Car reviews - Mazda - Mazda6 - Sport wagon petrol
Standard advanced driver-assist systems, impressive value for money, longer factory warranty, unrivalled premium interior, smooth ride
Room for improvement
Tiresome engine noise, underwhelming engine performance, prevalent understeer, feels portly, challenging low-speed steering resistance
Mazda6 Sport wagon shows the Europeans how to do no-nonsense, premium motoring
13 Feb 2019
WHILE mid-size cars are becoming increasingly less popular, Mazda’s vigour for the segment is as strong as ever. Its Mazda6 has been a perennial contender since it launched, after all. However, the third-generation model has been around since December 2012, making it old against the backdrop of the Japanese brand’s five-year life cycles.
Nonetheless, Mazda isn’t ready to roll out the next Mazda6 just yet, so its current iteration is in line for its third major update – yes, this is number three. Knowing that it has to get a couple more years out of this model, Mazda has put its designers and engineers hard to work – and it shows inside.
This is a serious facelift that sees the Mazda6 set its sights on the Mercedes-Benz C-Class and BMW 3 Series. Yes, you read that right. It shoots for the stars and puts in a surprising performance. Does it fall short, or do the impossible and give buyers fewer reasons to go European? Read on to find out.
Price and equipment
The Mazda6 Sport wagon is sharply priced from $33,790 before on-road costs. Standard equipment includes 17-inch alloy wheels wrapped in 225/55 tyres, a space-saver spare wheel, roof rails, heated side mirrors, rain-sensing windshield wipers, dusk-sensing LED headlights, LED foglights and LED tail-lights. Our test car is finished in Blue Reflex Mica, which is a no-cost option. Take a deep breath, because this extensive list keeps going. Value for money is the name of the game here.
Inside, an 8.0-inch touchscreen MZD Connect infotainment system with voice control, satellite navigation, digital radio, three 12V power outlets, two USB ports, an auxiliary input, Bluetooth connectivity, a six-speaker sound system, a windshield-projected colour head-up display, dual-zone climate control, fabric seat trim, a leather-trimmed steering wheel and gear selector, keyless start, an auto-dimming rearview mirror and an electric park brake with auto-hold functionality feature.
Wow. This is very likely to be the first word you will say when jumping into the facelifted Mazda6 for the first time. Mazda, in a massive win for buyers, has not held back here. The cabin just oozes class. Whatever the benchmark was at this side of the mid-size-car segment has been blown away.
So, how did the Mazda do it? It’s pretty simple, actually. Soft-touch plastics adorn the dashboard and upper door trims, while swathes of stitched leather line the centre of the various surfaces. This application is beautifully cushioned, adding to the well-established premium ambience. Importantly, hard plastics are used sparingly, as are physical buttons.
Technology-wise, the Mazda6’s cabin is business as usual, with an 8.0-inch touchscreen MZD Connect infotainment system adequately handling most functions, even if its sub-menus can get a little confusing. Conversely, the colour multi-information display is brilliant, offering the driver all the data that they could want.
Measuring in at at 4800mm long, 1840mm wide and 1480mm tall with a 2750mm wheelbase, the wagon provides 506L of cargo capacity, but this can expand to 1648L when its 60/40 split-fold rear seats are stowed. A tonneau cover ensures privacy, while a net helps secure objects when driving. It’s a practical and easy-to-use space back there.
The Sport wagon is a comfortable place to sit in. Height, slide and tilt adjustment is available for the front seats, albeit in manual form, while adults sitting behind our 184cm driving position have lots of legroom and an adequate amount of headroom. Three children can easily sit abreast in the second row, too.
Our only criticism is that we wish the electric park brake would remember if its auto-hold function was activated or not after the ignition is switched off and on. We continue to get caught out when jumping back into the Mazda6 and pulling up at the traffic lights expecting the vehicle to remain stationary. It’s an annoying wriggle in an otherwise great feature.
Engine and transmission
The Sport is motivated by a 2.5-litre naturally aspirated four-cylinder petrol engine that produces 140kW of power at 6000rpm and 252Nm of torque at 4000rpm. It exclusively sends drive to the front wheels via a six-speed torque-convertor automatic transmission that features steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters and a Sport mode.
How does this pairing stack up in the real world? It’s a bit of a mixed bag, unfortunately. The 2.5-litre is more than adequate for urban driving but struggles out on open roads. It’s one of those units that really needs to be given the beans in pursuit of its aforementioned peak outputs. Even so, it still won’t be going that fast.
An occupational hazard in this situation is the amount of engine noise generated. Despite Mazda’s best efforts to improve noise, vibration and harshness (NVH) levels – a constant bugbear with its models – the Mazda6 is still susceptible to this tiresome sound under medium to heavy loads.
It’s not all bad news, though, as the six-speeder is a sweet unit. Gear changes are smooth, and it is receptive to kick-downs when called upon. It is stubborn when going downhill, however, refusing to upshift and keeping the engine at higher speeds that lend themselves to (you guessed it) sounding annoying.
Then there is the problem of the Sport wagon’s aptly-named Sport driving mode. Flick the switch and the automatic transmission’s shift patterns change … kind of. Instead of upshifting for the sake of efficiency, it instead will hold on to ratios until it realises the vehicle is cruising and not accelerating, at which point it will settle down. How this any different to burying your right foot when the ‘normal’ driving is engaged? We still don’t know.
Mazda claims fuel consumption on the combined cycle test is 7.0 litres per 100 kilometres, partly thanks to the engine’s well-integrated idle-stop system and cylinder deactivation technology, the latter of which was introduced in this update. During our week with the Sport Touring, we averaged 8.2L/100km over 460km of mixed driving. For a non-turbocharged engine, that is a pretty good return.
Ride and handling
While the Mazda6’s suspension set-up still consists of MacPherson-strut front and multi-link rear axles, Mazda is promising a smoother ride and improved dynamic performance due to the latest model’s improved chassis rigidity and revised suspension geometry. Meanwhile, its electric power steering has also been tweaked for better response and more neutral handling.
How does it stack up in the real world? Well, the ride is really, really smooth. Speed bumps and potholes are neutralised with ease. The Mazda6 never feels challenged. Uneven and unsealed roads also do little to disturb this perception. Despite its suppleness, the suspension avoids feeling too soft. Just as advertised, hey?
Usually when a comfortable ride is experienced, it is a precursor to average handling. Thankfully, Mazda has no interest in falling in this trap, as the Mazda6 is impressively composed around the twisty stuff. Body roll is kept to a minimum, with the vehicle remaining planted. As such, Mazda has come close to striking the perfect balance between ride and handling for a non-sportscar.
However, the Sport wagon’s 1553kg kerb weight is felt around corners. Naturally, this issue is worsened by its engine’s aforementioned struggles, but this Mazda6’s heft has its own detrimental effect. As a result, it does not feel as nimble as it could, which is surprising given how relatively ‘light’ it appears to be on paper.
While we normally prefer a heavier steering set-up, the Mazda6 goes a little too far at lower speeds. Navigating car parks becomes unnecessarily challenging with the steering resistance fighting against inputs. At higher speeds, this heft is appreciated due to the differing needs of highway cruising, but it should be lighter in urban driving, as per most speed-sensitive systems.
Being a front-wheel-drive vehicle, the Mazda6 cannot escape its inherit tendency to understeer when tackling corners. It’s definitely something to be acutely aware of, as things can get out of hand. Nonetheless, the steering is relatively communicative for an electric set-up, helping to achieve the aforementioned claims.
Safety and servicing
The Australasian New Car Assessment Program (ANCAP) awarded the Mazda6 range a five-star safety rating in November 2013. Its overall score was 35.44 out of 37 – or 95.8 per cent – while whiplash and pedestrian protected were rated as ‘good’ and ‘acceptable’ respectively.
Advanced driver-assist systems in the Sport impressively extend to forward collision warning, autonomous emergency braking, lane departure warning, lane-keep assist, adaptive cruise control with stop and go functionality, a manual speed limiter, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, traffic sign recognition, high-beam assist, driver attention alert, a reversing camera, rear parking sensors and hill-start assist.
Other standard safety equipment includes six airbags (dual front, side and curtain), anti-skid brakes, electronic brake-force distribution, emergency brake assist, and the usual electronic traction and stability control systems.
As with all Mazda models sold from August 1, 2018, the Mazda6 comes with a five-year/unlimited-kilometre factory warranty – a good move, in our opinion – while roadside assistance is available from $99 per year.
However, the Sport wagon’s service intervals are on the shorter side, at every 12 months or 10,000km (whichever comes first). Mazda continues to offer Service Select, a lifetime capped-price servicing plan, that sees this variant’s first five annual visits cost $1866.
It might sound a little far-fetched, but the Mazda6 has moved into a whole new territory – one that is usually headlined by the likes of Mercedes-Benz’s C-Class and BMW’s 3 Series. Call us crazy, but Mazda has fielded a model that could make a dent in the premium segment.
Specifically, its interior is a masterclass on restraint and luxury, proving that the two can be mixed to good effect, Meanwhile, advanced driver-assist systems are standard instead of optional, and the balance of ride and handling is just about perfect, despite some steering issues.
The Mazda6 wagon is cracking vehicle. There is absolutely no doubt about it. Just make sure you go for the 2.2-litre turbo-diesel or 2.5-litre turbo-petrol instead of the 2.5-litre engine tested here. You won’t regret making that decision, especially with the level of value on offer.
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Subaru Levorg GT (from $35,990 before on-road costs)
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Volkswagen Passat 132TSI wagon (from $37,990 before on-road costs)
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Model release date: 1 May 2018
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