The Mazda6 has come in for a refresh. Does this turn a very good car into a class leader? Jonathan Crouch reports.
Ten Second Review
The third generation Mazda6 has been usefully revised in its bid to shake up the medium range Mondeo segment, with improved dynamics, greater refinement and extra equipment. In addition, it remains well priced and giid to look at. For all that, it's still far from an obvious choice in this sector. But on paper, it ought to be.
Take a casual scan down the best sellers list and you'll notice more than a few anomalies. It doesn't appear to be much of a meritocracy. Some cars are head-scratchingly popular and looking back over the years, you find models like older Vauxhall Corsas and Peugeot 206s that sold in huge numbers but were absolute lemons. Then there are those cars that seem to get everything right but have you scrolling down the page before you find their entry onto the sales charts. Count the Mazda6 amongst the latter group.
Like this car? Well, it'll certainly stand out in the kind of company carpark in which vehicles of this sort tend to spend most of their time. Grabs attention on the balance sheet too, where Mazda's clever 'SYYACTIV' technology has delivered class-leading running costs able to embarrass those of some potential rivals. On top of that, if Mazda's right in claiming a driving experience unequalled in this segment, then we could be looking here at a very complete contender indeed. A car not only good enough to prise customers away from mainstream rivals but even to make buyers of lower order German compact executive saloons think twice. But to do all that, it will have to be very impressive indeed. No pressure then. Let's put it to the test.
Retaining an unchanged engine line-up, the upgraded Mazda6 features a choice of four engines: 145PS and 165PS 2.0-litre SKYACTIV-G petrol units, plus 2.2-litre 150PS and 175PS SKYACTIV-D diesels. All versions are front-wheel drive, feature 62-litre fuel tanks and are mated to six-speed manual gearboxes as standard, with a six-speed auto as an option.
Mazda has responded to customer feedback and made the 6 that little bit more refined. The 2.2-litre SKYACTIV-D engine features two key improvements designed to increase responsiveness and reduce engine noise: 'Transient Control' and Mazda's 'Natural Sound Smoother Technology'. By reducing turbo lag and boosting torque, Transient Control provides a more positive throttle response, ensuring that the Mazda6's diesel engine reacts better than ever to the driver's intention. Otherwise, the headline change here is the introduction of what Mazda calls 'GVC' or 'G-Vectoring Control', the first application of the Japanese brand's SKYACTIV-VEHICLE DYNAMICS technology. Utilising integrated control of the engine, transmission and chassis to enhance the connection between car and driver, GVC varies engine torque to optimise the load on each wheel.
Design and Build
Get the specification just right and the Mazda6 has to be one of the most striking cars in its class. It reamins 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. From the front, where the headlamps incorporate smart LEDs and neat halo ring lights, you might well guess the brand without the badges. But at the same time find yourself admiring the swooping front wings and the low, rear-leaning coupe-style cabin, with a sweeping line that slides over the C-pillar onto the short, powerful rear deck. The Mazda6 interior wasn't really very impressive at this model's 2013 launch, but since then, the Japanese brand has improved it with a cleaner instrument panel and centre console design which gives the cabin a more cohesive, less cluttered look.
At nearly 5m in length, the saloon version (there's no hatch) is one of the bigger Mondeo-sized cars in its class, which makes it a little odd that the boot, which offers 483-litres, is one of the smaller trunks available in the segment. Still, it has a wide opening and if you've heftier loads to carry, you can push forward to rear backrest which reveals up to a metre of loadspace. If the need for that kind of capacity is likely to be regular, then the Tourer estate will of course be a better bet, offering 506-litres of space with all the seats in place, or, if you operate the clever flat-deck Karakuri rear seat folding system, up to 1,648-litres on offer.
Market and Model
Prices sit in the usual £20,000 to £30,000 bracket common to this class of car. There's an £800 premium to pay if you want to progress from the saloon to the estate bodystyle.
Equipment levels are strong - and have been upgraded as part of the changes made to this revised model range. All variants get an electronic parking brake, a coming/leaving home headlamp function and the 'Multimedia Commander' infotainment controller 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.
As for the trim updates, well Sport Nav models now get a heated steering wheel and an enhanced head up display that features colour and Traffic Sign Recognition (TSR) for the first time, plus electric memory seats that now also adjust the head-up display. From SE-L Nav models upwards, auto power-folding mirrors are standard, and Mazda's Smart City Brake Support (SCBS) low-speed collision mitigation braking now features pedestrian recognition.
Cost of Ownership
Mazda's commitment to stripping weight out of its vehicles has seen it develop a series of cars that deliver better fuel economy figures than you might expect. The Mazda6 is no exception to that rule: it's just a bit of a shame that the diesel model's can't quite dip under the 100g/km figure for carbon emissions. The best you'll get on that score is the 107g/km for the 2.2-litre diesel saloon, which is still quite some showing for a sizeable car that packs 150PS. Even the raciest 165PS Sport Nav petrol model only emits 135g/km, so there's really nothing here that should give company car drivers too much of a jolt in the wallet.
Some economy figures? The 145PS petrol models manage a creditable 51.4mpg on the combined cycle and the high power 165PS version isn't that far off the pace at 47.9mpg. That is coincidentally the same fuel return you'd get in a 145PS auto. Go for a diesel and the figures are intriguing. Whether you opt for the 150 or 175PS car with an auto box, you get the same 58.9mpg figure. Choose manual transmissions and the 150PS model gets 67.3mpg while the 175PS version nets 62.8mpg.
It's easy to sympathise with Mazda. They've built a great car in the Mazda6, priced it sensibly and built it the right way, and yet it still doesn't make the numbers. If there's one thing the company might be slightly guilty about, it's in not better understanding UK buyer motivations sooner, especially with regards to safety and warranty, but that situation is improving.
The Mazda6's problem is that it's been fighting in a sector of the market that is often seen as moribund and lacking conspicuous talent. That's far from the case and while the British public has migrated to the premium German brands when they've got between £20,000 and £30,000 to spend, there's real talent coming in from Hiroshima if people could look past the brand snobbery and appreciate it. Mazda probably needed to do more than it has to really make a slam dunk proposition to get the buyers back, but those that are clued in will like what they see if they give the Mazda6 a fair crack.