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Car reviews - Mazda - Mazda6 - Touring

Our Opinion

We like
Interior presentation, comfort and space, ride/handling balance, generous equipment levels
Room for improvement
Engine refinement does not live up to the rest of the car’s overall slickness, boot space

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Mazda logo9 May 2013

By HAITHAM RAZAGUI

Price and equipment

MAZDA expects the Touring variant of its new-generation 6 mid-size sedan ($37,500 plus on-road costs in petrol sedan form as tested here) to sell best.

It is well equipped, highlights including a six-speed automatic transmission with paddle-shifters, sat-nav, a 231-watt 11-speaker Bose premium audio system, leather upholstery, dual-zone climate control and electric front seat adjustment with two-position driver’s side memory.

There is also a reversing camera and front/rear parking sensors.

Interior

A PASSENGER who has travelled in many of the test vehicles that pass through this publication – and who despite being no car expert always likes to provide their opinion – was asked what car they thought they were riding in.

“A Lexus,” they said.

High praise indeed. Perhaps it was the Lexus-style 1980s digital clock on the dash.

But we are inclined to agree that the Mazda6 feels way more expensive than its list price would suggest.

The interior fit and finish is excellent, the quality of the materials is high – including contrast-stitched, perforated leather upholstery – and the presentation is classy and restrained, with just the right amount of (believable looking) chrome highlights.

It is like a Japanese take on Audi.

In some regards it is better than a Lexus GS that costs more than twice the price, but where the Lexus is colourful the Mazda is overwhelmingly black

That said, we like the metallic dark red trim strip running across the dash that further lifts the sense of subtle classiness.

Apart from door bins only suitable for holding small drinks bottles, there is a decent amount of interior storage in the large glovebox, a big bin beneath the centre armrest and a couple of cup-holders front and rear.

Comfortable and supportive front seats, a good-to-grasp steering wheel, a great driving position and plenty of space make for a happy and relaxed driver.

The lack of a digital speed readout is almost made up for by the clarity of the instrument pack and there is GPS speed indicator on the sat-nav screen.

A 40-minute stint riding in the rear seat of the Mazda revealed copious legroom, while headroom was impressive given the car’s swoopy coupe-like roof-line.

Only when reclining right back into the seat did this six-footer’s head brush the ceiling.

Rear seat comfort and support was high in the outboard positions, the Mazda’s supple ride was untainted by travelling closer to the rear axle and a pair of rear air vents were a welcome inclusion.

The only real interior giveaway that this is an affordable mid-sized sedan is the infotainment unit, the plasticky look of which does not match the stylish surroundings, nor does the size and cheap looking matte finish of the touchscreen.

It needs to be angled more toward the driver and the night-time mode – activated when the automatic headlights come on – is too dim to decipher at night and almost impossible to see during the half-light of dawn or dusk.

Thankfully it can be permanently set to daytime mode through the setup screen, and all touchscreen functions can also be accessed through a rotary controller on the centre console – another premium car feature.

Other redeeming features are fantastic ease of use, especially programming the sat-nav and pairing a phone via Bluetooth, and a clear and crisp sounding 11-speaker Bose audio system.

The climate control system is also easy to use, if located a little low down in the dash, and is pleasantly subtle in operation, never blasting occupants with torrents of hot or cold air – even when cranked up to the sky high maximum setting of 32 degrees.

Considering the Mazda6 is 50mm longer than a Camry, its boot is a lot smaller at 438 litres when the Camry can pack in 515L and has a full-size spare rather than the Mazda’s space-saver.

The load area is a bit shallow, too – perhaps that is the price paid for Mazda’s combination of swoopy styling and rear-seat space – and in any case, the wagon variant is there for the load-luggers.

Engine and transmission

ALTHOUGH the interior ambience does a good impression of a luxury car, the petrol engine in the Mazda6 gives the game away.

It is particularly noticeable from cold, when it fires up with a noisy, rattly rev before settling to a high idle.

When picking the car up from Mazda’s Melbourne headquarters we were not sure if we had been handed a diesel by mistake due to the gravelly soundtrack and noticeable vibration.

Things settle down significantly once the engine warms up – indicated by the disappearance of a blue icon on the instrument panel – and the four-pot under the bonnet settles down to almost silence once up to speed.

Under hard acceleration and high in the rev range things can get raucous, too, but nine times out of 10, the 2.5-litre unit’s 138kW of power and 250Nm of torque is more than adequate around town and on the freeway.

Like most naturally aspirated four-cylinder engines, it needs to be revved out – and it’s entirely willing – for confidently overtaking a B-double on a country road or climbing a steep hill when full of passengers and their luggage.

Ford’s Mondeo EcoBoost is the benchmark in this regard, its refined and muscular 2.0-litre turbo-petrol showing how things can – and should – be done, while a Toyota Camry Hybrid also provides a bigger punch.

However neither the Ford or Toyota can match the Mazda6 on equipment for the price.

The automatic transmission is slick and quick-shifting when left to its own devices, but tickle the paddle-shifters during spirited driving and some pre-planning becomes necessary due to a palpable delay in its response to driver requests.

We recorded average fuel consumption of 7.9 litres per 100 kilometres during our mix of suburban and country driving, up on the official combined figure of 6.6L/100km but not bad considering the car’s size and the fact we rarely spared the horses.

Also impressive was the idle-stop system, which seemed less fussy than other systems about when it kicked in and was quick acting when turning off the engine as we came to a halt and firing it back up again once it was time to move off.

We liked the timer option on the multi-function display that shows how long the engine has been off for during a journey – we clocked more than seven minutes during a 30-minute suburban trip.

Ride and handling

THOSE used to the pin-sharp steering of previous Mazda6 generations might be disappointed by the woolly off-centre feel delivered by the electric power assistance of this new model.

But unlike similar systems on other vehicles, the steering seamlessly weights up and gains sparkle when tipping into a fast corner, while remaining light and easy to use while pootling around town.

There is plenty of front-end grip too, meaning the driver has every confidence the Mazda will do what it is told – and the same applies to how it deals with quick direction changes.

Push it too hard and the stability control steps in too abruptly for our liking, seemingly removing the driver from the situation until the robots are satisfied they have regained equilibrium.

Mazda’s work to create a stiff body has paid off, as the 6 demonstrates great body control and effortless twisty road athleticism without resorting to a bone-crunching ride.

Once that slack off-centre steering feel has been overcome, the Mazda6 is as engaging to drive as we could have hoped from what has long been one of the class leaders for mid-size sedan fun.

Another benefit of the stiff shell is that the engineers can tune the suspension so much more accurately, and the way the Mazda6 soaks up road imperfections – despite being quite firmly sprung – is commendable.

There is little road noise or bump thump either, so all up, Mazda has set a bit of a class benchmark in the ride and handling department.

, Safety and servicing

NO OFFICIAL crash-test score has yet been awarded to the Mazda6 but the previous-generation was a five-star car and Mazda is unlikely to have gone backwards.

There are front and side driver and passenger airbags plus side curtain airbags, anti-whiplash front seats, seatbelts with pre-tensioners and load limiters and a brake pedal designed to intrude less during an impact.

An alphabet soup of electronic traction, stability and braking aids are also standard.

Servicing is every 10,000km or six months and while Mazda does not offer a capped-price servicing scheme, it has a price guide feature on in the owners’ area of its website.

Warranty is three years with unlimited kilometres.

, Verdict

AS A package, the Mazda6 is hard to beat. We thoroughly enjoyed our week living with it.

We might have harped on about the engine but in reality, it does a good job and the rest of the car more than makes up for its slight shortcomings.

It represents a big step upmarket, but without the upmarket price tag – this car comes with a feel-good factor usually reserved for high-end luxury cars.

We were impressed by the CX-5 SUV and the Mazda6 moves the game on even further.

Mazda is clearly on a roll, we can’t wait to see what they come up with next – but for now the Mazda6 goes right to the top of our mid-size sedan shopping list.

, Rivals

1. Toyota Camry Atara SX ($35,990 plus on-road costs).
, Not as engaging or well-equipped as the Mazda but buying one comes with the feel-good factor of supporting Aussie manufacturing.

2. Ford Mondeo Zetec EcoBoost ($37,740 plus on-road costs).
, Despite its age, the Mondeo’s handling and refinement remain close to top of the class but the fussy interior and daft iPod integration let it down.

3. Volkswagen Passat 118TSI ($38,990 plus on-road costs).
, A smooth operator of the highest order.

, Specs

MAKE/MODEL: Mazda6 Touring sedan 2.5 petrol
, ENGINE: 248cc inline four DOHC petrol
, LAYOUT: FWD, transverse
, POWER: 138kW @ 5700rpm
, TORQUE: 250Nm @ 3250rpm
, TRANSMISSION: Six-speed auto
, FUEL: 6.6L/100km
, CO2: 153g/km
, L/W/H/W’BASE: 4865/1840/1450/2830mm
, WEIGHT: 1471kg
, SUSPENSION f/r: MacPherson Struts/multi-link
, STEERING: Electric rack and pinion
, BRAKES f/r: Discs/discs
, PRICE: $37,500 plus on-roads

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