The combined popularity of SUVs and premium sedans has really all but destroyed the market for large family sedans with non-premium brand badges on the nose, despite considerable activity in this small segment (by volume) in the past 12 months.
Honda has a (relatively) new Accord, Ford has the new Fusion and then there’s the subject of this test… the rather pretty Mazda6. Soon, there will also be a new version of the Volkswagen Passat. On the other hand, Kia has given up on the attractive Optima and Suzuki’s Kizashi could soon be a “special order” model. Does the Mazda6 have what it takes to not only survive, but possibly thrive?
Handsome designWhere the Mazda6 immediately strikes a blow against its rivals is in the design department – it is a very handsome car that is unlikely to date fast. Riding on striking 19-inch wheels and boasting beautifully balanced body contouring, as well as eye-catching daylight running lamps, it makes most of its rivals look fuddy-duddy.
The good looks hide a structure that is very stiff and impressively light – it weighs less than 1.5 tonnes. Consequently the Mazda6 never feels as large as it really is… and with a wheelbase of 2 830 mm it certainly is sizeable. The cabin is, however, not quite as aesthetically pleasing as the exterior. There’s an abundance of sombre black trim and the facia itself appears a trifle dated. Nevertheless, fit and finish is as good as anything from the Germans.
We took the Mazda6 on a 1 000 km journey to test it in what should be its preferred environment – the open road and loaded with a family of four and all their holiday paraphernalia. Surprisingly the Mazda’s boot coped with what was demanded of it, including swallowing a bulky three-wheel urban stroller pram. Rear passengers had precious little to complain about, seeing as legroom (and headroom) is generous – again significantly up on what you’d get in a similarly priced German offering.
While cruising on the open road the Mazda impressed with its low levels of wind and road noise. It is clear that NVH (noise, vibration, harshness) control was a high priority during this car’s development.
No shortage of featuresAs mentioned before, the Mazda6’s cabin appears slightly dated at first glance – the control interface is cluttered by modern standards and the info-tainment screen’s displays are not quite as logically structured and as crisp as in some rivals. That said, you’re unlikely to find yourself being uncomfortable in this particular derivative, as it is loaded with features.
Individual specification includes dual-zone climate control, a powerful 11-speaker sound system with AUX and USB support, Bluetooth, cruise control, a reverse camera and a sunroof, among many other items. On the safety side of things the Mazda6 Individual is also a full-house offering, with front, side and curtain airbags, ABS/EBD and DSC (dynamic stability control). Surprisingly, even features such as BSM (blind spot monitoring) and LDW (lane departure warning) are present.
Real-world economy suffersIn these days of downsizing and turbocharging, it is a surprise to find a big 2.5-litre four-cylinder engine under the bonnet. It is, however, a fairly modern engine that boasts Mazda’s SkyActiv technologies, including direct injection and low-friction internals. Mazda claims a combined cycle economy figure of 6.6 L/100 km, but in reality this is very difficult to achieve. A more realistic figure is around 8.5 L/100 km.
Coupled with a six-speed automatic transmission, the Mazda6 2.5 delivers a smooth, relaxing drive, but still with a decent amount of power underfoot when needed. Maximum power is 138 kW at 5 700 rpm, and 250 Nm of torque is available from 3 500 rpm. Mazda has not released claimed performance figures, but this model should accelerate to 100 kph in around 9 seconds and reach a top speed of just over 210 kph – certainly good enough. Overtaking power is also good, but the transmission does take a while to access that power, which can be frustrating. This is a consequence of the Mazda simply not being able to match the low-rev responsiveness of its turbocharged rivals.
Dynamic driveMazda has often been called the “BMW from the East”, due to the brand’s emphasis on delivering thrilling driving dynamics. Among the big sedans in the South African market, the “6” certainly appears to be the segment leader in this regard. The stiff structure provides an excellent starting point, and then there’s also a sophisticated multi-link rear suspension and beautifully weighted electrically assisted power steering.
The ride is on the firm side, but it’s also supple enough to iron out major bumps. Body roll is well controlled in the corners and there’s a very pleasant accuracy and overall feel to the steering. If you’re buying a big sedan, but do not want to compromise on driving enjoyment, the Mazda6 represents a very solid choice.
Conclusion and SummaryWhen debating the merits of buying a big sedan among the Cars.co.za team, the theory was that a sedan is still preferable to a SUV if the buyer wanted to broadcast an image of “executive” success and, to a lesser degree, because of its driving dynamics. On the other hand, Mazda’s own SUV, the very capable CX-5, sells for almost exactly the same money and with the same engine, too!
Ultimately, of course, the SUV offers greater practicality and versatility. So… it’s easy to see why so many people are making the switch to SUVs and crossovers. Still, if it must be a sedan, for whichever reason, the Mazda6 is a very attractive offering, with arguably class-leading dynamics and standard specification, and an excellent combo of quality and practicality.
Second OpinionDynamically the Mazda6 is fun to drive with a strong naturally-aspirated engine, but it is let down by a sloppy gearbox. The interior a bit bland, but certainly well-specced and it feels well built. – Ashley Oldfield
Mazda6 2,5 Individual Automatic Price in South AfricaThe Mazda6 2,5 Individual Automatic costs R399 900 and comes with a three-year/unlimited km warranty, three-year service plan and three year roadside assistance.
We Like: Good looks, spacious interior, build quality, dynamic ability
We don’t Like: Sombre cabin, “slurry” transmission
Also consider: Ford Fusion, Volvo S60, Honda Accord
Mazda6 2.5 Individual Automatic Quick Specs