MERY-SUR-OISE, France – Mazda lures journalists from at least four continents to the outskirts of Paris to take a close look at its all-new Mazda6, an indicator of how critical a role the revamped midsize sedan and wagon will play in the auto maker’s future.

“It’s very important,” CEO Takashi Yamanouchi tells WardsAuto on the eve of the Mazda6 wagon’s Paris auto show debut, “not only in terms of money-making, but also for building the brand.”

The retooled flagship, with its all-new chassis, focus on light-weighting and lineup of signature Skyactiv powertrains, is very much the auto maker’s standard-bearer as it looks to grow its presence in world markets.

Mazda is venturing most aggressively into Russia and China, countries where the new midsize car ultimately will be assembled and counted on for a high degree of company sales.

The auto maker also is looking to grow its overall U.S. volume to 400,000 units annually within three or four years, Yamanouchi says, up from about 260,000 expected in 2012. “We will introduce eight new Skyactiv powertrains in the U.S. market (in the coming years),” he adds.

The ’14 Mazda6 incorporates the marque’s new “Kodo, soul of motion” styling theme that debuted on the Shinari concept at the 2010 Los Angeles auto show and has been featured on other concepts since.

Chief Designer Akira Tamatanisays it is meant to embody “beauty, strength and the motion of animals,” with its maximized wheelbase, rearward-rising profile, bulging fenders and muscle-like taut character lines that sweep along the side of the car from front to back.

The design delivers a more mature look for the brand known for its smiling front fascias and styling philosophy skewed decidedly toward “cute.”

Light-weighting also is emphasized with the new model. No opportunity was overlooked as Mazda cuts critical grams from components as small as a single bolt and sparkplug. A European-spec sedan with the biggest-displacement gasoline engine weighs in at about 2,900 lbs. (1,330 kg), compared with the current U.S. model’s roughly 3,300 lbs. (1,497 kg).

That, plus its advanced Skyactiv powertrain lineup, is meant to maximize fuel economy in the new Mazda6. Depending on the market, powerplant choices include two 2.0L gasoline engines rated at 143 hp and 162 hp, plus the flagship 2.5L rated at 189 hp. Diesel offerings include a pair of 2.2L turbocharged 4-cyl. engines, rated at 147 hp and 173 hp but delivering considerably more torque at 280 lb.-ft. (380 Nm) and 309 lb.-ft. (420 Nm), respectively.

 

Six-speed manuals will be offered with all engines, depending on the market.

Combined fuel economy for the gasoline engines ranges from 37-42 mpg (6.3-5.5 L/100 km) on the European test cycle. The diesels are rated at 49-60 mpg (4.8-3.9 L/100 km), Mazda says.

Inside, the car blends a driver-oriented cockpit with some more luxurious accents, such as chrome-like door handles and steering-wheel trim.

Features include Mazda’s new i-ELOOP system, which captures energy during deceleration and stores it in a capacitor to help power electrical devices. The auto maker says that draws up to 10% less power directly from the engine, maximizing fuel economy. Mazda’s i-STOP stop/start system further increases efficiency.

Safety systems available include radar-based smart cruise control, smart brake support, high-beam control, adaptive front lighting, lane-departure warning and rear-vehicle monitoring. Not all systems will be available in all markets.

Mazda will have capacity for 120,000 units at its Hofu, Japan, plant, with output for the U.S. market expected to begin this month. China will have capability to build another 120,000 units, but that production is earmarked entirely for the domestic market.

Mazda is building new assembly and engine plants in Mexico, with output of Mazda2 and Mazda3 cars expected to get under way next year. But there are no plans to build the Mazda6 there for now. Production of the current Mazda6 ended recently at the auto maker’s Flat Rock, MI, joint venture with Ford, where no additional Mazda output is scheduled.

The auto maker is looking to repeat the success of its CX-5 cross/utility vehicle around the world. Initially, Mazda launched with global capacity for 160,000 units. It recently increased that to 200,000 and will hike that again by year’s end to 240,000. The CX-5 marked the debut of the Skyactiv powertrain lineup.

“That’s been an absolute home run,” notes Mazda North America CEO Jim O’Sullivan.

The auto maker hopes the new Mazda6 will make it two in a row.

dzoia@wardsauto.com