Do European brands, particularly those from Germany, really have sole ownership of the ‘premium car’ tagline?
Public consensus notwithstanding, Mazda Australia certainly doesn’t think so, and the Mazda 6 tested here may be the Japanese manufacturer's finest means of prosecuting its case.
Upgraded in September this year, Mazda’s mid-sizer is emblematic of this upmarket push. Why can’t Japan be as synonymous with luxury as Germany or Italy, the company asks?
Pushing one’s brand in a premium direction fits the mid-sized car segment particularly well. The Mazda may be the second top-selling car in its class after the fleet-favoured Toyota Camry (hardly a rival), but its sales pale next to the Mercedes-Benz C-Class.
Buyers who eschew SUVs and opt for a vehicle of this type want a little bit of luxury in their lives. Hence Mazda’s narrative. This aligns with the approach taken by Volkswagen with its also-excellent new Passat, and Ford Australia with the capacious Mondeo.
Take one look at the cabin of the Mazda 6 GT petrol wagon tested here, and you’ll see where we’re coming from. The look and feel bests some rivals twice the price.
There are black leather seats with electric adjustment and heating, padded leather and soft plastic dash and door trims, an electric park brake, a BMW iDrive-style rotary infotainment dial, damped switches, a head-up display and a long features list.
This includes a sunroof, 11-speaker Bose sound system, a 7.0-inch tablet screen matched to the aforementioned MZD Connect infotainment system, satellite navigation, digital radio (a new addition), keyless start and a new leather steering wheel design.
There’s also an expanded list of active and preventative safety equipment on offer, comprising blind-spot monitoring (across all variants), rear cross-traffic alert, forward and reverse autonomous braking for urban speeds and a rear-view camera.
One thing that’s not so German is the price. At $43,990 plus on-road costs, the Mazda 6 GT wagon with petrol engine remains relatively sharp value — certainly next to its sibling, the CX-5 crossover. And in true Mazda style, the most you’ll pay for metallic paint is $250.
If you want the full-on luxury experience, you can pay a further $2700 for the Mazda 6 Atenza (15 per cent of Mazda 6 buyers do) and get proper Nappa leather seats, black headlining, radar cruise control, lane assist and more.
Read our separate story on the updated Mazda 6 pricing and specifications breakdown for more specific information.
Beyond that stylish dash, the Mazda 6 GT’s cabin remains mostly outstanding. The driving position is good, the rear seats are heated and offer decent space (though the sunroof marginally crimps headroom) and the quality and finish is generally very high.
For parents, you get read child-seat attachments with ISOFIX compatibility, and side airbag protection for both rows.
Letting the car down is the fairly low-rent head-up display unit, which remains a simple flip-up glass screen rather than a proper sunken embedded setup like its Euro contemporaries have. We’d also like to see Apple CarPlay/Android Auto join the Mazda range. Finally, the front seats lack under-thigh support compared to a Passat or Holden Commodore.
The big ticket item for a wagon is its practicality. The Mazda 6 may not have the mammoth Mondeo covered, but you still get an SUV-beating 506-litre area that expands to 1648L with the back seats folded flat via levers in the storage area itself (with a temporary spare underfloor).
While only 30 per cent of Mazda 6 buyers opt for the wagon (the rest opting for the cheaper sedan) we think you should be among them.
Design-wise, the Mazda 6 remains a looker. The GT gets 19-inch alloy wheels, and that made-over nose treatment is very sharp. The long and low proportions and curvaceous side lines hold up. We’d love to see the Atenza’s LED headlights on the GT, though.
But does the performance match the slinky look? Under the bonnet of our tester is an unchanged 2.5-litre normally aspirated SkyActiv engine producing 138kW of power at 5700rpm and 250Nm of torque at 3250rpm.
It’s matched as standard to a six-speed automatic gearbox with paddles on the wheel, and a front-wheel drive configuration. Claimed fuel economy is a very good 6.4 litres of 91 RON per 100km, and you can realistically bank on a real-world figure in the mid-7s.
The 2.5 engine, with a high compression ratio of 13.0:1 also, does service in the Mazda 3 and CX-5 and is generally fine for urban meandering and highway time, though it also remains overtly loud at idle on cold starts (not very premium).
It’s responsive enough off the mark, thanks in part to the excellent gearbox, which is decisive in general and wonderfully aggressive on downshifts in Sport mode, and frugal, though it lacks mid-range torque. It’s adequate, fine, decent. Hardly superlatives…
For those after a little more performance (alongside an extra 43kg over the nose, at 1585kg kerb), you can buy the $2850 more expensive diesel variant, with 129kW at 4500rpm and a strong 420Nm at 2000rpm, coupled with 5.4L/100km fuel economy.
Would we go this option? In our experience, the SkyActiv diesel is quite refined, and has the stronger mid-range. So yes, we would. However, what we really want is the CX-9’s new 2.5-litre turbocharged petrol with 170kW/420Nm. Come on, Mazda…
We say this partially because we know the chassis could handle it. The Mazda 6 remains a fun car to drive, befitting the company’s brand. The all-round independent suspension set up and relatively light kerb weight make it so.
The balance is good, the turn-in sharp, the electric-assisted steering offers ample resistance, and the ride — while firm — rounds off big hits while keeping body control disciplined. The ESC calibration and brakes (297mm/278mm) are both good as well, on gravel and bitumen alike.
You now also get Mazda’s G-Vectoring Control, a system that instructs the car to automatically perform a series of subtle throttle inputs aimed at altering the balance of the car, especially in corners, to keep it more stable, requiring fewer corrections and smaller steering inputs.
Back-to-back with a pre-update car, you notice the moderately easier time keeping neat lines during rapid directional changes, while during long, straight driving stints you'll need fewer minor corrections. It's a small but worthy update, even though it doesn't drastically alter the character of the car.
The only real dynamic downer is the noise, vibration and harshness (NVH) suppression. While sorting NVH has become a Mazda priority, the Mazda 6 still lets more tyre roar into the cabin than most rivals, which detracts from the premium-ness found elsewhere.
From an ownership perspective, Mazda offers middling service intervals of 12 months or 10,000km (whichever comes first), a three-year/unlimited kilometre warranty, and you have to pay about $70 per year for roadside assist.
On the plus side, you get the assurance of lifetime capped-price servicing and Mazda’s dealer network regularly tops customer satisfaction surveys.
Ultimately, the updated 2017 Mazda 6 GT remains an impressive mid-sized offering, with a premium look and feel, and a brand image to pull it off. The wagon body offers more space than a SUV, it’s better value-for-money, and more fun to drive.
The Mazda is also one of the best offerings in a very competitive class. It’s not as spacious as the Mondeo, or as plush as the supremely comfortable Passat, but for those who want the dynamic look and feel with a touch of class, it remains a very strong offering.
Click the Photos tab for more images by Tom Fraser. Videography by Igor Solomon.