Established 1978

Ridiculously Good New Car Values

by David Swig

Today’s new car market is absolutely saturated with great options. How do you choose? The number of new models and genres is staggering, and overwhelming. I wouldn’t know where to begin if I had to actually buy a new car!

For most of us, that new car is an investment, of sorts—and what we tend to look for is value. Most of us need four doors, and we might also want a little style with our day-to-day. This month, we’ve driven two not-so-obvious new models that do just that—offer great value and economy with a dose of class and style.

2014 Mazda 6 i Touring

The Mazda 6 isn’t a car that particularly stands out, but it does everything perfectly. In fact, its $25,000 (as tested) price should serve as a benchmark for all of its competitors—the sort of car that makes you look at other cars and say, “Well, how much better are those, really?”

The real marvel is the apparent fact that this car can be built in Japan, shipped to the U.S., and sold for $25,000, leaving some margin of profit for both dealer and manufacturer—while offering an absolutely outstanding value for its buyer.

Unfortunately for the 6, it occupies a midsize segment swamped with a plethora of models, to the point where it gets lost in the abundance. It’s comfortable, yes, and very pleasing overall. It has sportier overtones and more aggressive looks than its benchmark competitors, Camry and Accord. And there will be more to talk about in the near future, with the introduction of four-cylinder diesel models early this year.

The Mazda 6 Touring model we drove had 19-inch wheels and a sporty red paint job to give it some bling—and it looks modernized compared to the old Mazda 6, thanks to new front and rear styling. A pleasing, if somewhat sober, interior has a hint of luxury; leatherette-trimmed sport seats, six-way power for the driver, dual-zone climate control, and various audio inputs are all welcome creature comforts. Its four-cylinder engine is highly fuel efficient, classifying it as a ULEV (ultra low emissions vehicle) and its six-speed manual transmission was pleasant enough to use.

While not a standout in any particular area, but considering its total package at an attractive price, it’s a most worthy benchmark for its class. (But not without its quirks: the model we tested had no navigation system, yet the NAV buttons for a higher-spec edition remained on its dashboard—seemingly an oversight.)

2014 Volkswagen Passat TDI SEL Premium

It was a full eight years ago that I completed a marathon three-week, 6,000-kilometer European road trip in a turbo-diesel Audi A3 hatchback—what a great car that was! And still today you just don’t see many diesels on the road in the States, despite the fact that they appear all over European roads.

Manufacturers seem to have held an opinion that the diesel market just isn’t over here—the hybrid market has been the most lucrative, after all—and let’s hope that changes, because these new clean diesels are phenomenal.

I recently drove a top-of-the-line turbo-diesel Passat and was thoroughly wowed by its combination of comfort, range, and economy. At around $33,000, the Passat is a stylish proposition, and its diesel engine, which offers at least 600 real-world miles to a tank, means only your bladder will cause you to stop on a long-haul to Los Angeles and back.

Its paltry 140-horsepower doesn’t sound like much on paper; in fact, the Passat doesn’t feel too fast when you floor it. Rather, it is the hefty amount of smooth torque (235 lb. ft.) that allows for easy passing on freeways and a smooth surge of power whenever needed—it has plenty more on-demand poke than your average hybrid. And that fuel economy is just incredible—close to 40 mpg in a variety of conditions.

The diesel Passat thoroughly impresses with its incredible economy, without compromising any of the drivability of a regular gas-powered car. Those considering hybrids would do well to consider clean diesels such as the Passat TDI—the Europeans have already discovered how wonderful these new diesels are; why on earth are American drivers depriving themselves?

David Swig is a car enthusiast and a regular participant in historic car activities, including circuit racing, road tours, and Concours d’Elegance. He is an expert on specialty collector cars, especially sports racing cars (1950s thru 1980s).

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