– Class-competitive engine
– Class-leading handling
– Class-beating cabin materials
– A bit on the noisy side
– Somewhat shallow boot
– Staid cabin design
The Mazda 6 is renowned the world over for its excellent handling, which is impressive considering it’s simply a midsize sedan that competes in the mainstream segment alongside Toyota and Honda. But we hadn’t driven this Mazda ever before, so we couldn’t verify the hype. Now the local dealer finally has a media test-drive program in place, and we could finally see for ourselves whether the all-new 2014 iteration of the Mazda 6 is worthy of all that international attention.
The exterior looks superbly upscale. Mazda has managed to out-do Hyundai in building a well-resolved swoopy-styled midsize sedan. The 19-inch wheels and dual exhaust tips, as found on our top-spec model, are a must though, to keep up the “premium” charade.
In stark contrast to the outer skin, the interior is very staid and unremarkable, but that’s only in the looks. There’s abundant soft-touch materials on the dash and all the door sills, as well as padded leatherette door inserts that match the nice-looking leather seats. There’s no sneaky cost-cutting like what Toyota or Ford does with their low-rent rear compartments, and all hard plastics are banished to below-the-waist areas.
The Mazda 6 offers good cabin space, with decently-bolstered front seats and a nicely-shaped rear bench with three headrests. However, rear headroom and legroom are a bit less than, say, the Toyota Camry. The boot under that gooseneck-hinged lid is very long, but surprisingly shallow. At least there are several useful storage cubbies, with four covered cup-holders, seatback pockets, and bottle-holders in the doors.
Our Japanese-built car came loaded with tech, starting with a small touchscreen that’s easy to use thanks to shortcut buttons on the sides. A second rotary-knob controller near the shifter does the same thing in our early test car, but it’s not actually offered in GCC-spec models. The screen holds functionality for the decent CD/MP3 stereo with USB/AUX ports, navigation, rear parking camera with guiding lines, and Bluetooth phone as well as streaming audio. Our test car also had front and side-curtain airbags, blind-spot monitor, annoying start-stop fuel-saving tech, small sunroof, HID headlights, radar cruise control and more. Unfortunately, the dual-zone auto a/c, which had rear vents, could barely cope with the 50-degree July heat, possibly because of the aforementioned non-GCC specification.
Powered by Mazda’s newfangled “SkyActiv” 2.5-litre 4-cylinder engine, the car’s good for 184 hp at 5700 rpm and 251 Nm of torque at 3250 rpm. We still don’t find the direct-injection high-compression tech particularly advantageous though, since we managed a 0-100 kph time of 9.1 seconds and fuel consumption of 9.9 litres/100 km, not a whole lot different from a 2.4-litre Honda Accord with its aging powertrain. Our test car even came with the optional “i-ELOOP” electricity regeneration tech that’s designed to drive electrical components and save fuel, although we don’t think it’ll be offered here. Still, with a standard manually-shiftable 6-speed automatic offering nicely-spaced ratios, the Mazda 6 feels very spritely in city-driving and on highway-overtaking, so it has more juice where it counts.
The spritely drive extends to the handling as well. The suspension tuning is just remarkable for a car that uses no electronic trickery, limiting body roll to the bare minimum and facilitating quick direction changes with the directness of a large BMW. There’s still some understeer when the 225/45 tyres run out of grip at the limit, but a lot of it can be avoided by just flicking the car one way and then the other, making the rear rotate a bit like a rear-biased sports sedan, yet remaining completely safe and under control. There’s even a proper handbrake, should you wish to experiment further with the rear-end.
Mazda doesn’t go the full monty with the “sports-sedan” bit though. The mildly-weighted steering offers limited feedback, and the light-pedalled brakes are merely average. It seems Mazda is attempting to cater to the casual commuter crowd with these compromises.
We cannot blame Mazda for that, considering how harsh the ride was on the old top-spec model, according to one of our editors who owned one. This new one rides very well, a little bit on the firm side, but still largely smooth on most surfaces. It bounces noticeably less over bumps than even the class-leading Honda Accord, and yet it smoothens out those road imperfections just the same. Unfortunately, Mazda is somewhat compromised here as well, as the car exhibits higher-than-average road and wind noise, maybe even a little more than the already-noisy Honda Accord. A bit more sound-deadening would’ve made it the class-leader in our book.
The new Mazda 6 is a flawed-yet-brilliant car for its class. Mazda owners are usually total fanboys, and with good reason. This car was inches away from becoming the best midsize sedan ever built in this generally-boring segment, but some oversights keep it from becoming one. Those who value its driving feel will more-than-likely be willing to overlook its faults, and we wouldn’t argue against that. The 6 has no proper rivals to speak of when it comes to driving satisfaction, except maybe for the upcoming Ford Fusion. That’s no surprise, considering they were blood-brothers in the recent past.
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