Vince Pornelos / Vince Pornelos | December 09, 2016 13:17
Never Grow Up
On this there is no question: for the last three years, the Mazda6 has been my favorite in the executive car (D-segment) class. Sure, the class is dwindling fast thanks to the rise of the crossover and yes, the likes of the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord are the default choices that you're likely to see at the parking slots of your bosses. Despite that, the Mazda6 is one model that we found special, and now they've got a new one.
Technically, this is a refresh; a mild update of the Mazda6 that we originally drove in 2013. As you may well have noticed, this Mazda6 is the new Sports Wagon version, but it wears their design philosophy very well. We can go on about the design idiom that they call Kodo, but to better understand it, the look was derived from the movement of big cats (i.e. the cheetah) hence the bulging wheel arches, the sloping hoot, and the wide, purposeful stance.
For the unfamiliar, the fascia looks almost identical to the 2013-2015 version, sans the details that justify the “Sports” in Sports Wagon like the black front splitter/spoiler, the black side skirts, and the blacked out wheels. The design enhancements do create a striking contrast with this shade of Snowflake White, though I have to admit I'm a bit partial to their Soul Red color option despite the extra cost.
If you look closer, you can see that Mazda made a few subtle tweaks to improve on the design. Actually, what Mazda did was adjust certain element by making them slimmer such as the headlights, the foglamp bezels, and the lower radiator intake. It's all very subtle, but what I truly liked was the application of the daylight-running lamps (or LEDs); apart from the new DRLs on the headlamps, there's a LED strip running just under the chrome garnish on the front grill. Quite cool.
If the exterior was a bit too subtle, the interior changes were more profound. Judging by my familiarity with the original 2013 model, the dashboard is actually entirely new; the most notable being the main LCD no longer being recessed into the dash, but has risen up from it. The cabin still very much minimalist and so some details have become a little slimmer like the A/C vents, though Mazda did put in a few more accents, particularly that silver trim that looks like it runs the length of the dash.
The steering wheel is new, and looks like it was almost directly lifted from the MX-5. The shifter is likewise new, and it looks and feels better thanks to the leather boot. The parking brake lever has been tossed out in favor of an electronic parking brake. Also new is a sport mode for the transmission; it was already available in the Mazda2 and CX-3, but this is the first time that Mazda applied it to the 6. The controls for the infotainment/multimedia system is still centralized into the central knob/button cluster, and still has all the functionalities expected of it such as iPod connectivity, USB playback, Bluetooth telephony and streaming, as well as satellite navigation as an option.
Mazda Philippines originally brought in the Mazda6 in sedan/saloon format, and it was great. Being a wagon, this one sacrifices rear legroom just a smidge for space. Lots of it, in fact: 506 liters with the rear seats up, and that balloons to 1648 liters if you fold them down. To put that in perspective, the sedan version can only accommodate 489 liters. Yes, this is more practical and well suited for those big mall sales.
But describing the Mazda6 Sports Wagon is one thing, driving it is another. At the heart of the wagon is a 2.5-liter gasoline engine driving the front wheels via a 6-speed automatic. On paper, it doesn't sound impressive despite the output of 185 horsepower and 250 Newton-meters of torque. Where the wagon does shine, however, is on the drive.
On an enjoyable bit of road, the Mazda6 SW is eager to strut its stuff. Despite its size and wagon configuration, the Mazda6 SW at 1,444 kilogram is still lighter than all variants of the two leading sedans in the class: the Camry and Accord. They achieved this through the use of advanced (read: stiffer) metals, resulting in less mass with similar or even better overall rigidity. As a result, it's fun to toss around the corners and responsive when you put your foot down.
Yes, we still enjoy manuals, but Mazda's latest 6-speed automatics are joys to drive due to their intuitiveness. These SkyActiv gearboxes are able to quickly respond to the driver's commands via the pedals and not necessitating a pull of the paddles. And when the traffic gets heavy, the convenience of the automatic simply cannot be beat.
But of course, this isn't all about performance, as the SW ticks all the boxes when it comes to economy too. Maneuverability around town? Check. Rear parking camera? Perfect. Cargo space? Plenty. Fuel economy? Of course.
2.5 liters may be a sizeable engine for some, but in terms of fuel economy, it delivers the goods. At 7.9 km/l (20 km/h average), the SW's fuel economy in the city is quite respectable given the heavier traffic compared to 3 years ago. Much of that fuel economy is credited to the automatic start/stop function of the engine as well as the energy recapture system in the car; it stores electricity for use with the A/C, radio, and other functions to allow the engine to take short, fuel-saving breaks in traffic. On the highway fuel economy is likewise excellent:: 12.5 km/l at an average speed of 92 km/h.
What is surprising is the application of Mazda's G-Vectoring Control, or G-VC. It sounds like some techie mumbo jumbo, but the effects are profound. It's easy to confuse G-VC with the torque vectoring system that we see in cars like the Ford Focus (torque vectoring through inner-wheel braking) or the Nissan GT-R (intelligently sends torque to outer wheels), but this is different. The goal of G-VC is to control how the weight shifts from front to back (braking, acceleration) and side to side (cornering).
The system sounds trivial, but it works. It does this by modifying the torque of the engine, and thus counteracting sudden weight shifts for better control for the driver and improved comfort for the passengers. The result is that passengers don't sway as much in the car when you're cornering, and there's a better, more managed equilibrium when taking on mountain passes.
Perhaps the best way to describe the Mazda6 SW is the way it balances so many needs into one package. Style, space, practicality, versatility, driving comfort, driving performance, advanced features, and fuel economy; it's all here in this wagon. What surprises me is that there really isn't much that I can honestly objectively or subjectively criticize about it, even if I nitpick. Okay, maybe the extra PhP 3,000 for the Navi SD card is something I can pick on, but they did toss in a 3-year (or 60,000 kilometer) program with free maintenance parts, service and labor. So what's there to complain about?
The Mazda6 Sports Wagon is the car that that the executive wants to drive when he doesn't want to acknowledge the fact that he really has grown up. It's the car that he drives if he doesn't want to hand over the keys to a chauffer, preferring instead to roll up the sleeves and drive. It's the car he drives when he knows he has to be able to put a few baby seats in the back, the car when the wife has the deciding vote -and veto power- in the decision-making process.
Yes, the Mazda6 Sports Wagon is the car for the boy who had to grow up, but doesn't want to admit it. And we like it that way.