Mazda has pulled the covers from the third generation of its mid-sized 6 sedan at the Moscow motor show to reveal a car that is larger in every outward dimension, but significantly lighter and at least 20 per cent more fuel efficient than the model it replaces.
However, the all-new Mazda6 makes do with a smaller engine and less power for the entry-level model.
The new Mazda6 is the Japanese manufacturer's second model – behind the Mazda CX-5 compact off-roader – to utilise the full suite of Mazda's ''SkyActiv'' technologies, which include more efficient new engines and transmissions and a lightweight body minimise fuel use.
Some models will feature a brake energy regeneration system that Mazda claims is a world first, using a capacitor to begin storing energy the moment the driver takes their foot off the accelerator. The stored energy is used to power the car's electrical components, easing the load on the engine.
One missing link is the hatch variant with the sedan version unveiled in Moscow to be joined by a wagon likely to be unveiled at next month's 2012 Paris motor show.
Another potential drawback for performance-minded local buyers searching for the company's trademark ''zoom-zoom'' is a drop in power and torque for the base model, which trades a 2.5-litre, four-cylinder petrol engine for a 2.0-litre unit making 110 kilowatts and 210 Newton metres (15kW and 16Nm fewer than the previous model).
The new Mazda6 is expected to weigh about 130kg less than its predecessor at 1340kg for the manual model (auto: 1370kg), helping to inspire fuel savings in the order of 20 to 30 per cent, depending on the engine and transmission.
At 4865mm long, the new Mazda6 is 130mm longer than the previous model, and just 29mm shorter than a Holden Commodore that sits a segment above it. It is also 45mm wider than the previous 6, 10mm taller and the wheelbase (distance between the front and rear wheels) is 105mm longer.
The result is a more spacious cabin that adds an extra 43mm to rear legroom, while the rear seat cushion and backrest have also been lengthened.
Apart from the company's determination to produce a bigger car that uses considerably less fuel than its predecessor, Mazda6 program manager Hiroshi Kajiyama says he pursued "driving pleasure" as a priority.
"We wanted to create a car that reacts and behaves exactly as you expect it to. Part of this involved carefully crafting those parts of the car which you often touch to feel as though they are an extension of your own body," he says.
"Mazda's superb engineering and craftsmanship have realised a car that handles so well it seems to respond directly to the driver's intentions rather than the physical manipulations of steering, braking and accelerating.
"In short, the new Mazda6 offers the joy of driving that people have come to expect from Mazda."
The new Mazda6 employs front strut and rear multilink suspension systems, as well as power-assisted rack-and-pinion steering. Mazda says it concentrated on generating "natural, linear acceleration in response to pedal operation without a hint of jerkiness or delay", while optimising cornering characteristics and braking performance.
The chassis uses ultra-high-tensile steel to improve torsional rigidity by about 30 per cent, while another strong focus was on turning one of Mazda's enduring weaknesses, cabin noise, into what is claimed to be a class-leading strength by blocking noise paths from the engine and road to the cabin.
A new under-floor design also makes the 6 the slipperiest body in its class with a coefficient of drag (CD) measurement of 0.26.
The Mazda6's exterior design sprang from the Mazda Takeri concept car shown at the Tokyo motor show last year, which alluded to the final version's low, wide stance that Mazda says "conveys animalistic tenacity, dignity and a sporty flare through its smooth and powerful physique".
Key visual cues include a wider, deeper opening in the front grille reminiscent of the new Mazda CX-5 that went on sale earlier this year, plus a reshaped lower air dam and larger, more stretched headlights.
Inside, Mazda says it focused on improving the tactility of commonly touched surfaces including the steering wheel, gearshift, handbrake and door trim. Upper-spec models get a five-inch central screen, while trip information is contained on a 3.5-inch information display included in the instrument cluster.
The new Mazda6 will include the option of several safety technologies. These include adaptive lighting that swivels to illuminate where the car is steering, automatic high beam to dip the lights for oncoming cars, a blindspot monitor, a lane departure warning system and an automatic braking system that senses an imminent collision and applies the brakes to minimise or avoid low-speed impacts. Six airbags will be included and Mazda expects the 6 to achieve maximum results in crash testing.
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