Anyone who frequents the CarAdvice comments will know readers don’t always agree with the reviews published here. Our road testers and journalists are lucky to drive lots of cars, but that means we approach things from a certain angle.
With that in mind, we’re starting a new project with our readers. Rather than hogging the keys, we’re slinging them to frequent site visitors, commenters and members of owner groups. The idea is to get a range of perspectives on a certain car, and pull them together in one place.
The second car up for assessment is a 2018 Mazda 6 Atenza turbo.
Readers: Paul Botterill, Matthew Dee and Robyn Leonard.
About the Mazda 6 Atenza turbo
Mazda wants to push its mid-sized sedan upmarket, and the 6 Atenza is how it plans on doing it. With nicer interior materials than its predecessor, a chic new design and a turbo-petrol engine, there's no question who the car is chasing.
There's even extra sound deadening on board, in the hopes of finally quashing complaints about noise, vibration and harshness suppression in Mazdas. It'll be interesting to see what our readers think of those efforts.
Although it's a turbo four-cylinder, this isn't a successor to the much-loved 6 MPS. With 170kW of power and 420Nm of torque, the latter on tap from just 2000rpm, it's more of a cruiser – especially hooked up to the standard six-speed automatic transmission. No manual here, folks.
Pricing kicks off from $48,490 before on-roads, with no options and a five-year warranty. There are two interior colours on offer, while only Soul Red paint costs extra.
Without further ado, here's what our trio of ring-in reviewers thought of it.
What's your daily driver?
Paul: My daily is a 2004 Mazda 6 Classic sedan with a manual.
Robyn: I’ve driven a Mercedes Benz C250 wagon for the past three years. A week before driving the Mazda I changed into a Porsche Macan, but I’ve owned three Mazda 626s in the past.
Matt: BMW 3 Series M Sport
Why did you want to drive the new 6?
Paul: Mainly to see what's changed and improved in the 14 years since my car was released.
Robyn: It’s fun to see what different car manufacturers are putting into the marketplace!
Matt: To explore a Japanese take on the mid-sized luxury car.
What was the first thing you noticed about the car?
Paul: First thing that caught my attention was the body style and, to be honest, I was about to walk past the car, as I hadn't recognised it as a Mazda 6 until someone told me. The broader bonnet – which is not quite as narrowing or aggressively sloped as my 2004 sedan – and the significantly larger grill gives the 2018 car a much more intimidating look than to my Mazda 6.
Robyn: Its overall length in profile, and the pale leather interior.
Matt: It's definitely larger than previous versions of the Mazda 6.
Could you easily get comfortable behind the wheel? Why, or why not?
Paul: Yes, the electric seat controls added since my Mazda 6 make it easy to get comfortable. The benefit of the electronic controls was evident, as you can make more precise adjustments, however it can be time-consuming. When making bigger adjustments – adjusting for tall to short person, moving seats for cleaning – it takes a long time to manoeuvre the seats.
I was glad to find that the controls worked while the car was turned off, as if I were to buy the car I would normally share it with shorter family members, and it can be impossible to get behind the wheel if you can't move the seat backwards after they use it.
Robyn: It was easy to slide into the car and orient myself. Standard things like seat, wheel and mirror adjustment were simple to set up. There was plenty of ready storage space in the centre console and dash. Getting a sense of the length of the car took a couple of minutes, as both the bonnet and boot are longer than the relatively compact interior would indicate – if that makes sense! The head-up display is a great feature.
However, some of the key ergonomics took some getting used to: the location of the start button and the labels on the buttons/controls down to the right of the steering wheel were hard to see, while the fuel level readout and central control screen were frustrating.
The first thing I tried to adjust was the radio by balancing the sound. This took time as normal preference to bias the sound to the centre, slightly rear was reflected on the screen, but the sound still seemed to be coming from the front. The strange acoustics in the cabin seemed to be counter-intuitive to the settings. I also found the phone speaker was heavily biased forward, which made a number of calls difficult to hear.
When you interrogated the central control screen there were a few options intuitively available behind each label. It feels like the screen is there for form, not function sometimes. The limited options would have been less frustrating if they were on buttons on the dash. Successfully inputting an address into the nav was frustrating and overly complicated, being less intuitive than other nav systems I’ve used.
Matt: Yes. Overall the Madza 6 is a very comfortable car. It has a very well appointed, and the leather/suede give a luxurious feel on the inside, while the chrome highlights add to the luxury look outside. I'm not sure how the white leather colour would wear and look over time, especially if the owner had children or pets.
Personally, I found the base of the front seats not long enough to support my legs. Overall the seats aren't as supportive as the sports seats in my 3 Series.
Was phone pairing easy, and are all the buttons in a logical spot?
Paul: Having no such feature in my current model, I found it very easy to pair my phone. It was an as simple as turning on Bluetooth and pairing through the setting menu. Closest I have in the 2004 model is an aftermarket AUX input allowing me to play music, and the auxiliary cord does tend to get in the way at times.
Robyn: My phone was paired quickly, albeit with a bit of help from CarAdvice on pickup.
Matt: Yes, it's a very simple process. The Mazda system is very similar to BMW iDrive with the dial and touchscreen functionally. I would say the operation of both systems is similar from an ease-of-use perspective.
Did you find the car comfortable?
Paul: It was very comfortable to drive: the automatic transmission changed gears smoothly, and driving my daily routes it was noticeably smoother through small dips and grooves in the road and over speed bumps. Although I’m not a fan of heated seats, I can see it would be a desirable feature for most.
My friends and family certainly enjoyed them, particularly when they also come with the rear seats. The feature that impressed me in terms of comfort was the ventilated seating, a feature I'd never heard of before but would definitely be used frequently in warmer months.
Robyn: Yes, it was easy to get in and drive away. It was easy to quickly settle into a comfortable driving position with ergonomic centre console and door armrests. Despite the relatively high doors, there's good vision around the car from the driver’s seat.
The i-Stop wasn't as smooth as I would have expected. The engine shuddered both at stop and restart, making the system very noticeable. I can imagine this would tempt some to simply turn it off instead of enduring it, especially around town – which is where it adds the most value.
Matt: Overall, yes. I did notice that the speed zone display was not always accurate, which eroded my confidence in that function though.
Did the car seem faster or slower than expected?
Paul: Considering it's been 14 years since my car was new, I expected the new model to be faster – and it didn't disappoint. It did not seem all that different when I was driving, but returning to my 2004 car, it was noticeable on freeway onramps that the new one was significantly faster.
Robyn: The car was quiet and generally comfortable on the road. There was a nice amount of power underfoot for day-to-day driving.
Matt: For the size of the car it felt a bit sluggish. It remained me of driving a Camry, which I have spent a lot of time in in rental cars.
What were the most and least enjoyable parts of driving the car?
Paul: My answer to both questions would be the technology. For example, the 360-degree camera and blind-spot monitoring, which was very helpful while parking or while driving and detecting blind spot objects, became irritating at times – like when turning a corner with multiple lanes.
The sensor alert would sound as it detected the neighbouring turning vehicle, an alert I assume designed for avoiding collisions if you were merging/changing lanes.
Another example would be the smart brake support, which is an important safety feature, but did take some getting used to as it was too-sensitive at times and does brake quite harshly, for example while travelling down a main road in traffic, it detected a slow turning vehicle and abruptly broke (with traffic directly behind me) despite the turning vehicle having already cleared my lane a second prior.
Robyn: The steering was light and ideal for those driving through the city, constantly weaving through the streets, which helps to make it more enjoyable. It sits on the road well and was a pleasure to point into a curve – that didn’t have a white line beside it (more to come on that - Ed.)
However, the lane-keeping assist has a habit of aggressively interfering when you're driving along streets with clear, painted lines. It attempts to correct and hold a course as you're attempting to weave through roadworks, traffic controls or pedestrian islands. It became quite a distracting wrestle.
Aside from wrestling through a couple of curves, the drive on the open road and freeways is grippy, comfortable and easy. It straddles the road well, and enjoys working through gentle curves on the backroads. It was a comfortable ride for those in the back seat, too, but rear passengers would benefit from larger footwells.
Getting going is a bit sluggish: upon starting, the car seems to run through a quick sequence before it allows you to select a gear and get going. It was just a few seconds, the lag is enough to be noticeable. Equally, the response time of the screen control was also sluggish. In an age where apps respond in an nanosecond, lag can become a major frustration.
The boot is huge. Sports enthusiasts can easily fit couple of golf bags/sailing gear/skis/hockey bags – you get the idea. However, the actual boot opening is quite restrictive, forcing the driver to post objects into the open boot. This seems driven by the rakish rear window, which brings with it an unusually deep rear shelf.
Matt: The car is easy to drive and comfortable to cruise around in. There were a few niggles: having to push the button on the door for keyless access is a little clumsy compared to the ease of just pulling the door handle, and there's a bit of front-wheel drive “wiggle” if you accelerate quickly from lights.
I also expected the fuel economy to be better than the 10.7L/100km I averaged in around-town driving, and the top-view 360 camera is not as clear and detailed as the BMW.
How does it compare to your daily driver?
Paul: It was overwhelmingly decked out with features compared to my daily, as mentioned above. There’s an abundance of safety, comfort, entertainment and convenient options all contributing to a better driving experience over my daily, and most negatives are really just matter of adjusting to new features.
It may have been my fat fingers, but the steering wheel ‘resume’ button for cruise control was a little fiddly to engage over the speed control.
I love the new design, both body shape and interior layout, and the design certainly impressed friends and family – many of whom said the same thing: “I didn’t expect this”.
Additional connectivity options were great, phone pairing, usb, auxiliary and built in navigation, DAB+ radio. The Bose audio system was fantastic and delivered a more balanced listening experience, however I personally prefer my 2004 Mazda6’s stock/unbranded audio system as I found it better suits my preference in music (bass-heavy genres).
Robyn: To be honest, it was comfortable but short of the bells and whistles standard on the C250.
Some of the same features were definitely there, but felt a little lightweight or clunky. Given the price point, that's completely reasonable. I was a bit worried the cream suede on the dashboard looks brilliant but might discolour with daily use. The bright interior lighting is functional, but feels harsh when it kicks in driving after dark.
Matt: It's a comfortable, easy-to-drive car, but lacks the driver feedback and feel that my BMW provides.
Where did you take the car?
Paul: I didn’t really get a chance to take it anywhere special, it was mostly driven doing my daily tasks: to/from work, shopping centres, restaurants, venues, etc. I drove it through various suburbs, and took it into the city several times – as well as to Dromana to explore highway fuel consumption, which I was impressed to see get down to 5.0L/100km on an extended highway drive.
Robyn: I did my usual weekly runs. Driving into the CBD, running errands around the suburbs, and a run down to the Mornington Peninsula for the weekend.
Matt: To and from work on a mix of suburban roads, through to 80km/h zones on roads like the Dingley Bypass. I also did the Saturday sport run with the children, and went on the Monash Freeway. We had various roads and speed zones, and the car was comfortable and compliant in all conditions.
What did you do while you were there?
Paul: Completed everyday tasks: shopping, catching up with mates for coffee, meals and show off the car, shopping, movies, school and transport shopping, school supplies. The slightly larger vehicle dimensions were noticeable while parking, but additional sensors were generally helpful and compensated for this.
Robyn: My normal trips and errands, and spent time down the coast. Given the weather, I didn’t undertake any exciting expeditions unfortunately! Melbourne really didn't turn it on while we had the 6 - Ed.
Matt: Essentially carried out my normal work weekly routine.
Did the car suit the roads?
Paul: Yes, although slightly larger than my Mazda 6 it was easy to manoeuvre and, as previously mentioned, it was a very comfortable ride.
Robyn: I drove a couple of local unmade roads, but took it easy given it is slow slung and not a 4WD! It was comfortable and easy to steer.
If you had the money, would you buy one? If not, what would you prefer?
Paul: Yes, I really liked and was impressed by the new model and, having thoroughly enjoyed my 2004 Mazda 6 and its reliability, I have always considered buying another one if/when I choose to upgrade/change vehicles.
I don’t personally know much about other vehicles in the price range, but given comments from my friends (who have recently looked at buying new cars) I expect this Mazda6 to be good value for money as my 2004 Mazda6 was.
Robyn: Probably not. For the size of the interior, the car seems to be larger than it needs to be. The large boot would be useful, but is severely limited by the opening. While it’s part of Mazda’s newest style family, it doesn’t have distinct kerb appeal, blending into the general fleet.
I’m not sure exactly what it’s worth, but I would probably look at a European car around the same price point like a Volkswagen or Skoda.
Overall, apart from wrestling through some curves, the car was easy and comfortable to drive. This will probably appeal to 80% of drivers who want to get somewhat stylishly, comfortably and safely from A to B.
As a side observation, leaving aside the safety equipment of today, when I compare it to the feel of my last 1997 626 it doesn’t wrap around you or feel as compact. This Mazda 6 feels more like the 929 saloon of the ‘90’s. It almost feels like it’s trying to straddle two market segments – mid-size and larger-size car/saloons.
Matt: It's not the car for me – it's a bit too sedate. However, it would be easy to live with, and if you don't care about outright sportiness or feedback and need a roomy sedan the Mazda 6 is worth placing on the shortlist.
Did it meet, surpass or fall short of your expectations?
Paul: Certainly surpassed my expectations and I was expecting a lot given the age difference between it and my daily.
Robyn: For the price segment, it met expectations in terms of the list of features, the finish to the interior and reliable, easy drivability but the shape, interior and features fell short of ratcheting up to the entry-level luxury in my mind.
Matt: Yes it met my expectations – it’s a comfortable, well-appointed car. It's just a bit boring for me.