2016 Mazda 6 SkyActiv 2.5
– Decent engine for its class
– Excellent ride and handling
– Class-leading cabin materials
– A/C takes time to cool
– Somewhat shallow boot
– Mild steering feedback
The Mazda 6 has always been a bit of an underdog in the midsize-sedan world, which is odd because they’ve always been decent products ever since the “Mazda6” badge was introduced a little more than a decade ago. However, the latest generation, introduced as a 2014 model, finally made people wake up and take notice. While it had its flaws, we still stuck it on our recommended list. So we were doubly interested to see if this mid-life facelift for 2016 actually addressed those issues.
The exterior already looked upscale, but has now been enhanced with subtle chrome trimmings on the front-end. Mazda has managed to build a well-resolved swoopy-styled sedan without overdoing it, and the now-gunmetal 19-inch wheels and dual exhaust tips, as found on our top-spec model, are a must to keep up the “premium” facade that looks as good as anything out of Infiniti or Lexus.
While the outgoing model’s interior was dull in design, the new model’s redesigned dashboard is surprisingly luxury-grade, with abundant use of soft-touch materials on the dash and all the door sills as well as stitched-leatherette panels on the dash and centre-console that match the light-coloured leather seats. There’s no sneaky cost-cutting like what several other brands do with their low-rent rear compartments, and all hard plastics are banished to below-the-waist areas. With the LCD screen atop the dash and use of actual aluminium trim bits, it actually feels like a mix of Mercedes, BMW and Audi in there.
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 updated tech, with the old model’s small touchscreen replaced by an iPad-style screen that’s controlled with a rotary-knob controller near the shifter. The screen is a display 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, although it can take a while to learn what is where. Our test car also had a heads-up display, front and side-curtain airbags, blind-spot monitor, a small sunroof, HID headlights, radar cruise control and more. The dual-zone auto a/c with rear vents still isn’t as good as the best, taking about 10 minutes to bring down cabin temperatures in searing September heat, but after that it is freezing cold.
Powered by Mazda’s “SkyActiv” 2.5-litre 4-cylinder, the engine is good for 184 hp at 5700 rpm and 251 Nm of torque at 3250 rpm. We managed a 0-100 kph time of 9.1 seconds and fuel consumption of 10.1 litres/100 km, not hugely different from most of its Japanese rivals. However, the standard manually-shiftable 6-speed automatic has nicely-spaced ratios, so the Mazda 6 feels very spritely in city-driving and on highway-overtaking, where mid-range acceleration is more important.
The spritely drive extends to the handling as well. The suspension, MacPherson strut up front and multi-link in the rear, continues to impress us. The shocks and springs are tuned well, limiting body roll to a bare minimum and facilitating quick direction changes with the directness of a large BMW. There’s some understeer when the 225/45 tyres run out of grip at the limit, but a dab of the brake-pedal into the corner can rotate the rear a bit for sharper turn-ins, when most of its rivals would just continue to understeer. You can’t pull off tail-sliding stunts any more though, as the handbrake has been replaced by an electronic parking brake.
The mildly-weighted steering is good for city driving but offers limited feedback, and the brakes are decent once you figure out how to modulate the somewhat-light pedal. So it’s not quite a full-blown sports sedan, but the controls are still very responsive and feel a bit “European” even — you’d know what that means if you’ve owned European cars before.
The 6 rides very well, with no floatiness and maybe even a bit smoother than before. Apparently Mazda has retuned the suspension for 2016, aside from adding more sound-deadening materials. So while the outgoing car exhibited obvious road and wind noise, this new one is noticeably quieter, though by no means the class-leader in pin-drop silence.
We called the 2014 Mazda 6 a flawed-yet-brilliant car for its class, but clearly Mazda has done well to address of a lot of those flaws in its 2016 iteration. This car is an amazing effort in this generally-boring segment. And it will continue to be on our recommended list, this time without any lingering doubts.
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