Mazda6: Not looking above its station but oozing high style
What exactly is it? An all-new generation of Mazda’s popular mid-sizer, with the maker’s SkyActiv construction and powertrain technologies. The sedan is larger than the wagon; this time around, there is no liftback version.
Powertrain: 2.0-litre petrol four producing 114kW/210Nm, 2.5-litre petrol four producing 138kW/250Nm and 2.2-litre turbo-diesel four producing 129kW/420Nm. Six-speed automatic, front-drive. Combined fuel consumption 6.0/6.6/5.4 litres per 100km (2.0/2.5-2.2).
Anything interesting in the equipment list? Bluetooth and a reversing camera are standard on all models. But it’s the Limited that is the technology hero-car of the range, with adaptive radar cruise control, headlights that turn for corners and dip automatically for oncoming traffic, lane departure warning, blind spot monitoring and even a cross-traffic alert that warns if another vehicle is approaching from either side of the rear of the car.
Price: From $45,495 (GLX 2.0 sedan) to $60,795 (Limited 2.2 diesel sedan/wagon).
Every single mainstream mid-size car launched in the last decade has been destined to smash its way into the premium segment.
I know this to be true because I was at the launches and saw the advertisements.
It never quite happened though, did it? It’s no reflection on the product, for I can remember a few watershed models over the years where Japanese or Korean cars have indeed been as good as (or better than) much more expensive European cars in some key areas.
I think senior people in the motor industry know that buyers shopping at one price point do not often step down to a lower one. Or that people shopping for what they perceive as an upmarket brand seldom consider a mainstream one, regardless of the merits of the vehicles concerned.
People like to look up; they try to avoid looking down. Cars are not purely a rational purchase and long may that continue – otherwise people won’t want to read about them and then I’m in trouble.
The new Mazda6 is an imposing and impressive vehicle, oozing with high style and high equipment levels. It has the potential to transform the brand to an even greater extent than the last all-new Mazda that was launched, the highly regarded CX-5 crossover.
Both are part of a new styling philosophy, which Mazda calls Kodo, and a new engineering ethos called SkyActiv.
Mazda New Zealand managing director Andrew Clearwater has been refreshingly honest about the prestige potential of these Kodo/SkyActiv models to media. At the launch of the CX-5 last year, he gently backed away from suggestions that the excellent CX-5 could be marketed above its station: “People who buy European vehicles don’t tend to look at Japanese ones.”
He said much the same about the new Mazda6 when the car was previewed at the Sydney Motor Show last year.
Now that Mazda6 has arrived in New Zealand, Mr Clearwater’s line is still realistic but a little more open. He states that this car shows Mazda is a cut above its mainstream rivals, becoming “a true uncompromised and smarter alternative to some of the European marques – but I will let you [the media] be the judge of that”.
Gets you to work
Let me say that I have only driven one variant of the new Mazda6 range, the Limited sedan with the 2.2-litre turbo-diesel engine, but that it is absolutely magnificent.
I can understand why Mr Clearwater might be hoping for this car to experience a subtle increase in status: it’s a fine car, but it also has quite a lot of work to do. It needs options.
The medium-car segment is in decline, as crossovers become the family/fleet cars of choice. From 2010-12, volume dropped from 8200 to 7700 units and the segment’s share of the total passenger-car market shrank from 13% to 10%. Medium cars lag behind every other segment except large.
That’s one problem. The other is that in the pursuit of Asian and American sales, the Mazda6 has grown substantially. The sedan is now 4865mm long: just 34mm shy of the Holden Commodore. It looks and feels like a large car.
Theoretically, none of that should matter because this is a luxurious and sporty medium/large model that achieves a staggering 5.4 litres per 100km. There’s cake and yes, you can eat it.
If you make the car good enough, people will come. So says Mr Clearwater: “While on the surface the C/D (medium segment) where we are about to enter is showing a declining or plateauing trend – I believe, just as we achieved with CX-5, if you have a compelling product you can influence the growth of a segment, which was the case back in 2002 when we launched the first-generation Mazda6.”
Internal compulsion engine
Compelling the Mazda6 is. The diesel engine is an astonishing piece of work – making even more of an impression in this sedan than it does in the CX-5. It has the muscularity you expect of a diesel but also a lot of the crisp, rev-happy performance you might otherwise look to a petrol powerplant for.
It’s a fitting engine for the flagship of the range and the perfect partner for the nimble chassis. The Mazda6 feels light on its feet and even on 19-inch wheels rides with dignity.
There are disappointments to balance out the delights – but, in fairness, most are based on expectations built up by the car’s presence and performance. Looking upward. They are probably not things you’d complain about in most mainstream vehicles.
Things like the TomTom sat-nav, which is integrated into the dashboard but is still a TomTom at the end of the day – and unlike a portable unit from the same maker, one that cannot be operated on the move.
Or the hard plastics craftily used low down in the cabin architecture, in the places you’re less likely to touch.
Or the haphazard way in which the controls for the centre-console screen are replicated down low beside the handbrake, in homage to Audi’s MMI or BMW’s iDrive controllers, but with the buttons inexplicably arranged in a different order.
Poor attention to detail in places but not deal-breaking issues. The Mazda6 remains a stunning car in the context of its class. It’s in a shrinking segment but this is a vehicle that deserves to make a big impression. Onward and upward.