Mazda Mazda 6 Saloon HIT FOR SIX (76/100)
This improved third generation Mazda6 looks to be a very complete package. Good enough to out-point Ford Mondeo and Vauxhall Insignia rivals? Jonathan Crouch decides.
Ten Second Review
This much improved third generation Mazda6 has been designed to shake up the medium range Mondeo segment. There's no great revolution here; just a gentle evolution of the things that made this model's predecessor so appealing - smart looks, engaging drive characteristics and decent running cost efficiency. It's got the talent to give some better-selling cars in its class quite a lot to think about.
Back in 2002, the very first Mazda6 was a game-changer for the Japanese brand. Prior to the launch of this model, this Hiroshima-based maker was known merely for bringing us family cars that were reliable, well equipped - and rather dull. Now it would be overstating the case to say that this Mondeo-sized medium range model changed that perception overnight - but not by much. Sharky-looking and good to drive, all it really lacked was a little refinement and polish. The second generation version of 2007 added that, but at the expense of the characterful, dynamic approach of its predecessor.
Some of that returned with the third generation model, launched in 2012. This featured Mazda's clever 'SYYACTIV' technology which dramatically improved running costs and made this model not only good enough to prise customers away from mainstream rivals but even to make buyers of lower order German compact executive saloons think twice. It only needed a smarter cabin and a bit of extra technology, both things apparently delivered by this much enhanced MK3 model. Let's check out what's on offer.
As before, most Mazda6 models will be sold with either 2.0-litre petrol or 2.2-litre diesel SKYACTIV powerplants. The 2.0-litre SKYACTIV-G petrol unit has been enhanced with redesigned intake ports, revised pistons and a more advanced fuel injection and cooling set-up. The alternative 2.2-litre SKYACTIV-D diesel puts out 150PS as before in its base form, but generates 184PS (up from 175PS) in its highest state of tune. There is a completely new engine in the line-up, but it'll be a rare sight on our roads, a 2.5-litre petrol SKYACTIV-G unit borrowed from the US-market CX-9 SUV. It's paired with a SKYACTIV-DRIVE six-speed automatic gearbox.
Some effort has gone into improving ride comfort and handling dynamics too, the car benefitting from suspension fine tuning and component upgrades. Bump stop characteristics have been revised, the front dampers have increased in diameter and rebound springs have been added, all resulting in smoother vehicle behaviour and improved ride quality. In addition, the steering knuckles have been lowered to ensure a more precise response to subtle steering wheel actions. Extra noise insulation, improved aerodynamics and a special vibration-absorbing material been added to the centre tunnel and the roof lining should all improve refinement.
Design and Build
This improved MK3 Mazda6 model adopts a fresh frontal design focused around a smarter grille, which has the mesh positioned deeper within the surround to create what Mazda hopes is 'a more sophisticated and muscular face'. The revised LED headlamps integrate signature wing tips from the grille surround to underscore their so-called 'predator' style, and with the front fog lights now incorporated into the headlight cluster, the re-designed lower bumper features a sleeker profile and an aerodynamically efficient air intake. At the rear, the Saloon has a remodelled boot lid, while both the Saloon and Tourer feature cleaner rear bumper styling with more body coloured areas. Topping off the styling updates are smarter alloy wheel designs and the introduction of lustrous three-layer Soul Red Crystal paint.
Step inside and the updates are even more evident. Higher quality materials and technology combined with refinements to the cabin design deliver more of an understated sense of luxury. There's now a larger eight-inch centre-dash display screen, plus a seven-inch TFT LCD positioned in the driver's instrument binnacle and the adoption of a full colour windscreen projecting a head-up 'Active Driving Display'. The dashboard and door trim designs have been redesigned, seat comfort has been improved and the flagship 'GT Sport Nav+' trim features Mazda's signature high-end interior finishes including real 'Sen Wood' trim, 'Brown Nappa' leather and suede to deliver a cabin that aims to fuse modern technology with Japanese craftsmanship.
Market and Model
Priced from just over £23,000 to around £33,000, the combined Tourer and Saloon Mazda6 range features 24 models across four trim levels: 'SE-L Nav+', 'SE-L LUX Nav+', 'Sport Nav+' and 'GT Sport Nav+'. There's a premium of just over £900 to pay if you want to switch from the saloon to the Tourer estate body style. And there's a £1,400 premium to pay on the mainstream models if you want an auto gearbox. The top 2.5-litre petrol variant (which costs from around £31,000) is of course auto-only.
With an increase in standard active safety equipment across the range, all models now feature a huge range of advanced i-ACTIVESENSE technology, including Blind Spot Monitoring with rear cross traffic alert, Mazda Radar Cruise Control, Lane Keep Assist and Advanced Smart City Break Support. In addition, all models get alloy wheels of at least 7-inches in size, plus auto headlamps and wipers, power-folding mirrors, full-LED headlights and privacy glass. Inside, there's an MZD-Connect infotainment system with an 8-inch screen and a multimedia commander, via which you access integrated navigation, Bluetooth 'phone-linking, a DAB audio set-up and internet app integration. Plus there's dual-zone climate control, along with cruise control and a speed limiter. The 'SE-L LUX Nav+' grade further adds leather upholstery, heat for power-adjustable seats and steering wheel and a reversing camera.
Cost of Ownership
Plenty of work has gone in here into improving running cost efficiency, much of it related to Mazda's 'SKYACTIV' weight reduction programme. In addition, SKYACTIV-G petrol models are also fitted with an active air shutter that closes when the engine does not need cooling to improve aerodynamics. All Mazda6 models get an 'i-stop' engine stop/start system (the fastest-reacting set-up of its kind on the market) that cuts fuel consumption by up to 10% all on its own. Plus there's the i-ELOOP (short for 'Intelligent Energy Loop') brake regeneration system that's able to harvest and then re-use far more energy than comparable set-ups.
On to the other things you'll need to consider when it comes to running cost returns. Your Mazda6 will require a service every 12 months or every 12,500 miles, whichever comes round sooner. You'll be offered the option of a fixed-price maintenance plan which covers all scheduled servicing with parts and labour for three years or 37,500 miles. Owners can keep up to date with their car's maintenance schedule via the instrument binnacle trip computer screen and the 'Applications' section of the 'MZD-Connect' centre-dash monitor. To help you keep track of what work has been carried out, you can access a 'Digital Service Record' online and use a useful 'My Mazda App' to receive reminders about servicing, book your car in at your local dealership and access a digitally-stored record of your model's service history.
This improved third generation Mazda6 achieves exactly what it set out to do. Namely, to stand out. It's smarter, safer and better looking, with more equipment and better build quality. Yet it remains one of the most engaging drivers' cars of its kind. Is there room for improvement? A little. The interior still isn't the plushest in the segment. But even here, this car isn't far off the highest class standards.
In summary, this isn't the most obvious choice in its class, but if you don't want to do the obvious thing, here's a car that won't penalise you for thinking a bit more independently. Is it better than its class rivals? On many objective bases, yes it is and Mazda deserves to be rewarded for that. Will they be? Over to you.