Car reviews - Mazda - Mazda6 - GT
Fantastic interior presentation, linear and lag-free turbo engine, delightful dynamics, great driver assistance and safety tech
Room for improvement
Turbo engine lacks punchy character, waiting for Apple CarPlay
Sorry Honda, there’s a new BMW of the East – and it’s Mazda’s turbo-petrol Mazda6
15 Oct 2018
AS GLOBAL sedan and wagon sales start to slide because everyone thinks an SUV is the place to be, Mazda has applied what could be regarded as an unusually comprehensive late-life update to its Mazda6 mid-sizer.
Given how high the third-generation Mazda6 set the segment bar when it launched in 2012, newer competitors still struggle to claim all-things-considered superiority. Mazda has fought its corner with regular updates, too.
But at this point in its lifecycle, rather than winding down in readiness to step aside for its fourth-gen successor, the Mazda6 looks and feels new again both inside and out with a genuinely classy makeover. More significantly, it has inherited the CX-9 large SUV’s turbo-petrol engine.
Ladies and gentlemen, we have a new BMW of the East.
Price and equipment
We’re testing the Mazda6 GT turbo-petrol sedan, which is $43,990 plus on-road costs. This is the least expensive way of accessing the new 2.5-litre turbo engine option, as the naturally aspirated 2.5L unit still powers the base Sport ($32,490 plus on-roads, petrol only) and Touring ($36,690 plus ORC for petrol or $49,690 with a 2.2-litre turbo-diesel).
The GT is also available as a diesel for $45,090, while the range-topping Atenza is $48,990 for the turbo-petrol or $50,090 for the diesel. A wagon bodystyle is available for all variants, costing $1300 extra.
For this update, Mazda upped the level of standard driver assistance and active safety tech, with adaptive cruise control that can stop and start the car in traffic now fitted range-wide alongside blind-spot monitoring, lane-keeping assistance, lane-departure warning, forward and reverse low-speed autonomous emergency braking, driver attention monitoring, rear parking sensors with cross-traffic alert, traffic sign recognition, an auto-dimming rearview mirror and a reversing camera.
Also standard is an 8.0-inch full colour touchscreen display with rotary controller, sat-nav, DAB+ digital radio and Bluetooth/USB/Aux connectivity, dual-zone climate control with rear vents, automatic LED headlights and tail-lights, rain-sensing wipers, leather-wrapped gear knob and steering wheel, and an electric park brake.
Moving up to Touring trim adds black leather upholstery, an 11-speaker Bose premium audio system, front seat position memory, front parking sensors, keyless entry, heated auto-folding power mirrors and daytime running lights.
The GT tested here steps up from 17- to 19-inch alloys wheels, introduces the choice of white leather, has front and rear heated seats, and adaptive headlights.
Buyers of the flagship Atenza get a choice of white or walnut brown Nappa leather, ventilated front seats, surround-view monitor, a 7.0-inch multifunction instrument panel display, a mix of woodgrain and Ultrasuede door and dash trim, a sunroof, LED ambient interior lighting, and a frameless interior mirror.
The Mazda6 comes in eight colours, with the premium finishes Soul Red Crystal Metallic and Machine Grey Metallic costing a reasonable $300 extra while Sonic Silver Metallic, Titanium Flash Mica, Blue Reflex Mica, Deep Crystal Blue Mica, Jet Black Mica and Snowflake White Pearl Mica are all no-cost options.
The overall improvement to the Mazda6’s appearance inside and out is far more than the sum of its parts and almost worthy of a full model change, especially when viewed side-by-side with the pre-facelift version in the same colour, as we did when one pulled up next to us in a car park. It now looks far more modern, purposeful and expensive than before.
Inside it feels really rather special, even in the second-from-top GT grade tested here. The restrained elegance, quality materials and general sense of solidity we always respected about the third-gen 6 has really been taken to another level.
The dashboard design is substantially different to what went before and there’s more than a hint of BMW in terms of layout and looks. As is the current trend there is a lot of stitched faux leather about the place, but it’s done tastefully and convincingly in true Mazda style.
Similarly, the piano black finish, which so many car-makers get terribly wrong, is finished well, and we can say the same for the Mazda’s subtle smattering of metal- and chrome-look trims. Switchgear, as ever, is wonderfully tactile and consistent in feel and logically laid out across the cabin.
Also, it’s almost possible to avoid touching any hard plastics during a journey and when you do, they are of pleasant texture and quality. Storage areas are either felt- or rubber-lined, too, with reasonable amounts of space for stuff compared with other sedans. We could even fit a chunky DSLR camera in the tray in front of the gear selector.
Our example was black-on-black but avoided feeling cave-like and benefited from a light-coloured headlining and pillar trims. Although risky for denim wearers and parents, we have no doubt the white leather option would look great.
Talking of leather, even without the Nappa fitted to the upmarket Atenza, the hide used in our GT felt impressively supple and the new front seats are genuinely plush. Yes, even better than before. Why can’t Mazda get this right in its SUVs?
As is the Mazda way, the driving position is excellent and we could crank the seat right down low. Combined with the quality and style of the steering wheel, we could just tell this was a driver’s car from the way it felt once we’d settled in. It was here that yet another comparison with BMW came to mind.
News from the back isn’t so great. It’s still a quality environment but this tester’s 186cm frame could only just fit behind a front seat set for their driving position and their head brushed the low ceiling. The humped, thinly-padded central position was unusable for a person of this height. This is because of the fold-down central armrest that reveals a pair of cup-holders, a lidded storage tray with USB charging point and controls for the rear seat-heaters.
Mazda’s MZD Connect multimedia system isn’t the best and will greatly benefit from the upcoming upgrade that will enable Apple CarPlay smartphone mirroring connectivity, but at least in this new Mazda6 the touchscreen is much better integrated into the cockpit design and looks less like it is perched atop the dash.
Better still is the new head-up display that now projects straight onto the windscreen and is easily one of the best systems at any price in terms of graphic quality and functionality – particularly the impressive road-sign recognition that picks up stop signs and school zones as well as speed limits. It works when wearing polarised sunglasses too, and more than makes up for the slightly basic analogue instrument pack.
Mazda’s lane-keeping assistance system is more reactive to drifting toward lane markings than proactively keeping the car in its lane for that semi-autonomous feel, so the technology lags the likes of Hyundai and Kia. Similarly, the adaptive cruise control is not the smoothest-responding setup and struggles to maintain the set speed on undulating roads with abrupt adjustments. It’s a fly in the otherwise slick Mazda6 ointment.
Mazda keeps tweaking its models to address the brand’s long-time bugbear of noise, vibration and harshness (NVH) and while the new Mazda6 still isn’t the quietest car on the move, road roar is mostly relegated to a distant rumble.
We found the worst coarse-chip country lanes would still get a bit raucous, but we noticed wind noise more than anything, which was surprising for such a sleek car.
Fitted with the seven-seat CX-9 SUV’s 2.5-litre four-cylinder turbo-petrol engine, the Mazda6 tested here cranks out 170kW of power at 5000rpm and 420Nm of torque at 2000rpm.
We were expecting the turbo-petrol Mazda6 to feel more rapid. The sensation of gathering speed is almost completely absent and there’s not the muscular punchy feel under part-throttle applications typical of the turbocharged genre.
It’s so linear and responsive that we popped the bonnet to check there was a turbo under there. True story. It’s effortless and clearly generates more than enough go for this size and weight of car, but we were hoping for a bit more character and sportiness.
Although it revs cleanly and sweetly, we found we could corner in a higher gear than we’d usually select for a petrol Mazda6, owing to the relatively low-revving power peak – after which there is a jarring, almost diesel-like drop-off in performance – and the fact maximum torque is delivered fairly early in the tachometer’s sweep as well.
Frustratingly for Australian roads and their low speed limits, this is an engine that feels like it is only just hitting its straps at around 100km/h because that’s where it does start to come on song and feel quite muscular.
There’s almost a sigh of disappointment from the car after bursting up a motorway on-ramp, only to curtail it as triple digits arrive. And arrive quickly they do, which utterly belies the sensation of speed this Mazda provides. Keep your eye on that head-up display or you’re in for a fine.
Under hard acceleration there’s still a bit of that old Mazda vibration, accompanied by a tight, boxy and quite hard-edged soundtrack that is pretty enjoyable for a turbo unit.
Apart from that, this new engine does instil a newfound sense of refinement to the Mazda6 because it doesn’t need wringing to make meaningful progress like the naturally aspirated unit did. And that’s central to its appeal.
Shifts from the six-speed auto are as crisp as ever, manual mode is genuine with both paddle-shifters and a manual gate with the correct forward-for-down and backward-for-up orientation, and we had no complaints over its intuitiveness and calibration when left to its own devices during our week-long test.
Helped by the turbo engine’s low-end torque, it even dealt expertly with a set of hairpins when all we’d done in preparation was select Sport mode.
Mazda claims 7.6 litres per 100 kilometres on the combined cycle for the turbo-petrol Mazda6, while we averaged 8.9L/100km in mainly suburban driving. Pretty good.
Ride and handling
While we noticed a fair bit of flattery-by-imitation going BMW’s way with the heavily revised Mazda6 cabin, a tour of our dynamic road test circuit cemented this model’s status in our minds as the new ‘BMW of the East’, a title Honda sadly let go of long ago.
The Mazda6 GT turbo felt just great on twisty roads. We instantly felt in tune with the car, which imbued in us an immediate sense of confidence when leaning on it to explore its high levels of grip and resistance to understeer.
It rewarded us via the sheer amount of engagement, feel and feedback it delivered through the chassis and steering that was alive in our hands.
We’d argue that the Mazda6 exceeds BMW of the East status in that is outstrips a BMW 3 Series in terms of ride quality, even on the 19-inch alloys fitted to our GT. It’s an incredibly settled, stable and balanced car that resists roll well.
Sure, bumps are felt but they are never jarring, it never thumps over imperfections and big hits are quickly recovered from. The great thing about the Mazda’s ride is how consistent it is regardless of speed. Round-town it is just as absorbent as it is on the motorway.
Of course, the Mazda is front-drive and where it cannot match its Bavarian counterpart is when hard-worked driven wheels are also tasked with steering. The GT would occasionally chirp an inside front tyre and sometimes succumb to torque-steer as well. But it was never dramatic and interventions from the traction control were subtle.
Safety and servicing
ANCAP awarded the Mazda6 range with a maximum five-star crash-test safety rating when it was launched in December 2012. While the car’s structural integrity will have remained the same, it has been fitted with several rounds of crash-avoidance technology updates since then.
With an overall score of 35.44 out of 37 overall, the Mazda was given 14.44 points out of 16 in the frontal offset test, a full 16 in the side impact test and a perfect two out of two in the pole test. Whiplash protection and pedestrian protection were respectively considered ‘good’ and ‘acceptable’.
More good news comes in the form of five-year, unlimited kilometre warranty on new Mazdas sold from August 1, up from three years. Unlike a number of other brands, Mazda doesn’t include roadside assistance, charging from $99 per year for this cover.
Capped-price servicing is available on the Mazda6, with maintenance required every 12 months or 10,000km and costing between $313 and $341 depending on interval. This does not include brake fluid (every 24 months or 40,000km at $70) or cabin air filter (every 40,000km at $71).
You’ve probably guessed by now that the turbo-petrol Mazda6 GT comes highly recommended. Go and get one, and sneer over the scores of sheeple buying SUVs.
Because as good as some of these high-riding crossovers are getting these days – and Mazda’s are among the very best – it’s refreshing for we road testers to drive such a well-sorted and satisfying sedan. It’s a reminder of what cars should be like.
The Mazda6 is immense value for money, too, especially when you compare what you get in terms of cabin quality, equipment levels and well-sorted ride and dynamics against much more expensive European premium brands.
An absolute bargain with a long equipment list including the clever EyeSight active safety technology and, of course, excellent all-wheel-drive dynamics that give the Mazda a run for its money. The 3.6-litre flat-six engine is thirsty but sounds great and provides armfuls of thrust.
Kia Optima GT ($43,290 plus on-road costs)
Another turbo-petrol sedan with striking good looks. Well kitted-out and a fairly deft dynamically with a long warranty but the Mazda6 leaves it for dead with a gorgeous interior and even better ride/handling balance.
Toyota Camry SL V6 ($43,990 plus on-road costs)
Like the Subaru, the Camry closest in price to a Mazda6 GT turbo is a gadget-packed six-cylinder. A massive stride dynamically since the latest Japanese-made model supplanted the old Aussie-built version but it’s, marred by the nose-heavy V6 that makes it feel a bit soggy in the bends and it struggles to put its power down convincingly.
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