Despite a declining large-car segment, Mazda has forged ahead with a toy we've been desperately waiting for. The MY18 Mazda 6 now gets the option of a turbocharged petrol engine.
It's been a long time between drinks, but Mazda has finally rewarded us with a turbocharged petrol Mazda 6 in GT and Atenza specs. It's one of the few things we've often complained about with this car – it just lacked that bit of pep that its competitors in this segment were able to offer.
And with that, Mazda set out to transplant the four-cylinder turbocharged petrol engine from the heavier CX-9 SUV into the Mazda 6 sedan and wagon. In addition to this, the Mazda 6 has benefitted from a minor exterior facelift and changes to the interior.
You'll notice changes to the grille at the front, along with a new pedestrian-impact-friendly bonnet, new wheels and changes to exhaust placement at the rear.
The entire range now comes with blind-spot monitoring, driver-attention alert, high-beam control, lane-departure warning, lane-keep assist, radar-guided adaptive cruise control, and rear cross-traffic alert. There's also AEB that works up to 160km/h.
The radar cruise-control function can now be activated at standstill, kicking in once traffic clears. The flagship Atenza’s tested here also gets adaptive LED headlights with more range and spread than before.
Other upgrades include front seat ventilation/cooling, though the seats in all versions are now wider and more supportive. The Atenza additionally picks up a 360-degree around-view camera and a 7.0-inch TFT instrument display.
Pricing for the MY18 Mazda 6 range starts from $32,490 (plus on-road costs) for the entry-level Sport and caps out at $50,090 (plus on-road costs) for the Atenza diesel station wagon. The Atenza petrol sedan, on the other hand, tested here is priced from $48,790 (plus on-road costs).
Arguably the biggest changes are inside the cabin, where Mazda has increased the level of luxury with the inclusion of real Japanese wood, suede inserts around the doors and dashboard, along with a redesigned climate-control fascia with knurled knobs.
The interior feels incredibly premium and is a really nice place to be seated. The changes to the fascia uplift cabin ambience, while the wood is a pleasant touch.
There's plenty of storage up front in both the doors, centre console and glovebox. The cluster in front of the driver features a large TFT screen with a head-up display that includes lane-departure warnings and speed sign recognition.
Visibility out the front, sides and rear is good, but I'm still not sold on MZD Connect. The screen is 8.0 inches in size and works both as a touchscreen and using the central control knob, but it can be quite clumsy.
A good example is after changing radio stations from the list, it will jump back to the top of the list instead of returning to the last position. The end result can mean endlessly scrolling to the last station (especially in the case of DAB stations).
The new 360-degree camera is pretty poor too. It's hard to decipher the image on the screen with a lack of clarity, especially at night or when the cameras get wet. Given it has taken Mazda this long to equip its vehicles with a 360-degree camera, we would have thought it would look better than it does.
With that said, the 11-speaker stereo is excellent and Mazda will be including Apple CarPlay and Android Auto across its range from the end of this year, with a retrofit possible for owners that have already purchased vehicles.
Leg and head room up front are good. In the second row, leg and toe room are a little compromised, especially if the front seat is pushed back. A centre armrest contains two cupholders and individual buttons for rear seat heating and USB charging.
The second row also folds out of the way from either the boot or the top of the seats to allow for extra storage room. Speaking of which, there's 474 litres of cargo capacity on offer – a little less than you used to find in the VF Commodore. Beneath the boot floor is a space-saver spare tyre.
Under the bonnet is a 2.5-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol engine that produces 170kW of power and 420Nm of torque, which is mated to a six-speed automatic transmission. It consumes 7.6 litres of fuel per 100km on the combined cycle, but that figure is realistically closer to 9L/100km if you're driving in and around the city like we were.
This unit sports tech like a Dynamic Pressure Turbo that pushes waste gases through two inlets depending on engine speeds. Unlike many small force-inducted engines, it’ll also run on 91RON petrol.
Before you run off and order a Mazda 6 with the turbocharged petrol engine, it's worth keeping in mind this isn't a sports car and isn't being marketed as a sports car by Mazda.
At slow speeds it's quiet inside the cabin and the engine is responsive regardless of the gear it is in. That 420Nm of torque peaks at 2000rpm, which means it's easy to lean on the torque band in most gears without needing to go back through the gears.
Bury the throttle and the car really gets up and moves. It's right on the verge of having too much power for the front-wheel-drive application, with hints of torque steer at the dead-ahead position and when punching the throttle out of a corner.
It's not savage like the last-generation Mazda 3 MPS, but you will definitely notice it. In this application it produces 109kW per tonne, compared to just 89kW per tonne in the similarly specified front-wheel-drive CX-9. And the engine is a great thing in the CX-9.
The six-speed automatic transmission with torque converter does a great job and is rarely hunting for gears or creating a fuss. While it's just as happy in the regular drive mode or the Sport mode, it can be controlled manually using paddle-shifters.
The Sport mode sharpens throttle response and holds gears longer. The Mazda 6 also comes with G Vectoring, which is designed to use less fuel and reduce driver steering input required when travelling dead ahead.
Find yourself a set of corners and the soft suspension tune begins to hurt the Mazda 6. Without a limited-slip differential, it can sometimes send all of its torque to the inside wheel, which then results in traction-control intervention.
If you keep in the back of your mind that it isn't a sports car, it can be engaging to drive, but it's certainly not as sharp as something like a Skoda Octavia RS.
The revised ride and handling tune is sensational. The Mazda 6 was never a bad car in and around the city, but the revisions now help with sharp bumps and hits that would have previously been jarred through the cabin.
While Mazda claims to have improved noise suppression, the cabin can still be noisy at times when driving on coarse road surfaces at highway speeds. It presents as a constant drone in the cabin and a need to talk louder for other passengers to hear you – especially from the back seat.
So, the new engine in this Mazda 6 isn't exactly going to set the world on fire in terms of performance, but it's a perfect match for the chassis and provides enough sportiness if you want to have a crack on occasion.
The other thing I need to mention is just how beautiful this car looks in person. Finished in Soul Red, I had to look twice when I went into the dimly lit car park to jump into the car. It has a real presence to it and just looks stunning from every angle.
Mazda has just announced a five-year/unlimited-kilometre warranty with service intervals every 12 months or 10,000km, whichever comes first. If, unlike most, you still have the urge for a large sedan, the Mazda 6 really needs to be on your consideration list.