Isaac Bober’s first drive 2018 Mazda6 Review with pricing, specs, performance, ride and handling, safety, verdict and score.

In a nutshell: Mid-life update for the Mazda6 brings a wealth of changes to make a good thing better.

2018 Mazda6

Price from $32,490+ORC Price as tested $47,690+ORC – Atenza Warranty three years, unlimited kilometres Safety five star ANCAP Engine 2.5-litre four-cylinder petrol; 2.5-litre four-cylinder turbocharged petrol; 2.2-litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel Power 140kW at 6000rpm; 170kW at 5000rpm; 140kW at 4500rpm Torque 252Nm at 400rpm; 420Nm at 2000rpm; 450Nm at 2000rpm Transmission six-speed auto Drive front-wheel drive Dimensions 4800mm (L) 1840mm (W) 1480mm (H) 2750mm (WB) – Wagon; 4865mm (L) 1840mm (W) 1450mm (H) 2830mm (WB) – Sedan Boot Space 474-1648L Spare Space Saver Fuel Tank 62L Thirst 5.3-7.6L/100km

THIS IS THE THIRD update for the Mazda6 since the current-generation was launched here in 2012 and the theme for the refresh was ‘Mature Elegance’. The passenger car segment isn’t overly healthy with SUVs stealing their thunder but that doesn’t mean there aren’t gems to be found. And nor does it mean that car makers are taking their foot off the throttle in this segment, and if you need proof of that you only need to look at this updated Mazda6.

What is the Mazda6?

As mentioned, the current generation Mazda6 was launched here in 2012 and has been through three updates since then (2015 and 2016). This one, the third update, is the mid-life update and the most extensive so far. For instance, there are three engines to choose from, sure, two might be carried over but they’ve been tweaked and the third is a new engine, a 2.5-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol shared with the CX-9.

There have also been some subtle design tweaks to the exterior and interior of both the sedan and wagon variants, and tweaks also to the ride and handling and noise insulation. The snout of both the sedan and wagon variants is new, with the bottom edge of the grille flowing into the headlights to give a sense of width and the grille mesh (changed from a fin design) has been pushed deeper into the grille to give a sense of depth. The headlights have also been reworked with LED turn indicators now incorporated. Indeed, Mazda reckons the new lighting signature was aimed at giving the car an impression of, when the lights are on, “eyes focussed forward in a penetrating stare”. The fog lights have been incorporated into the headlight unit.

Updated 2018 Mazda6 Review

At the rear, the lower part of the rear bumper is now body coloured rather than black, giving the car a more elegant and ‘finished’ look, at least to my eyes. Other things that only a train spotter would notice, include tailpipes pushed further out to the edges of the bumper and a new lower half of the boot lid design. There are new designs for the 17-inch and 19-inch alloys. The physical dimensions of the vehicle remain the same.

Updated 2018 Mazda6 Review

At the local launch a question was asked about whether Mazda thought it should cut back its Mazda6 model line-up, it responded by saying the model sales split is so even that it couldn’t determine a variant that could be removed. That said, it expects only 4.3% of vehicles sold will have a diesel engine, so why not drop that engine? Mazda said there are still buyers who prefer a diesel and that it wanted to cater for them rather than see them move to another brand. That attitude is to be commended. Mazda is hoping to shift around 3700 vehicles in the first year of sales for this updated Mazda6.

Another question asked at the launch was about Mazda’s commitment to its three-year warranty…other brands around it are moving to five- and seven-year warranties. Mazda responded by saying that three-years was dictated by head office and that there would be no changes.

In terms of pricing, there have been some changes because of improved equipment levels, with the entry-level Sport sedan with a 2.5-litre petrol engine starting from $32,490+ORC and maxing out at $50,090+ORC for the Atenza wagon with a turbo-diesel engine.

At the local launch, I spent most of my time in the top-spec Atenza sedan with the new 2.5-litre turbocharged four-cylinder and it lists from $47,690+ORC.

What’s the interior like?

The tweaks to the Mazda6 have helped to give the dashboard design more of a European feel in terms of both looks and finish. The dashboard offers a horizontal layout to give a sense of width in the front of the cabin with a minimalistic approach taken to dials and switch gear. Only the steering wheel, window controls and gear shifter are carried over the from the old car, everything else you see is new.

The 8.0-inch infotainment screen juts out of the dashboard and is controlled via a rotary controller down on the centre console. It’s not a touchscreen and there’s no Apple or Android smartphone mirroring, but Mazda has said it’s coming soon, whether it’ll be retrofitted or simply rolled out in new and updated models remains to be seen.

Updated 2018 Mazda6 Review

One nice tech tweak is the dropping of the folding panel style head-up display, replaced by a projector type that sees speed and suggested speed, and other items hover over the bonnet.

The interior of the Atenza I drove feels very nice indeed, with soft-touch and high quality materials everywhere. There’s harder plastic in areas that’ll cop a beating, like the lower door panels which most people end up using their foot to push or hold the door open.

The front seats have been redesigned, shaped and new materials used. The Atenza adds front seat ventilation, the first Mazda to offer this feature. The seats aren’t overly supportive with a very flat and I thought, overly firm, base, but there’s decent length in the base for those of us with longer legs. I would need more time with the car to definitively comment on the seats across a longer drive. There’s plenty of adjustment, so it’s easy to get into a good driving position.

The rear seats felt good and they too have been reshaped. There’s good foot, knee and legroom in the back, and the centre armrest has been tweaked and now includes both cupholders and USB outlets for charging devices, as well as a storage compartment for smaller items. There are ISOFIX mounts in the two outboard seats and top tether anchors for all three seats. There are directional rear air vents.

In terms of boot space, the sedan offers 474 litres of storage while the wagon offers 506 litres, growing to 1648 litres with the back seats folded (for both sedan and wagon). On the sedan, the boot looks much bigger than its 474 litres suggest thanks to its length, but the opening is quite small and it’s quite a shallow boot. I didn’t get to sample a station wagon. A space saver spare lurks beneath the floor of the boot.

What’s it like on the road?

The Atenza I tested, from Melbourne to Ballarat and back to Melbourne, via a mixture of highway, country roads and even some short sections of gravel, ran the new 2.5-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol which is shared with the CX-9. This engine makes 170kW at 5000rpm and 420Nm at 2000rpm and will drink 91RON; Mazda did admit, though, that on 98RON the power output was closer to 184kW but the vehicle was homologated to run on 91RON.

Updated 2018 Mazda6 Review

There have been some improvements to the other engines in the range, with the diesel now more powerful than before, but we’ll cover these when we get into the refreshed range across the next couple of months.

Updated 2018 Mazda6 Review

There’s only one transmission across the range and that is a six-speed automatic. Fuel consumption, depending on the engine variant, ranges from 5.0L/100km (turbo diesel) to 7.6L/100km in the turbocharged petrol.

Out on the road, the turbo petrol motor is a smooth operator with steady progress just a toe-flex-on-the-throttle away. While it’s numbers are impressive and its performance is good, it doesn’t feel overly thrusty. Meaning, don’t think it’ll snap your neck off when your floor it because it won’t, rather it steadily and gradually builds speed, but that suits the nature of this car.

The six-speed automatic is smooth and further proof that a good six-speeder will outperform a rubbish nine-speed unit any day of the week. But, being an efficiency-tuned product means it does prefer to run to a higher gear as quickly as possible and stay in that higher gear for as long as possible, and so a decent shove of the throttle is often needed to wake it up for overtaking or longer hills.

So, the engine’s good. But what’s more impressive is the work done to the Mazda6 to make it quieter. I’ve had a long-standing beef with this car’s NVH and indeed most of the vehicles in the Mazda range, a beef that once earned me the biggest bollocking (from Mazda) of my motoring-writing career…I’d complained about the lack of underbody insulation. Interestingly, every Mazda6 update since has included sections in the press kit about improvements to NVH.

Updated 2018 Mazda6 Review

And with this latest update, I reckon Mazda’s engineers have finally cracked it. According to Mazda, the aim was to improve “conversational clarity” and that meant reducing the number of gaps between the body panels, the interior materials and the number of holes in them. Vibration reducing materials were added to the central tunnel, the suspension rigidity was increased and even the thickness of mounting brackets was increased. In addition, the floor panels are now thicker as are the wheel arches, and improvements were made to the noise absorbing potential of the headlining, while on the outside, there are various ducts and panel shaping to improve the airflow characteristic across the car and reduce wind noise.

With my ears pricked for the slightest chink in the Mazda6’s armour, I was impressed. Conversation was easy inside the cabin, there was only the slightest whisper of road noise at highway speed limits, the engine noise was well supressed, and across gravel roads the underbody insulation was excellent. So, yep, the Mazda6 is now finally as quiet as Mazda always claimed it was, and all it took was several years of updates to improve on a situation the brand said it never had. Yeah, I’m still stinging from the phone call all those years ago. But I feel vindicated. But enough about my ego and pride.

So, the engine’s good and the thing is nice and quiet now. The steering and suspension also copped some work. Indeed, the suspension has had rigid mounts added locating the steering gear on the suspension cross-member which has made for a precise feel and increased response rate. The tiller now feels more taut and linear in its action, and while there’s little feel, the weighting is just enough and is consistent throughout its action.

Mazda claims it wanted a more balanced ride and handling characteristic for the updated Mazda6, so changes were made to the suspension, like increasing the front shock absorber diameter, fitting rebound springs to the front dampers and allowing for a longer stroke by reducing the size of the bump stops. To dial out minor vibrations at the rear, the Mazda6 became the first Mazda to feature urethane damper top mounts.

Updated 2018 Mazda6 Review

All that sounds like a lot of engineer-speak, so, all you really need to know is that Mazda’s engineers worked hard to improve the way the Mazda6 rides bumps and ruts at low and higher speeds. And they’ve done a great job. Indeed, on the launch route there was a particularly nasty looking dip on one side of the road that, I’m sorry to say, Mazda, I didn’t try and avoid…I ran into it head first at about 90km/h and was waiting for the thump through…it didn’t happen. In fact, nothing happened. Both ends of the car controlled the bump and rebound beautifully with no kick back through the steering wheel.

This isn’t to say the driver feels detached from the Mazda6, not at all, just that the damping and rebound control is just about spot on for this vehicle, and a million miles better than the way the all-new Toyota Camry handles bumps.

What about safety?

This updated Mazda6 carries over its five-star ANCAP rating and includes just about everything from Mazda’s active and passive safety arsenal. As standard, there’s the usual traction and stability controls, six airbags, electric park brake with auto hold, blind-spot monitoring, driver attention alert, lane departure warning, lane keep assist, radar cruise control with stop and go, rear cross traffic alert, rear parking sensors and reversing camera, traffic sign recognition, and smart city brake support in forward and reverse. Top-spec models add things like adaptive headlights and a 360-degree monitor. The standard kit is impressive and one of the best standard active safety packs available, regardless of the price.

So, what do we think?

The updated Mazda6 impressed me. But what impressed me more, is Mazda’s commitment to improving a vehicle and cramming it full of safety kit and features like front and rear heated seats in a segment buyers are moving away from. If this new Mazda6 can’t get buyers to take another look then there really is no hope for the passenger car segment. But enough with the depressing stuff. This thing is good to drive, roomy and well equipped, there really is a lot to like.

Updated 2018 Mazda6 Review


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