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Car reviews - Mazda - Mazda6 - Diesel hatch/wagon

Our Opinion

We like
Performance, refinement, pricing, Mazda6 essence retained, wagon availability, slick six-speed manual gearbox
Room for improvement
No auto will put off buyers

Mazda logo20 Oct 2006

By BYRON MATHIOUDAKIS

SINCE its 2002 launch, one of the few things we’ve lamented about the Mazda6 range (droning road noise aside) has been the missing manual wagon model, which is vital in a family car as involving and inspiring to drive as this.

Because while the old four-speed automatic in the pre-’05 facelift model was okay and the current five-speed unit is quite a good thing, you always feel that a manual Mazda6 wagon would really be a superlative cut-price grand tourer in every sense of the word.

Time and again Mazda would point to the miniscule sales numbers such a model would attract, and proclaim the petrol-powered manual wagon completely unfeasible.

But that was then, and this era of expensive fuel, increasing congestion and a backlash against profligate SUVs is now.

So welcome the Mazda6 MZR-CD Diesel wagon, in all its 5.9L/100km, 1250km range, 360Nm of torque, and – most impressively – six-speed manual gearbox glory.

Admittedly, Mazda Australia secretly would choose an automatic for its swoopy mid-range model in a heartbeat, but the European market that the Diesel is essentially built for overwhelmingly prefers the manual, so that’s all that the company has developed and makes.

If the shift quality was heavy, or rubbery, or just plain rubbish, we would laugh and suggest that the Japanese not bother with a derv-driven Mazda6 until a suitable automatic gearbox becomes available – if at all.

However, it isn’t any of these things.

Even though the superb 122kW/207Nm 2.3-litre petrol engine, certainly one of the great mass market engines – has made way for a 2.0-litre common-rail turbo-diesel unit, the transmission is terrific, particularly as it is tied to a strong and quiet powerplant that offers more torque than any other of its ilk.

What is even more impressive is that – on our urban drive in and around a capital city – the 200km-old test car still delivered the quintessentially modern and satisfying turbo-diesel experience in spite of its obvious newness and tightness.

It makes us wonder what a nicely run-in example would feel like.

We are sure that back-to-back testing with the 1444kg auto petrol wagon would betray the extra mass of the 1531kg Diesel wagon in the form of the former’s slightly sprightlier handling, but in isolation the latter feels as lithesome.

The point is, the Mazda6 Diesel – in either hatchback or wagon mode – is considerably larger (and some say more stylish) than the European small-car diesels, costs only slightly more, and is – without exception – better and more fun to drive.

Conversely, the medium-sized European diesels are at least close to $10,000 more expensive (although the cheapest – VW’s fine Passat TDI – does include the excellent DSG automatic gearbox), and, again, are just not as fun (or good to look at).

Which brings us back to the very essence of the Mazda6.

It replaced the clumsy looking 626, brought brio and verve to the embattled Japanese brand, and has stood the test of time remarkably well.

The diesel edition only stands to enhance one of our all-time sub-$40,000 family-car favourites.

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