Mazda 6

CX-9’s brilliant turbo engine crowns a new layer of sheen

BARRY PARK

“YOU’VE asked for it, and we’ve delivered.” That’s how Mazda Australia kicked off the launch of its significantly overhauled medium-size sedan and wagon range, adding a turbo engine option for the first time since the short-lived, manual-only Mazda 6 MPS (2005-’07) huffed its way into the history books.

Model Mazda 6 Atenza sedan

Engine 2488cc 4cyl, dohc, 16v, turbo

Max power 170kW @ 5000rpm

Max torque 450Nm @ 2000-4000rpm

Transmission 6-speed automatic

Weight 1620kg

0-100km/h 6.8sec (estimated)

Economy 7.6L/100km

Price $47,690

On sale Now

NVH and dynamics; turbo engine; perceived quality; pricing

PLUS & MINUS

No turbo-petrol option for entry-level Sport or volume-selling Touring

But this isn’t just any turbo engine. It’s the same Skyactiv-G unit that helped power the larger, heavier Mazda CX-9 to our 2017 Car of the Year title. Producing the same outputs as in the CX-9, this turbocharged debut is but one of a series of sweeping changes to the 6 range, including a new look forward of the wing mirrors and across the rump of the sedan.

Inside, the steering wheel is the only recognisable carry-over. Perceived quality is up, with air vents that seem to blend into the doors giving a sense the 6 is wider than it really is. Softer seats and an easier to read instrument cluster with an integrated – not flip-up – head-up display stand out. Even the sunvisors have a new tactility to them.

The range-opening atmo 2.5-litre direct-injection petrol engine now features a cylinder deactivation system, and active shutters in the grille of nonturbos improves aerodynamics. Outputs are up by 2kW/2Nm, to 140kW and 252Nm, with a slight consumption penalty (7.0L/100km – up 0.4L/100km).

The 2.2-litre diesel fares better, gaining 11kW/30Nm for peaks of 140kW and 450Nm, and drinks 0.1L/100km less, at 5.3L/100km.

The turbo-petrol engine is fitted only to upper-level GT and Atenzaspec sedans and ($1700-pricier) wagons, with the cheapest, the GT sedan, starting at $43,990 and the most expensive (Atenza turbo wagon) stretching to $48,990.

The turbo Mazda 6 is like a breath of fresh (forced induction) air. Acceleration, best described as progressive in the atmo-powered version, is more urgent with turbo power, and provides decent in-gear shove.

More noticeable is how quiet and comfortable the 6’s cabin has become. Refinement on Bridgestone Turanza 225/45R19 hoops isn’t class-leading, but it’s a hell of an improvement over the car this 2018 version replaces. Mazda’s engineers worked hard to eliminate reflected noise, filling gaps and holes to prevent sound transmission to the cabin. The headliner absorbs more vibrations, while the underbody is flatter and more aerodynamic, reducing wind rush.

The way the Mazda 6 drives has also improved markedly. The steering box has a more rigid mount, and the steering knuckles sit lower, making the front end feel pointier. Anti-roll bars are bonded to the mounting bushes to improve rigidity; the front suspension now includes rebound springs and 3mm diameter-larger shock absorbers; and front and rear damping valves have been tweaked to further improve refinement.

It shows, with a smoothing of rough, patchy backroads, and even a section of dirt, on our drive route through central Victoria with what must come close to class-leading suppleness. In our hoofing of the 2.5 turbo it held up to Mazda’s claims the tendency to axle tramp has been suppressed.

Incremental improvement to the atmo petrol engine (just as to ride and refinement), more significant gains for the diesel, and the adoption of the muscular 2.5-litre turbo – all allied to the excellent, carryover six-speed automatic – brings welcome drivetrain appeal and choice. The turbo top-spec versions mightn’t wear an MPS badge, but they make effortlessly accelerative mid-size family cars.

BARRY PARK

POWER POINT 01

Feed the turbo 6 a diet of 98RON premium fuel and you’ll be rewarded with a 14kW boost to 184kW. Torque will remain unchanged at 420Nm.

SUEDE DREAMS 02

Top-spec Atenza gets silky, suede-like inserts on the dash and door trim. Colour options for the Nappa-clad interior include black, white, and a new walnut brown.

BUMP AND GRIND 03

Part of the Mazda 6’s muchimproved refinement is down to revised bump stops, modified to allow for more long-legged suspension travel.

Numbers game

What’s going on with the atmo 2.5-litre engine’s 0.4L/100km rise? Mazda claims the engine is no less efficient; more that its drivetrain calibration has focused on real-world driveability to the slight detriment of its quoted fuel economy. It’s all part of Europe’s move to a future emissions standard that includes ‘Real Driving Emissions’ (RDE) measured on public roads, and not on a laboratory bench.

OR TRY THESE...

Toyota Camry SL V6 $43,990 Kluger-shared 224kW/362Nm bent six offers heaps of grunt but in the nose of the Camry it’s a lead-tipped arrow. Lexus levels of trim, kit and refinement stand out, though.

Holden Commodore Calais V $51,990 AWD, great long-haul driving position, and agile on a twisty stretch of road. Atmo V6 packs 235kW/381Nm punch,but lacks decent off-the-line shove.