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This improved third generation Mazda6 looks to be a very complete package. Good enough to out-point Volkswagen Passat and Vauxhall Insignia rivals? Jonathan Crouch decides.
Back in 2002, the very first Mazda6 was a game-changer for the Japanese brand. Prior to the launch of this model, this Hiroshima-based maker was known merely for bringing us family cars that were reliable, well equipped - and rather dull. Now it would be overstating the case to say that this Mondeo-sized medium range model changed that perception overnight - but not by much. Sharky-looking and good to drive, all it really lacked was a little refinement and polish. The second generation version of 2007 added that, but at the expense of the characterful, dynamic approach of its predecessor. Some of that returned with the third generation model, launched in 2012. This featured Mazda's clever 'SYYACTIV' technology which dramatically improved running costs and made this model not only good enough to prise customers away from mainstream rivals but even to make buyers of lower order German compact executive saloons think twice. It only needed a smarter cabin and a bit of extra technology, both things apparently delivered by this much enhanced MK3 model. Let's check out what's on offer.
There's now no diesel option, so most Mazda6 models will be sold with a 2.0-litre SKYACTIV-G petrol unit, recently enhanced with redesigned intake ports, revised pistons and a more advanced fuel injection and cooling set-up. It comes in 145PS form with either manual or automatic transmission - or in a manual-only 165PS guise. At the top of the line-up is a vatiant that'll be a rare sight on our roads using a 2.5-litre petrol SKYACTIV-G unit borrowed from the US-market CX-9 SUV. It's paired with a SKYACTIV-DRIVE six-speed automatic gearbox and puts out 194PS. Some effort has gone into improving ride comfort and handling dynamics too, the car benefitting from suspension fine tuning and component upgrades. Bump stop characteristics have been revised, the front dampers have increased in diameter and rebound springs have been added, all resulting in smoother vehicle behaviour and improved ride quality. In addition, the steering knuckles have been lowered to ensure a more precise response to subtle steering wheel actions. Extra noise insulation, improved aerodynamics and a special vibration-absorbing material been added to the centre tunnel and the roof lining should all improve refinement.
Not a lot really needed doing to the Mazda6's styling, but in recent times, Mazda has subtly changed it anyway for this fourth generation model. It's a mean and muscular looking thing; all pent-up curves and bulges, with beady eyes and a swooping, coupe-like roofline. The last MK4 model update meant a fresh frontal design focused around a smarter grille, which has the mesh positioned deeper within the surround to create what Mazda hopes is 'a more sophisticated and muscular face'. The LED headlamps integrate signature wing tips from the grille surround to underscore their so-called 'predator' style, and with the front fog lights incorporated into the headlight cluster, the smartly fashioned lower bumper features a sleek profile and an aerodynamically efficient air intake. Step inside and high quality materials and technology combine with careful cabin design to deliver an understated sense of luxury. There's a large eight-inch centre-dash display screen, plus a seven-inch TFT LCD positioned in the driver's instrument binnacle and a full colour windscreen projecting a head-up 'Active Driving Display'. The dashboard and door trim designs look smart, plus seat comfort has been prioritised - to good effect. There's decent space for a couple of adults on the back seat. And the saloon body style offers a reasonably-sized 480-litre boot. As before, the Tourer version is also acceptably practical, featuring a boot capacity of well over 500-litres with the seats up. Or, if you operate the clever flat-deck Karakuri rear seat folding system, there's well over 1,600-litres on offer.
Priced from around £25,000 to around £34,000, the combined Tourer and Saloon Mazda6 range features 12 models across five trim levels: 'SE-L', 'Sport', 'GT Sport', 'Limited Edition' and 'Kuro Edition'. There's a premium of just over £900 to pay if you want to switch from the saloon to the Tourer estate body style. And there's a £600 premium to pay on the mainstream models if you want an auto gearbox. The top 2.5-litre petrol variant (which costs from around £32,500) is of course auto-only. With an increase in standard active safety equipment across the range, all models now feature a huge range of advanced i-ACTIVESENSE technology, including Blind Spot Monitoring with rear cross traffic alert, Mazda Radar Cruise Control, Lane Keep Assist and Advanced Smart City Break Support. In addition, all models get alloy wheels of at least 7-inches in size, plus auto headlamps and wipers, power-folding mirrors, full-LED headlights and privacy glass. Inside, there's an MZD-Connect infotainment system with an 8-inch screen and a multimedia commander, via which you access integrated navigation, Bluetooth 'phone-linking, a DAB audio set-up and internet app integration. Plus there's dual-zone climate control, along with cruise control and a speed limiter. The 'SE-L LUX Nav+' grade further adds leather upholstery, heat for power-adjustable seats and steering wheel and a reversing camera.
Plenty of work has gone in here into improving running cost efficiency, much of it related to Mazda's 'SKYACTIV' weight reduction programme. In addition, SKYACTIV-G petrol models are also fitted with an active air shutter that closes when the engine does not need cooling to improve aerodynamics. All Mazda6 models get an 'i-stop' engine stop/start system (the fastest-reacting set-up of its kind on the market) that cuts fuel consumption by up to 10% all on its own. Plus on the 165PS 2.0-litre variant, there's the i-ELOOP (short for 'Intelligent Energy Loop') brake regeneration system that's able to harvest and then re-use far more energy than comparable set-ups. The 2.0-litre 145PS and 165PS manual saloon models manage 42.2mpg on the combined cycle and 152g/km of CO2. For the 2.5-litre petrol saloon variant, it's 38.2mpg and 167g/km. On to the other things you'll need to consider when it comes to running cost returns. Your Mazda6 will require a service every 12 months or every 12,500 miles, whichever comes round sooner. You'll be offered the option of a fixed-price maintenance plan which covers all scheduled servicing with parts and labour for three years or 37,500 miles. Owners can keep up to date with their car's maintenance schedule via the instrument binnacle trip computer screen and the 'Applications' section of the 'MZD-Connect' centre-dash monitor. To help you keep track of what work has been carried out, you can access a 'Digital Service Record' online and use a useful 'My Mazda App' to receive reminders about servicing, book your car in at your local dealership and access a digitally-stored record of your model's service history.
In summary, this isn't the most obvious choice in its class, but if you don't want to do the obvious thing, here's a car that won't penalise you for thinking a bit more independently. Some rival models are cheaper; others offer more rear passenger space, a larger boot or swoopier looks. If any of these things are priorities for you, then you'll probably look elsewhere in this segment. Otherwise though, there's an awful lot to like here. The Mazda6 is a car that can be engaging when you want it to be and cossetting when all you need to do is get home as comfortably as possible. It's a combination of virtues delivered only through the kind of painstaking engineering Mazda deserves to be rewarded for. Will they be? Over to you.
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