First Drive: 2014 Mazda6

Mazda invited us to the Texas Hill Country near Austin to test drive the completely redesigned Mazda6. Everything about this vehicle is new, including the platform, engine and transmission, all designed from scratch from the ground up to work together. The engineers at Mazda even had to create all-new manufacturing processes to enable the scaling of the hardware for different models. The result is a vehicle that should do well in the super-competitive mid-sized sedan market.

Exterior

Check out the slideshow above, and you’ll see that the new Mazda6 is a beautiful vehicle from all angles. The front face of the vehicle is less pronounced than previous Mazda designs, helping to create a more refined look while retaining the aggressive feel of the Mazda brand. I particularly like how the chrome under the front grille extends out to follow the upper curves of the headlights, and the obligatory LED accents are perfectly placed to help create the image of speed and power.

The designers at Mazda had some clear goals as the re-imagined this vehicle. The Mazda6 currently captures a youthful, sporty image, and they wanted to reposition the 2014 model with “a more sporty, sophisticated and premium image.” They also wanted to position it as clear step-up from the youthful Mazda3.

The design theme of “Kodo – Soul of Motion” permeates every decision made with the new vehicle, with an emphasis on proportion, stance, brand signature and aerodynamics. The muscular but fluid lines make the Mazda6 look like it’s ready to run. Overall, this new design is a head-turner that should generate significant buzz for the vehicle and the brand.

Interior

The goal of creating a more premium image led to significant upgrades to the interior of the Mazda6. The all-new seats were very comfortable, and both the standard interiors and the leather option definitely had a more luxurious and elegant feel. The leather in particular offers a combination of hidden and contrast stitching that adds to the beauty of the interior. They reduced the size of steering wheel a bit to give more of a racing feel to the vehicle as well.

The designers avoided a bulky center stack in favor of a more horizontal design across the dashboard, and the controls are presented in a manner that makes them very easy to use. The screen and TomTom navigation tools were adequate, but they won’t blow you away as the screen isn’t very large. Still, the overall design and comfort level of the interior will definitely attract a wide variety of consumers.

Performance

Mazda is all about building cars that are fun to drive, and they achieved that goal with the 2014 Mazda6. The rolling hills near Austin provided a great testing environment with plenty of tight curves along with rapid inclines and declines. The thought that struck with me the most was how agile the Mazda6 felt. The steering, handling and braking were all very impressive.

The Mazda6 we tested featured the all-new SKYACTIV-G 2.5L four-cylinder engine that is available now with the launch of the vehicle, and Mazda will be providing a SKYACTIV-D 2.2L Clean Diesel Engine for the second half of 2013. This will replace the option of a six-cylinder engine which may disappoint some buyers but may also help lead to a resurgence of diesel in the US market. It will be interesting to see how this plays out. Six-cylinders are becoming much rarer in this mid-sized market, disappointing those of us who crave power. Still, Mazda went to great lengths to push the limits of performance and efficiency with its new SKYACTIV engine technology, and the efforts produced solid performance for the new engine. The engine generates 184 horsepower and 185 lb-ft of torque and the 6-speed automatic version offers up impressive fuel mileage at 26 MPG city and 38 MPG highway (30 mpg combined).

Mazda has also added some impressive technological features that make the vehicle more competitive in this segment, with Mazda Radar Cruise Control, Front Obstruction Warning, Lane Departure Warning, High Beam Control, Rear Cross Traffic Alert and Smart City Brake Support.

Overview

Mazda’s all-new flagship model will be priced competitively in this segment, with the Sport model starting at $20,880 and the Grand Touring version topping out at $29,495. Consumers can definitely save some money choosing the Mazda6 over much of the competition without sacrificing performance and styling. I suspect the eye-catching design will lure many consumers to give this vehicle a try, and like all Mazdas it’s fun to drive, so Mazda will likely have another hit on its hands.

  

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Hidden Netflix Gems: Bernie

It’s Saturday night and you need something to watch. Never fear, Hidden Netflix Gems is a weekly feature designed to help you decide just what it should be, and all without having to scroll through endless pages of crap or even leave the house. Each choice will be available for streaming on Netflix Instant, and the link below will take you to its page on the site. Look for a new suggestion here every Saturday. 

This week’s Hidden Netflix Gem: “Bernie” (2011)

When you live in a small town, everybody knows everyone else. They know what you’re like, who your parents were, what you do for a living, whether or not you go to church, and probably a few too many “dirty little secrets” that they use to gossip behind your back. For Bernie Tiede of Carthage, Texas, small town life led to some speculation over whether his effeminate personality indicated he was gay. But it also meant that everybody knew him as the kindest, warmest, friendliest and most generous man they knew. Nobody was more well liked than Bernie.

Then he killed Marjorie Nugent. And despite the logic of that fact, while Bernie Tiede’s life changed, public opinion didn’t.

That’s the stranger than fiction basis of Richard Linklater’s 2011 film “Bernie,” which stars Jack Black in the title role. He’s a 39-year-old assistant funeral director loved by one and all. Kind-hearted soul that he was, he always delivered a gift and checked up on those the deceased left behind. Nobody made him do it, he wasn’t getting paid, he just cared. That habit leads to his befriending 81-year-old millionaire widow Marjorie Nugent, who’s portrayed by Academy Award winner Shirely MacLaine.

Contrary to Bernie, nobody much cares for Mrs. Nugent. Even her own family hates her—she hasn’t spoken to two of her grandchildren in years after they sued her in an effort to get some of her husband’s money. She’s mean, nasty, and entirely lonely, but unwilling to bridge the gap of emotional connection. Until Bernie knocks on her door. Soon they’re eating meals and going on expensive vacations together. Eventually, Tiede even became the sole benefactor of Nugent’s will. She became controlling and jealous. Tiede was on call 24 hours a day, more a servant than a friend, but unable to walk away due to his inherent goodness (not to mention all the money being thrown his way). It was a clash of personalities, and Nugent’s hate beat out Tiede’s love. In a moment of weakness, Tiede snapped and shot Nugent in the back four times.

On paper, it was an open and shut case for Danny Buck Davidson (Matthew McConaughey), the county’s district attorney. A young gay man had gotten wrapped up in the luxurious lifestyle that friendship offered a rich older woman. He was already getting a handsome amount of money, but stood to be the sole benefactor if she was out of the picture. So he killed her, end of story.

Only it wasn’t. Despite the facts, despite Tiede’s confession, the people of Carthage refused to believe their Bernie could have done such an awful thing. Those who would admit it would indicate the old bat had it coming to her. Believing he’d be unable to get a fair decision out a jury made up of people from Carthage, Davidson asked for a change of venue for the trial—a common request of defense lawyers, but a rare occurrence for a prosecutor.

In “Bernie,” Linklater takes the “small town folks who won’t believe the facts” idea and milks it for every bit of comedic and dramatic juice it’s worth. And it works, the film has a 92 percent rating on the Tomatometer. Linklater’s co-writer was Skip Hollandsworth, whose 1998 Texas Monthly article “Midnight in the Garden of East Texas” was the basis for the film.

“Bernie” uses a mockumentary style to give it that small town gossip feel. It often cuts to interviews with fictional East Texas residents (portrayed by real East Texas residents), who weigh in on its events. The question of whether they were genuine accounts was on my mind until McConaughey appeared on screen.

The film offers one of Black’s best performances to date. Perhaps the only role that could could compete came in 2003′s “School of Rock,” another Linklater project that allowed Black to mix in his quirk and musical talents. The actor makes you believe Bernie Tiede is someone who really could (and did) exist. He’s got funny characteristics, finds subtle humor in effeminate movement and body language, but never delves into the realm of the cartoonish. You understand why Bernie might’ve picked up that rifle, you might even approve (as the people of Carthage seem to).

Enjoyable and easy to watch, “Bernie” is a black comedy that mixes just the right amount of both ingredients. It seems to mock the eccentric Southern personalities it contains in a fashion that is loving rather than cruel while implying greater questions about the dangers of faith trumping fact.

Check out the trailer below and follow the writer on Twitter @NateKreichman

  

Tom’s Law: Once one visits Texas, one must purchase cowboy boots!

On the way to the Super Bowl, Bullz-Eye stops into The Texas Junk Co. to check out some Cowboy Boots. Bob is one cool guy and the Chrysler 200 is one cool car!

  

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