Mazda's game changer feels so right

DAVE MOORE
Last updated 09:15 08/10/2012
2013 Mazda6 series III
Mazda 6: The third generation car has grown overall, but has lost its liftback variant, while gaining SkyActiv technology.

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For a company the size of Mazda, which as world car makers go is a relatively small one, the development of the new third-generation Mazda6 must have been a huge commitment.


Click photo at left for more views of the Mazda6 series III.


MAZDA6 SERIES 3

■ Drivetrains: Transverse FWD petrol or turbodiesel chain-driven DOHC 16-valve fours with six-speed manual or automatic.

■ Performance:

2.0-SkyActive G (petrol) – 1998cc, 121kW at 6000rpm, 210Nm at 4000rpm. Max 216kmh, 0-100kmh 9.1sec, 6.4L/100km, 148g/km CO2.

2.5-SkyActive G (petrol) – 2488cc, 141kW at 5700rpm, 256Nm at 3250rpm. Max 220kmh, 0-100kmh 7.8sec, 6.3-6.4L/100km, 148-150g/km CO2.

2.2-SkyActive D (turbodiesel) – 2191cc, 129kW at 4500rpm, 420Nm at 2000rpm. Max 223kmh, 0-100kmh 7.8sec, 3.9L/100km, 104-116g/km CO2.

■ Chassis: Front MacPherson struts, rear multi-links, rack-and-pinion steering, 17-19-inch rims.

■ Safety: Vented front, solid rear disc brakes; smart brake support; ABS with EBD stability control, traction control; front, side and curtain airbags; SkyActive body designs.

■ Dimensions: L (sedan) 4865mm, (wagon) 4800mm, W 1840mm, H (sedan) 1450mm, (wagon) 1480mm, W/base (sedan) 2830mm, (wagon) 2750mm, F/track 1585mm, R/track 1575mm. Load to waistline (sedan) 489L, (wagon) 522mm. Weight 1300-1430kg. Fuel 62L.

■ Pricing: To be announced closer to the car's first-quarter 2013 launch in New Zealand.

■ Hot: Slick styling, refinement levels, space, nimbleness, performance and astonishing emissions ratings.

■ Not: Watered-down Kodo design. No Smart City Brake Support for NZ.

■ Verdict: Clean new range resets the standards for the segment, as well as those above it.

The car, larger in every way compared with the old model, is also lighter, cleaner and greener, and every facet of the range is new. Also, unlike many much larger companies, Mazda has designed and will make just about every mechanical part of the car in its own plants.

It shares the car's platform with no other company, and every engine and transmission is Mazda's own.

Although the car is very much designed as an "American-sized" product, unlike its predecessors, the latest Mazda6 will not be built in the United States.

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At first, the new car will be built at just two plants: at Mazda's Hofu No 2 plant in the Yamaguchi prefecture, and another in Vladivostok, where Mazda is partnering with Russian manufacturer OJSC Sollers.

It will follow the CX-5 down the same production line. A future Mexico-based plant is also planned for the new car.

The car is notable for having a longer wheelbase than almost every rival, segment-leading interior space, and emissions and fuel economy ratings that would flatter a hybrid range.

But, of course, the car is not a hybrid, as the company uses its efficient, lightweight 2.0 and 2.5-litre SkyActiv-G (petrol) and 2.2-litre SkyActiv-D (turbodiesel) four-cylinder technology instead to bring the car's footprint down.

Other elements that help are the car's 50-kilogram lower weight, Mazda's i-Stop stop-start system and an ingenious brake- energy regeneration setup called i-ELOOP which contributes fuel efficiency using a capacitor to store energy from deceleration and braking, using it to power electrical accessories such as the lights, air-conditioning and sound system, relieving the engine and alternator.

A byproduct of this is that both the battery and alternator will last many times longer than in a conventional car, since they are not under as much pressure.

At 2830 millimetres, the Mazda's wheelbase is longer by 105mm than the previous model, 55mm longer than the current Camry's and a whopping 118mm bigger than the VW Passat's. Compared with other Japanese and Korean competitors in this segment, nothing comes close.

Mazda's new big sedan is 4865mm long and 1450mm tall, and has front and rear tracks of 1585mm and 1575mm, respectively, on 17-inch wheels, with 19-inch items optional. It weighs from 1340kg (2.0-litre petrol) to 1430kg (2.2-litre turbodiesel).

Because the wagon version is a world, rather than US-intended offering, its wheelbase and overall length are respectively shorter by 80mm and 65mm than the sedan's.

Mazda says the new 6 sedan offers 20mm more shoulder room for front-seat passengers, while back- seat passengers have 43mm and 37mm greater knee and legroom, respectively. The rear-seat squab has increased by 20mm, while the backrest is 33mm taller.

When using each of the seating positions, the gains are immediately obvious. This is a large car. Up front my frame was touched and supported in all the right places by the big, well-shaped chairs, and in the rear, occupants feel just as special, with the increased cushion sizes being immediately obvious, and three- across seating should be no trouble at all.

The extra body and wheelbase size doesn't explain all the space gains. The front-wheel axis has been moved forward by 100mm relative to the A-pillar, which makes for a shorter overhang, and a more roomy footwell, while at the rear, the boot deck is shorter.

As well as extra space, the new Mazda6 adds extra class to the cabin, with superb material choices, especially across the dash area and along the top of the inner door panels. A blade of coloured metal separates the main driving information and operation areas from the air-conditioning and sound-system controls, and the overall look is that of the BMW 5-series, although the Mazda goes one step further with a subtly curved fascia to contain its satellite navigation, rather than let it look like a discarded iPad.

The boot, which opens 32mm wider than the previous model's, has a cargo capacity of 489 litres, while the wagon's volume is 522 litres to the same hip-line point. Both the sedan and wagon enjoy Mazda's clever lever-operated seat folding setup in the load area to enable the expansion of the luggage volume while standing under the open hatch or lid.

The styling of the Mazda6 is based on the "Kodo - Soul of Motion"-themed Takeri concept from 2011, but it's a watered-down version in production form, and the nose is a little blunter than the concept car's, although there are some beautiful crease and style lines, especially in the range's hero Soul Red paint scheme. It's a handsome car, but not quite as handsome as the concept that inspired it.

The new SkyActiv body structure makes extensive use of ultra-high-tensile steel reducing weight, improving torsional rigidity by about 30 per cent. The car uses MacPherson struts at the front and multi-link suspension at the rear, with a new column-type electric power steering setup.

The Japanese car maker says the new Mazda6 is a driver's car. It's not wrong.

There's an intrinsic "rightness" about the car from the outset. It's firmly, but comfortably suspended, the steering feels solid and with just the right kind of assistance at the straight ahead point, offering telegraphically accurate responses at turn-in that imbues great confidence.

Well-damped suspension reacts well to mid-bend bumps, whatever their severity. The car does not feel as if it will be jarred from the intended line at all, and with the Mazda's pleasing throttle linearity, in both diesel and petrol versions, it's a genuine treat to take down a twisting, off-camber backroad. It has no bad habits and manages to traverse the worst that French road makers can throw at it in the Oise countryside through which I drove the car this week.

Hiroshi Kajiyama, the Mazda6's programme manager, says that the company focused on its core values of driving pleasure for the new sedan when setting up its chassis.

"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."

They've managed so well in this area that I can't wait to put the car up against its closest rival - Ford's Mondeo which is probably the current dynamic yardstick among family sedans and wagons.

It could be that Mazda now has the lead in this value.

The Mazda6's three-engine lineup also means that the model probably has the outright performance edge too.

Both the 141kW, 256Nm, 2.5-litre SkyActiv petrol four and its 149kW, 420Nm, 2.2-litre SkyActive turbodiesel sibling, can push the sedan to 100kmh in less than eight seconds when asked to do so, and this is not hanging about.

There's an entry-point 121kW, 210Nm, 2.0-litre SkyActive petrol unit too, but this engine is no slug either, getting the Mazda6 to the legal limit in about 9sec.

All three units use balance shafts and are well insulated, so all you really hear is the way they breathe, rather than their mechanical clamour. They are smooth, quiet and pleasing to work hard if you need to. The petrol engines have a nice thrumming beat when revved out, while even the diesel unit will get to 5000-plus with no problems.

The diesel is also a star in the emissions area. Thus equipped, the Mazda6 can manage as low as 3.9 litres per 100 kilometres, with a potential carbon-dioxide emissions figure of 104g/km.

All three power units will be offered with six-speed manual or six-speed automatic transmissions and the i-stop idling stop system.

Mazda New Zealand will offer a range of nine versions of the Mazda6 in three trim levels when it arrives in February.

The only 2.0-litre car will be a GLX wagon, while both the wagon and sedan will have GLX, GSX and Limited trim levels in 2.2-litre turbodiesel form, while the 2.5-litre petrol unit will have GSX versions in both body styles.

The new range will inevitably start at a higher price than before, what with the new levels of quality and equipment and engine choices, but Mazda says it won't be considerably more.

Benchmarked in its own segment, the Mazda is a game- changer, with an uncannily effective combination of performance, quality, space and environmental friendliness.

However, with new levels of refinement and handling excellence, the Mazda6 is quite capable of being compared with German luxury cars in their lower echelons too, while the increasing number of Aussie six-cylinder migrants are sure to notice the new model as they shift priorities.

Mazda is known to be looking for a new partner. With the Mazda6 launch, the company has plenty of evidence to show it has the savvy and knowledge even on its own to produce a world-leading car in one of the industry's most savagely fought segments.

Who wouldn't like someone like that for a partner?

- Stuff

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