2018 Mazda6
2018 Mazda6

Mid-size Mazda6 gets serious

THE Mazda6 deserves more attention than it gets. It lives in the shadow of Toyota's Camry, which dominates the affordable mid-size sedan (and wagon) class with a massive 50 per cent of sales, largely due to its popularity with fleets.

This model's second midlife update brings exactly what's required to give it a major point of difference with the Camry and shake off its image as a cardigan wearer's conveyance - a bit of serious stick under the bonnet, plus a subtle restyle that gives an already handsome machine a sportier stance and more elegantly chiselled profile.

VALUE

The 2018 Mazda6 range introduces a 170kW 2.5-litre turbo matched exclusively with a six-speed automatic and front-wheel drive, a companion for the upgraded 2.5 petrol and
2.2 turbo diesel.

It's available only on premium variants: GT, tested here, priced at $43,990, and top-spec Atenza, at $47,690. Wagons add $1100.

Mazda6: GT gets a 2.5-litre turbo and plenty of standard gear for $44K
Mazda6: GT gets a 2.5-litre turbo and plenty of standard gear for $44K

Sedans at any price are a tough sell these days, so Mazda has gone to town on the 6's interior, embellishing its already class-leading Made in Japan fit and finish quality with richer materials plus a dash redesign that emphasises cabin width.

The GT's standard equipment list is longer than its price suggests. It gets adaptive matrix LED headlights, heated and folding exterior mirrors, keyless entry and start, parking sensors, dual-zone aircon, infotainment with Bose sound, digital radio, heated front and rear seats, leather upholstery, a head-up display with speed sign recognition and 19-inch alloy wheels.

Most $100,000 German sedans don't have this much gear.

COMFORT

You're seated quite low and stretched out, BMW-style, with plenty of legroom. Mazda's new driver's seat is absolutely luxurious, properly supportive and good for a 1000km day.

The infotainment, known as MZD Connect, is fully embedded, with ergonomically efficient rotary dial/cursor operation, stand-alone navigation and voice, but it lacks Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

Top cabin: Luxurious and efficient cockpit, plenty of storage though no smartphone mirroring
Top cabin: Luxurious and efficient cockpit, plenty of storage though no smartphone mirroring

Voice gets it right most of the time - just as well, because the Mazda lady replies with a noticeably tetchy, admonishing "Pardon?" if you don't make yourself clear.

Ample storage includes two centre console boxes and a phone tray. Two USB and a 12V socket are also provided.

A spacious, comfortable rear seat, with easy access via light, wide-opening doors, has headroom for occupants up to about 185cm. Two more USB slots and vents are provided.

Mazda has retuned the suspension, primarily to improve the 6's doughy handling, but it hasn't sacrificed ride comfort. On any surface, at any speed, the GT is firm, compliant and quiet.

SAFETY

In a word, comprehensive. All variants include autonomous emergency braking up to 80km/h, blind spot monitoring, 360 degree camera, rear cross traffic alert, lane keep assist, fatigue alert and adaptive cruise, which can also function as an automatic stop-start in heavy traffic, at up to 30km/h.

Most of the driver assist tech allows you plenty of adjustment for sensitivity and warning thresholds, and the head-up display is informative and easy to read. It is activated every time you start the car, so if you don't want it on you have to go to the infotainment and turn it off.

DRIVING

The 6 is a pretty big unit with the obvious dynamic limitations of front-wheel drive, so 170kW of power and a hefty 420Nm of torque are close to Goldilocks numbers for its layout and purpose.

A broad, muscular delivery, accompanied by a lovely growly note at the top end, doesn't induce excessive tugging on the steering wheel or readily overcome front tyre grip - though it can do so in the wet, where traction control is slow to arrest wheelspin.

It's a refined, efficient set-up. The six-speed does its thing without fuss; Sport mode raises the revs and paddle-shifters are also provided.

Take a tour: The 6 is suited to long trips, with comfort and frugality to the fore
Take a tour: The 6 is suited to long trips, with comfort and frugality to the fore

Unusually for a turbo, the 2.5 runs on 91 RON. It's reasonably frugal on the highway, returning 6.5L-7.5L/100km, but around town it can chew through up to 13L if you leadfoot it. Mazda's auto stop-start is unobtrusive in operation.

Steering is quite slow, especially on initial turn-in, and you get little feedback from the front wheels.

As with any large front-driver, pushing it in to tight corners generates understeer, but at speed the 6 feels light and agile, with tighter body control and roadholding than previously. It's a very easy, relaxing car in which to cover long distances.

HEART SAYS

I'm not exactly a petrolhead but I would like something with a bit more style and pace than a Toyota Camry, Ford Mondeo or VW Passat.

HEAD SAYS

I've always liked the value, design and blue-chip Japanese quality of the 6 but its underwhelming performance has been a turn-off. Now they've fixed that, I'm interested.

ALTERNATIVES

HOLDEN CALAIS FROM $40,990

Holden's front-wheel drive Commodore runs a 191kW 2.0-litre turbo/nine-speed auto. Big, loaded with gear and well-priced, too, but expect terrible resale values.

SKODA SUPERB 162TSi FROM $40,690

Runs VW's 162kW 2.0-litre turbo, with a six-speed dual-clutch auto and front-drive. Vast interior space but a bit skinny on standard equipment compared with the Mazda.

VERDICT

4 stars

Look at the total package here, in the context of 170kW of power up front, and the Mazda6 GT shapes up as killer value, not only in its class but also against the base model Audi A4, BMW 3 Series and Mercedes C-Class, each a lot less car for a lot more money.

MAZDA6 GT

Photo of 2018 Mazda6
Photo of 2018 Mazda6

PRICE $43,990 (great value)

WARRANTY/SERVICING 3-year warranty (short), $1306 for 4 years/40,000km (reasonable)

ENGINE 2.5-litre 4-cyl turbo, 170kW/420Nm (excellent)

SAFETY 5 stars, 6 airbags, AEB, blind spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alert, adaptive cruise, lane keeping (best in class)

THIRST 7.6L/100km (average)

SPARE Space-saver (not ideal)

BOOT 474L (below average)


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