Another round of updates has graced the Mazda 6 range, and the 2021 changes focus mainly on the new GT SP variant, which adds backpack styling to the previous GT model.
The base-model Mazda 6 Sport emerges for its 2021 model year run largely unchanged. That’s no bad thing, though.
After a week with the cheapest Mazda 6 variant, it was a solid refresher on just how good this mid-size sedan really is.
Within the range, the Mazda 6 Sport is the first of four variants available, each in either sedan or wagon body styles. In this instance, though, ‘Sport’ doesn’t reflect the car’s dynamic abilities.
With a naturally aspirated 2.5-litre four-cylinder engine under the bonnet, a six-speed automatic and front-wheel drive, the Mazda 6 is more conventional than sporting. More robust turbocharged performance is reserved for the GT SP and flagship Atenza grades.
With pricing that starts from $34,590 before on-road costs, the 6 is also at least $3600 more expensive than an entry-level Camry or Octavia. The more business-class-focussed Honda Accord and Volkswagen Passat, meanwhile, chip in around $12,000 above the Mazda’s kick-off point.
That makes for a disparate field of competitors, but one where Mazda has managed to carve out its own niche. In reality, though, it’s the higher-spec cars that move the most metal for Mazda – and that’s a bit of a shame.
|2021 Mazda 6 Sport|
|Engine||2.5-litre naturally aspirated four-cylinder petrol|
|Power and torque||140kW at 6000rpm, 252Nm at 4000rpm|
|Drive type||Front-wheel drive|
|Fuel claim, combined||7.0L/100km|
|Fuel use on test||11.3L/100km|
|ANCAP safety rating||Five stars (tested 2018)|
|Warranty||Five years, unlimited kilometres|
|Main competitors||Toyota Camry, Skoda Octavia, Honda Accord|
|Price (MSRP)||$34,590 plus on-road costs|
It’s easy to overlook the Mazda 6 Sport and be swayed by the more glamorous equipment of higher-spec versions. The cheapest Mazda mid-sizer puts forward a compelling argument of its own.
Standard fit-out includes features like 17-inch alloy wheels, LED headlights, electric park brake, leather-wrapped steering wheel, dual-zone climate control, head-up display, auto lights and wipers, distance-keeping cruise control, auto-dimming interior and heated exterior mirrors, and push-button start.
As you move up the range, additional features like power-adjustable front seats, leather seat trim, front park sensors, Bose premium audio, proximity key entry and LED daytime running lights join the list.
Premium features, no doubt, but the Sport doesn’t feel light on without them. Keyless entry might have been the only thing I pined for once or twice, if only because getting a key out to unlock the car, before putting it away and pressing the starter button, seems like a foolish set of actions.
Infotainment comes via an 8.0-inch display, using Mazda’s older MZD Connect system and not the newer Mazda Connect of cars like the CX-30 and Mazda 3. That means a touchscreen is retained, but also that load times are slower and the system is a little less responsive than it ought to be.
On more than one occasion, the ‘loading’ screen stubbornly stayed put for the first few minutes of each trip. If ongoing updates to the CX-9 can add the newer infotainment platform to an older car, why not the 6?
Functions include AM/FM/DAB+ radio, internet radio integration (does anyone still use this?), support for Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, inbuilt navigation, and a secondary rotary controller on the console for use when the vehicle is in motion.
That means touch inputs are disabled on the go. It's a system that works fine with Mazda's own system, but makes navigating some apps of your smartphone via CarPlay or Android Auto quite frustrating... Your mileage may vary here.
Interior decor is pleasant too. An update to the 6’s interior in 2018 added a revised dash with a sleeker, more minimalist look. There are plenty of metallic accents and soft-touch surfaces too.
Better still, Mazda retains physical controls for major functions. There’s a full set of buttons for the climate control, infotainment system shortcut keys (which also play nice with CarPlay instead of booting you out), and clearly labelled buttons (something lacking from the newest Mazda 3) on the steering wheel.
It’s also a generously roomy interior. The roof line is a little on the sleek side, but the width and leg room in both front and rear seats are very accommodating. The front seats in particular will yield few concerns, though the swept C-pillar is one to duck under as you enter the back seats.
There’s a nice, almost denim-like seat cloth that looks swish, and a moody, dark tone-on-tone colour scheme that’s mature and refined, if not adventurous. Still, it’s a comfy car to ride along in.
While it may not be one to get pulses racing, Mazda’s 2.5-litre non-turbo engine is still a happy companion with the package – particularly as a comfy run-about town ride.
With 140kW at 6000rpm and 252Nm at 4000rpm, the 6 delivers similar performance to the non-hybrid Camry (with 152kW and 243Nm). It lacks the turbocharged low-down pull of cars like the Accord and Octavia, though.
It’s no green-light rocket, but it is smooth, calm and quiet. Perfect for those slow-crawl commutes to and from the office, and still happy enough to keep the pace as a couple of passengers climb aboard.
It won’t provide big smiles on challenging roads, but it will never surge, shake or clunk at inappropriate times.
The same goes for Mazda’s six-speed auto, which isn’t a technological front-runner. Some rivals have stepped up the gear count, but Mazda sticks with six and makes that work pretty well for them
There are a few times where you might catch the auto napping. It tends to stick to higher gears and doesn’t always downshift in time to match traffic conditions.
It is mostly well-tuned to the car and its outputs, and is smooth to take off from a standstill. That’s commendable where a dual-clutch auto might shudder at low speed, or a CVT drones in dynamic driving, but the Mazda just stays composed the whole time.
As a fairly large car, Mazda’s official fuel consumption claim is 7.0 litres per 100km. Getting that much metal moving takes some effort, and as a result we recorded 11.3L/100km in a mix of driving.
Sticking to the city alone will see that push towards the 15L/100km mark. Perhaps not ideal for a life of commuting. It’s here that the Mazda disappoints just a little. Its performance is fine for what it is, but its consumption feels like it should be able to deliver more.
Contrast this with a hybrid Camry, which will run to half the fuel consumption or a more zippy-feeling Octavia with its stronger mid-range acceleration, and the Mazda feels firmly like it's aiming for mature luxury-adjacent buyers.
The non-turbo Mazda 6 range includes fuel-saving cylinder deactivation tech to shut down two cylinders under low load. It’s a system more useful for steady freeway runs, and not one to help where needed most around town.
The discerning market position becomes even more apparent when you analyse the ride comfort, which is, frankly, pretty cushy.
Mazda still injects a hint of keen steering and a very competent handling balance. It’s easy to enjoy a winding road when you’re at the wheel, but it’s also pretty relaxing for the long highway stints that might fall in between.
Over the years, as Mazda has upgraded the 6 range, noise levels have dropped, and unless you really wring the engine out, civility is a strong suit.
Despite billing as a base model, safety and driver-assist tech covers six airbags, forward and reverse ‘smart city brake control’ (Mazda’s term for autonomous emergency braking), blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert, lane-keep assist and departure warning, traffic sign recognition with intelligent speed limit assist, auto high beam and driver-attention monitoring.
The Mazda 6 range carries a five-star ANCAP rating from 2018 and has had some of its features upgraded since that initial rating, though without advanced intersection AEB and other features required in 2021 it may not match current five-star cars.
The warranty covers five years with no kilometre cap. Servicing is available with a capped-price program at 12-month or 10,000km intervals (just short of the national average travelled per year).
Most owners will be looking at $2054 over the first five years, but higher-distance travellers may have to factor in an extra service during that time.
Even with one of the longest model runs in the segment, the Mazda 6 still looks sharp and feels up to date thanks to numerous updates over its life cycle.
Given that Mazda is currently attempting to straddle the gulf between mainstream and premium brands, the 2021 Mazda 6’s sub-$35,000 starting price is a big positive.