Australian new car buyers have been moving away from the classic sedan in droves, preferring hatchbacks and SUVs to the previously unassailable four-door family car.
The 2016 Mazda 6 GT is proof that the medium sedan is far from dead, however, offering the value, comfort and refinement lacking in similarly-priced vehicles from other segments.
Available in four specifications (Sport, Touring, GT, Atenza), two body styles (sedan and wagon) and two engine options (petrol or diesel), our 2.2-litre twin-turbo diesel GT sedan will set you back $45,540 before on-roads.
The current Mazda 6 drew heavily from the Shinari concept that previewed Mazda’s Kodo design language, with only minor styling changes since its launch in 2012. Whether you elect for the sedan or the wagon, it remains one of the most stylish offerings in the segment. Sitting on 19-inch alloy wheels in Mazda’s Blue Reflex colour option, our test car looked very smart.
Competition in this segment is surprisingly fierce, with the competition both increasing equipment levels and sharpening their price tags. The Ford Mondeo, Hyundai Sonata, Kia Optima, Subaru Liberty and best-seller Toyota Camry are all offering a lot more for a lot less than they used to.
In kind, the Mazda 6 equipment list is plentiful even in the entry-level Sport trim. Keyless start, satellite navigation, leather steering wheel, dual-zone climate, electric park brake and a reversing camera are standard across the range.
The GT specification includes full leather trim with front seat heaters, front and rear parking sensors, full LED headlamps, sunroof and a head-up display.
The optional safety pack for $1060 adds blind spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alert and low-speed auto braking. Shame it’s not standard, but for the little extra it’s worth having. A full panoramic sunroof wouldn't go astray at this point either. UPDATE 9/2/16: Mazda Australia has confirmed that the safety pack has been made standard across the range, including blind spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alert, smart city braking and auto dimming rear view mirror.
The Mazda 6 cabin is a very nice place to be, with quality finishes and simple yet attractive styling. Depsite the black leather that tends to cloak modern auto interiors in darness, the contrasting stitched leather look-finishes across the lower dashboard, centre control and door trims, knurled control knobs and silver highlights elevate the cabin out of the abyss. The quality is a step above its price tag too.
The MZD Connect system eliminates the infotainment controls from the dashboard, combining a 7-inch touchscreen with a rotary dial on the centre console.
MZD Connect is one of the simpler in-car interfaces on the market right now, with an uncluttered interface that takes very little time to acclimate.
The added support for Pandora and aha streaming music services is a nice touch, letting you select from different stations in your favourites list and giving the thumbs up or down on tracks as they play. You can even play CDs, if you want.
The touchscreen eases entry of addresses into the sat nav, but it’s only activated when the car is stationary. The rest of the time you’ll be using the dial.
You can select either white or black leather for the interior, but as is the case with most light-coloured leather seats the white shows marks and the dye from blue jeans very easily. As nice as white looks in photos, the black is the safer long-term choice.
The perforated leather seats are comfortable and supportive up front, with 4-way power adjustment for the passenger and 8-way with memory for the driver.
Rear seat room is good, but it’s not quite as cavernous as the Toyota Camry and Ford Mondeo. The outboard seats are sculpted making them far more comfortable than your standard bench for longer rides, while the middle hump is best used only in a pinch.
With air vents in the console, bottle holders in the doors and a flip-down armrest of there’s only two being chauffeured, there shouldn’t be too many complaints.
The boot is a healthy 474-litres with a wide aperture, remaining uncompromised by the covered struts for the bootlid. The 60:40 split fold seats can be dropped to accommodate longer items too, with releases on either side of the boot aperture.
Out on the road, the Mazda 6 is an effortless cruiser.
The 2.2-litre twin-turbo diesel teamed with a 6-speed automatic is a product of Mazda’s SkyActive program, and one of the most refined diesel engines on sale. Start it up, and it settles to a very hushed idle, with no vibrations and barely a hint of the clatter you’d normally associate with a four-cylinder diesel passenger car.
The 129kW and 420Nm outputs are on par with many of it’s diesel competitors, but the refinement is noticeably ahead. Full shove is available from 2,000rpm, making for effortless progress in any gear. The auto is very smooth to shift, and surprisingly sporty when you call on the paddle shifters.
Models with the smaller 17-inch alloys offer the more polished ride, but the 19s on the GT hug the road better if that’s your thing.
Mazda’s “Zoom Zoom” philosophy has long targeted the driver, and the Mazda 6 GT is no exception. It's beautifully composed on a twisting road, with light and direct steering and a civilised ride that’s only upset by the roughest of surfaces.
At night, the LED headlights were outstanding, illuminating the bitumen far into the distance, with a decent throw either side of it. The swiveling lights may sound a bit gimmicky, but when you're barreling down the road at 100km/h with nary a street lamp it sight, they do make a difference.
Out in the country where Highway Patrol are seemingly as numerous as kangaroos, the head-up display is quite the bonus. While it won’t win any awards for being the flashiest or most comprehensive (full-colour units like the one in the 2016 Holden Commodore are exceptional), it displays your speed prominently in your eye-line. Kudos.
Tyre roar continues to diminish with each Mazda generation, thankfully now at a level where it’s not obnoxious on a regular commute. On coarser country roads at 100km/h it can get loud, but on the highway and around town it’s peaceful, assuming you're not cranking the Bose audio system.
Fuel use is claimed at 5.4L/100km on the combined cycle, a fairly tall order. In my 1500km behind the wheel, which included 1000km of long-distance cruising (mostly at 100 or 110km/h) plus 500km of urban driving, I averaged 6.7L/100km.
That’s almost 25 per cent over the claim, but considering I wasn’t driving it for economy at any stage, and frequently made use of the AC and seat heaters, I don’t have cause for complaint.
Mazda’s rather short three-year/unlimited kilometre warranty is disappointing, but it does offer lifetime capped price servicing on all models.
The Mazda 6 GT diesel demands servicing every 10,000km or 12 months, meaning the average person travelling 12-15,000km per year will have to drop into their dealer more than once a year.
They aren’t cheap either, ranging from $319 to $387. It’s worth mentioning that servicing the diesel with Mazda doesn’t demand a significant premium over the petrol.
Hatchbacks may provide more loading flexibility and SUVs more height to lord over traffic, but the family sedan would still be a very sensible choice for most people.
With lots of room and features, economical engines and a very stylish figure, the Mazda 6 is proof there are plenty reasons to drive the same kind of car your dad did.