- 2009 Mazda Mazda6 Diesel; 2.2-litre, four-cylinder, turbo-diesel; six speed manual; wagon - $37,940*
- None fitted
It shouldn't be a surprise that Mazda's mid-sizer has had the magic diesel wand waved over it. Volkswagen, Skoda, Peugeot and Citroen have been doing this for years. The difference here, of course, is this is a Japanese car. The Japanese diesels in Australia haven't really been all that flash. Toyota's 3.0-litre, Nissan's 3.0-litre, Mitsubishi's 3.2-litre; they're all a bit rattly, coarse and unrefined in comparison with their European counterparts - the word tractor comes to mind.
This turbo-charged 2.2-litre, though, is a revelation. Making 136kW at 4000rpm, the peak torque of 400Nm begins at 1800rpm and continues through until 3000rpm. There's the usual initial lag, but being a manual you can account for it, so there's a 2200rpm usable power band. It's easily harnessed by the slick six speed gearbox, with close-ish ratios, and the light clutch means it's a pleasure to throw the shifter around.
There's been a few complaints about the lack of an automatic, and although it's understandable, it's probably only needed to capture sales from those who'd only option an auto - the manual is all you'd ever need.
Mazda Australia handed us the Wagon variant - there is a Diesel Sports Hatch as well - and although it's still not as big as a Camry inside (even the Camry's boot is bigger than the Mazda6 Wagon's - 535 litres plays 510 litres) there's enough room for most families, even those with older children. The shape of the wagon's boot allows for higher loading, and the cargo blind, which can get in the way sometimes, can be easily removed.
Star Trekkers may be interested in the curious trim used throughout the cabin. Sure, it's futuristic, but the "time-lapse night sky" feel is a bit odd. The neighbouring materials are very nice, though, with soft trim details and dashtop plastics that blend well. The wheel-mounted controls for the central information screen can take some getting used to, being less intuitive than necessary. The seats are comfortable, as you'd expect, and an ideal driving position is easy to find with plenty of adjustment on both seats and steering wheel.
The steering is nicely weighted, has good response and remains consistent throughout the lock, unlike the 6's little brother the Mazda3. If there was a criticism, it would be that the ride is a little firm on broken tarmac, with a bit of jolting coming through. The pay-off, obviously, is the excellent handling on its 17-inchers at both low and high speeds. Combine that with decent brakes and you'll find the Mazda6 is a dynamic performer.
But the reason you'd opt for this car over its petrol sibling is for fuel economy. The closest spec in petrol is the Classic Wagon. For a $1200 premium, you get 11kW more and, wait for it, 174Nm extra. The extra power for the extra money would be worth it alone, but with around town usage coming in at a tad under 7.0L/100km and an ADR figure of 6.0-litres/100km, it's that fuel saving that makes it really worthwhile.
It's this approach that sets Mazda apart. There are different schools of thought on how to spend less at the bowser, especially among mid-sized cars. Some manufacturers are opting for the most efficient petrol engines available. Others, like Toyota, are looking to the government for cash to spend on hybrid versions of existing mid-sizers. So if our tax is paying to save other people's fuel bills, are we really saving in the end? An argument for another time, perhaps.
There's another benefit with oil-burners. Mazda calls it "guilt-free performance", referring to reduced CO2 emissions. The inherent thermodynamic efficiency from the diesel's compression ignition means 30 per cent less CO2 is put into our breathing air. But the Mazda6 still offered brisk acceleration and punchy in gear performance - 8.5 seconds to 100km/h is moving in anyone's books. No sacrifice there.
It's not lacking in standard kit, either, with cruise control, dual-zone climate control, leather steering wheel, in-dash six-CD/MP3 and rain sensing wipers. The Mazda's wipers are always alert, too, unlike some cars which need to have a bit of a kick start before the sensor picks up light rain.
The next step up is the Diesel Sports Hatch for $44,840 which gives you parking sensors front and rear, full leather interior, 18-inch wheels, electric front seats and premium Bose sound. Bearing in mind that Honda's Accord doesn't offer a wagon, hatch, or a diesel engine, if you want choice, Mazda's got it covered. The surprise is that only five per cent of the Mazda6 range are diesel models. It should be a lot more.
Safety isn't skimped on either, with six airbags, including two curtains, ESC, ABS and active front head restraints - certainly worthy of carrying the family.
Probably due to household budgets being squished, the Mazda6 range didn't sell as well as last year (around 1300 units less for the same time period) however it deserves to be seriously considered. It's built well, it performs brilliantly, and it even looks smart doing it. There are plenty of rivals vying for attention, but with the brilliant MZR-CD engine, there's even more reason to whack the Mazda6 diesel on your shopping list.
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