Mazda Mazda6 2013: Local Launch

Mazda Mazda6 2.2 and 2.5 sedan

Local Launch

McLaren Vale, South Australia

What we liked:

>> Appealing looks

>> Impressive interior design

>> Blend of refinement and driveability

Not so much:

>> Seats could be better

>> Head room tight for taller passengers

>> Boot space lacking in a car of this size


>> Third-gen ‘6’ is 50 per cent better than second-gen model

Mazda has dropped the five-door liftback from its third-generation Mazda6 range, but remains confident that the 35 per cent of buyers who previously bought the hatch will accept either of the sleekly styled alternatives – sedan or wagon.

This latest model of Mazda’s well-regarded mid-size family car has grown large (see PACKAGING below), but it is also leaner in its fuel consumption, which also makes it kinder to the environment. At 6.6L/100km for the petrol model and 5.4L/100km for the diesel, the SKYACTIV principles employed have bestowed on the new ‘6’ class-leading fuel efficiency.

Mazda has clearly thrown everything but the kitchen sink at this new car. It’s much more sophisticated for the 21st Century, but remains an accessible, practical option for the buying public. By that we mean not only that it’s affordable, but it’s a car that delivers hybrid-level fuel consumption without sacrificing driveability or functionality. And frankly, with its semi-prestige build quality – to say nothing of its looks, inspired by the Takeri concept car – it’s a car most drivers would be proud to have residing in the driveway. If that reads more like a conclusion than a preamble, there’s more…

The previous model Mazda6 was not the success the first generation car was. This third-generation Mazda6 should turn back history, the importer hopes. Following a surge from launch, the new Mazda6 is forecast to average 750 sales a month during the first year – an increase of roughly 200 units a month. Of those, 35 per cent will be wagons, 65 per cent sedans, and, split along similar lines, 35 per cent will be diesels and 65 per cent will be petrol.


>> Affordable in lower grades, but techno Atenza is pricey

Mazda has held prices at the entry level very close to where they were for the old car. With no more manual variants in the range, the cheapest Mazda6 is now the petrol-engined Sport sedan at $33,460 — $10 dearer than its equivalent in the previous generation Mazda6 range. The pricing steps are $1300 extra for wagon over sedan and $2850 for diesel over petrol, with a unique colour, Soul Red, available as an option for $200 over the basic price of each car.

Four levels of trim comprise the model hierarchy for the new Mazda6, with price increases in varying increments, beginning with $4040 for the step up from Sport to Touring. Jumping from Touring to GT level costs an extra $5720 and Atenza costs a further $3590. Mazda anticipates the base-grade Sport will account for 30 per cent of sales, with Touring dominant at 37 per cent, GT taking a 26 per cent slice and Atenza likely to snare just seven per cent of the total.

As the sole petrol-only grade, Mazda6 Sport comes with 17-inch alloy wheels, dual-zone climate control, cruise control, electric mirrors/windows (one touch up and down), push-button (keyless) starting, leather trimmed steering wheel/gear knob/handbrake lever, 60:40 split-folding rear seat, reach/rake adjustment for steering column, trip computer, Bluetooth-compatible six-speaker audio system with MP3-compatible single-disc CD/steering wheel controls/USB input and remote central locking. Pricing for the Sport wagon is $34,760.

Priced from $37,500, the Mazda6 Touring’s standard equipment list adds leather seat trim, eight-way electric driver’s seat adjustment with two-position memory, four-way electric adjustment for front-passenger’s seat, Bose premium audio with 11 speakers and front/rear parking sensors. The petrol wagon costs $38,800 and diesel raises the price to $40,350 for the sedan or $41,650 for the wagon.

At $43,220, the Mazda6 GT builds on the Touring specification with 19-inch alloy wheels (in place of the 17-inch wheels fitted to the cheaper models), LED daytime running lights, adaptive bi-xenon headlights, sunroof, keyless entry, electrochromatic rear-view mirror and front-seat heating. $44,520 will put you in the petrol wagon and diesel raises the price again to $46,070 (sedan) or $47,370 (wagon).

Positioned at $46,810 for the petrol sedan, the Mazda6 flagship is the Atenza – a name derived from the Japanese domestic market badge. Additional standard features to set it apart from the GT grade include the following: Adaptive Cruise Control, Forward Obstruction Warning, High Beam Control, Lane Departure Warning, Rear Cross Traffic Alert and Smart Brake Support. The wagon powered by the petrol engine will set you back $48,110, with the diesel sedan costing $49,660 and the diesel wagon just breaking through the $50K barrier, at $50,960.


>> A diesel for drivers

SKYACTIV is here; not just in its watered-down form as seen in the Mazda3 SP20, but the whole box and dice. We’ve witnessed Mazda’s fuel-sipping technology in the CX-5, but while the SUV has been generally well received, the 2.0-litre petrol engine is already considered to be overworked, which is why Mazda will introduce a 2.5-litre version shortly.

No hint of that in the case of the new Mazda6 however. If ever there were a car designed from the outset to demonstrate how far technology can progress in just one model generation – without selling the farm to do so – this is it.

Most of the background to the new Mazda6 is widely known, but briefly – it’s no longer one car for them (North America) and one car for us (the rest of the world). Forget the hatch too, as already noted. And while Hiroshi Kajiyama’s lips are sealed, we can’t tell you whether there will ever be an MPS in the latest generation – and that seems the only way likely you’ll ever be able to buy a manual variant. Kajiyama-san is the Program Manager for the new car. During his 25 years with Mazda he has previously worked on Eunos models (including 800/Mazda Millenia and the 500), as well as the Mazda MPV and – on secondment to Ford – the recently superseded Fusion. He and his team began work on the latest Mazda6 from 2008, which was the year the superseded car was launched in Australia.

While major mechanical components are shared with other Mazda models, the Mazda6 has taken its own path in some areas. One of those was the migration from double-wishbone front end to MacPherson struts. What seems like a retrograde step is mitigated by the new car’s substantially improved body strength and torsional rigidity, according to Kajiyama-san. The Mazda executive hinted that his team has found a way to set up virtual kingpin inclination for the strut front end that places it on par with the previous double-wishbone setup, and take advantage of the strut system’s lower weight – and particularly lower unsprung weight. Unfortunately, it’s a closely guarded secret he would not share with us, lest Mazda’s competitors follow suit.

At the rear of the new car, the multi-link independent system shares no common elements with the system in the superseded model. Other underpinnings include four-wheel discs (ventilated at the front), which recover energy that is stored in the i-ELOOP capacitor. Mazda claims that 10 per cent of the fuel spent running an internal-combustion engine goes to driving ancillaries (air con, audio system, lights, etc.), but i-ELOOP can recover that energy from braking.

Another means to save fuel and reduce harm to the environment is the aerodynamically efficient body (0.26Cd for sedan, 0.28Cd for wagon), which is also tauter and lighter, thanks to ultra-high strength steel throughout the car. Mazda claims a 100kg weight loss, despite the larger dimensions and the roomier interior. At 4865mm, the Mazda6 sedan is actually longer than the wagon (4800mm), but both styles are the same width, 1840mm. Not only is the wagon shorter overall, it’s built on a smaller wheelbase as well – 2830mm for the sedan versus 2750mm for the wagon. Despite that the sedan offers the tighter turning circle, at 11.0m turning circle (11.2 for the wagon). Luggage capacity measures 438 litres (sedan) and 451 litres (wagon).

Key to the fuel efficiency (and driveability) of the new Mazda6 are the two drivetrain combinations. Two SKYACTIV engines, the 2.5-litre petrol four and the 2.2-litre diesel four, drive through the six-speed ‘SKYACTIV Drive’ automatic transmission to the front wheels. The petrol engine develops 138kW/250Nm and the diesel is rated at 129kW/420Nm. Based on 91 RON ULP testing for the petrol engine, fuel consumption and CO2 emission figures are 6.6L/100km and 153g/km for the petrol sedan (155g/km for the wagon) and 5.4L/100km and 141g/km for the diesel (both sedan and wagon).

Both engines have been tuned to deliver an optimal blend of driveability (performance) and fuel efficiency, but by different strategies. While both are direct-injected, the petrol engine has had its compression ratio lowered to 13.0:1 for the Australian market, allowing owners to take advantage of cheaper 91 RON petrol at the pump. The turbo-diesel’s compression ratio is nearly as low (14.0:1) as the petrol engine’s is high. Such a low compression ratio for the diesel allows Mazda to specify lighter internal components that further benefit fuel efficiency. In both cases the automatic transmission’s mechanical lock-up (a damper clutch) operates at lower speeds and across a wider range of operating speeds than has been the norm for conventional (epicyclic) automatics. But Mazda has ensured the transmission will provide drivers with the right gear for emergencies, by integrating a ‘kick-down switch’ in the accelerator pedal.


>> Great driving position, but minor shortcomings in other areas

Kajiyama-san advised that the new ‘6’ has been benchmarked against the BMW 3 Series, Audi A4 and Volkswagen Passat. In the case of the A4 and Passat in particular, the benchmarking process has clearly yielded impressive results.

Based on our drive of a Mazda6 Atenza sedan, we can say that the new interior features nice trim materials that help lend the Mazda6 a prestige Euro feel. And simple, functional, elegant design also complements the KODO styling of the exterior. Doors close with the gentlest thrust and only the switchgear on the steering wheel makes the interior look at all busy.

There’s a clear view of the instruments that represents a major improvement on the superseded car. A rosewood-look decor strip across the dash is subtle but stylish and there’s exactly the right amount of brightwork to offset the coordinating colours used throughout the interior. Most important for many, controls are where you expect them to be and any driver will  be able to work out how to operate even some of those more obscure functions (scrolling through trip computer data displays, for example), within about five minutes – and without resorting to the manual.

The driver’s position is excellent, in terms of useable legroom and the relationship to pedals and wheel. It’s the personal view of the writer that the seat comfort isn’t in the same league as’s long-term Honda Accord Euro; while the seats are comfortable enough, they’re not as well shaped or supportive.

Rear-seat legroom (in the sedan, we didn’t get a crack at the wagon) is commensurate with the more commodious sedans in the Mazda’s market segment. Headroom in the rear is adequate for adults of average height, although one or two of the taller journalists on the launch complained about front headroom in cars fitted with a sunroof.

The boot, with a raised floor and bins either side, is practical and competitive, but no better in terms of its functionality than that of the Accord Euro. The floor is raised to accommodate a 16-inch steel spare that is for “temporary use only”, when combined with three other 17-inch wheels (for Mazda6 Sport or Touring models) or 19-inch alloys fitted to the GT and Atenza variants. Mazda has provided controls from the boot to unlatch the folding seats in the sedan, but the seats didn’t drop flat immediately. They remained upright and required either pulling forward from inside the cabin or – in a real world context – would have needed a gentle nudge with the long object to be loaded from the boot into the cabin.

In length, the sedan has grown 130mm but the new wagon is just 35mm longer than its predecessor and the wheelbase of the new sedan and wagon has increased by 105mm for the former, and 25mm for the latter. The width of both body styles has expanded 45mm also.


>> Useful electronic safety aids restricted to Atenza

Safety features fitted across the range as standard include: Dual front airbags, side curtain airbags, front-seat side-impact airbags (thorax), traction control, electronic stability control, anti-lock brakes with electronic brake force distribution, emergency brake assist, emergency warning brake lights, Hill Launch Assist, Intrusion-minimising brake pedal and reversing camera.

High-tech features introduced in the new Mazda6, including Forward Obstruction Warning, Lane Departure Warning, Rear Cross Traffic Alert and Smart Brake Support are only available in the Atenza grade. These features cannot even be specified as options for the lesser grades.

The new model is yet to be tested for an ANCAP safety rating, but the superseded car scored five stars and the new model, stronger and larger, with all the appropriate gear as standard should at least be as safe as the older model.


>> Mazda has the front running, but it’s game on

Mazda Australia has focused on the new 6’s rivals in the medium car segment – and there are some truly competent entries in the segment there – but the new Mazda has the footprint and packaging to snatch sales from large-car foes, among them the Honda Accord (the American design) and Nissan’s new Altima, which replaces the Maxima.

According to Mazda’s MD, Doug Dickson, the new car’s footprint measures around “nine square metres”. Based on the sedan’s length and width it’s something like 8.9m² — versus 9.1m² for the Honda Accord VTi. In respect of pricing too, plus value and dynamics, the Mazda should create headaches for car companies marketing larger cars.

But principally the 6 remains aimed at competitors in the medium segment, which includes Ford Mondeo, Holden’s imminent Malibu, Honda Accord Euro, Hyundai i40 and i45, Kia Optima, Suzuki Kizashi and the Toyota Camry. In addition the Mazda is capable of tackling a couple of European brands – Volkswagen Passat, Citroen C5 and Peugeot 508.


>> Dynamically capable and a formidable touring machine

On a drive program from Adelaide out through the McLaren Vale wine growing region to the south of the city, the Mazda6 impressed over a range of criteria. It insulated the cabin and occupants from noise very well, with some wind noise penetrating – on a day when a strong cross wind was blowing too. Tyre noise was audible on some country roads, but rarely.

When the 2.5-litre petrol engine was given its head it was sporty and refined, with a rich note at higher revs. It’s certainly more enjoyable than most engines of similar capacity in the same market segment. Torque was ample for holding higher gear on moderate hills, but the kick-down switch is what a lot of Australian drivers want from their cars: providing ready and immediate performance on tap. Fuel consumption posted by the trip computer was 10.0L/100km in the worst case scenario and 7.9L/100km in the best case.

A brief drive around the city streets of Adelaide in the diesel sedan resulted in a figure of 7.1L/100km, according to the trip computer. The diesel was as good as we recalled from driving the pre-production TPV at Sandown a little over 18 months ago – and certainly much quieter than that (pre-production car). This is an engine that delivered jaw-dropping performance in a straight line and the acceleration only began to tail off in the last 200 or 300 revs before redline – which is 5500rpm. If you think you know diesels, this one will prove you wrong. On start-up from i-Stop mode (idle stop-start), the engine fired up amazingly fast and with little fuss. You can beat other cars away from the lights while saving fuel…

Unfortunately, the diesel was noisy from cold starting – as was the petrol engine, to a lesser extent – and the oiler purred at idle, but it was obviously a diesel, after stepping out of the much quieter petrol variants. That said, the noise from the diesel was by no means a deal-breaker. It’s quiet by four-cylinder diesel standards. You would have to go to a V6 in a prestige sedan to find a diesel-engined car that’s quieter than this one.

Ride comfort and body control are both very good. If the new car’s steering response is a little slower than we recall of the superseded model’s, it improves with a bit more load on the outside wheels. Committed to a corner at higher speeds the car felt agile and lively, with a handling stance that’s very much reminiscent of some European competitors. There was simply no difficulty placing the car correctly on the road. So there is some feedback through the wheel, although the electrically-assisted steering system is not ultimately as communicative as the Accord Euro’s, but most Mazda6 drivers are bound to find it better than adequate for their purposes. At lower speeds the steering is light, almost to a fault, but the level of assistance declines steadily as the speed rises. It’s generally a well resolved system for the car and its target buyer.

That, in fact, could be said for the whole car. We didn’t get to sample the wagon, unfortunately, and we suspect that it’s the wagon that might be the new model’s hatch equivalent for most buyers. But the sedan has left us rocking back on our heels. It’s a car that is so far ahead of the previous generation 6 – still a decent car in its own right – that you will be amazed, as the reviewer was.

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