Car reviews - Mazda - Mazda6 - Touring sedan diesel
Improved ride comfort, noise suppression, dashboard layout and quality, strong performance, exceptional economy, sharp dynamics
Room for improvement
Limited rear legroom for adults, no Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, still a tad firm compared to the class-best ride-comfort wise
Thorough, effective updates keep the Mazda6 Touring diesel sedan in the frame
3 May 2019
LIKE all midsized sedans (and wagons), the Mazda6 has been reduced from a key family car force to bit-part player in this post-SUV world.
But that hasn’t stopped the Japanese car-maker from honing the tried and true formula, and the results make the six-year-old third-generation series as competitive as ever.
There’s much to like about this striking low-slung sporty sedan, driven here in well-specified and gutsier Touring turbo-diesel guise.
Price and equipment
The Mazda6 and its 626 predecessor have always been a cut-above the medium competition.
From the first time we clapped eyes on that original, boxy rear-drive sedan (and low-slung coupe) back in late 1978, it set the scene for quality engineering at an affordable price, and no matter how daring or dowdy successive generations have been (it seems to alternate), none have strayed from that ethos.
While not quite Japan’s Mercedes or BMW, there was always something much more desirable about Hiroshima’s take on the family car than, say, Toyota or Nissan’s. That’s been especially true in the 16 years of ‘6’.
But in the ensuing decade has not been kind to the series, being squeezed into near-irrelevancy from small cars below and SUVs above, to the point where the segment now only accounts for a very, very small percentage of the total vehicle market.
Launched as the ‘GJ’ series in late 2012, the existing, third-gen Mazda6 hasn’t had an easy time of it, now enduring the ignominy of recording the smallest volumes amongst the company’s passenger-car line-up.
The Series III facelift aims to arrest that with a smoother new nose, updated powertrains, overhauled suspension components/geometries, a beefier yet quieter body, increased safety, cabin upgrades and more equipment across the range.
The biggest news is the addition of a 2.5-litre turbo-petrol option on up-spec variants, which really boosts both performance and refinement on the GT and Atenza versions that score it.
Here we take a closer look at the Touring SkyActiv-D sedan, featuring a modified version of the fine 2.2-litre turbo-diesel. The addition of a variable geometry turbocharger, improved combustion and better water management see power rise from 11kW to 140kW and torque by 30Nm to 450Nm. It’s also meant to be quieter and smoother.
From $39,690 plus on-road costs, the Touring is the least-expensive way to get into a Mazda6 oil-burner, and represents a $450 price drop over the preceding version while gaining – the company claims – some $3000 of additional equipment. Intriguing.
Among the many standard fittings are autonomous emergency braking, blind-spot monitoring, driver-attention alert, auto high beam, lane-departure warning and assist, adaptive cruise control with stop/go, rear cross-traffic alert, LED headlights, a head-up display, a reversing camera, front and rear parking sensors, auto-folding mirrors, keyless entry/go, leather upholstery, a powered driver’s seat with memory, a Bose audio system, dual-zone climate control, DAB+ digital and internet radio, paddle-shifters, sat-nav and 17-inch alloys. Quite a lot of gear for under $40K.
Factor in the newly announced five-year/unlimited-kilometre warranty, and today’s Mazda6 is definitely a better buy than last year’s model.
Question is, does it feel like a washed-up six-year-old relic?
We cannot recall any car that has had as many dash facelifts in as short a period of time as the current-gen Mazda6.
The 2012 Series 1’s fascia was a slabby and sticky item that had little charm or style. The MY15 facelift took much of the heaviness away by lowering the centre section, but this time the company’s more-or-less nailed it.
A complete rethink here, there’s now a low-slung bisected horizontal theme going on, with palpably higher materials and better switchgear for a much-more premium appearance.
The heater/vent controls are lower down but they just feel better, the (lovely) analogue dials have a crisp white clarity to their look, and the console dividing the front eats has a new classy symmetry. Even the old flip-up head-up display now projects onto the windscreen.
It all meshes much more seamlessly than before, and is as good to the touch as it is easy on the eyes. Somebody’s been looking over Audi’s shoulder!
Better still, the seats are palpably better, and certainly more supportive, so there’s plenty of space up front.
The rear seat, however, is still just as tricky as ever for taller folk to get in due to that plunging roofline and small door apertures, there isn’t that much knee room back there and the small windows do make it feel a tad claustrophobic. That’s the price of having such a sporty, smart-looking sedan instead of some beige breadbox!
Having said that, rear-seat headroom is better than you might imagine, while all amenities like overhead grab handles, armrests and vent outlets are present.
And it’s pleasantly quieter in terms of both mechanical and road noise intrusion. All that extra body bracing and sound-deadening material around the wheel arches works!
Further back, to access the boot from inside, you’ll need to get out and pull one of the levers from the boot to release the 60/40 split-fold rear seatbacks, revealing a shallow but long and wide luggage area offering a useable 474 litres. More, of course, if said seatbacks are lowered.
Drawbacks? A bit more light and colour inside would be nice; there’s no Apple CarPlay/Android Auto smartphone mirroring tech yet; the MZD display, resolution and reaction times are now showing their age; and thick pillars and a high tail make parking more tech-reliant than ever, since seeing out is quite difficult if you’re not looking forward!
Overall, though, the interior is one of Mazda’s best to date, with consistency, craftsmanship and appeal that is leagues ahead of the 2012 version of this car. And we’re in the mid-range Touring featuring a humble diesel!
Engine and transmission
We’ve always rated Mazda’s 2.2-litre SkyActiv-D turbo-diesel as one of the best of its type, and this now-more powerful and torquier version just adds to our admiration.
The Hiroshima firm calls the improvements made ‘Rapid Multi-stage Combustion’; assisted by a fresh two-stage twin turbo with variable turbine geometry, the results, literally, quietly, effectively speak for themselves.
We had to look at the relatively low red line within the tacho to remind us that this is a turbo-diesel and not a turbo-petrol, it’s that muffled and refined. Basically, it’s like driving with earmuffs on. Big Canadian-winter-proof items at that.
If you’re used to laggy Euro diesels tied to tardy dual-clutch transmissions, the good old-fashioned torque-converter six-speed auto/SkyActiv-D combo might be a revelation, for the Touring launches off the line instantly, aided by smooth ratio changes, and keeps lunging forward if you’re in a hurry with focus and determination.
Conversely, if easy and laid-back highway wafting is your thing, it’s difficult to recommend a more relaxed open-road grand tourer for the money.
This engine is deceptively speedy if needed to be, and with just a muted burble from beyond the windscreen, it’s particularly cultured for one of Rudolph Diesel’s progeny.
Some minor lag delay is evident if you’re needing to join fast-moving freeway traffic from a crawler lane, but this is no strange occurrence in a large-ish diesel family car. It’s the nature of the beast.
However, with consumption averages in the high 6s (the official figure is 5.3L/100km), the SkyActiv-D upholds this fuel’s reputation for being the economical choice.
Lately, people have been rightly wary about choosing diesel, but Mazda’s integrated, refined installation, combined with easy and effortless performance, make this one of the best in the industry – certainly in the Touring’s application.
Ride and handling
Mazda’s engineers put in much time and effort overhauling the 6’s chassis in order to make it quieter, smoother and better riding.
Travelling on a favourable 17-inch wheel and tyre package, the Touring sedan is perhaps the best example of the progress made, since it is by far the most comfortable and isolated of the series we’ve ever experienced.
Whether the Japanese car is on the same suppleness level of the segment-best Ford Mondeo is open to debate, for there is still an underlining firmness to the 6’s tune that is in keeping with the sporty design. Still, it’s far less stiff and loud than before.
Refined, smooth progress is one thing, but in a Mazda6, a higher degree of involvement and handling prowess than average is expected, and here the MY19 sedan does not disappoint.
From the first corner, it’s obvious the engineers did not sacrifice dynamic capability for a softer ride, since the steering feels light yet eager and instantly responsive, carving through turns with ease and control.
There seems to be more feedback coming through the wheel than before, without the corruption of rack rattle to dilute the experience.
On wet roads, it is possible to have those front tyres scrambling for traction if you’re brutish with the throttle, but the Touring’s handling and roadholding characteristics are one of the best things about the 6.
Involving, athletic, secure and relaxing. It’s taken since 2012, but clearly the current Mazda6 has at last realised its potential!
Safety and servicing
The Australasian New Car Assessment Program (ANCAP) gave the Mazda6 a five-star rating back in 2012, and that result remains standing.
From August 1, 2018, Mazda’s warranty went up from three years to five-years/unlimited.
Intervals are at every 12 months or 10,000km. On Mazda’s website, capped-price service costs for this variant are listed as between $310 and $390 for the first five years.
It’s clear that Mazda’s engineers have worked hard to address the shortcomings in the intervening years since the first of this third-gen 6 was released in late 2012.
Quieter and suppler yet more poised and controlled, the MY19 version of the embattled Japanese sedan is the best to wear the long-running nameplate yet, disguising its age with the cabin rethink while maintaining the unique styling that sets the mid-sizer apart from more-mundane family sedan alternatives.
The Touring diesel has its own unique appeal to boot, adding oodles torque for effortless open-road cruising and everyday low running costs to its armour, making this one of the most compelling and enjoyable sedans on the market for under $40k.
Most buyers with that amount of cash will go down the SUV route, but there’s still plenty of life left in the Mazda6. Go on, surprise yourself. We certainly did.
Toyota Camry Hybrid SL (from $40,990 plus on-road costs)
A huge step for aunty Camry, the first imported hybrid sedan is brilliant, offering clean, economical motoring within a dynamic yet comfortable and well-equipped package. This is one of the least-compromised family cars on the market, especially for the money.
Holden Commodore LT liftback diesel (from $36,690 plus on-road costs)
It might not look or have the rear-drive grunt of an Aussie-made Commodore V8, but the German Opel-made Insignia-based ZB has exquisite steering, great handling, heaps of space, lots of safety and a gutsy, economical diesel option. Exceptional value.
Ford Mondeo Trend TDCi (from $40,990 plus on-road costs)
The mid-range Trend is the sweet-spot in the Mondeo range, since it comes with loads of standard features for reasonable money. A huge cabin and liftback also provide heaps of practicality as well as unrivalled comfort. Lovely and underrated if a little dated inside.
Note: Images are of the Mazda6 Atenza sedan
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Model release date: 1 May 2018
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