as well, but with only 184HP on tap and 3,200lbs to motivate the automatic does a better job on the average commute. Boo! Hiss! Another manual hater?!? Not at all, I love the fact that Mazda builds most trim levsls of the Mazda6 with a manual. The problem is the slushbox is moderately engaging and gets 1MPG better mileage (26/38 for the auto). It’s easy to see why the average shopper would let the car row the gears. At the stop-light races, the 2014 model feels stronger than the outgoing model despite the modest bump in power, this is thanks to the improved torque curve, weight reduction and that SkyActiv transmission. Proving that CVTs are the performance king (seriously) the four-cylinder Accord spanks the ZoomZoom to 60 MPH with a 6.83 second score to the Mazda6’s 7.4 but both of those are faster than the Fusion’s base or 1.6L Ecoboost options by over half a tick.

2014 Mazda Mazda6 Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

The i-ELoop micro hybrid system is part of a $2,090 option pack on the top trim of the Mazda6. This is similar to BMW’s active alternator, in that the system is only capable of recovering a portion of the kinetic energy and provides no motive assistance. When braking, a variable voltage alternator charges a large capacitor, the system uses this to power vehicle systems. When accelerating, the system disengages the alternator to reduce the load and runs the accessories on the reserved charge. Mazda claims the system is good for an extra 2MPG on the highway bumping the mid-sized sedan to an impressive 40MPG. I was unable to get my hands on one for testing, but I easily beat the 30 MPG combined score despite driving it more aggressively during the week than the competition.

So if the Mazda6 handles well, delivers decent fuel economy and is priced and featured in line with the competition, why are the sales so slow? After a week with the 2014 incarnation I’m no closer to answering this automotive enigma. Many have conjectured the ZoomZoom brand lacks the advertising resources to push their wares, that is certainly true when you compare their marketing budget to Toyota, but then again Kia and Hyundai have raised themselves from obscurity on budgets that started small. Some posit the lack of a stout V6 option is to blame, but 90% of the cars in this segment are four-bangers, so toss that logic out the window. Even with the most aggravating infotainment system sold in America, the Mazda6’s other attributes compensate enough to put it near the top of my list, just under the gadget loaded, 2.0L Ecoboosted Fusion and the four-cylinder Accord. Why doesn’t the Mazda6 sell? Will the diesel engine turn the Mazda6 into an oil-burning Passat killer? These are questions we may never have answered. What do our readers have to say?

Hit it or Quit It?

Hit it

  • One of the best looking cars in the segment.
  • Excellent fuel economy.
  • Turbo diesel dreams.

Quit it

  • Aggravating infotainment system.
  • No turbocharged four and no V6 option for “performance” shoppers.

Mazda provided the vehicle, insurance and one tank of gas for this review.

Specifications as tested

0-30: 2.75 Seconds

0-60: 7.4 Seconds

1/4 Mile: 15.786 Seconds @ 88.5 MPH

Average Observed Fuel Economy: 30.5 MPG over 534 miles

2014 Maxda Mazda6 Interior 2014 Maxda Mazda6 Interior-001 2014 Maxda Mazda6 Interior-002 2014 Maxda Mazda6 Interior-003 2014 Maxda Mazda6 Interior-004 2014 Maxda Mazda6 Interior-005 2014 Maxda Mazda6 Interior, Infotainment Control Knob, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Maxda Mazda6 Interior-007 2014 Maxda Mazda6 Interior-008 2014 Maxda Mazda6 Interior-009 2014 Maxda Mazda6 Interior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Maxda Mazda6 Interior-011 2014 Mazda Mazda6 Engine 2014 Mazda Mazda6 Engine, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Mazda Mazda6 Exterior 2014 Mazda Mazda6 Exterior-001 2014 Mazda Mazda6 Exterior-002 2014 Mazda Mazda6 Exterior-003 2014 Mazda Mazda6 Exterior-004 2014 Mazda Mazda6 Exterior-005 2014 Mazda Mazda6 Exterior-006 2014 Mazda Mazda6 Exterior-007 2014 Mazda Mazda6 Exterior-008 2014 Mazda Mazda6 Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Mazda Mazda6 Exterior, Rear, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Mazda Mazda6 Infotainment, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Mazda Mazda6 Instrument Cluster 2014 Mazda Mazda6 Trunk 2014 Mazda Mazda6 Trunk-001

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Review: 2013 Nissan Altima SL 3.5 (Video) http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/12/review-2013-nissan-altima-sl-3-5-video/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/12/review-2013-nissan-altima-sl-3-5-video/#comments Sun, 30 Dec 2012 14:32:03 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=471393 The “family sedan” may not be very exciting, but without midsized sales auto makers would be in a pickle. Ponder this: the five best-selling midsized sedans in America accounted for 1.3 million of the 12.8 million vehicles sold in 2011. With numbers like that, it’s important to get your mass-market people mover right. This means […]

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The “family sedan” may not be very exciting, but without midsized sales auto makers would be in a pickle. Ponder this: the five best-selling midsized sedans in America accounted for 1.3 million of the 12.8 million vehicles sold in 2011. With numbers like that, it’s important to get your mass-market people mover right. This means competitive fuel economy, a low base price and swipe as much tech from your luxury brand as possible. Either that or just wear a Nissan badge on the front. Say what? The last generation Altima was the second best-selling car despite being long in the tooth and filled with Chrysler quality plastics. That made me ask an important question: Is the fifth-generation Altima any good, or is it selling well (now in third place thanks to the new Accord and Nissan’s model change over) just because it has a Nissan logo on the front?

 

Click here to view the embedded video.

Exterior

A design that doesn’t alienate the customer you expect to return and buy their second or third car is critical. Just ask Ford how that bubble-Taurus redesign went in 1996. Still, midsize sedan shoppers demand some style so Nissan’s design team jammed a bit of Maxima, a pinch of Infiniti M and a “whole-lotta” Versa into a sausage press and cut the Altima off at 191.5 inches. This makes the new Altima longer than a Camry, a hair longer than a Maxima and essentially the same size as the Accord and Fusion. Nobody will confuse the Altima with an Aston Martin, nor will they think their neighbor is driving a budget Bentley. Instead the slab-sided Altima delivers clean lines and elegant good looks. Think of it as the Midwestern farm girl to the Fusion’s Los Angeles call girl.

Interior

Before we hop in, let’s have a moment of midsized honesty. The last gen Altima, much like the former Sentra, was a plastic penalty box on the inside that belonged in a Hertz garage, not mine. It appears Nissan took the criticism to heart and made such a drastic improvement to the Altima’s interior I suspect Infiniti’s interior decorators lent a hand. Yes, the interior design is somewhat bland, but nobody’s $20,000-$30,000 is very exciting and that’s just how midsized shoppers like it. In sharp contrast to the Fusion’s Germanic black-on-black-on-black interior, our Altima was covered in acres of light beige leather, pleather and soft-touch plastics. The lighter materials make the cabin look  larger and warmer than the numbers indicate with headroom and legroom falling in line with the competition. Some reviews I have seen complain about the cabin’s materials but I’m honestly not clear why. The Altima’s plastics and pleather are better than those in the Camry and Passat and equal to or better than the new Fusion and Accord. Fear not TTAC faithful, there is a low point in the interior: only the SV and SL models eschew the rubbery-plastic tiller for leather wrapping.

Since our tester was the top-of-the-line SL, the cockpit featured a heated tilt/telescopic steering wheel, an 8-way power driver’s seat and manually adjustable lumbar support. Shoppers that chose the 3.5L V6 will be treated to a pair of the best looking and best feeling magnesium paddle shifters this side of a BMW M6. Seriously. There’s just one problem: paddle shifters on a car with a CVT make as much sense as a parking brake on a french poodle. (Yet for some reason I found myself caressing their magnesium goodness non-stop when I was behind the wheel.) Like the most entries in this segment, the front passenger seat remains manually adjustable regardless of trim level and upholstery. Thanks to Nissan’s “Zero Gravity” seat design, the front seats proved comfortable and didn’t’ aggravate my temperamental knee during a 2 hour road trip. Since manufacturers “march to their own drummer” when measuring legroom, take your family to the dealer and jam them all in the car before making a purchase.

Drivetrain

While others are downsizing from V6s to turbo fours in search of improved MPG numbers, Nissan stuck to their I4/V6 lineup. The base Altima is four-cylinder only while the S, SV and SL models are available with either engine. In addition to the extra cylinders, V6 shoppers get wider tires and  shift paddles.

The 2.5L four cylinder mill is good for 182HP at 6,000RPM and 180lb-ft of twist at 4,000RPM while the 3.5L V6 (VQ35DE) turns up the dial to 270HP at 6,000RPM and 258lb0-ft at 4,400RPM. Both engines send the power to the front wheels via a revised Nissan Xtronic CVT with tweaks to reduce friction, improve acceleration, and reduce the “rubber-band” feeling that journalists whine about.

Our tester was a V6 SL which does battle with the Camry and Accord V6 and the 2.0L direct-injection turbos from Ford, Hyundai and Kia. Although V6 sales have dwindled to around 10% of Altima sales, 10% of the second best-selling sedan is a big number. Compared to the competition’s 2.0L turbos, Nissan’s V6 has a torque disadvantage. To combat this, the Altima was put on a diet now tipping the scales at a svelte 3,178/3,335lbs (I4/V6).

Infotainment, Gadgets & Pricing

To improve inventory turnover, Nissan followed VW’s lead and cut back on options. The 2.5L engine starts with the rental-car-chic base model for $21,760 (sans destination). Want options? Sorry, other than color choices there are no options on base and S models. Stepping up to the $22,860 S gets you auto headlamps, keyless entry/go, 6-way power driver’s seat, pollen filter, cruise control and two more speakers (six total). The $24,460 SV is the first model to get some USB/iDevice love, 5″ LCD radio, leather tiller, satellite radio, Pandora integration, backup camera and the ability to check options boxes. The $27,660 SL model adds leather, fog-lights, 8-way driver’s seat, heated front seats, heated steering wheel, and nine Bose speakers. Thankfully 2013 brings standard Bluetooth phone integration with Bluetooth audio streaming and an AUX input jack to even the rental-car destined base model.

The 3.5 S is $2,900 more than the 2.5S and in addition to the V6 adds the shift paddles and wider tires. Adding the 3.5 to the SV will set you back $3,800 due to the bundling of a moonroof and a few other items that are optional in the 2.5. The 3.4 premium on the SL model is $2,900 and in addition to the wider rubber Nissan tosses in Xenon headlamps. If HIDs are your thing, this is the only way to get them.

For $595 on the SV you can add Nissan’s new 7-inch touchscreen nav system dubbed “Nissan Connect.” The system looks like an improved version of their former “Low Cost Navigation” system in the Versa. In addition to a larger display, Nissan polished the UI, added Pandora, Google-send-to-car, faster processing, voice commands and XM NavTraffic/NavWeather. The system won’t voice command your iDevice or climate control like SYNC, but that’s a small price to pay for a responsive system that doesn’t crash, is easy to use and incredibly well priced. While I still have a love for MyFord Touch that dare not speak its name, Nissan Connect is now one of my favorite infotainment systems. Note to Nissan: put this in the S model as well. SL shoppers beware, Nissan Connect will cost you $1090 because it is bundled with blind spot warning, lane departure warning and moving object detection.

There is one more reason to get Nissan Connect: the plastic surrounding the base and 5″ display audio systems scratches easily. Our nav-free tester looked like someone had run a Brillo Pad across the front and just running my finger across the plastic (not my fingernail) caused fine scratches. This is a pity, but not a problem exclusive to the Altima, the new Accord and Camry suffer from this as well.

Drive

The crash diet and CVT pay dividends at the pump.  The Altima 2.5 manages 27/38/31 MPG (City/Highway/Combined) and does so without direct injection, start/stop, batteries or aero packages. What about that V6? Nissan’s focus on weight has made the Altima 3.5 lighter than the Accord V6 and Fusion 2.0 Ecoboost by over 200lbs. In our 3.5 SL I averaged an impressive 27.6MPG over a week of mixed driving. This is notably above the 25MPG combined EPA score despite my commute and the 2,200ft mountain pass I cross twice a day. You can thank the light curb weight and CVT for that. The Accord V6 matches the Altima’s combined EPA number and the Fusion trumps it by one MPG on paper. In the real world, the Altima beat both by 4MPG. My average was so surprising I dropped by a dealer to try another one. The result was the same. I took to the pumps to “pump-drive-pump-calculate-pump-drive-pump-calculate.” The results came within 1MPG of the car computer.

Nissan’s new CVT has dulled the “rubber band” feeling earlier CVTs inflicted upon drivers. This version also “downshifts” faster, although it still takes longer to get from the highest ratio to a “passing” ratio than a conventional 6-speed automatic when accelerating from 50-70 MPH. Aside from economy, the other benefit of a CVT is that it can keep the engine at an optimum RPM for maximum acceleration and drama-free hill climbing. Despite being down on torque compared to the turbo competition and having a less advantageous torque curve, CVT helped the Altima to scoot to 60MPH in an impressive 5.5 seconds (traction control disabled).

As much as I like CVTs, they are not the dynamic choice for “gear holding”. Sure Nissan has those sexy paddles on the Altima, and they have programmed the CVT to imitate a 7-speed automatic. Unfortunately the transmission’s “shifts” are slow and mushy, feeling  more like a worn out Hydramatic than a modern 7-speed. When you’re on your favorite back-country road, take my advice: caress those sexy paddles, but whatever you do, don’t pull them.

When the road curves, a light chassis will only get you so far, thankfully Nissan tuned the Altima’s suspension to be compliant but surprisingly agile. Adding to the fun-factor, all V6 models are shod with 235/45R18 rubber, notably wider than the V6 Camry’s standard 215 or optional 225 tires. The suspension, curb weight and tires combine to give the Altima a slightly higher road holding score than the Fusion 2.0 Ecoboost we got our hands on, but numbers aren’t everything. The Fusion’s steering may be numb, but it manages more feeling than the Altima and even I have to admit the CVT sucks the fun out of aggressive driving. If that matters to you, drive past the Nissan dealer and pick up a Fusion 2.0T with or without AWD.

Brand reputation is one of the largest factors when it comes time for a shopper to drop 25-30 grand on their family sedan. It’s the reason the old Altima sold as well as it did, and as far as I can see, it’s the only reason the Camry sells in record numbers. Rather than selling on reputation alone however, Nissan has proved they can build a sedan worthy of its lofty sales goals.

Some may call this a cop-out, but in my book the Accord, Fusion and Altima tie for first place in my mind. Here’s why: each of this trio plays to a different audience. The Fusion is gorgeous, more dynamic than the Altima but has stumbled with the 1.6L Ecoboost quality issues. The Accord is a traditional choice with a solid reputation and greater visibility thanks to an enormous greenhouse. Meanwhile the new Altima is a stylish elegant sedan with a powerful and seriously efficient V6. If I were dropping my own money on a sedan in this category I would have a hard time choosing between the Altima 3.5 SL and a Fusion 2.0 Ecoboost.

 Nissan provided the vehicle, insurance and one tank of gas for this review.

Specifications as tested

0-30: 2.6 Seconds ( 3.2 with traction control)

0-60: 5.5 Seconds ( 6.2 with traction control)

1/4 Mile: 13.9 Seconds @ 104 MPH

Average Fuel Economy: 27.6 MPG over 670 Miles

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