Why the 2014 Mazda 6 diesel mattersThu, 29 Nov 2012 00:00:00 -0800
It's official: The new 2014 Mazda 6 sedan is getting a diesel engine for the U.S. market.
Finally coming clean on one of the worst-kept secrets of the year, Mazda officially announced the Skyactiv-D version of the Mazda 6 at the Los Angeles Auto Show yesterday. When it goes on sale next summer, the 2.2-liter turbodiesel 6 will become the first non-German-powered diesel sedan in American showrooms since the late 1980s.
Make no mistake: This is a big deal.
In a country such as the U.S. where diesel-car market penetration is still miniscule, Mazda's Skyactiv diesel has two key things working in its favor: First, it's the only affordable diesel offered by an automaker other than Volkswagen. But VW has gained, deservedly or not, a sketchy reliability reputation in the last decade that's proven hard to shake. Potential diesel buyers who are wary of Volkswagen have thus far purchased hybrids simply because there weren't any other options for fuel-sippers. While Mazda hasn't yet earned the PR halo of Toyota or Honda, it consistently receives high marks from independent rating organizations and professional reviewers alike, meaning green-leaning car buyers will now have a diesel option from an automaker without quality baggage.
Second and more importantly, the performance of this Mazda diesel engine is going to surprise many drivers, even those accustomed to Volkswagen's outstanding TDI models. Simply put, it acts a lot like a regular gasoline engine. I'm not referring to its lack of the traditional diesel smell, smoke or rattle—automakers and fuel refiners for the most part exorcised those demons years ago. Rather, I'm talking about the Skyactiv-D's rev-happy nature, which will be foreign to most diesel drivers—and seem perfectly normal to the average midsize-sedan buyer. Thus, Mazda neatly sidesteps consumer objections to driving something that “feels different,” whether it's a hybrid or a TDI. Your grandmother could borrow a diesel Mazda 6 sedan, turn the key and drive away without the foggiest notion she was piloting anything unique.
Volkswagen's diesels are good enough to have earned my business—and my Sportwagen TDI has proven flawless in 10 months of ownership, incidentally—but competition is bound to make diesel powertrains even better. When Chevrolet introduces the Cruze diesel in the U.S. next year, we'll have even more clean-diesel options to choose from. Each of them will achieve remarkable fuel-economy numbers without the complexity of a hybrid powertrain or the environmental implications surrounding battery manufacturing and disposal.
More importantly, at least for the enthusiast, is that Mazda has joined VW in the noble quest to prove a reasonably priced, highly efficient sedan can also be a ton of fun to drive.
By Andrew Stoy