The third generation Mazda6 is a huge improvement over its predecessor and represents an under-rated choice in the Mondeo-sized medium range segment with its sector-leading SKYACTIV technology driving down running costs. Most UK sales will be of the 2.2 diesel models, but could the frugal 2.0-litre petrol versions actually be a better bet for lower mileage buyers? Jonathan Crouch checks out the improved version and decides.
Ten Second Review
The Mazda6 had long felt like a car with elements of greatness that just lacked the polish to beat the best. This improved third generation car edges the Japanese company closer to class leadership with sharper styling, better attention to quality and some very economical engines, especially the SKYACTIV-G 2.0-litre petrol units on test here. Factor in a lot of kit and accessible pricing and we'd understand you choosing it. Is it better than a Ford Mondeo, a Vauxhall Passat, or a Hyundai i40? It's so close it'll come down to personal preference. It's your call.
Developing a class-leading medium-range family saloon has to be the toughest task available to car manufacturers these days. Not only are you competing with rivals in your class, but you've also got to convince buyers their money is better spent here than on a smaller car with a weightier badge on it bonnet. Mazda has spent over a decade trying to persuade a fickle clientele of the benefits of its 6. We've got an improved MK3 Mazda6 to look at now, and on first acquaintance it looks a strong contender.
The styling remains striking and the driving dynamics have been acclaimed as class-leading. This improved model now gets a smarter cabin too. So is this finally the medium-range car that can finally face down the Mondeo as well as the likes of BMW and Audi? I thought I'd try and find out by trying the minority UK buyers' choice, the 2.0-litre petrol option. SKYACTIV technology has meant that this now returns pretty much the running cost figures of some equivalent diesels. And for some lower mileage customers, that could make it a very interesting choice indeed.
It really can't be emphasised enough how much the SKYACTIV programme of reducing the weight of this Mazda6 has benefitted this model in terms of the way it drives. It'll accelerate quicker, stop more sharply, corner more keenly, the suspension will be able to its job more effectively and you won't be exacting such a huge demand on brakes, transmission and tyres. It's a real virtuous circle but Mazda has to balance that against the usual demands of making the car more spacious, better equipped, safer as well as making it feel better-built. That is a really tough assignment, more of which later.
The petrol engines we're focusing on here haven't really changed very much with the latest revisions, though Mazda has improved refinement. Otherwise, it's as before, which means that petrol buyers choose between 145 and 165PS versions of the 2.0-litre SKYACTIV-G four-cylinder direct injection unit. Both are reasonably rapid, with even the lower powered variant making 62mph from rest in 9.5s on the way to 129mph. The 165PS version improves those figures to 9.1s and 134mph. In both cases, drive goes to the front wheels via a slick six-speed manual gearbox, unless you want to pay a bit more and go for a six-speed auto. Unless you're going to be nudging along in traffic, it seems a shame to miss out on the manual. It's real fun to use, the pedal spacing is about perfect and there's an efficiency benefit to shifting yourself in this car too. Still, the gap has closed compared to what it used to be.
Design and Build
Get the specification just right and the Mazda6 has to be one of the most striking cars in its class. It's a mean and muscular looking thing; all pent-up curves and bulges, with beady eyes and a swooping, coupe-like roofline. In other words not a lot really needed doing to the styling. The range-topping Sport Nav models get a revised grille and signature wing design - incorporating powerful LED headlamps including LED daytime running lights, LED fog lamps, and LED tail lamps. Bulbs are so 2014. It also gets big 19-inch alloys.
The Mazda6 interior, on the other hand, could always have used some help. It felt as if the styling budget had been blown on the exterior and the cabin was cobbled together on a budget. This time round, there's a cleaner instrument panel and centre console design which gives the cabin a more cohesive, less cluttered look. If you need more space, try the estate, which features a boot capacity of 522-litres with the seats up and 1,664-litres with them folded.
Market and Model
Going for a 2.0-litre petrol-powered Mazda6 rather than the 2.2-litre diesel will save you around £2,200. Essentially, you'll be looking at paying somewhere in the £20,000 to £25,000 bracket, depending on your choice of trim level, your decision between manual and auto transmission and your selection between saloon and the kind of Tourer estate bodystyle that requires a premium of around £900 over the equivalent four-door.
All the main items of executive kit are included, whichever variant you choose. The mainstream SE and SE-L grades now include an electronic parking brake, a coming/leaving home headlamp function and the Multimedia Commander with separate volume dial. There's manual driver and front passenger seat height adjustment and a 7-inch, full-colour touch-screen which incorporates DAB radio and the MZD Connect infotainment system some may already have seen on the smaller Mazda3. This pairs with a smartphone to bring internet connectivity into the car with onboard access to social networking. That deserves a like.
Aside from the exterior jewellery, the flagship Sport Nav models get a six-way power adjustable front passenger seat, vinyl leather knee pads, a head-up display and an Integrated Navigation system. Sport Nav buyers can also option the car with stone leather upholstery (in lieu of black) and a Safety Pack incorporating features such as Lane Keep Assist, Blind Spot Monitoring and Rear Smart City Brake Support which works better than it sounds, applying the brakes if it thinks you're about to reverse into bollards, children or similar.
Cost of Ownership
If you always wondered when a petrol engine would come along that offered the frugal running costs of a diesel, then wonder no more. This petrol-powered Mazda6 2.0-litre, in 145PS form, offers mpg and CO2 figures that are pretty close to what an equivalent diesel model managed only a few years back. For the saloon, that means 51.4mpg on the combined cycle and 130g/km. The 165PS variant manages 47.9mpg and 137g/km.
It's all helped by the SKYACTIV technology that has brought about light weight, good aerodynamics and clever efficiency measures. These include the rather horribly-titled i-ELOOP, which is basically a capacitor-based brake energy regeneration system that boosts economy by up to 10 percent when combined with the standard-fit i-stop idle-stop system. Unlike most such systems, this one uses a lightweight electric double-layer capacitor instead of drawing on battery power. This capacitor effectively captures energy when the car decelerates and can run all of the car's systems for a minute even when the idle stop system has shut down the engine. A pity then, that you don't get it on the entry-level petrol variant.
It's relatively rare these days to find a petrol-powered medium range model from a volume maker - yet this one may make all kinds of sense for lower-mileage business and family buyers. It's probably the best car in its class to drive and can return over 50mpg in regular use. Plus it's spacious, safe and good looking. Equipment levels have improved with this revised version and the pricing is about where you'd expect it to be, although your Mazda dealer might well be open to a spot of discussion on that particular score.
Previously with this car, we complained a little about the rather low rent interior, but Mazda has moved swiftly to correct that issue with this improved model. Which leaves very little to fault. We'd like to see an even more powerful petrol engine that really takes advantage of this excellent chassis, but that could well be in the works. As it stands, the Mazda6 is a car we'd recommend without a qualm. Yes, even in petrol form.