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
Mazda packs more equipment into its mid-ranger, hoping to lure back buyers who might otherwise throw their money in the direction of a Volkswagen dealer. The Mazda6 offers more car and you're getting quality as well as quantity. It's got the talent to give some better-selling cars in its class quite a lot to think about.
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. The last Vauxhall Corsa was one. The Peugeot 206 sold in huge numbers but was an absolute lemon. 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.
It won Auto Express' Family Car of the Year award in both 2013 and 2014, yet Mazda's entire yearly sales were less than a quarter of Audi's. The Mazda6 was outsold by the BMW 3 Series by a ratio of five to one. Something clearly needed to be done to resurrect this excellent vehicle's prospects.
The oily bits really haven't changed that much, but Mazda has responded to customer feedback and made the 6 that little bit more refined. The amount of sound insulation used has increased and the quality of the insulation improved. Detail changes to the suspension also mean that less noise is transmitted into the cabin. The petrol engines comprise 145 and 165PS versions of the 2.0-litre SKYACTIV-G four-cylinder direct injection unit, with the 2.2-litre SKYACTIV-D diesel engine available in either 150 or 175PS versions. 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.
The chassis that underpins the Mazda6 is a development of that which first debuted on the CX-5 SUV. It's been lengthened for this application and optimised for the lower and lighter car. Keeping weight out of key components has been one of the major design priorities and the latest Mazda6 gets lighter yet stiffer front and rear suspension systems. The electric power assisted steering is quicker than the many of the rather flabby-feeling installations on most family cars, with a rapid 2.57 turn lock-to-lock ratio.
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
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
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 106g/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 136g/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 68.9mpg while the 175PS version nets 62.8mpg, so you're comparatively harshly penalised by going for a 150PS diesel.
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.