WHAT IS IT?
Mazda’s flagship passenger car and the top-selling imported mid-size car. It’s also one of a handful of medium cars available as a sedan and wagon.
WHY WE’RE TESTING IT
It’s one of the best-driving mid-sizers, now with dynamic tweaks and additional features.
Subaru Liberty, Ford Mondeo, Hyundai i45. Oh, and the Toyota Camry (just don’t tell Mazda – it doesn’t see the fleet-focused Australian car as a competitor).
THE WHEELS VERDICT
Still a class act, now with added class.
PLUS: Stylish interior; rorty petrol engine; smooth and grunty diesel; fuel economy; ride/handling balance
MINUS: Tyre noise; petrol engine gets vocal at revs; $3200 diesel premium; no manual gearbox
THE WHEELS REVIEW
CAR companies hate deviating from a plan. But Mazda was forced to with its latest 6, the third generation of a mid-sizer that’s holding its own – though heading into strong fresh-model headwind – in a market segment decimated by the rise of the SUV.
The current 6 has only just blown the candles out for its second birthday and already it’s been blessed with a significant update.
It’s a facelift that’s been fast-forwarded to bring the 6 up to date with Mazda’s current Kodo-themed range.
When it went on sale in late 2012, the 6 was one of the early adaptations of the evolving styling theme, and the designers decided they could improve it. After all, Mazda describes the 6 as its flagship model, and the hero can’t miss out on the latest trinkets.
Key to the new arrival is the introduction of an electronic park brake, head-up display on some models and the latest app-ready MZD infotainment system.
Active LED headlights that block out other cars on the top-line Atenza – there’s also petrol-only Sport and petrol/diesel Touring and GT grades – are a first for a mainstream brand.
With unaltered glass and metal, the external changes aren’t major; a silver highlight line flowing between the tweaked headlights and grille matures the snout, while new lights freshen the rump.
Inside, the changes are bigger. The recessed touchscreen has been positioned high on a redesigned dash, which is more cohesive and has new colours, including a dark red “chocolate-like” finish for cars with a black interior. It cements the 6 as one of the more elegant interiors in its class, with bigger door pockets being more bottle-welcoming.
The wagon’s shorter wheelbase (2750mm versus 2830mm) means slightly less rear legroom, but it more than makes up for it with better headroom thanks to the stretched roofline.
And while the boot on the wagon isn’t as long, the additional roof height is more conducive to bulky items and gives it a larger capacity (506 litres versus 474 for the sedan), while the luggage cover attached to the tailgate is a win for easy access. Quick-release buttons for the 60-40 split-fold seatback are also a win.
Engines are unchanged – a choice of 138kW/250Nm 2.5-litre four-cylinder petrol or 129kW/420Nm 2.2-litre twin-turbo four-cylinder diesel – but the petrol picks up a new Sport button that drops the six-speed auto down a ratio or two (still no manual) and sharpens throttle response. That makes it better for twisting, undulating roads, but less endearing when cruising.
The 2.5-litre gets vocal beyond 4500rpm but taps healthily into its 138kW peak as it approaches 6000rpm. At least there’s some rortiness to its bark. Acceleration, too, is above the four-cylinder norm.
But it’s the diesel that’s the more relaxed donk. There’s a hearty 420Nm surging away by 2000rpm, and even below that it’s a muscular companion. Smooth, too.
That the diesel only accounts for 20 percent of 6 sales is indicative of its hefty $3200 premium (and the fact it’s not available on the base Sport), not its talents or frugality (the diesel uses 18 percent less fuel than petrol models).
Suspension settings have been tweaked, but the 6’s ability hasn’t changed markedly.
The 19-inch wheels with Bridgestones grip admirably through sweeping bends, tending to predictable understeer on the limit; there’s a wisp of kickback over bumps. Tyre noise, while reduced thanks to additional insulation, is a notable constant on coarse bitumen.
On the smaller 17-inch tyres, the ride is more compliant and the 6 delivers an excellent blend of athleticism and comfort.
All of which adds up to one of the more convincing mid-sizers now being slightly better, unplanned as it was.
Model: Mazda 6 Atenza sedan
Engine: 2488cc 4cyl dohc, 16v
Max power: 138kW @ 5700rpm
Max torque: 250Nm @ 3250rpm
Transmission: 6-speed auto
Kerb weight: 1501kg
0-100km/h 8.2sec (estimated)
On sale: Now
Who do you think deserves to win the 2017 COTY title? Cast your vote for a chance to win $1,000.
Sign up here to receive the latest round-up of Wheels news, reviews and video highlights straight to your inbox each week.