2018 Mazda 6 review

Turbo petrol power returns to the popular 6 sedan and wagon

The upgraded Mazda 6 sedan and wagon finally get a turbocharged petrol engine with poke on higher grades. But there are many more changes as part of this model update, all of which skew an already excellent car, imbued with a premium feel, a little further upmarket.

You would be forgiven for wondering if there’s any place left for sedans and wagons in an automotive market dominated by crossover SUVs. The 2018 Mazda 6 range suggests its maker thinks so.

This is a fairly substantial mid-cycle upgrade including revised engines – a new turbocharged petrol (on GT and Atenza versions), a beefier diesel and a more efficient base naturally aspirated unit with cylinder deactivation – plus softer springs, greater noise suppression, a slick new cabin layout, bolder design, and more standard tech.

The revisions will only amplify the Mazda 6’s positioning in Australia as a proudly Japanese product with a premium bent. An alternative to the Volkswagen Passat, Holden Commodore and hugely improved imported Toyota Camry on the one hand, but also a desirable offering for those liberated from primo-badge-dependence on the other.

Few would argue with the assertion that the 6 is a good-looking car in either body style, particularly when finished in Soul Red or Machine Grey metallic paint. The MY18 versions get a new front with brasher mesh grille, and a new rear to amplify the car’s width and stance. The midsection carries over, aside from new wheels.

There are more changes on the inside. The centre stack is different to last year’s model, and much cleaner, with slimmer and wider ventilation controls. The tablet screen is now eight inches across (it was seven inches), though it’s controlled by the same rotary dial as before, and runs the same software.

Apple CarPlay and Android Auto software are coming, the company says, but Mazda is being coy on when despite the tech rolling out on this car in North America. We understand it could be retrofittable to MY18 cars sold without it. We will keep pestering Mazda on this...

The seats are also wider and more padded than before, and every variant gets a much improved integrated head-up display mounted atop the instrument cowl. It’s not a dinky flip-up glass unit like you find on some other Mazda models. Without this, there’d be no digital speedo.

It’s the materials used that grab you, though. All versions are well made, but the top-of-the-range Atenza is now reaching into luxury territory thanks to Nappa leather seats (in dark brown or white, strangely enough), suede dash and door inserts, and the liberal use of Sen wood trim, the same stuff used in traditional Japanese instruments.

You can get a breakdown on the pricing and specs in much more detail here, but a summary shows price cuts of up to $600 on lower-level versions, and increases of up to $2300 on the higher-end grades, offset by inclusions worth that much and more.

The base Sport costs $32,460 before on-road costs and has features such as LED headlights, the 8.0-inch screen with satellite navigation, DAB+, button start, climate control, and active safety including autonomous emergency braking (AEB) with pedestrian detection, radar-guided adaptive cruise control, and blind-spot monitoring.

The equivalent Touring costs $4200 more but adds leather seats, a Bose audio system with more speakers, keyless go and a few other bits and pieces. It’s another $7300 for the GT that adds the new turbo-petrol option, bigger wheels, and heated seats.

Top of the line is the $3500–$3700 pricier Atenza, which gets adaptive headlights, ambient LEDs in the cabin, a sunroof, Mazda-first ventilated seats, digital TFT instruments that are strangely non-configurable, and a 360-degree camera that could use a better lens to improve the resolution. Nissan has the same problem. As does Lexus.

The diesel engine costs between $1000 and $3000 more than its petrol equivalent depending on grade and engine type, while the wagon body is a $1300 hike. All told, there are 14 versions to choose from.

As ever, the back seats are not the most spacious in this class – a Ford Mondeo is a little roomier – though it’s roomier than RWD premium offerings such as the Lexus IS. That said, most adults below 180cm will have sufficient head and leg room, and all get ISOFIX anchors. There are standard rear vents and a new folding armrest with two USB points built in.

Only one-in-three buyers opt for the wagon, but the extra practicality it affords makes it seem like a no-brainer. The sedan’s boot is a modest 474L compared to 506L for the wagon up to the retractable tonneau cover. The key, though, is the fact you have up to 1648L with the back seats folded down. The wagon also gets a cargo net, a 12V input in the rear, a spoiler, and roof rails.

Our launch experience this week focused on the top-of-the-range Atenza only. Clearly, the entry grades are seriously well-equipped for the money, albeit not as cavernous as some rivals. But at the flagship level, your circa $50K outlay gets you a proper luxury interior. If you worship at the altar of tasteful design, then this car will float your boat.

Heading up the suite of engineering changes is the overhauled engine range, most notably the 2.5-litre turbo-petrol engine to the high-grade GT and Atenza. This unit is shared with the heavier CX-9 crossover, and makes 170kW of power and 420Nm of peak torque, the latter at 2000rpm.

This unit sports tech like a Dynamic Pressure Turbo that pushes waste gases through two inlets depending on engine speeds, reducing spooling-related lag… In theory. Unlike many small force-inducted engines, it’ll also run on 91RON petrol, though Mazda hints that on 98RON it’ll churn out a few more kilowatts.

An engine with these outputs is just what the Mazda needed to keep up with turbo’d rivals such as the new Holden Commodore, Hyundai Sonata and Ford Mondeo, not to mention the 206kW top-end Passat and Skoda Superb models.

Don’t go thinking of this as a spiritual successor to the departed Mazda 6 MPS, because it’s a wound-back unit that emphasises a strong mid-range for effortless rolling response, though our 7.3sec 0–100km/h time isn’t too shabby. It feels a more convincing and cohesive package than the normally aspirated 2.5 that remains on the Sport and Touring grades.

The company has also given the 2.2-litre diesel engine a range of CX-5-style updates, such as a two-stage twin-turbo set-up with variable turbine geometry, with the revised unit now putting out 140kW of power and a substantial 450Nm of torque – up 11kW/30Nm over the old powertrain.

That’s a sizeable thump of torque. We did not drive this at the launch event due to time constraints, but found it refined and very muscular, though its 1600kg braked-trailer tow rating is only the same as the 2.5t. It's at least a match for a Passat Highline.

The existing 2.5-litre naturally aspirated petrol engine makes 140kW/252Nm, and now gets a cylinder-deactivation system to shut down two cylinders when cruising to conserve fuel use. The claim is 7.0L/100km compared to 7.6L/100km for the 2.5t and 5.3L/100km for the diesel. It remains an adequate base engine, no more.

All three powertrains only meet Euro Stage V emissions requirements, and all are matched to an in-house SkyActiv-Drive six-speed automatic gearbox with sports mode, manual mode and a torque converter. All are also front-wheel drive, with no all-wheel drive offered.

Mazda argues it doesn’t need a ’fangled eight-speed auto on account of its larger-capacity engine’s wider peak torque spread, but what really saves it is the Sports setting, which programs the ECU to keep a lower gear for longer, sharpening throttle response.

In an ideal world, we would love for Mazda to have transplanted the CX-9’s on-demand AWD system, because the 6 occasionally battled to put the power down through the front, and there’s a tendency for the car to scrub when pushed hard, despite the G-Vectoring system that cuts torque delivery to the front axle, causing a forward weight transfer ahead of a corner.

Let’s not overstate: the Mazda remains a pleasantly nimble car, with a stiff chassis that handles sequences as well as many despite that softened suspension set-up, though the presence of rack-rattle over mid-corner hits isn’t ideal.

The electric-assisted steering has about the right amount of resistance built in, while the 6 is the first Mazda with urethane in the rear damper top mounts, designed to take the edge off sharp inputs. While the ride comfort is improved, it remains a touch terse over sharp hits when rolling on the GT/Atenza’s 19-inch wheels with slim rubber.

More worthy are the NVH suppression enhancements. There’s more sound deadening in the floor pan and wheel wells, which keeps more road roar and wind noise out of the cabin, and therefore partially addresses one of the pre-update model’s more commonly cited weaknesses. Tick there.

From an ownership perspective, Mazda Australia continues to offer a three-year warranty passed on from its Japan HQ, a term that's now falling behind a number of rival brands (though not Toyota or VW). Servicing intervals are 10,000km or 12 months, with pricing to be found here. If running costs are your priority, then maybe the Camry is for you.

So, the verdict. In short, the updated Mazda 6 is more desirable than ever, particularly at the higher spec’ grades. From a design perspective it's a winner, but the substantive changes to the areas of powertrain and NVH suppression are more worthy. It's got the go to match its show.

There's enough here to suggest you keep the Mazda around the top of your wish list, if you're one of the shrinking few wanting a mid-sized car and not an SUV. Given it's such an intensely close-fought segment brimming with winners, that's high praise.