How do you fix a car that’s not broken … without breaking it?
In fact, the Mazda6 is so ‘not broken’ that it’s one of the best practical, affordable cars you’re ever likely to drive. It’s not a BMW M3 killer, clearly, but it’s a car that won’t cost you the farm, that will do all the conventional running around, and which is also damn satisfying to drive – much better than a family hack has any real right to be.
Brilliant steering and chassis feedback, high grip levels and a predictable transition from grip to slip – even under extreme pressure – are the 6’s signature strengths. If you’re a real driver, that is. If not, the 6 is just an elegant car that’s extremely well put together, capable and with high levels of equipment.
Fact is, buyers are running away from large cars in droves. (Ford, for example, has seen Ford Falcon sales cut in half in the past 10 years.) And while it seems logical to expect people in this transition to segue into medium-sized cars, they generally don’t. Many jump into SUVs instead, thereby bypassing two of the best cars in the country – the Mazda6 and the Honda Accord Euro.
This pair have been keeping each other honest since their first-generation versions kicked off in the early 21st Century, and of the two, the Mazda6 is available in a significantly wider range of configurations – sedan, hatch and wagon body styles whereas the Euro is sedan-only, and the 6 also offers a diesel engine option, something the folks at Honda have looked into in the past, but haven’t carried across the line yet … at least not Down Under.
Deciphering the Mazda6 model range is at first a little like cracking the code on the Rosetta Stone. The options are: sedan, hatch and wagon bodies in ‘Limited’, ‘Classic’, ‘Touring’, ‘Luxury’, ‘Luxury Sports’, ‘Diesel’ and ‘Diesel Sports’ specification levels. It’s enough to make your head hurt at first glance, but once you come to grips with the caveats on those combinations it’s really not too hard to grasp.
Here goes: Limited is the entry-level trim, available in sedan only. Classic is next, and you can have that in all three body styles, but the wagon is auto only. Touring is a wagon-only, auto-only deal. Luxury is a sedan-only, auto-only deal. Luxury Sports is a hatch-only affair, but you can have either the manual or auto transmissions. Diesel – it’s wagon-only and manual-only, while Diesel Sports is also manual-only, but available only in the hatch.
If you inferred from this complex lineup that there’s no auto option for the diesel, you’d be correct, and that’s a pity because a diesel auto would rock. But the diesel was mainly conceived for Europe, where diesel manual is the flavour du jour, and an auto’s not in the wings for this engine any time soon. Also, the diesel engine’s not available in the sedan – it’s a hatch- or wagon-only deal.
The powertrains are simpler: the mainstay of the range is a 2.5-litre DOHC four cylinder petrol engine that makes 125kW @ 6000rpm and 226Nm @ 4000rpm. In a body that weighs between 1400kg and 1600kg, depending on model, it’s not the speediest option in the market from a standing start, but the performance is far from inadequate. (One of the bugbears with a really well-sorted chassis like this one is that you want more power. If they gave you that, some other weak link would rear its head – torque steer perhaps. There’s always a weak link with every car, dynamically, and with this one it’s outright power delivery.)
You can have a five-speed auto or six-speed manual transmission with the petrol engine – subject to the model-range caveats above. And if you drive like a half-cut psycho on a twisty mountain road you’ll discover that there’s a bit of a gap between second and third in the auto, which a six-speed auto would also fix. It’s not on the shopping list either in the foreseeable future – probably because 99.9 per cent of owners don’t drive like that. It’s absolutely fine for normal driving.
One of the really cool things about using the auto in manual mode is that the downshifts are achieved by nudging the shifter forwards, with the upshifts accomplished by dragging it back (think: BMW). Although this is opposite to the convention used by some other Japanese and Korean entrants, it gives the car even more European flair, as well as making better ergonomic sense.
The diesel is a 2.2-litre four cylinder that makes 132kW @ 3500rpm and 400Nm from 1800-3000rpm, and it comes complete with a catalyzing exhaust filter to trap the undesirable particles. Obviously the diesel’s the pick from an output perspective, provided you’re happy to shift gears manually and search every unfamiliar servo for the lone diesel pump hidden somewhere counter-intuitive…
The best petrol combination for fuel consumption is the Limited manual, which pulls a respectable 8.3L/100km in the ADR combined-cycle test, while the worst is the Touring auto on 8.9. The diesel represents a significant improvement – 5.9L/100km – but you have to offset that against the often-higher up-front fuel cost.
Mazda has done what most car companies do as the referee blows the whistle at half time in the platform’s life. It’s tarted up the car externally with additional garnish, different (lighter) wheels, etc. And the net result in this case is a minor improvement on a car that already ticked all the style boxes. On the inside, the plastics and fabrics are better, and the fit and finish is typical of the best quality the Japanese can achieve. And since the Japanese achieve the best build quality in the world…
The equipment levels are up there, too. In the absence of curing your insomnia by detailing the matrix of which bells and whistles go with each of the seven specification levels, let’s just say the equipment levels are high, considering the price. And it’s a very comfortable car with excellent control and instrument achitecture.
The price? In as much as you can tell these days – seeing as it’s all negotiable at the dealership – the Limited notionally kicks off at $27,310 plus on-roads while the Diesel Sports hatch tops the range off at $42,815 plus on-roads. Which is pretty sharp.
There are a few quirks, however: On the plus side, metallic paint is a no-cost option. So, in terms of the auto industry’s average Dickensian mindset of slapping you with a fee – often a fee you can’t jump over – for the silver (or whatever) paint, Mazda gets a big tick there.
Then there’s the sat-nav, however, which is (Are you sitting down?) a staggering $2800 option. And okay, it includes a seven-inch touchscreen, voice activation, Bluetooth (and Bluetooth music streaming) and Whereis Sensis maps (but isn’t hooked up to a reversing camera, which isn’t available even though many other Japanese cars offer this). Mazda says the high-priced sat-nav is available because some buyers demand it. And I guess if I could sell GPS to the public at 10 times the price of a Tom Tom, I’d probably leave journalism and do that all day long. From a base in Monaco.
The bottom line: Mazda6 V Accord Euro – a pretty tough call if you’re in the market for a sedan, but a no-brainer if you want a hatch, a wagon or a diesel. Drive one, and go figure that anyone still buys a Toyota Camry.