Nothing has changed with the premise of the third generation Mazda6, which goes on sale here early next year.
It’s designed to be practical and comfortable as a family car but enjoyable to drive and with a sporty flavour. An often-sprouted best of both worlds approach without the high-riding stance that can make the new breed of family friendly SUVs feel less stable.
From a standstill the 6 starts strongly. The new 2.5-litre four-cylinder engine – marketed as SkyActiv in line with Mazda’s still-rolling-out range of more efficient models – has a zingy bark to it that grows in intensity as you approach the 6250rpm rev cutout, something we tested regularly just out of Paris as part of a preview of the new model.
To be fair, some of the characterful sound has nothing to do with the twin exhaust pipes but is thanks to the optional Bose sound system, with the speakers adding carefully crafted sounds to the genuine mix.
It’s indicative of the attention to detail that’s gone into a car Mazda knows will play a relatively small but crucial role in its evolving model range.
Response, too, from the petrol engine is strong, and the 6 pulls keenly from its middle revs with more crispness at higher revs. While it won’t set any class standards for acceleration, it’s towards the pointy end of the field and has a sparkle that ensures the fun factor is delivered on.
There’s a modest 141kW of power to play with (Australian cars will get 138kW running on regular unleaded petrol) but the light 1360kg body means it feels perkier than the raw figures might suggest.
Torque, or pulling power, is also modest but useful, helping gradually build speed or slug up a hill. And at 100km/h in top gear the 6 will amble along at less than 1900rpm, dropping down a gear or two up an incline.
As well as stop-start – which refires the engine impressively smoothly – there’s a new technology called i-eLoop. Using a capacitor to quickly store energy normally lost in heat through the brakes, the power is then fed to the battery where it is used to power everything from the steering and sound system to the air-conditioning and fuel pump.
Combined the systems are claimed to reduce fuel use by 10 per cent, adding to already impressive gains on the engine and other components. The fuel missing diesel will use a hybrid-beating 4.8 litres per 100km according to the European test cycle (expect 0.1-0.2L/100km more in the Australian test).
The 2.2-litre diesel – as with the petrol engine it’s available exclusively with a six-speed auto – produces 129kW of power and 420Nm of torque, compared with 132kW and 400Nm for the engine it replaces.
The diesel pulls strongly and cleanly with impressive low-rev flexibility, and teamed with that Bose sound system doesn’t have the droning sound diesels can often emit. In fact at higher engine revs the diesel sounds more like a petrol engine.
The 2.5-litre four-cylinder petrol engine won’t be as economical as its diesel counterpart, though, but it’s still impressive, using as little as 6.3L/100km. That still translates to near class leading economy, undercutting some key rivals by as much as 30 per cent.
Teamed with the petrol engine, the new six-speed automatic transmission shifts slickly when building pace, with only a mild, muted knock on full throttle up-changes. Downchanges aren’t always as elegant, but the transmission responds quickly and efficiently to select the right ratio.
It’s not as adept when attacking a set of corners or punching on and off the throttle. Instead of holding a gear it usually likes to change up, meaning you’ll have to take over (via shift paddles or a sequential shifter on the gear lever) for maximum control. A “sport” mode would be a handy addition to at least give the option of different shift mapping at the push of a button.
Pitch the new 6 at a corner and it’s clear the new electric steering system is adept if not sports car lithe. What it lacks in initial millimetre preciseness it makes up for in shielding all but larger high speed bumps from feeding back through the steering wheel. It’s light but predictable and with respectable feedback.
And while the 6 will lean slightly through bends and on quick left-right direction changes, its body is well controlled, resisting the physics that suggest it should be keeling further.
Suspension is taut but not uncomfortable. So while it can get jittery over successive smaller bumps, particularly on persistently poor surfaces it settles adeptly over bumps and lumps.
With more of a sporty bent the wagon is noticeably firmer, although not, again, it’s not uncomfortable.
Comfort generally, though, is well catered for and the 6 treads a respectable line between being fun and looking after the troops.
However, despite claims of significant improvements to tyre noise – a Mazda bugbear – the latest 6 still lets a noticeable roar into the cabin on coarse bitumen surfaces. There was also a whisp of unwanted wind noise on our pre-production cars at up to the 130km/h limit.
We’ll reserve final judgement on the acoustic performance until we drive a car on local roads back-to-back with rivals such as the Hyundai i40, Subaru Liberty Ford Mondeo and Honda Accord Euro.
Inside, the new Mazda6 generally feels high quality. There’s the occasional tinge of BMW with things such as the digital temperature readout for the ventilation system, while metallic finishes and a dark dash lift the formal but classy feel.
Rear air vents make for a more comfortable journey for those in the back and there’s more generous leg room.
Head room in the sedan tapers off towards the rear and may be only just OK for anyone over six-foot; it’s better news up top with the wagon, which uses its straighter roof line to create more head space but shaves a petite – but noticeable – 3cm knee space. There may be seating for five but the width of the cabin and higher centre seat make it ideally a four-person vehicle.
The perception of quality was a focus for the new 6, but there are some suggestions that cost may have got in the way of the ultimate in luxury. Lean your leg against the centre console up front and it flexes more than expected. And in the boot there are now semi-concealed gooseneck hinges that give it a light closing feel and cheaper appearance.
A larger colour screen would also be appreciated, even if it means relocating the buttons and knobs packed closely around it lower on the dash. And the Tom Tom sat-nav system needs some Apple assistance to make it more intuitive.
Still, it’s a minor grizzle for what is shaping up to be a well equipped medium car.
And it amounts to a classy mid-sized contender that builds on its mantra of being capably fun.
Mazda6 take three doesn’t rewrite the rule books, but it adds a new, more refined chapter that builds on a proven formula.
On sale: Early 2013
Body styles: Sedan and wagon
Power: 138kW at 5700rpm (141kW on premium unleaded)
Torque: 250Nm at 3250rpm (256Nm on premium unleaded)
Transmission: 6-speed auto
Fuel use (tested to European test cycle): 6.3-6.4L/100km
2.2-litre 4-cylinder twin turbo
Power: 129kW at 4500rpm
Torque: 420Nm at 2000rpm
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
Fuel use (tested to European test cycle): 4.8-4.9L/100km