Mazda 6

Update brings styling and dynamic tweaks

TOBY HAGON

FIRST AUSSIE DRIVE

CAR companies hate deviating from a plan.

But Mazda was forced to with its latest 6, the third generation of a mid-sizer holding its own Ė though 42 holding its own Ė though heading into strong fresh-model headwind Ė in a market segment decimated by the rise of the SUV.

The current 6 has only just blown the candles out for its second birthday and already itís been blessed with a significant update thatís been fast-forwarded.

Mazda describes the 6 as its flagship model, and the hero canít miss out on the latest trinkets.

Key is the introduction of an electronic park brake, head-up display on some models and the latest app-ready MZD Connect infotainment system. Active LED headlights on the top-line Atenza Ė thereís also petrol-only Sport and petrol/diesel Touring and GT grades Ė are a first for a mainstream brand.

The external changes arenít major; a silver highlight line flowing between the tweaked headlights and grille, and new lights at the rear. Inside, the changes are bigger. The recessed touchscreen has been positioned high on a redesigned and more cohesive dash, while the door pockets are bigger to take bottles.

On the wagon, a luggage cover attached to the tailgate and quickrelease buttons for the 60-40 splitfold seatback are definite wins.

Engines are unchanged Ė a 138kW/250Nm 2.5-litre petrol four and 129kW/420Nm 2.2-litre twin-turbo diesel Ė but the petrol picks up a Sport button that drops the six-speed auto down a ratio or two and sharpens throttle response, making it better for twisting, undulating roads.

The 2.5 gets vocal beyond 4500rpm but taps into its healthy peak as it approaches 6000rpm.

At least thereís some rortiness to its bark. Acceleration, too, is above the four-cylinder norm.

But the diesel is the more relaxed donk. Thereís a hearty 420Nm surging away by 2000rpm, and even below that itís muscular.

Smooth and frugal (18 percent better than petrol), too. That the diesel only accounts for 20 percent of 6 sales is indicative of its hefty $3200 premium (and the fact itís not available on the base Sport).

Suspension settings have been tweaked, but the 6ís ability hasnít changed markedly. The 19-inch tyres grip admirably through sweeping bends, though road noise, while reduced thanks to additional insulation, remains on coarse bitumen. On smaller 17s, the ride is more compliant and the 6 delivers an excellent blend of athleticism and comfort.

It all adds up to one of the more convincing mid-sizers now being even better, unplanned as it was.

Model Engine Max power Max torque Transmission Kerb weight 0-100km/h Economy Price On sale Mazda 6 Atenza sedan 2488cc 4cyl, dohc, 16v 138kW @ 5700rpm 250Nm @ 3250rpm 6-speed automatic 1501kg 8.2sec (estimated) 6.6L/100km $46,420 Now

PLUS & MINUS

Tyre noise; $3200 premium for the diesel; no manual transmission Interior; rorty petrol; smooth, grunty diesel; economy; ride/handling

More sense

MAZDA has expanded the talents of its i-ActiveSense active safety systems to now include active high beams (with the ability to block out a car but still illuminate around it), blind-spot warning and lane-keeping assist with mild self-steering. The partial autonomous braking (between 4km/h and 30km/h) now works when reversing at 2-8km/h, potentially preventing carpark dings and impacts with children.

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