Third-generation medium car is another winner from Mazda.
Questions were answered and fears allayed – the newly-upsized, third-generation Mazda6 is a cracking driver’s car, especially in wagon form.
There was some concern, following our overseas first drive, that the larger Mazda6 had been dulled down to appeal to US tastes and compete with Camry and Accord. For the first time, Mazda had to engineer its mid-sizer without the help of Ford, and that has resulted in a few compromises.
No longer could a separate, V6-engined, wide-body Mazda6 be built for North America, so all markets had to conform to their requirements for a single sedan variant. That leaves the new-gen sedan 133mm longer than before, with a wheelbase stretched by 105mm, a 45mm-wider body, with 10mm extra height.
It also means that the new wagon – a hatchback is no longer offered – is the ‘Euro’ spec car by default. Compared with the new sedan, the wagon misses 65mm in length and 80mm in the wheelbase, to be only marginally larger than the outgoing Mazda6. What we essentially have is a Honda Accord Euro in the Mazda6 wagon, a Honda Accord in the Mazda6 sedan, and concerns about how each will steer.
The easiest issues to address relate to non-traditional Mazda qualities. Unlike the two previous generations of Mazda6 the new car is quiet. Engine refinement with either 129kW/420Nm 2.2-litre twin-turbo diesel or 138kW/250Nm 2.5-litre four-cylinder petrol engine is superb, genuinely BMW- and Audi-grade. Likewise with road noise, which is muffled without exacerbating wind rush. ‘Premium’ isn’t the best word to describe the old models, but it can be used here with confidence.
Excellent refinement is backed by a new, CX-5-derived cabin with soft-touch plastics, and a nice, small, thick-rimmed tiller. Much debate was had at the launch whether the glossy strip across the dash was coloured ‘merlot’ or ‘lambrusco’, but it isn’t the most tasteless choice, unlike cask wine. The climate controls rotate with slick precision, the alloy-look dials appear classy, although the standard navigation system looks as aftermarket as the TomTom branding on the display suggests.
Move rearwards and the sedan is large-car spacious (cream interior, below), the wagon trad-medium in its average rear legroom (black interior, below). The shorter wheelbase of the wagon also brings with it shorter doors that restricts back seat access. Depending on whether toddlers or teens fill bedrooms at home will help families decide between the sedan and wagon.
Despite the rear-pew deficit, the wagon gets an extra 16 litres behind the rear backrest – 451L versus 438L – and asks a $1300 premium across the four-tier model lineup, which includes Sport, Touring, GT and Altenza grades.
The $33,460 Sport sedan gets 17-inch alloy wheels, fog lights, cruise control, dual-zone climate control, satellite navigation and a reverse camera; the $37,500 Touring adds leather trim, power seats, Bose audio, and front/rear parking sensors; the $43,220 GT scores 19-inch alloys, bi-xenons, auto-dim rear view mirror, and heated seats; and the flagship $46,810 Atenza showcases Mazda’s gamut of active safety gear including radar cruise control, blind-spot monitor, forward obstruction warning, auto high beam, lane departure warning, rear-cross traffic alert, and auto brake assist. In addition to the wagon price premium, all variants except the base Sport are also available with the diesel engine for another $2850.
By Mazda’s own admission, the short-wheelbase wagon is more agile than the sedan, and that’s how it feels. The new electro-mechanical power steering system lacks the on-centre crispness of previous models, however Mazda6 program manager Hiroshi Kajiyama says customer feedback was behind the decision to dial-in a more measured response. Light, resistance-free weighting and quick movements beyond the first increments mark the system as still-excellent, however.
GT and Atenza (above) models roll on aggressive 45-aspect 19-inch wheels – fitted to both 6s we tested overseas – and this affects urban ride quality. The jiggly intrusions on ostensibly smooth surfaces is similar to that delivered by the previous-generation Mazda6 on standard 17s. The new entry models – Sport and Touring – utilise 55-aspect 17-inch wheels that transform the ride, neatly erasing small-bump fidgeting.
On either wheel and tyre package, in sedan or wagon, the damping on rough roads feels softer than before. The blend of compliance and control delivered by the new Mazda6 is properly premium – notice a theme yet? – where previous models have always favoured tight damping at the expense of absorbency.
The picks of the range are the base Sport or mid-spec Touring (below) petrol wagon, both of which combine the compliant 17s with the best drivetrain and chassis, and sub-$40K pricing.
In those sub-1500kg variants the petrol engine feels fantastic, although Australian models tuned to run on 91RON have a 1000rpm-lower rev ceiling than premium-unleaded models sold overseas, which extend to 7200rpm. Sob, because this engine loves to rev.
Thanks to excellent engine refinement, and a superb six-speed automatic that holds ratios decisively in its single Drive detente – there’s no need for a gimmicky Sport button – the enthusiastic drivetrain complements the chassis. The engine note is surprisingly diesel-vibey at low revs – a consequence of the noisier injectors used in direct injected engines – but winds out to reveal a raunchy, growly note that demands drivers push harder.
Ironically, the CX-5-derived diesel (below) is quieter at idle and provides effortless torque that gives the 6 oiler a more relaxed character than the overtly sporting petrol. Low noise and vibration makes the Skyactiv-D a wonderful tourer. However, the forced 2.2-litre isn’t available on the base Sport grade, so the premium for the oiler over the mid-spec Touring petrol pushes the torque-rich ownership entry point to $40,350.
Both the diesel’s 5.4L/100km claimed consumption, and the petrol’s 6.6L/100km, are best-in-class figures. Stop-start technology, and a braking regeneration system that takes around 10 seconds to fully recharge a capacitor to power electrics for up to 80 seconds, helps contribute to a 15 per cent reduction in fuel economy.
Despite larger dimensions, and a 40 per cent increase in body rigidity, the new Mazda6 weighs about 30kg more than the old car, between 1462kg and 1593kg depending on the model. The diesels weigh 20kg more than petrol models.
Kajiyama-san said he benchmarked the BMW 3 Series and VW Passat for dynamics, and it shows. He wanted the stability of the Passat, without its remote feel, and the agility of a 3 Series, without its overly aggressive turn-in which exaggerates body roll. That’s exactly how the new Mazda6 feels.
More thorough testing is required to explore the nuances between the sedan and wagon, but the bigger three-box variant felt lazier to turn in and a touch more relaxed controlling its body over dips and undulations. More time was spent on twisty roads in the wagon, which proved as superbly capable and genuinely enjoyable as its predecessors.
As receptive to a mid-corner throttle lift as it is to running deep on the brake into bends to keep the nose pointed, the Mazda6 has a staggering breadth of ability. The speeds at which corners can be attacked confirms the chassis is truly special. Yet the most delightful thing is that the new Mazda6 packages driver enjoyment with newfound class and refinement, and fresh technologies and benchmark efficiency.
There are a few areas where the Mazda6 is less than excellent. The top models are expensive, pushing beyond $40K for the diesel, and $50K for the loaded Atenza. The Sport and Touring offer a stronger value proposition in addition to a superior ride to the GT and Atenza. The steering is fractionally less feelsome than before, and the sedan isn’t quite as agile as the wagon. But that’s about it.
Let’s use that word one more time – the new Mazda6 is a brilliant, premium mid-sized car.
2013 Mazda6 pricing:
Mazda6 Sport sedan - $33,460
Mazda6 Sport wagon - $34,760
Mazda6 Touring sedan - $37,500
Mazda6 Touring wagon - $38,800
Mazda6 Touring diesel sedan - $40,350
Mazda6 Touring diesel wagon - $41,650
Mazda6 GT sedan - $43,220
Mazda6 GT wagon - $44,520
Mazda6 GT diesel sedan - $46,070
Mazda6 GT diesel wagon - $47,370
Mazda6 Atenza sedan - $46,810
Mazda6 Atenza wagon - $48,110
Mazda6 Atenza diesel sedan - $49,660
Mazda6 Atenza diesel wagon - $50,960