Vince Pornelos / Vince Pornelos | June 10, 2013 16:39
Reaching for the sky
For the better part of a decade, one car in the executive/midsize category has always stood out from the rest: and that's the Mazda6. It's not because the midsized car from Hiroshima sold in great numbers, but because it offered a much more exciting drive than the many of its competitors at the time.
I truly enjoyed the first generation Mazda6 with the 2.3L MZR engine, even preferring over its direct competitor at the time: the Subaru Legacy 2.0R. The second generation was an evolution of what made the Mazda6 great, though many found it to be a bit tame compared to the driving characteristics of the original. This latest generation was launched earlier this year, and now let's find out how it gets on.
The new 6 features a design statement that was first showcased in a production car with the CX-5 crossover, a look that has been foreshadowed in concept cars like the Furai, Nagare, and others.
The design is most striking up front with a long, snouted look and the updated 5-point grill. The way the snout protrudes actually reminds me the SLS AMG; prominent and proud. Also, I'll say that the 'Soul Red' finish -a Mazda special color- is arguably one of the most striking colors I've seen in a production car; so much so that over the course of a week I had it washed four times.
A chrome bar runs from the leading edge of the headlamps around the bottom rim of the grille and to the other side, while the lower bumper's bars taper outward and down, giving the car an undeniably sporty and aggressive look. When the car is in gear, the LEDs on the headlamps light up, further highlighting the strong statement that the Mazda6 presents.
Mazda raised the rear quarters of the car to give it an almost fastback-like profile. Of particular interest are a trio of lines on the side panels, while the 19 inch allow wheels were well chosen to match the sporting credentials of the Mazda6. A colleague likened it to the Aston Martin Rapide, though somehow it reminds me more of the Jaguar XF.
The second generation model's interior -while well designed- does seem too plasticky in a price range that is supposed to be above the standard compact family car. Not so in this third generation model.
Step inside the cabin and there's a definitive premium feel and look to it. It's on the conservative side, but the dashboard appears to have taken a page out of the BMW 3-Series design book, not to mention in terms of quality (e.g. soft touch materials)
The layout of the buttons are logical and easy to understand, and again, there's a good quality feel about each press. The gauges are typical of Mazda; a large speedometer takes the center, flanked by the RPM gauge and a pair of multi-information displays. The shifter is the gate-type affair, though it is complemented by paddles on the steering wheel. We'll get a chance to play with them later on.
All the seats are wrapped in leather, and are accented by red stitching at the seams. There's plenty of room in the back for three with the accompanying legroom expected of the category the Mazda6 is competing in. Pop the center armrest down and you get even better room for two, making the Mazda6 just as fun to drive as it is to ride in, but we'll sort through that later.
The Mazda6 comes with some great new features. Since there's only one variant, all Mazda6 customers get the same great package. Apart from the standard power features like windows, mirrors, locks and electric power steering, the Mazda6 gets a sunroof, cruise control, steering wheel audio controls, automatic climate control, and a dedicated AM/FM/CD/MP3 audio system with Bluetooth, iPod connectivity, USB and Aux-In ports. The front seats are power adjustable, while the LCD on the audio unit is actually a touchscreen.
For safety and security, you get a convenient comfort access smart key, traction control, stability control and 6 airbags. A reverse camera is also standard, along with the active bi-xenon headlamps which will follow the curves of the road as you drive, perfect for driving up a winding mountain road.
The features are, in my opinion, just the add-ons to the main course. If you love driving, you'll enjoy what the Mazda6 has to offer.
Just behind that handsome front end is an all new engine. No longer the award winning MZR, as the Mazda6 is now powered by the 2.5L SkyActiv-G engine.
SkyActiv is actually not just a bit of clever naming; it's real technology developed to deliver real fuel economy, and is composed of three major areas: the engine, the 6-speed SkyActiv Drive transmission and the ultra lightweight and rigid SkyActiv body. The weight saving on the actual body by using higher tensile steel resulted in some 70 kilos (thereabouts) of weight shed off from the previous model... about the weight of an extra person. Really, the biggest improvements are in the engine department.
The SkyActiv-G (Gasoline) engine is still a 2.5 liter, 16-valve inline-4 motor, but thanks to several upgrades, it now makes 185 PS (up from 170 PS in the old model) and 250 Newton-meters of torque (up from 226 Nm in the 2nd gen) with direct injection. The engine is actually an undersquare design (Bore < Stroke), meaning it develops peak torque at lower rpms (essential for fuel economy, especially in cruising and in the city). It also comes loaded with some impressive technology like the i-STOP auto start/stop system (anti-idling at a set of lights, for instance) and i-ELOOP, a kinetic energy capture system that stores it as electricity for use later on.
On the highway, the Mazda6 simply excels. By limiting revs and with a steady foot, at around 100 km/h, expect fuel economy figures to reach 14.8 kilometers to the liter.What was more surprising was the fuel economy in the city, and the technologies like i-STOP and i-ELOOP worked wonders.
While typical 2.5 liter engines of the competition usually deliver around 6.5-7.5 kilometers per liter in the city, the 2013 Mazda6 returns 8.5 kilometers to the liter in moderate traffic. With a concerted effort to be efficient, 9.3 kilometers to the liter was achievable in the same driving conditions. These consumption figures are normal for, say, a Corolla or a Civic, but given the size and comfort of the larger Mazda, it's really impressive. SkyActiv really works.
This car isn't all about out and out economy, however. Mazdas are supposed to be fun... zoom zoom, so they say. So it's time to stretch its legs a bit.
On the expressway, the Mazda6 exhibited the qualities it has always been known for; stable, quick, and makes overtaking easy. Keep an eye on the speed, as the Mazda will quickly breach 100 km/h without a sweat. Cruise control is standard, so we put it to good use and stick to 100 (which is how we got the fuel economy figures).
Off of the tollways and onto provincial highways, the Mazda worked well to suppress the hard stuff on the road such as corrugated tarmac (caused by heavily laden trucks), potholes, bumps and everything in between; even with 19 inch wheels. It's not Camry-levels of ride comfort, mind you, but there is a great balance between ride comfort and handling. One thing to note: there's a significant amount of noise (both wind and road/tire noise) permeating the cabin. It's noisier inside than the 2nd generation model, based on what I remember when I drove it back in 2010.
Now it's time to see what the Mazda can really do. On an uphill mountain pass, I finally ditch that three inch nail I keep visualizing on the accelerator pedal for fuel economy and floor it. The engine is more than willing to rev though don't expect 3.5 V6 levels of power.
What I truly enjoyed in the Mazda6 (especially in this drive up to Baguio) were the corners. All of them. The electric power steering may not offer as much 'feel' as before, but it's very precise and linear; qualities of a really well balanced driving machine.
Body and roll control are simply excellent for a vehicle of this size. It turns in sharply and easily, the brakes are perfect for the weight, and if you've had a bit of performance driving training, the Mazda6 will be a treat to push the pace on a mountain pass like Marcos Highway. And at night with pouring rain, the adaptive/active HID headlamps make cornering so much easier going up to Baguio.
Here's where it gets interesting. At PhP 1,705,000 for the Mazda6 (+PhP16,800 for Soul Red), Berjaya Auto Philippines is playing it very clever, pricing the 6 between the 2.4-2.5L models of the competition and the higher 3.5L models. What really is surprising is that it also comes with Berjaya's YOJIN3 package, meaning free preventive maintenance (parts and labor) for three years.
Many have asked why motoring writers have a soft spot for Mazda6. My answer is simple: the 6 has always been the fun one in a class of car typically targeted at upper management types. You know, men who like suits, drink scotch exclusively and still listen to Kenny G in CD format.
The Mazda6 isn't that kind of car. This is a sedan meant for up and coming executives who wear nice shirts but won't have a problem rolling up the sleeves to drive. This is a car made for who like a bit of nightlife and love to drive out of town on weekends.
The Mazda6 is a driver's car through and through. Simple as that.