Mazda Mazda6 Hatch, Sedan and Wagon

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Mazda Mazda6 Hatch, Sedan and Wagon

Post by Administrator on Thu 28 Feb 2008, 9:56 pm


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Almost the default choice in the medium market it kickstarted, the new 6 is the first of the second-generation Japanese-sourced 'modern' D-segment cars to hit Australian roads.

We've already driven the 6 at its international launch (more here). Held in the south of France -- to help reinforce Europe's importance to Mazda, and the role the car has played in resurrecting the marque on the Continent -- we came away impressed.

Now after a day-long drive from Albury across the 'top' of Australia through the Alps to Canberra on a spectrum of roads including fast but rough dirt, we can safely say that our first impressions were the right ones. This is a cracking car.

It's quieter, more relaxed and somehow more 'grown up', yet at the same time it's handling and steering have a sporty edge that make the car fun to drive. The very same traits we liked in Europe have translated directly Down Under. Were that the case with every car, it would save us a lot of re-testing...


Priced from $29,740, Aussie buyers of the 6 will be able to choose from sedan, hatch and wagon body styles across four trim grades.

Though five-speed automatic and six-speed manual transmissions will be offered in varying combinations across the grades, just a single engine variant powers the fleet. At this stage both the turbodiesel and turbocharged petrol engines (the latter powered the all-wheel-drive 6 MPS performance model) have been dropped.

Though cheaper than the outgoing model -- at entry-level spec at least -- the new 6 is both larger and better equipped than the car it replaces. For example, all Australian model 6s feature stability control, a full-spec ABS braking system and six airbags as standard equipment.

The 6 Sedan will be offered in Limited, Classic and Luxury model grades. While the top-selling body style, the Hatch, is offered in Classic, Luxury and the range-topping Luxury Sports variants.

In terms of specification, the $29,740 six-speed manual Limited sedan replaces the current model's 'Sports' variant. The new car gets 16-inch steel wheels but includes air-conditioning, cruise control, keyless entry and an MP3-compatible four-speaker audio system.

The auto version is priced from $31,800 -- $190 cheaper than the current car.

At Classic level the sedan starts at $33,880 for the manual (auto $35,940) with the hatch models priced at $34,910/ $36,970 respectively. Spec levels include 17-inch alloys, fog lamps, dual-zone climate control, trip computer and six-disc, six-speaker audio system with steering wheel-mounted controls.

The sole wagon model is offered as an auto-only variant at Classic level. It's priced from $37,520.

The auto-only Luxury sedan ($43,610) and hatch ($44,640) add Xenon headlights, sunroof, leather trim, paddle-shifters for the auto transmission, upgraded trim and power-adjustable driver and front passenger seats. The audio system is tweaked by BOSE at this level.

Finally, the range-topping Luxury Sports hatch gets 18-inch alloys, body kit with revised front and rear valances and a rear spoiler, plus boy-racer style alloy pedals and footrest. It's available in both manual and auto at $44,650 and $46,910 respectively.

At this level the fact Mazda cannot offer an integrated satnav system is disappointing. Apparently the system Euro Mazdas get will eventually be operable Down Under, but exactly when is unclear.

As noted above, gone, for the time being, is the turbodiesel 6.

While the new generation 6 has been launched in Europe with the carryover 2.0-litre turbodiesel powerplant, Mazda Australia has taken the decision to discontinue the model until they can offer their next-generation diesel. Coupled with an auto transmission -- perhaps a six-speeder -- that variant should arrive by mid-2009.

The news is not so good for the MPS, however. And you can blame the yanks.

Like their Honda counterparts with Accord, Mazda America has gone its own way with their version of the 6. Though built on the same underpinnings, the US-market car will likely feature a V6 engine and be generally bigger. 'Bloated' might be the description somebody less kind than us might use.

Anyhow, to cut a long story short, as the Septics have gone their own way with the 'cooking' model, they won't commit to selling the hot version of 'our' world 6 -- and without the US volume Mazda says the MPS is a dead duck. Shame on you, Uncle Sam. Wonder if Barack can fix this one?

The new 6 is powered by a substantially revised 2.5-litre version of Mazda's MZR four-cylinder petrol engine that in Australian trim boasts 125kW and 226Nm -- up 3kW and 19Nm on the outgoing model.

Mazda says the car is 0.9sec quicker to 100km/h (8.0 v 8.9sec) while fuel consumption has been trimmed from 8.8L/100km for the manual sedan to 8.4L/100km. Fuel consumption of the thirstiest variant -- the auto wagon -- is unchanged at 8.9L/100km while the top-seller, the Classic auto hatch, has improved just 0.1L/100km from 8.9 to 8.8L/100km.

Given we've already published a full launch review from the St Tropez international launch, we're not going to rehash the mechanical details nor packaging here, save to re-iterate the new 6 does not share its underpinnings with the new Ford Mondeo -- as you may have read elsewhere.

While Mazda3 for example shares with Focus and 2 with the new Fiesta, Ford and Mazda went their own ways with the 6 and Mondeo.

The new generation Mazda is essentially a tweaked version of the platform and suspension that underpins the current car. Changes are myriad and include everything from substantial changes to the car's structure to a re-engineered double-wishbone front suspension (with extra subframe mounting points).

Mazda employed its 'gram strategy' to ensure the car was no heavier than it needed to be. That said it's still heavier than the outgoing model -- up to 85kg depending on the variant, says Mazda insiders.

For more information on new chassis, gearboxes and excellent electric steering, check out our international launch review here.

Same goes for packaging -- more here. Suffice it to say, the structural changes and extra weight have delivered a new 6 that is longer and wider -- dimensional changes that have translated directly to more room inside. This is a commendably spacious medium-sized car that not too long ago would have, frankly, challenged so-called 'Large' cars for usable passenger accommodations.

You notice the extra width in both front and back cabins and the rear benefits from a substantial boost in legroom (+20mm). Effective kneeroom is boosted (+13mm) by heavy front seatback scalloping.

The driving position has been harmonised -- the steering wheel presents at a more upright angle to the driver and the gear lever has been raised and moved closer to the driver. Shame though the handbrake is on the LH drive side of the centre console.

Up front the cockpit execution is simply right. Interior styling, like the look of a car, is a personal thing, but I find it hard to believe that many would find fault with the 6's 'office'. Save for one glitch -- the overhead seatbelt reminder light panel not only looks like an add-on (for Euro NCAP we'd wager) but annoyingly it blocks a rear vision mirror.

This aside, as well as well-matched grains and surfaces, the 6's interior build quality is demonstrably at the top of the medium car tree. Honda will have to pull out all stops on its next Euro to better the standard Mazda has set.

Boot space is a substantial 510 litres in the sedan -- and that's fitted with the Australian model's full size spare. By way of comparison, the brand new Falcon's capacity is 505 litres with a proper spare wheel.

Mazda6 wagon buyers now get a clever folding luggage area cover that shares its inspiration with the wagon and hatch's rear 'karakuri' folding seats.

All Australian model 6s feature stability control, a full-spec ABS braking system and six airbags -- including side curtain bags -- as standard equipment.

Add to this new active front head restraints, front belt pre-tensioners and load-limiters, a collapsible pedal box and claimed improved front, side and rear crash performance an you have a pretty impressive safety story.

For the record, Mazda is "confident" the car will join the new Mazda 2 in earning a five-star rating when it is crash tested by Euro NCAP.

The medium car segment is getting interesting again -- after a year or so where it went off the boil in terms of new product.

The Mazda6 will join Ford's Mondeo as the newest mainstream competitors in the segment but Honda's new Euro is only a few months away, while its latest US-oriented Accord launches Down Under this week -- within a week or so of the Mazda. This latter Accord purports to be almost a size-class above the Mazda, but will inevitably be shopped against the 6.

Subaru's new Liberty will be in Australia before the end of 2008. Along with left-field cars like the Skoda Superb, this could be a very interesting marketplace come Xmas time.

In Europe the 6 is competing against the likes of BMW's 3 Series and the new Mercedes C-Class, but the reality is that the Euros the Mazda is most likely to be shopped against in Australia are VW's Passat, the smaller Jetta, Volvo S40/V50 or, perhaps, even one of the new Renault Laguna models -- when they arrive.

We'd opt for the Mazda over any of the current medium car crop -- plain and simple. It's perhaps not as roomy as the Mondeo, but it's an even more engaging drive and the detailing on the Mazda is more to our taste -- plus the Mazda sedan doesn't have the awkward rear three-quarter lines of the Ford.

That decision could change once the new Honda Euro arrives. It really is a case of watch this space.

The new 6 has a reputation as a drought breaker. Its international launch prompted torrential rain and even snow, while the local drive coincided with launch base Albury receiving inches of rain on the day of the drive.

Couple plenty of precipitation with challenging alpine roads (no snow, however, temperatures were still in the teens) and it's a recipe for disaster. Add in some challenging fast dirt (more in our case -- cos we got lost) and it's enough to have the company PR guy chewing his nails to the knuckles.

Ex-CarPoint man and now Mazda press wrangler, Glenn Butler, needn't have worried. In the words Mike McCarthy penned when we first drove the car back in December, the new 6's "roadholding is tenacious with adhesive grip even on streaming roads, the handling always responsive with user-friendly sense of balance and control".

This really is a standout car in terms of its blend of outright grip and ride and handling balance. The steering is precise (proving electric steering can work) and offers almost perfect weighting on the open road and when you're pushing on. On the dirt sections it allowed the car to be placed absolutely accurately to avoid sharp tyre-punishing rocks and was only prompted to kick back at serious levels of cornering commitment on the bitumen.

Even in the damp you could confidently fold the car into even tight corners at speed with the confidence it would follow the line you'd prescribed faithfully. Unless you are an absolute butcher or are on a racetrack, understeer isn't in this car's repertoire.

The brakes offer enough feedback for serious applications in the damp without the need to enlist the assistance of the electronic goodies. On the hard descent towards Tumut Dam we had to let the stoppers recover but this is more an indication of the fun we were having rather than a fault with the standard brakes.

Body control is excellent with none of the diagonal pitching some current medium cars indulge in, though there is enough body roll to challenge the effectiveness of the standard issue seats. Most 6 owners won't complain -- nor drive (or brake) the car the way we did.

The challenging alpine roads from Khanconban across to Kiandra, suggested the chassis could cope with a lot more power, but the more sedate drive alone the Snowy Mountain Hwy to Adaminaby showed the car, even in five-speed auto form, to have good real world performance.

Here we let the Luxury sedan's auto do its own thing -- in part to get our fuel figures down from the 11-12L/100km we'd seen, to closer to single figures. In the tight stuff we'd resorted to giving the steering-wheel mounted paddles a fair work out to keep the car on the boil.

Methinks the injected petrol four could struggle with four hefty occupants and a big load of luggage (which the hatch and sedan will easily swallow) even on the open road but the engine is nonetheless an improvement over the last model.

There's every chance that when the new generation 2.2-litre turbodiesel arrives with, say 350Nm, of torque, it'll be almost the perfect combination. At least as long as the diesel engine's extra mass doesn't spoil the marvellous balance of the current car.

Jumping into a manual Luxury Sports Hatch we noted the manual box's pleasantly positive shift and light yet positive clutch action. If it was our choice we'd take the manual over the auto -- if for no other reason than the six-speeder's closer ratios exorcise the auto's second-third gear chasm that saps performance on tighter roads.

Conspicuous by its absence was the comparative lack of 'boom' in the Hatch's cabin. In our experience, previous generation 6 hatches and the current Mondeo five-door both have an, at times, unpleasant reasonance. Thank goodness the current 6 has absolved itself of that sin. The new hatch is a very quiet car -- and the sedan's even better.

Alas Mazda hasn't improved the rear vision of the hatchback. Buyers will need to contend with a combination of long, large corner blindspots and a rear view bisected by a rear spoiler. Nonetheless, Mazda Australia believes hatches will account for more than half the 1100 6's they'll sell (on average) each month.

Mazda claims the car makes "significant advances in refinement and quality without sacrificing its unrivalled reputation as a practical driver's car". Though rich with spin, for once the marketing spiel is on the money.

The new generation Mazda6 had big boots to fill -- but it's filled them and then some.

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