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Car reviews - Mazda - Mazda6 - sedan/hatch/wagon range

Our Opinion

We like
New-look exterior design, upmarket cabin additions, worthwhile steering and suspension updates, classy sat-nav option, price cuts
Room for improvement
LED tail-lights only on premium models, no Bluetooth or alloy wheels for base model, no petrol engine upgrade

Mazda logo16 Mar 2010

By MARTON PETTENDY

THE Mazda6 has been one of Australia’s class-leading mid-size vehicles since bursting onto the local scene as one of Mazda’s original new-generation ‘Zoom-Zoom’ models in 2002, when it replaced the solid but staid 626.

Now, a comprehensive midlife makeover for the second-generation Mazda6, barely two years after it was launched here in February 2008, has improved Australia’s most popular imported (and privately purchased) mid-size vehicle in almost every respect.

Significant price cuts across the board – by almost $1000 at base level – also make it an even better value proposition than before.

Priced from $27,310, the cheapest Mazda6 now costs about $3000 less than Toyota’s locally produced Camry, now a sedan-only model bought mostly by fleets, and almost $7000 more affordable than the equivalent version in Subaru’s new Liberty line-up, which has outsold the mid-size Mazda so far this year but remains less popular than the top-selling Camry.

The latest Six also brings with it a leather-lined Touring wagon variant – a direct response to customer demand for a more luxuriously appointed version of the Mazda6 load-lugger.

Its offers a power driver’s seat and front/rear parking sensors over the Classic petrol auto and Diesel manual variants of the wagon, which continues to offer around just 50 litres of extra cargo space over the only marginally more stylish hatch, and makes the Mazda6 the only mid-size model available in three distinct body styles.

Differentiating the upgraded iteration from the two-year-old Mazda6, which already featured one of the most striking exterior designs in the sub-$60,000 mid-size category, is the adoption of the newest Mazda3’s ‘smiley face’ corporate front-end, injecting a new level of modernity and stamping Mazda’s newest medium firmly as part of the Japanese brand’s current model family.

Gas-discharge Xenon headlights and LED tail-lights are new additions to the Mazda6 fare, but unfortunately only the most premium versions. New-design 17 and 18-inch alloy wheels are also fitted to upstream models, while the entry-level Limited sedan’s 16-inch steel wheel covers remain unchanged.

Larger grille badges, foglights and various outboard bumper bezel treatments provide significant differentiation between garden-variety and top-shelf variants, though stylised side skirts now appear across the board.

The more upmarket look continues inside, where a classy piano black centre stack replaces the previous model’s all-silver unit without losing any of its sophistication or user-friendliness, while chrome plating now graces high-use surfaces such as the internal door-pulls.

The Bluetooth phone and audio device connectivity now standard from Classic level upwards would have also been a neat addition in the base Limited sedan, which admittedly accounts for 10 per cent of sales.

While accommodation improvements extend only to the addition of a sunglasses holder behind the rear-view mirror in all models, the fresh availability of an optional top-notch seven-inch colour touch-screen with voice-control technology for audio and sat-nav functions puts the Mazda6 on par with European mid-sizers from BMW, Audi and Mercedes-Benz, as well as Lexus.

The 2010 Mazda6 changes run more than skin-deep, however, and although you’ll have to search hard to notice the differences, a solid day’s drive through some of Victoria’s most twisting bushfire-ravaged roads proved the subtle chassis revisions well worthwhile in what was an already highly capable dynamic package.

Responsive and communicative steering has always been a hallmark of the front-drive Mazda6 and a reprogrammed electric steering control map to reduce assistance in a straight line makes the newest Six feel like it tracks on the highway with even greater stability, while revised steering mount bushings probably make it feel even more responsive at all steering angles.

Eons ahead of the Camry in terms of reaction to input and feedback, the Mazda6’s steering is matched only by the likes of Honda’s Accord Euro in terms of liveliness in this class, but there’s still a noticeable difference between the cheapest and most expensive models when it comes to bump steer in lumpy corners.

But if the entry-level Mazda6 Limited sedan’s steering kicks back a little more when the pace picks up over broken bitumen, it lacks none of its pricier stablemates’ finesse in the dynamics department. All Mazda6’s offer a brilliant ride/handling compromise, with even the sub-$30,000 sedan offering an obviously well-sorted chassis that hugs the road about as well as many European rivals.

Feeling lighter on its feet yet more solid than Subaru’s (all-wheel-drive) Liberty, the Mazda6 possesses both ride quality and cornering ability, aided by one of the most effective yet unobtrusive electronic control systems available, to shame the Camry in all circumstances.

Again rivalled only by the Honda in this department, the Mazda is agile yet well balanced, supple over the worst road surfaces yet super-stable during hard cornering, and has a cabin that’s well isolated from road, wind and engine noise, but remains an unadulterated, confidence inspiring drive – whether it’s the poverty-pack Limited four-door or the top-spec Luxury Sports hatch.

Alas, we didn’t get to drive the upgraded diesel, which produces 4kW less peak power but the same bahnstorming 400Nm of torque but is said to be more responsive off the line and flexible in the midrange thanks to a smaller turbo, because first shipments are a month behind the 2010 petrol models and won’t hit dealer forecourts until April.

But we can say the tried and trusty 2.5-litre petrol four is as willing as ever, despite meeting tighter Euro 4 emissions regs and reducing average fuel consumption by one point in the base manual models, even if Mazda’s 2.0-litre MZR engine builds more revs more quickly and more cleanly in the Mazda3 – and in Japan’s Mazda6 (Atenza).

Mazda expects that, once the after-effects of the federal government’s 50 per cent business tax allowance for 2009 wear off, the Six will reassume its rightful position as Australia’s second best selling mid-size car.

After driving the new-look, better value and slightly sharper 2010 version, we have no reason to disagree.

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