Mazda is sitting pretty in the SUV market but is yet to conquer the sedan segment down under. Part of that problem is the fleet force of the Toyota Camry, but also missing some excitement in its mainstream Mazda6. That has changed with the introduction of a new turbo petrol engine that promises to live up to the brand's Zoom Zoom mantra.
There’s also a raft of changes and improvements underneath promising a better rival to the best, and first impressions are good.
Replacing the previous naturally aspirated engine is a same-sized 2.5-litre four-cylinder engine but with turbo technology that was first seen two years ago in the CX-9 SUV - where it really added some mumbo to the family-size bus.
But while there hasn’t been a turbocharged petrol engine in Mazda’s Mazda6 line-up since the short-lived MPS sports sedan, this is in no way a return to sports car form - even if it produces more torque and just a little less power.
Mazda’s real quest is to beat its nearest rivals - like the Camry and Holden Commodore – and encroach on premium Japanese brands such as Lexus and Infiniti. For that, it has refreshed the new model inside and out.
The front fascia looks smarter and is set deeper into the nose with a taller grille that’s filled with a new diamond pattern. The fog lamps have been eliminated with new integrated LED headlights that look more refined and the rear has been tucked up on body-coloured bumpers and trim. Lower down, the exhaust outlets are set on the edges with larger tips, and capping off the look are re-designed 17- and 19-inch alloy wheels.
Inside has also been redesigned and gets new electric heated and ventilated Nappa leather seats, timber and suede trim, larger 8.0-inch infotainment system and a 7.0-inch driver’s instrument cluster.
Safety on the top-spec Atenza includes the usual adaptive cruise control and lane keeping assist but the model now gets a 360-degree birds-eye view camera and on-screen heads-up display.
Further enhancements are in unseen form – a more rigid chassis with extra sound dampening, tuned suspension, recalibrated steering and reduced NVH for ‘conversation clarity’.
The price remains relatively sharp though with the Atenza Turbo starting from $47,690 plus on-road costs while the Wagon adds a further $1300. The new turbo is also available on the mid-spec GT while entry-grade Sport and Touring models get the old naturally-aspirated motor, and all models are mated to a six-speed automatic transmission.
- Standard Equipment: Nappa leather seat trim, power-adjustable front seats, heated front and rear outboard seats, dual-zone climate control, powered sunroof, adaptive LED headlights, radar cruise control, leather wrapped steering wheel and gear lever, trip computer with colour TFT display, head-up driver display, keyless entry and start with walk-away locking, auto lights and wipers, 19-inch alloy wheels
- Infotainment: 8.0 inch touchscreen with supplementary rotary controller, DAB+ digital radio, satellite navigation, 11-speaker Bose audio, smartphone streaming app support, USB and Aux inputs, Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity
- Cargo Volume: 474 litres, expandable via 60:40 split fold rear seats
The Atenza sets itself apart inside and nearly every element except the steering wheel and gear shift has been changed with the addition of perforated Nappa leather seats that have improved bolstering and support.
The new design stretches out the air vents and dash which helps the cabin feel more spacious - even if it really isn’t. Mazda’s proprietary suede material that breaks up the otherwise (good quality) plastic and rubber dash is a nice touch below the Sen wood panelling, and the contrasting elements look smart in the new Walnut brown interior trim – the white on white will be a challenge for dirty fingers.
The front seats also get ‘suck-through’ ventilation which is new for the Mazda6, along with heating for winter and electric adjustment with bolstering support. In front of the steering wheel is a new heads-up display that now projects onto the windscreen rather than a plastic flip-up shield and looks much neater. The driver’s instrument cluster is also newer with a 7.0-inch screen to display settings for modern driver aids like radar cruise control with stop and go function.
In the centre of the dash is a larger 8.0-inch infotainment screen that uses the same MZD Connect software as before which means it doesn’t have Apple CarPlay yet, though it will roll-out onto models later this year.
Like the front, the rear seats have been redesigned and offer a little more bolstering on top of higher-density foam that promises extended comfort on longer drives. The seats are heated and there’s a good amount of both leg and headroom and it’s a surprisingly roomy cabin for its size with a deep 474-litre boot.
ON THE ROAD
- Engine: 170kW/420Nm 2.5 litre turbocharged petrol inline four
- Transmission: Six-speed automatic, front wheel drive
- Suspension: MacPherson strut front, multi-link independent rear
- Brakes: 297mm ventilated front discs, 278mm solid rear discs
- Steering: Electric power steering, 11.2m turning circle
- Towing Capacity: 1500kg braked, 550kg unbraked
It’s also pretty hushed on the right road surfaces and quieter than any model before it, even on the thin-walled and wide 19-inch rubber the Atenza comes with. Coarse chip surfaces aren’t so forgiving but they rarely are on such big rims.
Ride comfort is suited to some of our poorer country roads including gravel surfaces, and the slightly soft ride that isn’t very dynamic is well compromised for its intended market.
But where the old model fell short in engine performance the new turbo is comprehensively better and far more refined. The engine puts out a meaty 170kW and 420Nm, but we’re told that on 98RON (the turbo can use regular unleaded just fine) it puts out closer to 184kW.
Mazda’s tricky twin-outlet exhaust design helps spool the turbo early and the full 420Nm of torque is available from 2000rpm, at least on paper. In real life it doesn’t feel so wild which is a good thing, given the model only drives the front wheels unlike the quicker all-wheel drive MPS of old.
Still, torque truncating and traction control is unobtrusive yet tames torque steer when pushing with mild enthusiasm. Kick down further onto the pedal and there’s some tugging at the wheel but the added power and responsive six-speed auto make for a more enjoyable drive. The re-tuned steering also feels heavier after a quarter of turn but it’s accurate and responsive at slow speed.
It’s a superior driving experience than before, and with claimed fuel consumption of 7.6L/100km it’s just under 10 per cent thirstier than the old motor even with its new cylinder-deactivation.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
The new Mazda6 is a better sedan and wagon than before at the top-end of the model range thanks to the new turbo engine. Just keep in mind this is not a return to sports car form, even if it is a glimmer of what could be done. Instead, the focus on improved refinement and ride quality with an effortless engine has paid off, and the new Mazda6 is a strong proposition in its class.
- Interested in buying Mazda 6? Visit our Mazda showroom for more information.