Thank goodness for Europe. The continent is single-handedly keeping the traditional wagon alive – albeit with a gradual sales decline – while it’s all but died in America, where its popularity has been crushed by SUVs.
This goes a long way to explaining why the 2020 Mazda 6 wagon goes against convention to be shorter than its sedan twin. Europeans prefer their wagons to be practical without being oversized, while the longer Mazda 6 sedan panders to the large-car-loving US.
Wagons have become very much a niche in Australia, yet there are still more than 20 ‘estate’ options here for those families who prefer the more sedan-like dynamics of a wagon compared with a high-riding SUV.
As recent as the 2018 update for this generation of Mazda 6, the Japanese carmaker said the wagon accounts for nearly a third of the mid-sized car’s range. That 2018 upgrade was one of several that have been needed to keep the Mazda 6 fresh, as this third-generation model was first released in 2012.
While it’s more than two years since the 2017 Vision Coupe hinted at how Mazda’s next large car may look, there’s still no word on when a fourth-generation Mazda 6 will materialise. And no guarantee we’ll see another wagon variant.
So, is the current 6 wagon still worth considering? And is it worth taking it over the 6 sedan that costs $1300 less?
It certainly answers the ‘Is It Practical?’ box. While it’s trounced in sales by Mazda’s own CX-5 SUV, it offers more boot space: 506L versus 442L (when measuring up to the cargo cover). That’s also 32L over the 6 sedan’s boot. The advantage over the CX-5 is even bigger when the rear seats are flattened, with the 6 wagon’s 1648L total playing the SUV’s 1342L.
That just pips the 500L boot of the rival Ford Mondeo, though if you’re after maximum cargo space in a mid-size wagon, you need to look at the Volkswagen Passat wagon and its 650L luggage compartment.
The 6’s rear seats fold completely flat and via helpful release levers in the boot. The 60-40 seatback split isn’t quite as flexible as the CX-5’s 40-20-40 division, which can allow for longer items to be stowed even when child seats or passengers are in the outer-rear seats.
When the seats are back in place, a net partition can be connected to stop boot items flying into the main cabin. The boot also includes shopping bag hooks, side storage areas, tie-downs, and a 12-volt socket.
The upshot is that cargo space is more than sufficient for the average family, both for daily duties and for weekend trips. If it’s not enough alone, roof-racks, bike carriers, and even a kayak holder are all available as accessories.
As the range-topping wagon, the $51,190 Atenza is the fully loaded variant when it comes to standard features. For the $3900 extra over the one-grade-down GT, the Atenza adds a (non-panoramic) sunroof, adaptive LED headlights, ventilated front seats, 7.0-inch digital driver display, heated steering wheel, and a surround-view camera.
The 6’s interior is also made to look a bit posher with nappa-leather upholstery, genuine Japanese wood inserts, suede-style trim, and a frameless rear-view mirror.
Shared with the GT are 19-inch alloy wheels, heated front and rear seats, LED daytime running lights, keyless entry, front and rear parking sensors, and a 231-watt Bose audio that sounds good rather than brilliant.
Even the most affordable Mazda 6 wagon, the Sport that starts from $35,790, includes plenty of safety tech: adaptive cruise control, autonomous emergency braking (up to 160km/h), lane-keeping alert/warning, drowsiness detection, blind spot and rear-cross-traffic monitoring, auto on/off high beam, and speed-limit notification.
The Atenza’s interior certainly has an elegance about it that matches the designers’ approach to the Mazda 6’s exterior – and its conservatism has arguably allowed the cabin to age well.
The best aspect of the 6’s infotainment set-up is the intuitive rotary controller on the centre console, which allows the driver to cycle through the central 8.0-inch display’s functions while keeping eyes on the road as much as possible.
However, there’s no doubt the 6 would benefit from featuring Mazda’s newest information/entertainment system that debuted in the latest Mazda 3 – which keeps the rotary controller, but brings a larger/wider display with improved presentation and more layers to the interface.
A circular digital centre ‘dial’ displays vehicle speed both in figures and speedometer forms, plus other information. Either side are physical dials: rev counter and fuel/engine temperature gauges. There’s also a colour head-up display.
The Mazda 6 misses out on wireless smartphone charging, though Apple CarPlay/Android Auto integration was introduced in mid 2019.
There’s a place for storing smartphones up front, while there are usefully sized door pockets and a centre console cubby.
In the rear seat, there’s good leg room and plentiful head room. Toe space could be more generous, and three adults would be a squeeze across the bench. There are rear air vents, door pockets with bottle holders, and an armrest with two cupholders and a concealed tray featuring two USB ports.
Mazda’s engineers have continually refined its mid-sized passenger car, transforming it into one that drives with a stateliness rather than the sportiness of previous 6s. This includes NVH (noise, vibration, harshness) improvements – notably tyre noise, which is no longer a major issue, even with the big-wheeled Atenza model.
Those 19-inch wheels don’t spoil ride quality, either, with the top-of-the-pack Mazda 6 wagon proving to be compliant around town and pleasantly comfortable at higher speeds on more open roads. Wind noise on the freeway is also minimal.
While the 6 may have lost its status as its segment’s benchmark driver’s car, it’s still at the right end of the dynamic spectrum thanks to taut body control and steering that is smooth, precise and middling of weight.
All-wheel drive would add to the 6 wagon driving experience, and not necessarily in a performance context as with the MPS variant of the first-generation model.
Front-wheel drive is typical among its rivals, though there’s some decent grunt under the Atenza’s bonnet that might be better shared between all four tyres. Heavier acceleration can elicit mid-corner wheel spin or straight-line torque steer, if fairly minor.
Mazda’s 2018 upgrade for the 6 was most notable for the introduction of a 2.5-litre turbocharged engine on the GT and Atenza. Taken from the CX-9 seven-seater SUV, the forced-induction four-cylinder gives the Japanese load-hauler 170kW and a particularly prodigious 420Nm produced from 2000rpm.
It also plays to the 6’s repositioning as a pseudo-luxury wagon, because the engine provides absolutely effortless motoring. A light nudge of the throttle pedal is enough to spur the wagon into faster progress, whereas the standard (140kW/252Nm) 2.5-litre in the lower-spec 6 models needs more coaxing (though feels sportier).
Forget the Sport mode switch, which only makes the engine noisier (and not necessarily in a good way) and less satisfyingly linear. The drivetrain’s default setting is plenty responsive, and in-gear acceleration still feels urgent.
Paddle-shift levers on the steering wheel give the driver the option to take command of gear changes, or the six-speed auto can be trusted to do a good job on its own.
Fuel efficiency is the turbo engine’s main negative. Its official figure is 7.6 litres per 100km, though the lowest figure we achieved during testing was in the low 10.0s, and as high as 13.0L/100km after a spurt of spirited driving followed by a relatively brief freeway run.
Mazda dropped the more economical 2.2-litre turbo diesel option in 2019. At least the 2.5-litre is a four-cylinder turbo that runs on regular unleaded rather than premium.
Servicing costs are also reasonable compared with rivals. Over five years, the Mazda 6 wagon costs a bit less to maintain than a Mondeo and about half the cost of servicing a Passat.
Service intervals are set at a lower-than-average 10,000km, however, which is something worth noting for owners planning to do high mileage. Mazda provides a five-year warranty with complementary roadside assistance.
The third-generation Mazda 6 is a more mature model than its two predecessors. It’s satisfying rather than truly involving to drive, though this certainly suits Mazda’s move to take its brand further upmarket.
The latest Mazda 3 suggests the next Mazda 6 could present as something quite special to worry the likes of the Audi A4 and BMW 3 Series.
If you’re comfortable knowing that a replacement will likely arrive before you’ve reached two years of ownership, the current Mazda 6 remains a convincing wagon that, in Atenza spec, is strong on performance and refinement as well as practicality.
At this pricepoint, it’s just worth checking out the Passat or Skoda Superb wagons.