Car reviews - Mazda - Mazda6 - sedan/hatch/wagon range
Roomy quality interior, overall refinement, accomplished six-speed manual and five-speed auto, communicative steering, performance, classy exterior styling
Room for improvement
Despite NVH improvements hatch is still noisy, apart from alloys there's little differentiation between variants, Limited Sport’s looks may offend buyers of the forthcoming MPS
12 Aug 2005
THE roads around Canberra are known for their ability to access some spectacular rural and mountain scenery.
If you choose them right too, there are some entertaining twists and turns that will put any car-maker's ride and handling claims to the test and punish any pretenders.
Within 100km of the capital you'll encounter off-camber, sharp, pot-holed, narrow and coarse surfaced bitumen as well as super-smooth highways.
It's in this type of location that Mazda confidently chose to show off its refreshed Six line-up.
Having been some time since we last encountered a Mazda6, we remembered it being competent but could it still cut the mustard over some very average Aussie roads and were the changes enough to keep it ahead of the medium-size ratpack?
On paper the revisions to the line-up are modest and concentrate on improving overall refinement, lowering noise levels and - with new six-speed manual and five-speed automatics - lower fuel economy. Some trim upgrades and better equipment also feature.
Visually Mazda's designers have buffed the car's overall sporty look without diluting its handsome profile. To change the car's visual cues too much would be like messing with Elle MacPherson - it's not necessary.
So what do we end up with? Externally, there are new bumpers, stylish alloys, deeper honeycomb grille and dark tinted headlight bezels and tail-light glass.
Inside there are higher quality fabrics, upgraded dashboard, improved front seat cushions, door trims and electrically adjustable driver's seat on Luxury and Luxury Sports models. It's roomy and comfortable for four adults.
The Six's smooth 2.3-litre four cylinder carries over, now with electronic throttle and Euro IV emission compliance.
The suspension - double wishbone front and multi-link rear - has been mildly retuned with new bushings and retuned springs and dampers that are claimed to offer an optimum balance between ride and handling.
And indeed it does.
Despite everything those previously mentioned Canberra roads could throw at the Mazda6, it continually impressed as a deftly dynamic and very liveable package.
So good in fact is the car's suspension prowess that it could seriously challenge, and exceed, some highly favoured European cars over the same roads at the same speeds.
Combined with the precise rack-and-pinion steering, the Six charges into corners, remains composed and fluid throughout the turns and can be punted out of hairpins with a touch of induced oversteer. It's all very tidy, fun and safe.
The ride has an initial softness to it, fine for around town, but firms up over indifferent surfaces without losing its damping composure. At no point does the suspension crash through the car over jarring potholes. The spring travel and damper rates are right on.
At the heart of the matter is Mazda's 2.3-litre four cylinder.
One paper its 122kW of power looks the goods but peak power is delivered at a high 6500rpm, which means you have to stoke the car along to get the best out of the engine.
However, conversely, much of the 207Nm of torque is delivered from around 2000rpm, which makes for a very flexible engine low-down in the rev-range. If you must drive around in top gear at 60km/h, the Six will happily comply.
It may not have the power and high-revving alacrity of the Honda Accord Euro but the Mazda6 will match it for fun, right up to the 6500rpm redline and to the rev cutout 300rpm above that. If you want added punch, go for the soon-to-be-launched hot turbocharged MPS.
Apart from the styling tweaks, the big news for the Six are the new gearboxes.
The engine mates well to either the close-ratio six-speed manual - a joy to use - or equally impressive five-speed "Activematic" sequential auto, which replaces the previous four-speeder.
The auto offers modified software control designed to make gear changes smoother.
Left in auto mode, the changes are indeed silky.
In sequential mode, we did experience some jerkiness on downchanges from third but put that down to the wide ratio spread between the two gears.
Despite the increasing proliferation of sequential autos, the manual six-speeder makes a strong case for self-shifting.
It's an easy device to live with. The short shift-points are like the proverbial knife through hot butter and the clutch is agreeably well weighted, which is a surprise for a Japanese car.
Among the 750 or so engineering changes many have gone into making the car stronger and quieter.
The bodyshell has been reinforced, as well as inner door panels and upper sections of the A and B-pillars and floor. Like its predecessor there are also six airbags, ABS, anti-whiplash headrests and collapsing brake pedals.
Although the Mazda6 is a fine handler and competent in many areas, excessive tyre and road noise has been an issue, depending on tyre profiles and whether you're in a sedan or hatch.
It's improved and at normal highway speeds not as intrusive but the hatch can still be boomy, proof that more work needs to be done. Coarse-chipped roads still make their audible presence felt too. The sedan is by far the quietest of the pair.
But these are minor quibbles for what is a very accomplished car.
The Six is a quiet achiever - a driver's car without the fuss, adornment and pretension of some highly fancied rivals, Europeans included.
A pretender it isn't.
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