Anton Andres / Kelvin Christian Go | December 14, 2016 12:22
Putting the dynamic in the D-Segment
If I were to describe the Mazda 6 in one word, it would have to be dynamic. Noticeably sharper to drive than its contemporaries, the big Mazda sedan veers towards the sporty side in the mid-size sedan (D-Segment) market. In a nutshell, it's built for the executive who wants more spice in their big sedan.
Earlier this year, Mazda surprised us by introducing the SkyActiv-D engines in the Philippines. These engines are the latest line of diesels to come out of the Hiroshima-based automaker. When we tried them out, it offered guiltless performance while retaining the wonderful handling characteristics we've come to expect of Mazdas.
Now it's time for the true test; a real world drive and living with the Mazda6 SkyActiv-D.
As this segment tends to go for a more conservative approach when it comes to looks, it could be said that the Mazda6 is the extrovert in its class. Given a refresh earlier this year, it gets a new grill and new wheels, plus the addition of the Sport Wagon model. As for the sedan's exterior, the sharp, rakish looks are complemented by the defined body lines that further highlights the fenders and window sills. Adding to the sporting intentions of the Mazda6 are the gunmetal finish, 19-inch wheels, making it the largest standard rim size in its class. Also, the sloping rear windshield makes it look sleek, gently seaming into the trunk. Amusingly, it retains the twin exhaust pipe layout from the gas powered model.
Mazda boasts about their Kodo design philosophy with the mantra of “soul in motion”, meaning the car looks like its moving even when standing still. With all the lines, creases and acute angles, the Mazda6 is a sharp-suited definition of its design language. This vivid shade of Soul Red also brings out the best in this D-Segment sedan's body. It may cost extra but it's well worth it.
Inside, the center console has been completely redesigned this year. Gone is the old, upright dash and taking its place is a lower set, wraparound unit. For 2016, Mazda also gave the Mazda6 an all-new infotainment system. Owners of a particular German brand might note that this layout looks vaguely familiar with its scroll wheel (rotary dial?) and wide screen that sticks out of the center of the dash. Personally, I like it and it looks neater in my opinion.
As for interior materials, it's up to par in its class but not quite class-leading. The door cards, while soft to touch, lack that extra layer of padding you would find in some of its contemporaries. If your hands reach the lower section of the dash, you may feel that the plastics are on the hard and scratchy side. Build quality on the other hand is good, with all the seams and stitching consistent all throughout the cabin.
I do appreciate the fact that it comes standard with memory seats for the driver and power seats for the passenger. Bringing in more light inside is a sunroof, another feature I enjoyed using during late night drives. Space is abundant for five with generous legroom, as well as shoulder room although the sloping roofline may rob it of some headroom but anyone under six feet will be okay at the back. Rear passengers are also treated to their own air-conditioning with an extra pair of vents mounted at the back of the front center arm rest.
Pop the hood and you're greeted by a 2.2 liter turbodiesel unit with SkyActiv technology. Unlike most diesels, the SkyActiv-D motor uses an aluminum block, instead of the usual cast-iron. The engineers at Mazda were able to extract 175 PS and 420 Nm of torque from this all-aluminum diesel engine. Don't expect a manual transmission in the segment as shifting is done with a 6-speed automatic with manual mode. Like most Mazdas, it too comes with a stop-start system which they call i-Stop.
Sitting inside the Mazda6, one of the first things I noticed what how easy it was to get the ideal driving position. The steering column extends far enough for those with short arms (ie. me) and the seats offer a wide range of adjustment from height, lumbar and under thigh support. Also, the seats hug you and even has shoulder support when the mood to drive spiritedly fancies you. With supportive seats and a wraparound dashboard, you're given the impression that you're driving something smaller.
Crank the SkyActiv-D into life and there is a fair bit of clatter, especially in the morning and driving on less than smooth cement brings in higher than class norm noise into the cabin. Don't get me wrong, the Mazda6 is still quiet but not quite as refined as its rivals. Perhaps a few more layer of sound insulation might do the trick but, then again, it adds weight. Also, those 19-inch rims give the big sedan a rather firm ride but it doesn't jar you with unnecessary body movements. All of that is forgiven the moment you take it on a series of bends.
Electric power steering systems tend to give a dead on-center feel but the Mazda6 makes the most of it by adding weight and feel. It does its best to emulate hydraulic set ups and it comes close at low speeds. As for spirited driving, it's as if the EPS dials down the assistance, making you feel every bend with its sharp (for a big sedan) turn in and precise steering. As you continue navigating the Mazda6 through winding roads, it rewards you with more involvement and, slowly, puts a smile on your face. Is it a four-door MX-5? Not in the slightest but it's safe to say that this is an executive sedan for those who love to drive.
Out on the highway, the Mazda6 is rarely disturbed by road imperfections although the aforementioned cabin noise does make its presence felt. It's mostly tire noise but wind noise is well suppressed, probably attributed to its sleek profile. At higher speeds, the Mazda6 becomes a proper cruiser; comfortable, easy to drive and, thanks to the diesel engine, rather laid back.
From my experience, Mazda has kept its promise of retaining an involving drive even with a diesel. The 2.2 liter SkyActiv-D pulls strongly, with a wave of torque kicking in early for more confident overtaking. Cruising down major thoroughfares, it becomes hushed and rarely hints at its diesel characteristics. One thing I did notice is that the SkyActiv-D mill is rather revvy for a diesel and, as a result, it just keeps on going and power doesn't trail off like a typical diesel. With i-Stop off most of the time, I managed 10.8 kilometers per liter with an average of just 14 km/h in the city (thank you holiday season). Highway driving meanwhile netted 18.2 kilometers per liter.
At Php 1,985,000, the Mazda6 SkyActiv-D is about Php 200,000 dearer that its gas-powered counterpart. I do believe that it pays off at the pumps in the long run, and it's priced well under European diesels it can go toe to toe with. It's not perfect but perhaps with a bit more refinement and a posher cabin, the Mazda6 SkyActiv-D can even be a serious threat to the European establishment. With the SkyActiv-D engine, the Mazda6 adds a touch of sensibility to this almost sports sedan but retains the fun to drive nature Mazdas have become known for. Guiltless performance in a handsome, practical package? This car offers it in spades.
Now, if there is one thing I do want Mazda Philippines to do, that would be to bring the Mazda6 Sport Wagon with this diesel. Now that would make the eccentric enthusiast go weak in the knees.