The Mazda6 midsizer has been rejuvenated for a third generation, with an all-new body, all-new powertrains and cutting edge style.
Sedan and wagon bodystyles continue, but the hatch has been dropped. On the other hand, diesel variants of the Mazda6 - previously offered in manual guise only - are now equipped with a six-speed auto as standard.
We went to the twisting Adelaide hills to put the new Mazda6 through its paces. As we found, the new 6 is more than just a pretty face.
Classy, well-finished, opulent. All describe the 2013 Mazda6’s interior.
Materials have been given a dramatic lift in quality, and although the centre console is still clad in hard plastics, the dash top is soft-touch and leather upholstery is standard on every model bar the entry-grade Sport.
Nearly everything has a premium look and feel. Remove the Mazda badge from the steering wheel, and many would assume the new 6 hailed from Europe, not Japan.
And that’s no great surprise. According to Project Manager Hiroshi Kajiyama, the new Mazda6 was benchmarked against the BMW 3 Series, Audi A4 andVolkswagen Passat - all of which command a hefty premium over Mazda’s mid-sized contender.
The new 6’s lengthy equipment list is another drawcard.
Sat-nav, push-button ignition, heated wing-mirrors, rain-sensing wipers, cruise control, shift paddles, a reversing camera and Bluetooth connectivity are standard on every model.
The Touring adds front and rear parking sensors, power front seats, leather upholstery and an 11-speaker Bose premium audio system, while the GT model grade brings 19-inch alloys, LED daytime running lamps, bi-xenon headlamps, a sunroof, keyless entry and heated seats.
The new flagship ‘Atenza’ grade has every feature of the other models, but adds a longer list of active safety aids like adaptive cruise control, blind-spot monitor, auto-dipping high beam, lane departure warning and collision detection system.
In terms of gadgetry on offer, the Mazda6 leads its segment.
It’s a comfortable car to be in too. The front seats give good support and feature a wide range of adjustment, and the steering column adjusts for both reach and rake (although it could do with just a little more reach adjustment, we feel).
Outward visibility is improved as well. Mazda’s engineers moved the A-pillars back 100mm and repositioned the wing mirrors to enhance forward vision.
While the front seats in both sedan and wagon are spacious, it’s the sedan that has the best back-seat accommodation.
Thanks to a wheelbase that’s 80mm longer than the wagon, the sedan has 29mm more rear seat legroom.
That said, the legroom available in the wagon is far from being in short supply, although entry is hampered by a smaller rear door opening.
It’s a different story with rear headroom though. The wagon is 30mm taller and has substantially more noggin space as a result.
By contrast, the sedan - especially those variants equipped with a sunroof - can feel a bit too short.
Rear foot-room is still slightly cramped, but improved over the superseded Mazda6.
Curiously, the wagon’s 451 litre luggage capacity is only 13 litres more than that of the sedan. Blame the wagon’s shorter wheelbase and overall length for that one.
ON THE ROAD
Taking place in and around the Adelaide hills, the test route Mazda devised for the new 6’s launch proved a good test of suspension and engine performance.
We started off in an Atenza petrol sedan, which impressed us straight away with its quietness and refinement.
There’s a hint of injector tick at idle (a trait common among nearly all direct-injection engines), but, that aside, it’s as quiet as a church inside Mazda’s flagship mid-sizer.
The steering is light and, with a new 14.2:1 steering ratio, requires less turns to get from lock to lock. The steering feel is a little dull, but the Mazda6 tips into corners with great accuracy.
Lateral grip is impressive for a larger front-drive car, and Mazda’s decision to replace the previous generation’s double-wishbone front suspension with a more conventional MacPherson strut system hasn’t harmed handling in any way.
Likewise the difference in wheelbase between sedan and wagon; both have a similar sure-footed feel.
It’s the ride comfort of the new model that is perhaps its greatest strength however.
Rough, poorly maintained roads are easily soaked up by the new 6’s suspension - even large bumps fail to unsettle it.
According to Project Manager Kajiyama-san, the 2013 Mazda6 has softer spring and damper rates than its predecessor, but slightly stiffer anti-roll bars. A 40 percent increase in body rigidity also helps handling performance.
With 19-inch alloys, the GT and Atenza variants have a slightly harsher ride than the Sport and Touring, which roll on 17-inch alloys with higher-profile tyres. Road noise is also louder in the GT and Atenza.
In terms of muscle, the diesel is a must-have for drivers who intend to haul their family around on a regular basis.
With a huge 420Nm of torque available at 2000rpm, the Skyactiv-D turbodiesel four has endless pulling power. A claimed fuel consumption figure of 5.4 l/100km means it’s a thrifty motor too.
But while the diesel has the most torque, it also has a sizable amount of turbo lag - that prolonged pause between flooring the accelerator and the turbocharger coming on song.
Which is why we like the naturally-aspirated petrol engine more.
The 2.5 litre Skyactiv-G petrol four has only 250Nm of torque, but a very handy 138kW of power. It’s more linear in its power delivery and has better throttle response than the diesel (and is more enjoyable to drive hard).
The petrol models need to be shown a bit of whip though. There is little oomph below 3800rpm, so overtaking and highway onramps are best dispatched with at least 4000rpm showing on the dial first.
In the interests of fuel economy, the standard-issue six-speed automatic keeps revs in both cars very low.
Kickdown performance is swift though, and the transmission calibration is intelligent enough to know when more performance is being demanded. Drive the car hard and the gearbox will hold lower gears for longer and downshift sooner on deceleration - all without slipping the shifter out of “D”.
The petrol consumes just 6.6 l/100km on the combined cycle, which is a commendable figure for a non-turbocharged mid-size car.
All Mazda6 variants are equipped with stop-start technology and regenerative braking as standard, the latter of which uses a capacitor rather than a battery to save space and weight.
FIRST DRIVE VERDICT
Mazda has always had a winner in the 6 range - but this new model really raises the bar on a whole lot of levels.
There are a few shortcomings - rear headroom in the sedan, small rear doors on the wagon, the aftermarket appearance of the sat-nav graphics - but at its core the new Mazda6 is an exceptional vehicle.
Mazda says it’ll be a class leader, and we believe it. The balance between quality, equipment, technology and driveability that the Mazda6 offers makes it a standout in the segment.
It’s not just family buyers who will find a lot of appeal in this arrestingly styled new Mazda6.
Stay tuned for full reviews of both sedan and wagon variants of the 2013 Mazda6 range.