By Jonathan Crouch
In the further improved form launched in 2018, the third generation Mazda6 offered a revitalised challenge in the market's 'D'-segment medium range 'Mondeo' sector. A raft of small but significant engineering updates aimed to cement its position as the most enjoyable car in the class to drive. All the engines were significantly updated and there was a fresh flagship 2.5-litre petrol unit. Plus buyers got more sophisticated safety and connectivity, along with a much smarter cabin than before. This model is still far from an obvious choice in this sector from its period. But on paper, perhaps it ought to be.
What springs to mind when you think of Mazda? The Japanese maker hopes you'll picture a company that's sporty and forward-thinking. And if you do, it'll be as a result of a process of brand evolution that began when we first saw the Mazda6 model line. In 2018, we got a significantly updated version of the third generation design.
Prior to 2002 and the launch of the very first version of this car, this Hiroshima-based manufacturer was known merely for bringing us family cars that were reliable, well equipped - and rather dull. Now it would be overstating the case to say that this Mondeo-sized medium range Mazda6 model changed that perception overnight - but not by much. Sharky-looking and good to drive, all it really lacked was a little refinement and polish.
In the years following 2002, subsequent Mazda6 models strove to provide that - a second generation model in 2007 and the original version of this MK3 design, which was first introduced in 2013, then lightly updated in 2016. Both cars carved out useful sales niches, but failed to quite meet the ultimate brief for a contender in this segment: to combine the sharp handling of a Mondeo with the class and cabin quality of a Volkswagen Passat. Mazda though, reckoned that the much improved saloon and Tourer estate versions of this third generation model, launched in mid-2018, nailed that brief precisely.
How? Well there was a new 'G-Vectoring Control' system that developed torque vectoring technology to the next level and was even more effective at maximising traction at speed through the corners. Both the two main engines - a 2.0-litre petrol unit and a 2.2-litre diesel - were usefully updated. There was an all-new 2.5-litre petrol powerplant. And a much more up-market cabin. As you'd expect, safety and media provision were also much improved. And as before, customers got one of the sharpest-handling cars in the class, plus there were all the efficiency advantages of Mazda's clever 'SYYACTIV' technology. Sounds promising. The Mazda6 sold in this form until 2023, when it was discontinued and not replaced.
What You Get
With this 2018 Mazda6 update, curving chromed trimming strips were added to embellish the bottom edge of the smarter full-LED headlights, before flowing down below the re-styled grille. There were more changes at the rear - or at least there were on this saloon model anyway: the alternative Tourer estate body style was left largely as it was, apart from the addition of a body-coloured lower bumper panel. With the saloon though, the tail lamps were completely re-styled, with a chromed boot lid finishing strip that flows right into them.
Inside with this revised design, there was a cabin that much better befitted what was, after all, Mazda's flagship model. Highlights included the way the central trimming strip stretched across the entire width of the fascia and could be finished in tactile stitched suede. With the earlier version of this third generation design, the infotainment monitor was a pokily-shaped thing buried into the centre of the dash. This improved model's display was not only significantly bigger but also gained new eye-line free-standing dash-top positioning and grew in capability too.
The redesigned seats featured height adjustment and lumbar support across the range. Otherwise, things were much as before. What we really like is the way that the cabin layout remained so driver-centric. Everything's positioned exactly where you'd want to find it, the gearstick perfectly placed for your palm, the wheel just as you'd ideally like it.
And in the back? Well the generous exterior length promises a spacious rear cabin and once you get inside, the room on offer will be very comfortable for two adults. Plus there's surprisingly good headroom too, though folk over six foot tall may find the arching roofline a touch limiting.
And the boot? Well despite the fact that this car was significantly longer than a rival Volkswagen Passat, Mazda somehow managed to bring us a cargo area almost 100-litres smaller than that car. To be fair, the 480-litre capacity you get with the saloon body shape was slightly more than you could get from a rival Peugeot 508 of this period - and not far off what was offered by a Mondeo hatch. If you've heftier loads to carry, you can push forward the standard 60:40 split-folding rear backrest (a simple procedure using levers located on each side of the boot) which reveals up to a metre of load space. 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 522-litres of space with all the seats in place.
What to Look For
Most Mazda6 buyers were came across in our ownership survey were enthusiastic about this car. And for good reason. A Mazda6 engine can run up to 200,000 miles if you follow the recommended service schedule and keep up with regular maintenance. But there are some common complaints about the Mazda 6, including transmission noises, abnormal ticking sound from the engine, and an overheating engine. We've also heard of cars with bad wheel bearings, failed rear brake calipers, thin paint that chips easily and minor Check Engine light issues. Plus the mass air flow sensor can fail, causing the car to stall or not to start. We've also come across infotainment system glitches; in some cars, a bad Navigation SD card can cause the system to reboot in cold weather.
One diesel buyer experienced DPF particulate filter problems, plus it needed a new steering lock module. Another owner found his brake pads had to be replaced after just 7 months and also had to replace the clutch and the flywheel. Another owner had camshaft and rocker assembly failure, plus his parking brake seized up, the engine oil vacuum pump failed and the exhaust valve broke. Most cars in our survey were pretty faultless though. Just check carefully, insist on a full service record, inspect the alloys and look for rear seat child damage.
(approx based on a 2019 Mazda6 2.2 diesel) An air filter costs around £12 (pricier brands up to around £76) and a pollen filter costs in the £6-£27 bracket. Front brake pads sit in the £31 to £54 bracket for a set. Rear brake pads cost in the £34 bracket. A pair of front brake discs cost in the £116 bracket. A pair of rear brake discs costs in the £68 bracket. Wiper blades cost in the £6 to £15 bracket. A tail lamp costs in the £206 bracket.
On the Road
For Mazda, the feeling of connectedness between car and driver - they call it 'Jinba ittai' - is paramount in any model design and they applied it with renewed emphasis in developing this revised third generation Mazda6. The sporty demeanour that's always characterised this car was further enhanced by a more rigid chassis, sharper steering and the adoption of what the company called 'G-Vectoring Control'. This was a more sophisticated breed of torque vectoring system that took steering angle as well as throttle input into account in maximising cornering traction and turn-in accuracy at speed. At the same time, the engineers also strove to improve ride quality, with changes to the damping and the anti-roll bars. Over poor surfaces, you'll still find more comfort-orientated contenders in this class from this period, but they can't hold a candle to the way this car goes round corners.
Engine-wise, you might think the main news here was the adoption of the additional 2.5-litre petrol engine, which like all green pump-fuelled Mazdas, determinedly ignored the industry's modern era switch to turbocharged induction, preferring normal aspiration. This top powerplant put out 194PS and featured clever cylinder deactivation technology so as to deliver reasonable efficiency stats for a car of this performance. Ultimately though, perhaps more significant were the changes made to the mainstream SKYACTIV engines most Mazda6 customers ultimately chose; as before, there was a choice of 2.0-litre petrol or 2.2-litre diesel power. Both powerplants featured significant engineering improvements that delivered better refinement, performance and efficiency. For the 2.0-litre petrol-powered Mazda6, there was as before a choice of either 145 or 165PS outputs; either way, without a turbo to boost low-down torque, you have to rev the car a little more than you might be used to doing, but the eager engine note is quite appealing. The 2.2-litre diesel does feature turbocharging and as a result, offers nearly double the amount of pulling power, though not quite the same sense of driver-engagement. There's a base 150PS variant or an uprated 184PS model.
In summary, this isn't the most obvious choice in its class from its period, but if you don't want to do the obvious thing, here's a car that won't penalise you for thinking a bit more independently. Some rival models from the 2018-2023-era will be cheaper; others offer more rear passenger space, a larger boot or swoopier looks. If any of these things are priorities for you, then you'll probably look elsewhere in this segment.
Otherwise though, there's an awful lot to like here. This last-of-the-line Mazda6 is a car that can be engaging when you want it to be and cossetting when all you need to do is get home as comfortably as possible. It's a combination of virtues delivered only through the kind of painstaking engineering Mazda deserves to be rewarded for.