Just months out from receiving its 2015 facelift, the entry-level Mazda 6 sedan proves the segment's second-best seller is still a formidable driver-focused package...
One of the best looking wagons around, the equally handsome Mazda 6 sedan remains one of the medium car segment's best options, particularly in base form.
Starting at $33,460 plus on-road costs, the entry-level Mazda 6 Sport isn’t the cheapest of its rivals. You can get yourself into a Holden Malibu, Hyundai i40, Nissan Altima, Skoda Octavia, Subaru Liberty or Toyota Camry for less.
Making its local debut back in December 2012, with sharp new exterior and interior styling, the third-generation Mazda 6 followed the CX-5 in showcasing Mazda’s much hyped Kodo design language. And, almost two years on, a fresh for 2015 update is due in showrooms from early next year.
For now, though, we have a Mazda 6 Sport finished in Aluminium Metallic. Fitted with Mazda's $1490 Safety Pack, our test car is equipped with blind spot monitoring, smart city brake support and rear cross traffic alert.
It also rides on 17-inch alloy wheels with the fronts powered by a 2.5-litre four-cylinder producing 138kW at 5700rpm and 250Nm at 3250rpm. A six-speed automatic transmission – linked to steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters – is the sole gearbox option, but being a smooth and intelligent unit, that’s no bad thing.
Not as highly equipped as some of its segment competitors, specification highlights on the 6 include front fog lights, automatic headlights, rain sensing wipers, heated wing mirrors, a rear-view camera and dual-zone climate control. A leather-wrapped gear knob, handbrake and multi-function steering wheel are nice inclusions too along with a six-speaker stereo with 5.8-inch touchscreen, satellite navigation and AUX/USB and Bluetooth connectivity.
Admittedly starting to feel its age, the Mazda 6 cabin remains a nice place to spend time. Simple yet smart, a rubbery almost spongey dash top joins firm but comfortable and supportive cloth seats, brushed aluminium door handles, air vent surrounds and door inserts and additional gloss black accents.
The heater controls are clear and easy to understand and use and storage is well accounted for with a big glove box, a reasonably sized centre console bin and a helpful little space at the base of the centre stack. Narrow single-hole door pockets are potentially limiting, however there are two cup holders hidden under a flip-up lid to the inside of both driver and front passenger.
One element crying out for its upcoming refresh is the in-dash touchscreen. Dated in its look and presentation, its layout, style and operation are all a bit clunky and unintuitive, though despite this, the unit itself does still work well enough. Similarly too, stereo quality is adequate but not great – increases in volume requiring far too many turns of the knob thanks to minute increments.
Identical in length to the Holden Malibu, the 4865mm-long Mazda 6 trumps its South Korean-built competitor for rear seat space, providing ample rear legroom and reasonable headroom for those up to six foot – the 6’s sloping roofline will hinder taller rear passengers.
A little flat and narrow in the base, the rear pews are again comfortable if a touch lean on under-thigh support. Those in the second row are spoiled, though, having map pockets, centre console-mounted rear air vents plus a centre-seat fold down armrest with two cup holders for company.
Split 60:40, the foldable rear seats require a two-step process to drop flat and extend the boot’s capacity beyond its 483 litres – shy of the likes of the Hyundai i40 (505L), Holden Malibu (545L) and Skoda Octavia (568L).
Providing a wider aperture opening than the car it replaced, the 6’s boot is long but could prove a little shallow for some larger bags. Handily for smaller items, there are two plastic storage trays.
Easily the Mazda’s biggest drawcard, however, is the way it drives.
More entertaining than any mid-size sedan should be, the Mazda 6 blends high levels of overall comfort with genuine Zoom Zoom ability.
Paired to good throttle response and quite a nice engine note between 5000-6000rpm, the naturally aspirated 2.5-litre SkyActiv-G petrol engine picks up smoothly and will happily coast along between 1200-1800rpm. If solid urge is required, though, it’s best to get things into its meatier mid-range between 2000-3000rpm.
Helped by an intuitive automatic gearbox and Mazda's mildly abrupt i-stop stop-start technology, the 6 claims 6.6 litres per 100km, though, over our week we averaged 8.5L/100km.
Giving drivers almost full control over gear changes when in manual mode, the transmission’s sporty setting won’t automatically change up gears but will respond to heavy throttle applications by quickly selecting a lower ratio. And while the 6 is yet another Mazda product to suffer from the brand’s consistent issue of road noise penetration, its strong ride and handling attributes make it easier to look past.
Sitting flat and stable when hustled along winding roads, the Mazda 6 provides high levels of confidence, encouraging you to push on even harder. Go after it a little more and not only does the 6 sedan reveal itself to be an entertaining steer, it also shows its exceptional dynamism.
With nice front-end turn in, beautiful balance, and top-shelf steering that is consistent, well weighted and sharp off-centre, the 6’s ride – albeit on the firmer side – additionally brings exceptional comfort, compliance and body control.
Direction changes too are handled with ease, thanks in part to sensational grip from the 55-profile Bridgestone Turanza tyres, while a firm but progressive brake pedal teams well with bitey brakes to pull up the Mazda’s 1458kg.
Australia’s second-best selling medium car behind only the Toyota Camry, the Mazda 6 impressively walks the line between being a fun and hugely capable sedan and one that is refined and practical enough to keep the family happy when in ‘parent mode’.
True, the model has had more than its fair share of recall issues, but ownership costs remain reasonable with 10,000km service intervals fixed at between $299-$326 per service for the first three services – totalling $990 to 30,000km, including a $66 brake fluid replacement required every 40,000km or two years.
A bit of a modern-day sleeper, the Mazda 6 Sport – in both current guise and soon-to-arrive 2015 spec – is an ideal choice for enthusiasts whose life situation has necessitated the switch from a sports car to a more family-appropriate car.
For a wider look at the Mazda 6 Sport and its rivals, read our Medium car comparison test here.
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