The Mazda6 is the Japanese marque’s flagship saloon, and this 3rd generation version - introduced in 2012 - is the second car to bear their SkyActiv engineering tech and philosophy as well as the KODO design language.
It’s a sporty looking, well-handling, luxurious feeling five seater that’s also available as a very practical but still attractive wagon, competing with car such mid-range large saloons as the Ford Mondeo, Honda Accord, Volkswagen Passat, Skoda Superb, and Peugeot 508.
In 2016, Mazda introduced an updated version of the 6 that spearheaded the company’s G-Vectoring Control technology which can vary the torque sent to each front wheel by reducing or increasing engine power to its front wheels to improve precision and comfort. The feature will soon make its way to most, if not all, Mazda vehicles.
The 6 also manages to impress by having a strong, though small, list of variants and engine options. Though this only reduces clutter due to them both being quite smooth, economical, and in the case of the diesel, pulls very strong indeed.
With all its plus points, the striking Mazda saloon should stand in good stead amongst its admittedly formidable rivals. The brand’s previous attempt at this marketplace wasn’t really met with a resoundingly positive stream of reactions, reflected in sales figures, but this Mazda6 could be the most compelling of the bunch, managing to stay very competitive and modern despite being with us now for 5 years.
Buyers will get a choice of the base Sport grade, mid-range Touring and GT, or top-spec Atenza.
“It’s rare that a design language translates so well to so many different forms, but Mazda has accomplished that with its current lineup. Park the 6 alongside any other model in Mazda’s stable and the family ties are immediately evident.” - AutoGuide
Rakish is the word that springs to mind when considering the Mazda6’s visually. It borrows heavily from the stunning Takeri concept that Mazda brought to the 2011 Tokyo Motor Show, barely changing car’s sleek overall shape, dimensions, even head and tail lamps.
As a result, the 6 that debuted in 2012 looked considerably ahead of the curve and has managed to retain that modernity and unique aesthetic appeal until now - it still looks fresh and, in the right light, with the right wheels, can still garner a fair number of double takes.
Here, Mazda’s ‘swoopy' KODO style has more room to play, an advantage that the other cars in their stable could use and helps the 6 conceal its generous proportions very well. This is especially evident on the wagon, where the extra bulk is masked gracefully into the tail. It could (still) very well be the prettiest in its class. Also of note is how the trapezoidal grille, while still large, doesn’t overpower the fascia like in other, smaller, Mazdas.
The 6 sits on an expanded platform that’s also used in the CX-5 and, like the SUV, uses a multi link rear suspension and front MacPhersons for superb handling balance which we’ll expand upon later.
Engine and Drivetrain
“In lieu of new powerplants, Mazda’s engineers have instead worked on engine refinement, with particular attention paid to reducing the knock and clatter of the diesel engine,” - CarsGuide
Only a choice of two engines are on offer here, one petrol and the other diesel. Both are four-cylinders and are mated exclusively to a 6-speed SkyActive-Drive torque converter automatic transmission with paddle shifters which does a good job at keeping up with quick shifts even during more spirited driving. Power is sent to the front wheels.
We kick off with the SkyActiv-G petrol , a 2.5-litre four-cylinder naturally aspirated engine that chucks out 138kW and 250Nm. It’s a zingy motor that’s quite linear in delivery but does manage a good shove of power in that all-important low-speed urban band.
But tasked with motivating a 1,400kg-plus car (1,600kg+ for the wagon), there are occasions where a similarly priced alternative with a smaller turbocharged motor would breeze past the 6 such as up an incline or high speed overtaking.
Summoning peak torque isn’t too hard, coming in at 3,250rpm, but the full 138kW is reached past 5,000rpm, meaning you’d have to not mind wringing it out a little to extract all it can offer. Though this isn’t recommended if you plan on matching the claimed 6.6-litres/100km consumption figure in the real world.
The diesel, on the other hand, seems more up to the task with its 129kW and 420Nm, sourced from its twin-turbocharged 2.2-litre four-cylinder block. You’ll lose the effervescence of the petrol motor, but the surging nature here seems more suited to the car’s intended uses. Plus, the lower 5.4-litres/100km figure is welcome.
To stretch the periods between trips to the pump, both engines also come with Mazda’s i-stop system that shuts the engine off during momentary idle periods and reengages when the accelerator is depressed. This works in tandem the standard i-ELOOP regenerative capacitor to recharge the battery using heat generated during braking.
“Although the centre console is a bit flimsy, generally the interior of the 6 has a welcome mix of high-grade materials and nicely damped switches. These lend it a plusher interior ambience than the cheaper-looking Mondeo.” - WhatCar
Mazda interiors are now something of a highlight and this is due to the path forged by the CX-5 and 6, it brought the Japanese marque up to par with European rivals such as Volkswagen. The genuinely premium sense fit and finish is still present, but is now much better embodied by the newer models like the CX-9.
The 6’s new dashboard now has fresher, more cohesive look but is still very well laid out and solidly built with high quality materials, but the intervening time has allowed competitors like Ford and Peugeot to catch up. Ergonomically, however, the Mazda takes the crown with its sporty orientation, easy to read dials, switchgear that falls easily to hand, and well-considered driving position, but concedes ultimate victory to the VW, though the gap is remarkably close.
Life in the front seats is quite pleasant, feeling decidedly plush (especially when done up in the white Nappa leather option in the Atenza grade) with plenty of space to get properly situated. At the rear, there are comfortable seats and ample legroom thanks to the car’s rather long wheelbase. Seating 3-up is also a doddle, though the sedan’s sloping roofline means that taller occupants feel cramped from the neck up.
In addition to the expanded headroom, the 6 wagon does also more commodious with cargo, offering 506-litres in the boot and 1,648-litres with the seats folded. This is in contrast to the sedan’s 474- and 1,463-litres.
Behind The Wheel
“…the 6 is really quite good for such a large barge, with clear, linear steering and an agility that gives you a hint this company also makes a two-seater sports car, even if it’s nothing more than a hint.” - Top Gear
Even in normal driving, the Mazda6 is a sorted handler with agile yet predictable road manners for its size. The electrically assisted power steering is reasonably light but accurate and allows for fine angle modulations that translate to meaningful alterations to the driving line.
Show it a challenging corner, and there’s a good change you’ll feel more confident in the 6 than most of its competitors, particularly those also from Japan, and even the Ford Mondeo, partly thanks to its driving position.
However, car doesn’t feel as isolating as the Passat nor the Ford, with refinement falling slightly behind those key competitors. It feels light on the road and, as a result, the cabin ambiance can be interrupted by the kind of jolts that shouldn’t typically be allowed to penetrate the cabin too much. This is is helped by the 17-inch wheels of the Sport and Touring grades, but owners of the GT and Atenza should expect its larger 19-inch alloys with thinner tyres to yield a somewhat compromised ride.
The new G-Vectoring control might not be perceptible for those not looking for it but, compared to an older 6 the difference is apparent in those situations where it’s meant to produce results. By inhibiting power delivery during the initial turn into a corner, it allows the car’s weight to be redistributed frontward, resulting in more grip and greater control.
Then on, the power is eased back in to improve mid-corner stability. The degree to which power is taken away and given back is determined by the onboard systems. It’s near imperceptible but nonetheless clever and does improve the experience.
Safety and Technology
“The infotainment system continues to be the centrepiece of the interior’s quality and continues to be among the best in the industry…” - CarAdvice
ANCAP tested the 3rd-generation Mazda6 in 2013 and handed it their highest 5-star rating and all come with a strong showing of standard passive and active safety features. To start, there are 6 airbags, stability control, rear view camera, rear parking sensors with rear cross traffic alert, blind spot monitoring and even low-speed autonomous emergency braking.
The higher Touring and GT variants also get front parking parking sensors and automatic collision-avoidance braking while in reverse while the top-spec Atenza adds adaptive cruise control, lane keep assist, self-dimming headlamps, and expands its AEB functions to high-speed driving.
Taking centre stage, quite literally, in the 6’s ensemble of technology features is the MZD Connect infotainment system. Unlike older versions of the car, the screen itself is now planted atop, ‘floating’ above the centre stack like other Mazdas.
The 7-inch screen is decently specified, technically, and through the rotary dial operation is very intuitive. The standard satellite navigation works well and so does Bluetooth connectivity and DAB+ digital radio sources. Smartphone mirroring via Apple CarPlay and Android Auto would have been a nice addition but support for either platform hasn’t yet been embraced by Mazda.
Audio is piped in through a 231W Bose 11-speaker and amplifier system for every grade except the base Sport which receives a 6-speaker array instead.
The largest Mazda saloon doesn’t mean it’s the most cumbersome on the road. Just like its smaller brethren, the car is agile and quite a delight to drive. Those looking for a fun family saloon should flock to the 6’s unique blend of practicality, outward style, interior luxury, and impressive dynamics.
It’s more than a worthy competitor to the Ford Mondeo and Volkswagen Passat. The engine line-up might be a tad limited, but both the petrol and diesel serve their purposes well are paired to one of the better transmissions in its class. As a package, then, the Mazda6 is compelling choice.
CarAdvice - 8.5/10 - “The Mazda 6, for some time now, has been an exceptional vehicle in the class – and that continues to be the case.”
Top Gear - 7/10 - “Better than a rep mobile needs to be to drive, and now brandishing a swisher interior. Handsome estate for us, please.”
CarsGuide - 4/5 - “…despite the majority of updates to the Mazda6 range being microscopic, the extra safety technology and equipment does nothing to dent its appeal.”
WhatCar - 3/5 - “The Mazda6 is a well rounded and appealing family car, but newer rivals have left it behind a little.”
AutoGuide - “Sure, crossovers are popular these days, but there’s nothing wrong with a tried and true sedan. And when it comes to the Mazda6 Grand Touring, it hits all the marks that are sure to keep this segment rolling along for years to come.”
Car and Driver - 4.5/10 - “If you think all family sedans are created equal, you’re in for a surprise with the nimble and curvaceous Mazda 6. It lives up to its racy looks, too—a precision-tuned suspension and driver-focused cabin make it the ideal choice for those who enjoy driving.”