Can a new suite of updates sweeten the deal for the price-busting Mazda 6 Sport sedan? We spend a week with it to find out.
The revised 2017 Mazda 6 has only just hit the showrooms and its "more features, added safety" is already proving to be a solid one, with the range scoring an 8.5 from 10 in our launch review (largely off the shoulders of the top-spec Atenza) and the high-spec GT wagon garnering handy eights in both single-car and three-way comparison testing.
Given the fairly mild enhancements encompassing the range update, it's less revelatory than it is a continuation of strength for the popular mid-sized range from Hiroshima.
It stands to reason, then, that extra features and blooming safety credentials might better benefit the price-savvy bottom end of the range than the more expensive machinery demanding higher coin. Particularly a range such as Mazda 6 where, in petrol-powered sedan forms, everything from the base $32,490 Sport through to the aforementioned tree-topping Atenza, a further $12,900 up the fiscal tree at $45,390, uses exactly the same powertrain.
While it's not the case in other Mazda ranges – the 3s for example – the basement-level 6 packs the same 2.5-litre naturally aspirated four cylinder engine and six-speed automatic transmission, complete with an undiluted 138kW (at 5250rpm) and 250Nm (at 3250rpm), as the Touring, GT and Atenza above it.
While this alone bolsters the Sport's value equation within a well-rated range, it bodes particularly well for the wallet-friendly Mazda variant within the value-driven medium-sized passenger vehicle segment.
You can read a full rundown of the 2017 Mazda 6 range updates here, though the crux of the Sport standard features list includes (newly introduced) G-Vectoring Control smarts, a new steering wheel design, DAB+ inclusion, LED taillights, newly redesigned wing mirrors and enhanced Smart City Brake Support (pedestrian detection) and Smart Brake Support (upped to 160km/h functionality).
There's enough fairy dust sprinkled across the carryover equipment list to sate most bargain-hunting buyer tastes, and there are a plenty of niceties in the details: climate control with second-row ventilation (rather than regular air-con), the MZD Connect infotainment system with both 7.0-inch touchscreen and rotary-dial centre console control, propriety sat nav, iPod-compatible USB ports, Bluetooth and internet app integration.
There's also steering wheel paddle shifters, a rear-view camera with rear parking sensors, an auto dimming rearview mirror, blind-spot monitoring and rear cross traffic alert systems, rain-sensing wipers, cruise control, an electric parking brake and 17-inch alloy wheels. Other equipment such halogen headlights, cloth trim and manual seat adjustment is par for course for the lowest-rung variant in this segment.
So how does the Sport go? Predictably, that's how.
Inside, changes both obvious (that new wheel) and subtle (the full colour digital Active Driving Display instrument screen) slightly freshen a cabin space that didn't require fixing. The seats and low-slung seating position still impart a degree of sportiness, the cloth trim remains more hardy than comfortable, and it's the once-slightly adventurous styling rather than material tactility that sells the so-called 'semi-premium' effect.
The black-out treatment which drowns most every surface in very dark grey – as opposed to 'sales rep mid-grey' – presents well enough, with lashings of faux-metal in all the right places to anchor an upmarket ambience of sorts. Live with it for a while, though, and the Mazda's cabin becomes conspicuously plastic-y and hard in areas, if mostly in inconspicuous ones.
The MZD Connect system has generally garnered positivity in umpteen CarAdvice reviews and there's nothing new or revelatory here: it's functionally above average for affordable infotainment systems and, no doubt, that rotary controller is a 'sweetener' that's gone a considerable way to selling a helluva lot of Mazdas in recent years.
Graphically, it's a little low rent, the small-ish touchscreen doesn't operate when the car is moving, and its interface can be clunky, but it sure enough beats out most competitors on the non-premium block. Also, there's no Apple CarPlay or Android Auto integration.
The economical treatment of buttons and switches, and their intuitive placement, does add a slick ambient to the cabin design. Buyers who don't live vicariously through their smartphones may well appreciate the inclusion of proprietary sat nav, CD player and digital radio features, areas where many cut-price variants skim on these days.
If there's one big markdown in the cabin, it's the omission of a potentially licence-saving digital speedometer, though the full-colour TFT LCD information screen in the instrument cluster is a neat touch.
The second row is quite roomy, which is understandable given the (80mm) longer wheelbase of the sedan against the wagon versions, a design quirk dictated very much by America's preference for four-doors and Europe's penchant for what they like to call estates.
Head room, though, suffers a little from the sedan's swooping, almost coupe-like roofline and the second row lacks the concave detent in the headlining that's featured up front. While the cloth and plastic door trims mightn't be pillars of luxury, they're certainly serviceable enough if you have particularly grubby kids. Three top-tether and outboard Isofix anchor points cater for every child seat contingency.
The boot space, at 474L, has good depth and reasonable width though floor-to-parcel shelf height is a little limited. Thankfully, the rear seats offer 60:40 split fold seat backs, which can operated remotely using pull levers accessible from the open boot aperture, and there's a fair amount of flexibility in the load-though configuration for long and/or odd-shaped cargo.
At 4.83m metres long, the Mazda 6 sedan is a sizeable chunk of metal for Sydney's seemingly shrinking car spaces, and the long front overhang doesn't help tricky nose-on perpendicular parking in the only variant without front sensors. Hardly a deal-breaker, if worth considering that the four-door 6 is on the largish side of 'medium' and, from behind the wheel, it's a little more substantial to drive than the (60mm shorter) wagon.
At just 1463 kilos of kerb weight, the petrol Sport sedan is quite lightweight for its size, though peak acceleration, at 8.2sec for the 0-100km/h, is hardly thrilling. No foul – it's no race car – yet this contemporary high-compression 2.5-litre four still lacks the mid-range guts of the old MZR engine of old.
Without forced induction, its 250Nm is merely adequate, but it's the high 3250rpm point where peak torque clocks on that leaves the Mazda 6 feeling slightly laboured off the mark. It's not a punchy engine.
The six-speed auto, in its default program, also tends to keep the engine off boil, mostly like in the search of rosier fuel consumption figures.
Thing is, you tend to work the engine a little harder to compensate for its somewhat muted low-rpm urgency. Thus, it's difficult to get near its 6.6L/100km combined cycle claim around town (it's closer to eights), though on a 200-kilometre country drive the Mazda 6 got to within 0.2L of its maker's claim. That's pretty impressive, and nothing like the 11-something figure the wagon returned in our recent three-way test.
In a case of repeating ourselves, the diesel alternative in range is much punchier (if officially slower), though the drub is this base Sport variant isn't available in an oiler form, and you need over $40k to get into the most affordable Mazda 6 Touring diesel...
There is a Sport powertrain mode that sharpens the throttle and prompts more enthusiasm from the transmission, but the result is more noise, less engine-auto harmony and a generally grumpier driving experience.
When put in manual mode, the console shifter – of an increasingly scarce if correct back-for-upshift orientation – presents added urgency to progress, though the use of paddle-shifters with this generally sanguine powertrain does seem a bit incongruous and out of character. Lean on it, and this engine does feels strained and has a tendency to groan. That said, for general ambient isolation, the Mazda 6 is a fairly quiet operator.
The ride and handling balance of the chassis, though, is very nicely struck. The tyre roar isn't quite as noticeable on these 17s as it is on GT and Atenza variants sat on 19s, and the extra tyre sidewall does have a slightly better cushioning effect over bumps without adversely impacting the suspension tune which errs towards firm sportiness if tempered with decent compliance.
Steering is accurate and communicative, while grip from the 225mm-wide rubber is reasonably assertive provided you're grabbing its scruff like a sports car.
I don't know what to make of the impressive sounding G-Vectoring Control, said to "smooth the g-force transitions when braking, turning and accelerating". This so-called "world's first" technology weaves its magic by "adjusting engine torque in response to steering input" to "optimise the vertical loading of each tyre" and I'd lie to you if I wrote that I can feel any enhancement whatsoever in the Mazda 6's dynamic ability over its predecessors. That either means it's well calibrated to the point of absolute transparency or... it doesn't seem to 'do' anything at all. Whatever the case, dynamic feel certainly isn't this four-door's shortcoming.
The frontal impact and side collision warning systems do tend to trigger inadvertently in situations where it's unwarranted, though they do so with no higher frequency the vast majority of (generally more expensive) luxury cars we've tested of late fitted with similar accident mitigation systems.
Whether such systems are ultimately beneficial – it's better to have than have not – or detrimental (they tend to cry wolf), remains a hotly debated topic without definitive answers. The evidence is most systems seems conservatively calibrated when driven to prevailing conditions in the Australian Big Smoke. And they're nearly as trigger-happy once you get outside of Sydney or Melbourne.
The ownership prospect is the fairly common three-year/100,000km warranty, though roadside assistance comes at a $68.10 annual cost. Servicing intervals are every 12 months or 10,000kms, whichever comes first, and is currently capped at $1896 total for the first six years/60,000kms, if excluding periodic air filter ($67) and brake fluid ($68) changes every two years.
That the base Mazda 6 has bolstered its equipment and value pitch without increasing its price point no doubt enhances the appeal of what's an already a well-specified model for the money. While its blink-and-you'll-miss-it update isn't going to change the medium-segment game and some upgrades are barely noticeable, the Mazda 6 Sport remains stylishly appealing and remains a want-for-little prospect for its competitive $32,490 list price.
Click on the photos tab for more images by Sam Venn.