In recent years, Mazda has been making a real upmarket push with its wide range, with a stronger emphasis put on sleek styling, high-quality interior materials, and refined driving dynamics to help set it apart from its rivals, and no model better exemplifies this than the company’s Mazda6 mid-size sedan.
A rival to the likes of the top-selling Toyota Camry, the Subaru Liberty, and the new German-sourced Holden Commodore, the 6 has always felt to be a distinct cut above its other Japanese and entry-level European rivals, feeling far more like a high-end German auto than a basic front-wheel drive sedan – especially since the current-generation model received a major overhaul last year that included the introduction of classier styling, an even higher-end interior, and a more powerful engine.
For 2019, Mazda has seen it fit to add a few new standard features for a small price increase – long-overdue Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity, and a more advanced G-Vectoring system are the key highlights there – and ditch the troublesome and slow-selling diesel to help keep its range competitive, so we thought it would be a good chance to get behind the wheel of one to see how it stacks up as this platform that dates back to 2012 gets on in its years.
Upon first impression, the 6’s facelift from last year still stuns most people, and I and the car were certainly on the receiving end of a lot of compliments during my week with it – especially from enthusiasts, many of whom noted how good it looks in this dark blue metallic hue.
Irrespective of colour, it’s a real looker – its confident fascia with a big but well-proportioned grille makes it look far more expensive than it really is, and the overall package with its subtle chrome highlights, big gunmetal grey wheels, and large twin exhausts makes it feel classy and cohesive.
The interior is equally as stunning, especially with the optional but free white leather upgrade of our tester. Sure, it might be impossibly difficult to keep clean, but it looks simply gorgeous. It’s not over-the-top, either, as there’s still plenty of black leather finishes in key contact places like the steering wheel, shifter, and dashboard.
The material quality is truly excellent as there’s not a single offensive surface to be found anywhere. Small details like the incredibly soft padding on the sides of the centre console and harder-wearing leather materials in places like the armrests to keep it feeling this fresh in the long run all go to show that it’s an interior that has seen some proper development from being sat in by designers, rather than simply drawn up in CAD and built to a tight budget.
Further highlighting this is how driver-focused it feels – sure, the dashboard doesn’t wrap around you that much, but everything is within easy reach and clear enough to operate without taking your eyes off the road. Things like the rather stunning physical climate control unit, rather than hiding it away inside the infotainment system, scream of sensible simplicity, with nothing having been overcomplicated without any need for it.
If anything shows that it’s starting to age, it is the infotainment system. While still a good unit, the all-new MZD Connect 2 system debuted in the Mazda3 certainly outclasses this older unit. It’s clear and dead-easy to use, however, so I personally don’t find it to be much of a bother, but the tech-heads out there might feel a little frustrated by missing out on the newer, slicker system.
Introduced to the Mazda6 lineup as a part of last year’s major update was the 2.5-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol engine from the CX-9, which is available in the GT and Atenza variants. Producing a solid 170kW and 420Nm, it drives the front wheels alone through a six-speed torque converter automatic.
Although its power output is relatively low given its size, the emphasis here is on diesel-like torque, and as a result it pulls incredibly strongly but feels relaxed while doing so.
There’s a certain old-school charm to this turbo donk as well, as there is some initial turbo lag off the line – probably a good thing as it helps alleviate some torque steer, although not all – but once you surpass 3000rpm it really hooks up and hurls you forward.
Similarly old-school on paper is the six-speed auto, which, while short at least a couple of ratios on most modern rivals, reminds you that you don’t really need more than six gears. The ratios are all perfectly spaced, the shifts are prompt and smooth, and it feels perfectly paired to the engine it’s backing.
If anything is to let it down at all – as the rest of the drivetrain is rather well-polished – is that it’s front-wheel drive, with all-wheel drive not even an option. While it doesn’t rear its ugly head too often, some understeer is present, but it takes excessive corner entry speeds to unleash it. While torque steer, as noted before, isn’t too bad off the line, there is some detectable if you’re a bit too eager to get back on the power on the exit.
Really, then, smoothness is key to getting the best out of the Mazda6, rather than aggression. Given its slightly luxury-biased focus though, that hardly comes as a surprise.
The steering, while very direct and quick to react, is tuned to be smoother and less resistant – even in Sport mode – while the suspension feels absorbent and allows for some body roll, although it’s far from excessive as there’s still enough rigidity to it to give it off an underlying sporty vibe.
As such, the turbocharged Mazda6 is best viewed through the lens of being a luxury sports sedan on a budget, rather than the MPS successor Mazda refuses to make, with the only thing letting down its luxurious feel being some slightly excessive road noise in the cabin at times.
With NVH issues being a longstanding Mazda bug-bear, it’s something that’s starting to be addressed more significantly with models like the all-new Mazda3, so when an all-new 6 lobs in I don’t doubt this will be properly nipped in the bud. And anyway, it’s far from unbearably loud in the cabin, and its a small price to pay for paying a relatively small price for everything else you’re getting.
At $45,990 – a $1000 increase over last year’s model – the GT looks to be a bit of a bargain, especially when you consider that the gorgeous metallic blue hue and plush white leather interior of the one you see here are included in that price.
While the Atenza does offer a few extra goodies that wouldn’t go amiss – a sunroof, cooled seats, and 360-degree camera for instance – I feel the GT is a smart place to buy into the range given the value-for-money it offers relative to similarly-priced rivals, as well as because it represents a very fair price increase over the naturally aspirated Touring model that sits below it. And that, for the record, is also a great value-buy for those who are less bothered by having turbo power under the bonnet.
The Mazda6 range as a whole, then, is one worth giving a look-in for the style conscious, performance-minded, or those who just want a good everyday car that still has a certain je ne sais quoi. It’s a car that I see appealing most to the connoisseurs out there – it won’t ever be the most popular car on the market given, but those who see a place for it on their driveway I think will be more than pleased with their purchase.
2019 Mazda6 GT Sedan List Price: $45,990
Pros: Looks absolutely stunning, has the plush interior to match, goes like a stabbed rat, feels more expensive than it is
Cons: Lacking some infotainment tech, more road and engine noise intrusion than you’d expect
In a nutshell: The turbocharged Mazda6 is a real connoisseurs car, as it blends performance and luxury perfectly at an attainable price point. If you like it, there’s a good chance I’ll like your style.
Full Disclosure: The vehicle tested here was provided by Mazda Australia for a week with a full tank of fuel. All additional fuel expenses were covered by the author.