by Huw Thomas, vice chairman, Welsh Motoring Writers
MAzDA manages to compete, and be competitive, in the global mainstream without the advantage of massive corporate scale. Toyota and Volkswagen vie for the top spot with 9-10 million car and SUV sales a year. Mazda sold 1.5+m last year predicting growth to 1.6+m this year.
So, if you don’t have the scale you have to be smart. The Mazda6, for example, seems entirely conventional – front-wheel drive; saloon or estate bodywork. But, like the whole range, it is the result of a total re-think on how a vehicle is built from R&D to procurement, logistics, production process and engineering of the vehicle itself.
It’s been branded “SKYACTIV”. Engines are SKYACTIV-G (gasoline/petrol) or SKYACTIVE-D (Diesel). And, here in the Autumn (initially in the new Mazda3), there is SKYACTIV-X. Truly ground- breaking, it runs on petrol but combines both a spark ignition (petrol) and compression ignition (Diesel) combustion process.
Current Mazda6, which came to market towards the end of 2012, was around 100kg lighter than its predecessor. Combined with powertrain efficiencies there have been tangible improvements to both economy and emissions. Mazda has resisted the trend to engine ‘downsizing’ (off-set by more intensive turbo or super-charging) for a “right size” approach – the car on test was a 2.2-litre, 4-cylinder, 150ps turbo Diesel.
Larger capacity 4-cyl Diesels produce heftier torque, pulling more strongly through the gears. Turbocharging as a result need not be so aggressive. The SKYACTIV engine programme also involved raising the compression ratios of petrol units while lowering those of Diesels. The latter have become
quieter and smoother. Such a ‘virtuous circle’ is particularly noticeable with a manual gearbox.
Revised regularly since 2012 latest Mazda6 face- lift and up-grade came last year. Refinement has improved aided by “vectoring control” which, sensing throttle, gearing and steering parameters, subtly smoothes out the inputs to maintain the car’s poise. It’s claimed to enhance overall comfort and counter fatigue.
Generally, the ride vs road-holding balance is nicely judged, steering direct and quite communicative. Despite a ‘comfort bias’, dynamic aspects overall are commendably resolved. Might not be as sharp as Ford’s Mondeo or Vauxhall Insignia but compares well with VW’s Passat or Skoda Superb.
It could also stack up against Volvo’s V60 or Audi A4. In front-drive guise however – all above offer AWD as an option (Mazda does offer AWD elsewhere in Europe on the Diesel models).
Apart from specification improvements across the board (safety ‘electronics’, ‘tech’ items and more equipment) a new 194ps 2.5 petrol engine joined the 145/165ps 2.0 units. Top 2.2D moreover is now 184ps (up from 175), otherwise 150ps as before.
Although Superb and Insignia are roomier with greater load volumes, Mazda has in the Tourer produced nonetheless a spacious, substantial and comfortable upper mid-size estate which, in 2.2D 150ps form, combines both strong performance and a realistic 50mpg. A quality motor car with more than a touch of ‘premium’ about it.
Facts & Figures: Range £24,595-£32,895 all have SatNav; On test 150ps Sport Nav+ £29,895*; 130mph; 0-62mph 10.1secs; 62.8mpg (official) 48 on test (brim to brim), 48-50 TripComputer avge; CO2 119g/km; Road Tax G-£140 (*1st Yr £170 included); Ins Grp 26E; Max Braked Trailer 1,600kg.