First drive review: Mazda6

Last updated 11:21 05/12/2012

MORE MATURE: The new Mazda6.

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The new Mazda6 sedan feels noticeably more mature than the model it replaces.

Soft plastics on the dash and doors, a standard sat-nav media screen that doubles as a reversing camera display, supple leather on the pricier variants and neat finishes make for an above-average first impression. 

Push the start button (there are no models with a traditional keyhole) and the 2.5-litre four-cylinder petrol engine springs to life, offering up a nice note as the revs rise. 

The engine has plenty of push, and also works well as a comfortable cruiser. The standard six-speed automatic excels, holding gears when needed and opting for a higher cog when the pressure is off.

The engine's stop-start system works pretty seamlessly, and fires up quickly when needed. The wheels can spin from a standing start, though. 

The old Mazda6 was at the top of the pack for its road manners, and the new model is similarly pleasing to drive.

Its new electric steering system isn't as quick to react as the previous one, but it still offers generally good response and a nice amount of feel.

The ride on the top-of-the-range Atenza's big 19-inch wheels and low-profile tyres is a bit fidgety over small bumps, but it never jars over bigger ones.

Previous Mazda6 models have been let down by their noise insulation, but thankfully the new 6 is a lot quieter on the road.

The top-spec Atenza petrol is fitted with safety gadgets aplenty, including blind-spot and forward collision warning systems, both of which seemed to work effectively.

The legroom in the back of the sedan is excellent - some cars a class bigger offer less space to move - but the standard sunroof eats into rear-seat headroom notably, making anyone who stands close to six-feet tall feel slightly claustrophobic.

The coupe-like silhouette of the sedan also means you need to be careful not to bump your head on the way into the back seat.

The sedan's boot-space is shallow compared to some bigger-bottomed rivals, but it is long and still offers 489 litres of cargo capacity.

It also gets 60/40 split rear seats which can be tumbled via levers in the boot.

Up front, a clever media system control knob near the handbrake is simple but effective, but buyers who like to watch their speed in digital layout will only find it displayed on this central readout when the sat-nav is operating.

The storage isn't immense, with bottle-size front and rear door pockets and a half-size centre console, but there are also big bottle holders in the centre. 

I also spent some time in the diesel wagon in the top-of-the-pops Atenza trim.

The diesel engine is the same one seen in the CX-5, though in the 6 model it only sends its power to the front wheels.

It does so commendably, with the power getting to the ground without any fuss.

There is a touch of turbo lag, though, which probably helps in regard to the latter.

Otherwise, the diesel is a fantastic engine. It's quiet, refined, frugal and works excellently with the standard six-speed automatic.

Most buyers would think a station wagon would have more space than a sedan - but not in the 6's case.

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The wheelbase (space between the front and rear wheels) of the wagon is eight centimetres shorter, which is clearly noticeable when you slide into the back seat.

Knee-room and toe-room are tighter as a result, and the sunroof again cuts into head-room. Kiddies in the back mightn't like how high the window-line is, either, but they'll be pleased to know that rear air vents are standard on all models (sedan and wagon). 

The sexy sloping roof means the boot is not huge for a wagon of this size (522L), but it can expand to 1664L with the rears folded.

The top-spec wagon, also on 19-inch wheels with thin rubber, felt slightly firmer on the road than the sedan, but coped exceedingly well through corners with just a hint of body-roll on sharper bends.

Our final car of the day was the second-tier-up Touring wagon, priced at $38,800 - and it was easily the best of the lot.

It's fitted with 17-inch wheels which help settle the ride to a level that is still verging on the firm side, but far more comfortable.

The smaller diameter wheels are still just as wide as the 19s, so there's still plenty of grip available through the bends.

Another plus of this model was the lack of a sunroof, which frees up head room in the front and the rear and generally gives the cabin a more spacious feel.

It still offers a classy ambience, and you don't need to pay more for sat-nav, climate control or a reversing camera (all of those are standard across the line-up).

The new Mazda6, then, is a compelling proposition - and best of all, the cheaper versions appear to offer a more convincing buy than the dearer ones.


- Sydney Morning Herald


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