Mazda is currently on a strong model-release offensive. Following the recent launches of the new Mazda3 (tested in the December 2014 issue) and this Mazda6 sedan, we’re expecting the Mazda2 light hatchback to arrive next month and the new MX-5 roadster before year-end. And these new models can’t have come soon enough, as unveilings of new Mazdas were few and far between the last couple of years.

But let’s focus our attention on the latest entrant. It’s not often that a new mid-size family sedan is launched in South Africa – this segment has shrunk year on year, haemorrhaging market share to similarly priced compact SUVs and crossovers.

But that might just change in 2015. It’ll be the first full sales year of the recently revised Honda Accord, while Ford will enter the segment with its highly regarded Fusion. Can the Mazda6 still pull a few punches in a cut-throat market sector?
In South Africa, the new 6 range offers two petrol derivatives, a single turbodiesel version and both automatic and manual options. Our test unit is the top-spec petrol unit equipped with a 2,5-litre, four-cylinder engine connected to a six-speed automatic transmission.

We found the exterior design of the Mazda6 attractive in a subdued, understated manner, but the rear-end is somewhat generic (it closely resembles that of the Infiniti Q50 2,0t we had on test at the same time).

Later this year, Mazda will launch a mildly facelifted version (see page 75) that gains a new front grille and bumper design, optional LED headlamps and the same lighting technology at the rear.

Updates will extend to the interior, where this test unit’s outdated infotainment system will be replaced with the new touchscreen, freestanding version that we experienced in the Mazda3, sound-deadening will be upgraded and an electronic parking brake will replace the current manual version.

Otherwise, the cabin will remain largely unchanged, which is a good thing. The seats are comfy, there’s enough space for passengers front and rear (we found that even those test members approaching 1,9 metres tall fit perfectly fine in the rear quarters), the button layout and size are sensible, and quality sound.

The current infotainment system (shared with the CX-5) has all the expected plug points and Bluetooth functionality, while Individual trim adds a rear-view camera feed and 11 speakers to this setup. Other items distinguishing this model are bi-xenon headlamps, blind-spot monitoring, lane-departure warning and an eight-way-adjustable electric driver’s seat.
Except for the 2,2-litre turbodiesel variant, the local Mazda6 range is powered by naturally aspirated petrol engines. These have their advantages, of course – lower cost, assumed reliability because of the relatively simple technology – but the flipside is low torque, in this case just 250 N.m.

The power figure of 138 kW makes for more satisfactory reading, but this is delivered at 5 700 r/min. The result? You have no choice but to pass the 5 000 r/min-mark when overtaking slower-moving traffic or negotiating steep inclines. This, in turn, filters too much engine noise to the cabin (hence the upgrade to the sound-insulation). There’s a reason why a number of carmakers are adopting forced-induction and the related low-down-torque benefits, and it isn’t only to lower fuel consumption…

On our test strip, the 6 performed decently, clocking a respectable 8,84-second sprint average to 100 km/h, while the brakes stood up well during our emergency test procedure.

The conventional torque-converter transmission does a fine job of changing gears smoothly (there are also paddles if you wish to use them), but it ultimately lacks the whip-crack shifts of a dual-clutch setup.

Like we found with the Mazda3 in its road test, once the road becomes twisty the 6 comes alive. Body roll is exceptionally well contained for such a large family sedan, and it steers deftly (though the electric system is perhaps a touch too heavy at parking speeds).

But this sporty demeanour shows no obvious compromises in comfort. Even on 19-inch wheels wrapped in low-profile rubber, the 6 rides quietly and flatly.

When you turn down the wick, you’ll also reap the benefits of Mazda’s SkyActiv drivetrain strategy. On our mixed-use fuel route, the 6 consumed an average of 7,0 litres/100 km of unleaded petrol. Approach a corner and plant the throttle (as the chassis will encourage you to do), however, and this figure skyrockets as the engine digs deep into its frugal torque reserves.



TEST SUMMARY

The Mazda6 has a long list of attributes, most notably a healthy standard-specification sheet, excellent suspension setup and a five-year/unlimited km service plan. Once its infotainment system is upgraded, it’ll be one of the best of its breed, and a worthy adversary to other (duller) family sedans.

But we’re not convinced it’s what South Africans want... There’s a reason why Hyundai has decided not to launch the new Sonata and why Toyota won’t ship the Avensis or Camry to our shores: those pesky crossovers and SUVs. Days after this 6 left the CAR offices, a CX-5 2,2D Active arrived for testing and immediately cast a spotlight on the sedan’s shortcomings. The CX-5 is more practical in terms of its interior layout and suitability to different driving conditions, has a far better engine, will undoubtedly be worth more come resale time, and yet costs R25 000 less than this Mazda6 Individual model (though the former is less well equipped). The CX-5 is the Mazda we’d choose at this price point.