What is it?
The new Mazda 6 is the latest and significant update to the brand’s fleet favourite family car.
Major interior redesign, strong safety and equipment package, diesel engine options
The Mazda 6 is a bit of a hidden gem, whether in saloon or estate form. Those who ignore it in favour of heavyweight rivals from the likes of Ford, Vauxhall or Volkswagen are missing out as the latest swathe of updates have made a good car even better.
The car scores on its equipment, its well-behaved yet enjoyable drive and its looks, particularly the interior which n the latest model has been raised several levels. For the private or fleet buyer, looking for diesel or petrol, the Mazda 6 is a contender.
The Mazda 6 family car, the latest facelift of which arrived in showrooms at the end of July in both saloon and Tourer (estate) formats, is the Japanese brand’s most fleet-friendly model – but in fact, it sells rather well to general consumers as well.
Those spending their own money buy more examples of the Mazda 6 than they do the Ford Mondeo – while Mazda has 2% of the overall UK car market, 15% of all large volume family cars sold are 6s. Not surprisingly it was for many years the brand’s best-seller, a title only recently taken by the CX-5 and CX-3 SUVs.
So if this is such an important car to Mazda, the latest, third facelift to a model originally launched in 2013 appears at first glance to be subtle in the extreme. Even the brand’s UK head Jeremy Thompson admits that the exterior changes are not significant, though pointing to a deeper, more aggressive front grille, new front and rear bumpers and a changed lighting signature.
No, the real changes are within. The interior has been completely redesigned. Equipment levels have been upgraded, and there is a new engine. This 2.5-litre petrol unit with 194hp has previously seen service on the gargantuan Mazda CX-9 SUV sold only in the US, and its addition to the Mazda 6 range is a direct result of the shift in petrol/diesel popularity.
There is an enhanced safety package too, in a programme of updates that Mazda expects will keep its flagship model still popular for some time to come. While in the past 60% of 6 sales were company cars, with this one the brand expects an equal split, confident of attracting even more private buyers out of Mondeos, Insignias and Passats, and perhaps away from SUVs…
Buying and owning the Mazda 6
Despite the decimation of the oil-burner market over the last two years, Mazda is confident that some 55% of 6 sales will continue to be with diesel engines. Historically, the 150hp diesel SE-L Nav has been the most popular variant, chosen by those company car buyers who are permitted to choose their wheels.
So this 2.0-litre engine remains in a now five-strong engine line-up, all naturally-aspirated units constructed as part of the brand’s SkyActiv programme which relies on efficiency rather than downsizing to achieve modern economy and emissions standards.
Such matters are also the reason why every Mazda 6 now carries a ‘+’ in its model title. This signifies that all have been tested under the new and stricter WLTP economy and emissions programme. Being a more ‘real world’ test this produces higher figures than the previous laboratory-based NEDC test – under the new regime the lowest CO2 figures available on both the petrol and diesel Mazda 6 is 117g/km.
The more powerful diesel unit is also carried over from the previous range, though its power has been increased from 175 to 184hp. Similarly, the 145 and 165hp 2.0-litre petrol engines were available in the outgoing model, though have been updated with several new components. They are joined by the new 194hp unit, which is of 2.5 litres and includes cylinder deactivation technology to aid efficiency when not under load.
There are changes to trim levels too. One now has five to choose from, and adding the + to them all does create some clunky names – SE-L LUX Nav+ anyone? The major addition is the new range-topper, GT Sport Nav, effectively the Sport Nav with more equipment.
Importantly, Mazda has also seen fit to upgrade the safety package of the 6, Thompson admitting that this is to ensure another top five-star Euro NCAP safety rating to go with the one earned on its last test in 2013.
Under the ‘Safety as Standard’ banner, Thompson says that the brand wants to make safety as important a perception as driving pleasure. So every car includes adaptive cruise control with autonomous braking, lane-keep assist, high-beam assist, blind spot and rear cross-traffic alerts. And every vehicle also gets a head-up display projected onto the windscreen, replacing the previous version that required a clear plastic plate above the dash.
All bar entry-level versions also include a reversing camera, and an £800 option on the Sport Nav+ and standard on the range-topping GT Sport Nav+ is a Safety Pack. This comprises a 360-degree parking camera (the first offered on a Mazda), adaptive LED headlamps, rear smart city braking and a driver attention alert.
Inside the Mazda 6
This is where much of the important upgrades have been carried out. The basic principles are the same as the previous car, and in Mazdas generally, but it’s all been refined into a smarter, more upmarket looking design. Notably, subtle repositioning of such dash staples as the air vents gives the impression of a wider interior.
Crucially, design is not allowed to rule over function and all the controls are very easy to operate, making this car easy to get used to.
The basic needs are attended to as well. The 6 is a comfortable car to travel in, with plenty of head, shoulder and leg room front and rear. The 480-litre boot of the saloon and 522 in the estate are competitive with rivals and the latter extends to 1,664 litres with the seats lowered.
Equipment levels are good across the range. but it’s worth passing over the entry-level SE-L Nav+, costing from £23,195 in saloon form and £24,095 as an estate. Spending an extra £1,400 for the Lux variant brings a host of extras including such niceties as heated leather seats, heated steering wheel, powered adjustment of the driver’s seat with a memory function.
By the time you get to Sport Nav+ the spec increases to keyless entry and an impressive-sounding Bose sound system. Meanwhile, as the model names suggest, every car gets navigation, even the entry-level variants, and it’s accessed through a good-sized eight-inch screen atop the centre console.
On the top GT Sport Nav models driven on the launch, the interior upgrade goes a stage further. Nappa leather is employed extensively, as are upgraded seats with more support but a deeper sense of comfort. As well as being heated they are ventilated too, another first for Mazda, as is the rear-seat heating.
Driving the Mazda 6
The 2.5 is the most powerful engine yet offered in a 6, and its 8.1-second 0-62mph time is respectable. Efficiency figures of 42mpg and 153g/km are to be expected in a more potent petrol unit, especially as these are measurements to the new WLTP standards.
Both the 194 and its less powerful, but not that much more efficient 165hp sibling (44.1mpg and 146g/km) have to be given plenty of revs to produce their performance – those coming out of diesels with their low-down torque might find this off-putting. However, they keep accelerating strongly, while remaining smooth and refined, particularly in the case of the 194.
It’s perhaps indicative of the market that the 194 can only be specified with a six-speed auto transmission. It would be interesting to pair it with a manual transmission and make the most of what is a very good chassis.
Mazda has updated the underpinnings of the 6, a host of small but significant technical changes from revising bushings to using new materials in the rear suspension. The details don’t matter – what is important is that they add up to a dynamically very impressive road performance.
After driving so many SUVs in recent times, this reviewer gained real pleasure from setting into a car that felt so well sorted. In a straight line it is comfortable, smoothly absorbing bumps and indentations while keeping occupants cossetted in the cabin thanks to improved sound absorption measures.
In the corners, the 6 turns in with precision and maintains its poise throughout. There is a little body roll but not to alarming proportions, even if one pushes it far beyond what such a large car of this nature should expect – particularly the estate. And feedback through the wheels is excellent, weighted to just the right level of providing assistance without feeling devoid of the driver’s control.
Overall this is an excellently sorted package. It will provide all the easy-to-live qualities that those who need to rack up motorway miles will need, but will also be enjoyable to drive. It’s as complete as any of its perhaps more familiar rivals.
One of the long-held fallacies applied to the Mazda 6 is that it is a cheaper option to the Ford Mondeo. It’s not, prices are similar to those of its Ford and Vauxhall opposition, not helped by the fact that as every Mazda is built in either Japan or Thailand it costs the brand 10% extra in tariffs to bring them into the UK.
The Mazda 6 is, however, a viable option to the Mondeo, Insignia, perhaps even the Volkswagen Passat that is often considered a bit more upmarket. Following this latest facelift the Japanese contender now more than ever matches its rivals in terms of quality, equipment and driving experience. In some areas it exceeds those rivals – its safety package is particularly impressive for example.
Not everyone wants an SUV, and if you are one of those for whom a family car is still the preferred choice, the Mazda 6 should be on your test-drive list. You may be surprised.
|Make & model||Mazda6||Ford Mondeo||Vauxhall Insignia|
|Specification||Sport Nav+ saloon||ST-Line Edition saloon||Grand Sport Elite Nav|
|Engine||2.0-litre petrol||1.5-litre petrol||1.5-litre petrol|
|Power||165 hp||165 hp||165 hp|
|Torque||213 Nm||240 Nm||250 Nm|
|0-62 mph||9.4 sec||9.2 sec||8.4 sec|
|Top speed||134 mph||138 mph||138 mph|
|Fuel economy (combined)||44.1 mpg||42.8 mpg||47.1 mpg|
|CO2 emissions||146 g/km||150 g/km||146 g/km|
|Euro NCAP rating||5 stars (2013)||5 stars (2014)||5 stars (2017)|