Future Models - Mazda 2013 Mazda6
First drive: Mazda6 poised for success
New and improved: Mazda looks set to shake up the mid size segment with the all new 6 when it lands in Australia early next year.
Sneak peek reveals Mazda ticks all the boxes with new third-generation mid-size ‘6’
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5 October 2012
MAZDA appears to be on another winner if our first impressions of the eagerly awaited third-generation Mazda6 in pre-production form hold up when the car is officially launched in Australia early next year.
Our first drive on admittedly undemanding roads north of Paris showed the latest Mazda mid-sizer to be markedly better in almost all departments that the already impressive current model, putting the Mazda firmly into a mix that will include a number of other newcomers in the segment over the next year.
Expect Mazda to continue to offer three variants in Australia, but we expect the nomenclature to change, with the Luxury and Sport names likely to disappear.
Previewed two years ago in the Shinari concept, and after months of teasers, photo issues and show reveals, the new Mazda6 with its Kodo design language is now familiar.
We were already impressed with its styling, but in the flesh it looks better, with those flowing lines still pleasing and the wide-mouthed grille less jarring in the metal.
The new wagon presented at the Paris show also looks a treat, and should protect Mazda Australia from the fallout of losing its hatchback variant, which previously dominated the sales mix.
A Mazda executive noted that most hatchback buyers were attracted by the sporty styling, but the new sedan and wagon both have that in spades.
We drove both of the four-cylinder engine variants coming to Australia – the “high power” version of the 2.2-litre turbo-diesel already available in the CX-5 and the new 2.5-litre petrol unit – and came away impressed with both.
We expected the twin-turbo diesel to be the star of the show and it impressed from the outset, sounding nothing like a diesel but rather like an older petrol unit.
Engine noise was not intrusive and diesel rattle was absent, but the power delivery was pure turbo-diesel – strong and linear from low revs.
However, driving the new petrol unit left us even more impressed. Not only is it lively, with plenty of power delivered impressively smoothly all the way through to the red line, but it is accompanied by a sporty engine note that probably made it seem even faster.
The weight difference of about 140kg also helped to make the petrol version feel more lithe.
For once, all the talk about acoustic engineering also seemed to be backed up on the road.
Both engines are matched to the latest six-speed automatic transmission that will be standard in Australia where the manual version previously accounted for only five per cent of sales – almost the exact opposite of the situation in Europe where drivers curiously still associate autos with torque converter slip.
This auto uniquely features torque lock-up on all six gears to reduce consumption and improve driving response, and it performed flawlessly, with smooth shifts and intuitive changes, accompanied by throttle blips when using snapping down the gears using the steering wheel-mounted paddle shifts.
There was little sign of over-intrusive nanny electronics, but also little opportunity to reveal them, and that will be something to assess when we get the proper production cars – rather than the hand-built pre-production ones provided for this sneak peek.
That will also help us properly assess the virtues of the petrol over the diesel, but this first taste on mainly country roads left us mighty impressed with the new SkyActiv petrol unit that in a year or so will almost certainly give the CX-5 a shot in the arm.
We were also greatly impressed with the ride and handling balance, although the latter didn’t get much of a workout on the mainly straight roads.
The suspension provided plenty of compliance, absorbing all the bumps put in its way, but was perhaps a little softer than we’ve come to expect from Mazda, floating a little more than expected.
Both cars we drove sported optional 19-inch alloy wheels that generated significant road noise on coarse road surfaces, but seemed to have little effect on ride quality.
There was some discussion about the electric-assisted steering among some journalists on the drive program, but this correspondent found it to be one of the better examples we have driven.
We’d still prefer a more organic hydraulic system, but the Mazda6 – which has the electric motor mounted on the steering column – scored well with us by having a distinct self-centre affect on the highway, reducing the amount of constant adjusting that makes too many other electric-equipped cars tiring to drive.
The steering was perhaps heavier than ideal on the highway, but the light weighting around town seemed about right, complemented by a steering wheel that has a lovely touch. Even so, a Mazda engineer told us it would be retuned for the mid-life facelift in a few years.
The Mazda6 experience also reflected the marketing hype in its seating, which was claimed to have been designed to provide even support across the body. And that’s exactly how the seats felt, providing comfort over long stretches at the wheel, assisted by a sliding centre console armrest.
Even the rear seats were comfortable, and the extra length in the wheelbase of the sedan was reflected in the available legroom, with a good 10cm to spare between knees and seatback with the driver’s seat located for a six-footer.
Also impressive was the deep and flat boot, which should satisfy most owners, while others will opt for the obvious benefits of the still-sexy wagon.
Interior presentation is hardly groundbreaking, but at the same time it works a treat, offering sensible placement of quality controls, dials and buttons that all feel well-made and intuitive. We were also taken by the audio sound quality, though both cars we drove had the benefit of the optional Bose speakers.
The much-hyped capacitor-based standard i-Eloop energy regeneration system worked so seamlessly that we didn’t even think about it during the drive program, although it might have contributed to the slight grabbing action of the brakes we noted as the car came to a dead stop. Otherwise, the brakes felt strong and secure with a smooth action.
Overall, there was little to be critical about, suggesting the new Mazda6 has ticked all the boxes and will be the car to beat as the imports line up against the home-grown Toyota Camry in the Australian mid-size car segment.
As Mazda continues to run rampant in the local market, it seems they have another volume-booster on its hands.