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Car reviews - Mazda - Mazda6 - Touring

Our Opinion

We like
Styling, efficiency, comfort, usability, value, reliability, performance, smoothness
Room for improvement
Steering not so sharp, ride too firm on 19-inch wheels, shallower-than-expected cargo area

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Mazda logo24 Jul 2013

By BYRON MATHIOUDAKIS

Price and equipment

WHY do Aussies love SUVs and shun station wagons?It’s a debate regularly undertaken when we drive any number of the fine mid-sized carry-alls available.

Without exception – from the underrated Hyundai i40 to the swish Euro ‘estates’ like the Audi A4 Avant – the wagon trumps the crossover in areas of practicality, dynamics, drivetrain efficiency, and (especially in the case of the latest and remarkably elegant Mazda6), style.

You’ll need to part with $34,760 for the base Mazda6 Sport wagon with the 2.5-litre SkyActiv-G petrol four-pot engine, extending to $50,960 Atenza SkyActiv-D turbo-diesel version, with more bells and whistles than a Hari Krishna party.

Mazda gave us something in-between – the evocatively named Grand Touring SkyActiv-G.

Priced from $44,520, it rises above the entry-level Sport’s Tom-Tom sat-nav system, Bluetooth audio and phone streaming, dual-zone climate control air-con, reverse camera, leather-trimmed wheel, world-first i-ELOOP regenerative braking technology, and 17-inch alloys spec by adding bi-Xenon adaptive cornering headlights with daytime running lamps, sunroof, keyless entry and start, leather upholstery, heated and powered front seats, front and rear parking radar, and lovely 19-inch wheels.

Along with more tinsel, the flagship Atenza boosts the already five-star ANCAP-rated Mazda6 with a host of active safety gear like radar-controlled cruise control, blind-spot and lane departure alerts, and Smart Brake Support that uses radar to warn the driver of an impending collision and even brakes the car automatically under certain circumstances.

But don’t forget: this GJ generation Mazda6 shares virtually nothing with its esteemed GG (2002) and GH (2008) predecessors, being a new-from-the-ground-up redesign, to take the post-Ford-era company into the next decade.

Furthermore, and rather ironically, it shares much of the SkyActiv hardware underneath with the CX-5 SUV.

Interior

The CX-5 connection is immediately obvious the moment you open the door.

For starters, there’s a similarly slabby dashboard, featuring conventional (though clear and concise) white-on-black analogue dials, and a touchscreen-imbedded in the upper fascia directly above a neat climate control set-up in the lower console region.

Solidly made yet squishy to the touch, this isn’t Mazda’s most alluring interior effort, especially when swathed in monochromatic black bisected by iffy burgundy glossy trim. Where’s the flair of the original Mazda6?On the other hand, the latest model scores highly for functionality, thanks to the logic and ease of the switches and controls.

Curiously, Mazda duplicates the audio and navigation controls in a BMW i-Drive-style controller besides the (thankfully old-fashioned) handbrake – why?Yet the basics are all catered for – excellent driving position (aided by a handsome leather-strapped wheel fitted with paddle shift), supportive and comfortable front seats, more than sufficient space (even with the GT’s standard sunroof), and adequate storage facilities.

Compared to the Mazda6 sedan, the wagon sits on a wheelbase that’s 80mm shy – a fact betrayed by the reduced rear legroom rating. But for a mid-sizer, there’s still space aplenty for one 180cm adult sitting directly behind another. Many SUVs feel cramped in comparison.

Furthermore, Mazda’s really thought about this car’s wagon role – evidenced in the inclusion of rear air vents, grab handles, cupholders, bottle holders, map pockets, and windows that drop all the way down.

About the only drawbacks are cushions that don’t seem padded enough to handle the firm ride on 19-inch wheels (more about that later), and the unremitting drabness of the all-black trim. Two-tone leather is available, which lifts the ambience up significantly.

Another disappointment surrounds the relative shallowness of the cargo area.

Although the floor height is both at bumper (for easy lifting) and folded-rear-seat level to make for an agreeably flat load space, it isn’t as deep as you might expect from a front driver, especially one with a space-saver spare tucked away underneath. Still, the figures don’t lie. At 451 litres (extending to 1593L), the newcomer is down only marginally from before.

Conversely, the remote seatback-folding mechanism, and trick cargo cover that lifts up and out of the way with the opening tailgate, earn extra brownie points for convenience versatility.

Engine and transmission

From the moment you push the start button, it is obvious that Mazda’s latest powertrains have moved on significantly.

All petrol 6s use a new 2.5-litre direct-injection four-cylinder unit delivering 138kW at 5700rpm and 250Nm at 3250rpm – that’s slightly up from the corresponding old engine.

With its unusually high 13.1 compression ratio, this fiery four-pot sounds gruff when cold but then settles to a throaty rasp.

And don’t be deceived. Off-the-line speed feels brisk rather than quick, but as the revs rise, so does acceleration force, in which time the Mazda6 really starts to get going. And, indeed, the SkyActiv-G is actually fast.

Unless you engage the paddle shifts or slot the gear lever in manual mode and really start booting it, the SkyActiv-AT auto’s impressive ability to rapidly change gears also won’t be obvious at first. But, again, speedy it is, and super slick too.

Can you see the forming pattern? With a sizeable wad of torque on offer, mid-range performance won’t knock your socks off until you glance down at the speedometer. Zoom-zoom indeed.

Great news for keener drivers, the auto holds on to each gear in manual mode, without changing up, meaning that the rev limiter is reached just beyond the 6200rpm red line.

With lots of inner-urban city commuting punctuated by bouts of very spirited driving, we averaged about 9.5L/100km. Not bad, and a nod to the i-stop start/stop system standard on all 6s. A boon for when stuck in heavy traffic, it’s as instantaneous as they come, and a soothing elixir when all you crave is peace sitting cocooned in your marooned-in-a-maelstrom-of-grid-lock-traffic Mazda.

Ride and handling

Everything beneath the striking new skin as fresh as the styling, with body rigidity rising 30 per cent while weight plummets by about 100kg.

The other significant change is that the old double wishbone suspension has been usurped for a lighter and stiffer MacPherson strut arrangement up front while an independent multi-link set-up is sited out back.

What this means is that, generally speaking, the latest Mazda6 blurs the barriers between mainstream and prestige vehicles in terms of steering, handling, and ride characteristics.

Whether on bitumen or gravel corner, the latest model will carve through a tight turn with a neutral and flat attitude, unperturbed by mid-turn bumps and road irregularities. Backed up by a strong set of brakes, the driver feels connected yet in control with what’s going on.

Some critics – including us – have lamented that today’s GJ series is simply is not as sharp as the GG original. So we lined one up – a mid-range 2003 Limited sedan manual (oh for a gear lever nowadays) – and drove both back-to-back.

And it’s true – the older, smaller, and lighter midsizer with hydraulic rather than electric power steering is more eager to tip into corners. But not by as much as memory suggested.

However the real difference is that the old car’s weight and feel as you’re twirling the wheel is easily more natural and progressive, with a level of feedback missing from the latest car. So while the new Mazda6 feels responsive and planted, it lacks the sweeter original’s athleticism and interactivity.

Mind you, the car-enthusiast owner of the older Mazda6 didn’t mind the trade-off, adding that he preferred the latest model dynamically to his 2013 Volkswagen Golf 103TSI Highline.

But we hesitate recommending the GT wagon for another reason.

On the 225/45 R19 Bridgestone Turanza tyres fitted as standard, the ride is too stiff on anywhere but smooth roads, upsetting the balance and harmony that left such an indelible mark on us when we first drove the GJ model last December.

Plus, the tyres transmit too much road noise, undermining the refinement progress made between this and the previous model.

Sure the fat rubber grips like a tropical fever, but our advice is to choose the cheaper Touring err tourer at $38,800 and enjoy a far more compliant – and quieter – ride.

Safety and servicing

While the latest Mazda6 is a five-star ANCAP crash-test rater, only the top-line Atenza features the driver-assist technology package of blind-spot/land-departure warning and low-speed crash-mitigation braking as standard.

Mazda does not offer fixed-price servicing, and its intervals are at six months rather than 12 months, but an owner can find out the “recommended price” of the next service by logging on to Mazda’s website and providing registration and VIN details.

Verdict

If you’re in the market for a family friendly SUV then we implore you to drive the Mazda6 wagon first.

Indeed, the latest model is so rounded and enjoyable that even buyers prestige and luxury segment wagons ought to take a very close look here first.

But we’d trade the luxuries of the Grand Touring for the balance and suppleness of the cheaper Touring, while the fine SkyActiv-D diesel would be the pick over the (still fine) petrol, even if you were not a higher-mileage commuter.

Either way, as it stands, the Mazda6 is at the apex of the affordable medium wagon segment – and a whole lot better than most SUVs.

Rivals

Opel Insignia 2.0T Sports Tourer: (From $40,490 plus on-roads).
Striking, spacious, and slick, the German Insignia makes for an intriguing alternative to the Mazda6, even if the driving experience isn’t quite as polished. Think of it as a modern-day Saab.

Volkswagen Passat 118TSI Comfortline DSG: (From $40,990 plus on-roads).
Ageing perhaps, and not beautiful, but the Passat is sensible-shoes German motoring at its most functional and efficient, yet with enough Audi-like quality to lure prestige buyers. Good to drive too.

Ford Mondeo Zetec TDCi: (From $41,240 plus on-roads).

Vast inside, great to drive, and still looking good after seven years, the diesel-only Zetec wagon is undeservedly underrated. Why Ford doesn’t offer the excellent EcoBoost 2.0-litre petrol is a mystery.

Specs

Make and model: Mazda GJ Mazda6 Grand Touring SkyActiv-G
Engine type: 2.5-litre four-cylinder petrol
Layout: FWD
Power: 138kW @ 5700rpm
Torque:
250Nm @ 3200rpmTransmission: 6-speed auto
0-100km: 6.6s
Fuel consumption:6.6L/100km
CO2 rating: 155g/km
Dimensions: L/W/H/WB 4800/1840/1480/2750mm
Weight: 1524gm
Suspension: MacPherson struts/multi-link rear
Steering: Electric rack and pinion
Price: From $44,520 plus on-roads

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