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First drive: 2018 Mazda6. Image by Mazda.

First drive: 2018 Mazda6
New engine and (slightly) new looks keep the Mazda6 ahead of the chasing family saloon pack.

   



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2018 Mazda6

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You'll struggle to see the visual changes, but the updated Mazda6, with its new 2.5-litre petrol engine, is as good as four-door saloons get, and good enough to tread on the toes of the premium boys.

Test Car Specifications

Model tested: Mazda6 2.5 194hp GT Sport Nav +
Pricing: 30,795 as tested; starts at 23,195
Engine: 2.5-litre four-cylinder petrol
Transmission: six-speed automatic, front-wheel drive
Body style: four-door saloon
CO2 emissions: 153g/km (VED Band 151-170: 515 in year one)
Combined economy: 42.2mpg
Top speed: 138mph
0-62mph: 8.1 seconds
Power: 194hp at 6,000rpm
Torque: 258Nm at 4,000rpm
Boot space: 480 litres

What's this?

This is the updated version of the Mazda6 saloon (and estate), which we feel like calling 'venerable' even though it's actually only a five-year-old design. Then again, a lot has happened in that five years, not least that Mazda has already given the 6 two updates already, so it feels like a car we've seen a lot of.

Not that this is a bad thing - the 6 has always been a good-looking machine and the latest round of updates accentuates that, even if the effect is rather subtle. The front end has been changed, with a new, more 3D-ish grille (essentially pinched from the CX-5 SUV), new lights, which incorporate the fog lights (whose space lower down on the bumper has been taken by air channels that direct aero flow over and around the front wheels) and new chrome trim. It doesn't look spectacularly different, but it sure looks nice and that goes ditto for the rear, where you'll find a slimmer bumper, slightly tweaked lights, and wider-spaced exhaust pipes.

The cabin has seen some slightly bigger changes, and the effect is both greater and much needed. The 6's cabin has always been nice, but these latest updates means that it can now bear comparison with the likes of Audi and BMW. The dash has been stretched out wider, eating into the door panels, the vents are slimmer and there are new materials including some seriously soft Nappa leather, along with Japanese Sen wood inserts for this top-spec model, which look and feel gorgeous. There's also a new partially-digital dashboard, and a revised head-up display that now projects onto the windscreen and which is now standard across the range.

Also standard is an improved safety package as Mazda looks to chase a five-star rating under the new, tougher, NCAP test. From SE-L Lux Nav+ trim onwards all cars feature a reversing camera, while the Safety Pack, which is an 800 option on Sport Nav+ and standard on GT Sport Nav+, adds a 360-degree camera, Adaptive LED headlights, Rear Smart City Brake Support and Driver Attention Alert. Adaptive cruise control is now standard across the range, as is autonomous emergency braking.

The central infotainment screen is also new, swelling to eight inches across, but sadly Mazda hasn't updated the control software, so you're still left with a rather clunky, old-school menu layout that's a long way short of what's on offer from rivals such as Volkswagen, Skoda and Ford, not to mention the premium saloon rivals.

There are also some significant mechanical changes...

How does it drive?

The biggest mechanical change is the addition of a new (for the UK) 2.5-litre four-cylinder petrol engine. It's been on sale already in the US in various Mazda models for a bit but makes its debut here now as Mazda UK looks to provide an option for customers looking to trade out of suddenly-unpopular diesel. Unlike most of its competition, Mazda has eschewed the downsized-and-turbo-charged path for its petrol engines, claiming that big capacity and a high compression ratio actually offer the same, or superior, benefits. The 2.5 also gets cylinder deactivation tech that, at speeds below 50mph and under light throttle loads, turns it temporarily into a two-cylinder unit to save fuel. Mazda says that it works imperceptibly and, in spite of keeping an ear out for it, we'd say that's about right.

Does it actually save fuel, though? Well, yes, it sure seems to. On a long, relatively gently driven motorway run (equally, we weren't hanging about and the air conditioning was on) we scored a 45mpg economy rating, actually 3mpg better than Mazda's combined economy figure. True, that did take a dip when we got it onto some twisty roads and started revving the engine a bit higher, and it could potentially be more frugal still if Mazda joined the 21st century and started fitting an eight-speed automatic gearbox rather than this six-speed unit (there's no manual option for the 2.5), but that's still pretty impressive for a big naturally aspirated petrol engine.

Plus, here at last is an engine that's worth revving beyond 4,000rpm. The lack of a turbo means that the SkyActiv-G engine is quite peaky, with not a huge amount of torque, so you've got to string it out a bit if you want to make progress. It's no Alfa Twin Spark, but there's a reasonably engaging rasp when you do this, and while it's not exactly a quick car (8.1 seconds to 62mph) then at least it's not slow.

The 6 has always been good to drive, so you could have forgiven Mazda for leaving well enough alone, but actually there are some chassis tweaks too. The steering setup has been lowered a little and stiffened up, the bodyshell is a little stiffer, there's extra vibration and noise-dampening panels and the dampers are a little bigger and broader across their bores. Plus it retains the torque-sensing system at the front, which tries to replicate, a little, the sensation of having a limited slip differential. The upshot is... well, it feels more or less the same, but maybe a little better. The steering still lacks for feel, but it has lovely weight and a slick, liquid sensation as you turn. The 6 has ample front-end grip, responds keenly and, if the suspension is stiff enough that you definitely feel all the bumps, then it's well damped enough that they don't jar or grate on your nerves. The trick is to keep your own inputs smooth. Try to grab the 6 by the scruff and hustle it too hard and it responds with understeer and steering that weights up suddenly. Relax your grip and slow down your inputs a bit and it just flows from apex to apex with a lovely delicacy that's alien to almost all other mainstream saloons. It's good enough to be better than an Audi A4 to drive, and not far behind the likes of the BMW 3 Series and Merc C-Class. It's also very refined at cruising speed.

Verdict

Mazda's constant updating of the 6 has kept it ahead of much of the family saloon game, and it remains both better looking and (far) better to drive than the likes of the Ford Mondeo, VW Passat, Vauxhall Insignia and Hyundai i40. The interior, while it has to yield to rivals in space terms, looks and feels good, and the new seats are very comfortable indeed. It's an accomplished motorway cruiser, yet far more fun on a twisty road than any direct rival - and the equal or better of some of its premium rivals.

The new 2.5-litre engine is a surprisingly good addition - smooth, and more economical than we expected, although it would probably be better yet with a more up to date gearbox, and the infotainment system too needs a major upgrade. Still, given the combo of looks, handling and Mazda's reliability rating, the 6 remains the pick of the bunch when it comes to family-sized saloons.

5 5 5 5 5 Exterior Design

4 4 4 4 4 Interior Ambience

3 3 3 3 3 Passenger Space

3 3 3 3 3 Luggage Space

5 5 5 5 5 Safety

4 4 4 4 4 Comfort

5 5 5 5 5 Driving Dynamics

4 4 4 4 4 Powertrain


Neil Briscoe - 22 Jul 2018



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2018 Mazda6 Saloon. Image by Mazda.2018 Mazda6 Saloon. Image by Mazda.2018 Mazda6 Saloon. Image by Mazda.2018 Mazda6 Saloon. Image by Mazda.2018 Mazda6 Saloon. Image by Mazda.








 

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