Test Drives

Mazda 6 facelift Review 2018: Grilled to perfection



Less than two years after giving the Mazda 6 a minor facelift, its makers have given it a major one. Here’s what to expect

SINGAPORE — Behold the new Mazda 6. It’s proof that rules don’t apply at the plucky Hiroshima-based carmaker.

This generation of the 6 came out in 2013 and we got a facelifted version last year. And now Mazda has gone and given it a facelift again. Usually the done thing is to roll out a car, wait halfway into its lifespan to change its headlights, bumpers and maybe the grille, add a few features, and let it soldier on until a full-model change.

Two facelifts for one model? I guess if Trump can be President, anything’s possible.

The 6 is still available in six versions: 2.0-litre models in Standard and Executive trim, and 2.5-litre variants in Premium and Luxury spec with either sedan or wagon bodies.

So what’s happening with the 6? Read our test of the 2.5 Luxury sedan to find out…

It looks like a new model, not a facelift…
It sure does. A look at the front grille alone is enough to clue you in on some major changes: revised engine, rejigged chassis, new interior.

But just look at that grille itself; it’s vast, intricate and sporty in a retro sort of way, and if you took off the Mazda emblem you might look at the 6 and think of it as a better-looking Jaguar XE.

Viewed from the side, the car’s body looks taut and sinewy in a sensual sort of way, and it really catches the light gorgeously from some angles.

While the slim lamps and large grille add a purposeful stare to the Mazda 6, note the lengthening of the chrome strip that stretches all the way across the bottom of the headlights. Together with the new Soul Red Crystal paint option, it adds a sliver of class to the proceedings.

It’s a similar story at the back. There was already a wide strip of chrome there, but now it overlaps with the taillamps, and looks more organic that way. Very subtly, the bootlid’s been reshaped, as well.

Ultimately, the Mazda 6 looked athletic before, but it’s now elegant with it.

What’s this about a new engine?
The 2.5-litre in-line four, the version we tried, is the same unit that was slipped into the CX-5 earlier this year. It’s been rejigged for cleanliness, and its claim to fame is that within a certain speed range (40km/h to 80km/h), half of its cylinders shut off to save fuel.

Mazda says there’s a slight real world benefit, and anyway you’ll never know when the cylinders drop out because they do it imperceptibly.

Think of the technology as something akin to the half flush button on your toilet bowl: Not a big deal, but nice to have, isn’t it?

Guess so, but does it perform when you want to, er, go?
If you’re used to turbo power, frankly you’ll wish for more oomph from the 2.5, but it otherwise pulls quite eagerly from idle. Around 4,000rpm it gives a roar, flexes it muscles and hits a bit harder. The Mazda 6 2.5 isn’t a fast car, but it certainly isn’t a sluggish one, anyway.

The six-speed auto feels a bit different; this time the torque convertor lock-up seems to activate early. That can save fuel and give a more direct connection between the accelerator pedal and the car’s acceleration, but it adds just a smidgen of low-speed jerkiness.

In truth, if you go for 2.0-litre models you’re unlike to feel massively short-changed. That handling is the highlight, after all.

So it goes around corners nicely, then?
Indeed, and in a way that feels more polished than we remember. Mazda has tweaked the suspension and stiffened up the body in places, and for a fairly large car the 6 is entertainingly nimble. That isn’t because of hyperactive steering, a trick that some manufacturers use, but a built-in sense of agility.

If anything, the steering is light and gentle, as if to reflect the way the big Mazda feels so delicate on its toes.

What’s pleasantly surprising is how you can barrel into a corner at what you think is a pretty hot pace and the Mazda responds without drama; it just traces whatever line you want faithfully and doesn’t feel as if it’s munching hard on its tyres to keep you on the tarmac.

In terms of how it handles, it’s a definite cut above rivals.

But do you sacrifice refinement for agility?
Some, but not much. Compared to competitors there’s a definite firmness to the ride, especially in the back, but it just feels firm and not badly controlled.

The 6 is actually a car you can imagine doing long distances in without stress.

The front seats have been redesigned and feel firm in a supportive way, and they’re now ventilated and can wick sweat off your back on a hot day.

And if you’re not trying to overtake someone the engine can be hushed to the point of silence.

Has the cabin been facelifted, too?
If anything, it looks more changed than the exterior. Let’s see, where to start? The air-con vents are slimmer, the controls are neater and there are clear horizontal layers to the design, now.

One of these (the upper part of the dashboard) has stitched leather and below it there’s a layer of suede-like, microfibre material. The Luxury models have wood trim, but with or without it, it feels amazingly upmarket in the Mazda 6 now.

Apparently, only the steering wheel and some minor parts were carried over from the pre-facelift car, and it really shows — the cabin is where the Mazda 6 almost feels like a completely new car.

Does it beat a VW Passat?
Hmm, tough call. Maybe not “beat”, but it keeps pace with the Volkswagen. The Passat really occupies that space where “premium” and “mass-market” overlap (and might even have created that space), but the Mazda 6 belongs there now, too.

Independently, it’s still spacious in the back (more so for two adults than three, because the middle seat in the back is a bit of a high perch).

Anyway, it’s full of advanced features now that haven’t even become common in cars from the usual luxury badges yet.

Such as?
Useful stuff, really. Head-up display is now standard, for instance and the screen is very clear. Mazda also makes use of it for clever stuff like blind spot monitoring; the display actually tells you if another car is creeping into your blindspot.

The instruments have been redesigned, too, with a simpler but cleaner 7″ display in the middle of the speedo.

Except for the cheapest version (the 2.0 Standard), the Mazda 6 has a forward-alert system that uses a camera to look for vehicles ahead and pedestrians, so it can warn you of a possible crash or even brake for you to avoid or mitigate one.

It’s big on safety and driver assist systems, anyway, which is where luxury motoring is headed.

Any niggles?
Well, there’s a 360-degree monitor to help parking now, but the cameras are surprisingly low-res. And the rotary dial and touchscreen based interface system is starting to look and feel dated. The navigation system, meanwhile, can be maddening to use — what town is Orchard Road in? If you don’t know, you can’t key it in as a destination.

At 480 litres, the boot could be bigger (a Kia Cerato’s has 502 litres, in comparison). And though you can fold the rear seats down, you can’t do it from the cabin. Probably to keep thieves out of there, but still.

Those sound more like irritations than flaws.
They actually are. The thing is, when a car is this good, there’s little else to complain about and you’re left with gripes about the satnav.

Otherwise, stepping back and assessing the Mazda 6, it’s clear the facelift has really built on the car’s basic strengths — good looks, nice cabin, fine handling — while adding refinement and equipment.

Which model is the pick of the litter, then?
Looking at the six cars in the range reveals that it’s been well-thought out, too. The cheapest Mazda 6 is actually only S$4,000 more expensive than the most expensive Mazda 3, and who wouldn’t be tempted by the upgrade in space and comfort?

S$8,000 up from there, you have the 2.0-litre Executive, which hits something of a sweet spot in terms of equipment, with enough for the car to feel luxurious and cosseting.

As for the 2.5-litre models? One obvious target market is the customer who used to drive something compact and hot (say, a Volkswagen Golf GTI?) but who now needs something more grown-up yet able to offer genuine driving pleasure.

The Wagon models are probably the best Mazda 6s of all, pretty much as practical as Sport Utility Vehicles but much better to drive. Make that much, much better.

As a rule, of course, wagons don’t sell well in Singapore. But if this second facelift for the Mazda 6 shows anything, it’s that rules are overrated.

NEED TO KNOW Mazda 6 2.5 Luxury
Engine 2,488cc, 16V, inline 4
Power 194hp at 6,000rpm
Torque 258Nm at 4,000rpm
Gearbox 6-speed automatic
Top Speed 221km/h
0-100km/h 8.4 seconds
Fuel efficiency 7.1L/100km
VES/CO2 C1/ TBC g/km
Price S$138,800 with COE
Available Now

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Can’t remember what the Mazda 6 looked like last year? Check this out

 

 

 

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Leow Ju-Len
Leow Ju-Len is a lot older than he behaves. He's been writing about cars for 23 years. Someday he might do it coherently. Ju-Len believes in world peace and V8s, but not necessarily in that order.