Medium well done

The Courier-Mail - Motoring - - First Drive - CRAIG DUFF

ROLLING up­dates rather than rev­o­lu­tion­ary changes seem to be the hall­mark of Mazda’s model plans. So far, it’s work­ing.

The Mazda6 mid-sized sedan and wagon launched here in 2012 and was com­pre­hen­sively re­freshed in 2015 but it has just come in for its sec­ond up­date of 2016.

While the changes ap­pear rel­a­tively mi­nor, they im­prove the 6’s safety and com­fort with­out adding to the price.

It is a value-add de­signed to keep the Mazda6 as the most suc­cess­ful im­ported mid-sized sedan.

The range starts at $32,490 for the Sport sedan equipped with the 2.5-litre four-cylin­der en­gine and six-speed au­to­matic trans­mis­sion and winds out at $49,540 for the Atenza wagon with a 2.2-litre tur­bod­iesel. The changes should be enough to keep sales tick­ing at about 380 ve­hi­cles a month, mar­ket­ing boss Alas­tair Doak says.

Those numbers will keep the Mazda6 ahead of the Subaru Out­back and Ford Mon­deo in sec­ond place out­right in the seg­ment, though a mile be­hind the lo­cally built Toy­ota Camry.

Mazda ex­pects the mid-sized seg­ment to con­tinue to shrink as buy­ers turn to smaller cars and SUVs.

Mazda Aus­tralia boss Martin Ben­ders says the end of lo­cal Camry pro­duc­tion next year should shake-up the mar­ket, given “I don’t think they (Toy­ota) will be able to price the im­port quite as sharply as they have the lo­cal car”.

At the other end of the price spec­trum the Mazda6 Atenza is be­ing pushed as a fully-laden main­stream al­ter­na­tive to the base pres­tige sedans — and now has the nappa leather up­hol­stery and in­te­rior bling to show off with the pre­mium set.

All up­dated 6s have thicker front glass and im­proved seals around the doors to cut road noise, which has tra­di­tion­ally been a Mazda bug­bear.

ON THE ROAD

The head­line act of the new range is a torque-vec­tor­ing pro­gram that ad­justs the en­gine out­put to op­ti­mise the weight load on each wheel, de­pend­ing on what the car is do­ing.

In essence, the en­gine will de­cel­er­ate when it de­tects a change in steer­ing an­gle, which has the ef­fect of load­ing weight onto the front axle to im­prove turn-in grip. If a con­stant lock is main­tained, the torque is re­in­stated, trans­fer­ring weight back to the rear wheels to op­ti­mise tyre con­tact. It’s not some­thing you can de­tect in nor­mal driv­ing.

The en­gines and trans­mis­sions carry over, though the 2.2-litre diesel has been tweaked to im­prove en­gine knock and rat­tle. It is a great diesel to drive, with vir­tu­ally no lag and it seems qui­eter than be­fore, though we can’t say how much of that comes down to the me­chan­i­cal re­vi­sions and how much to the im­proved cabin in­su­la­tion. Shame then, that only about 10 per cent of buy­ers will end up own­ing the turbo diesel.

The drive it­self is as good as it gets in this class. The 6 is light on its tyres, re­sponds quickly to steer­ing in­puts ei­ther via the wheel or the ped­als and has a de­cent set of brakes. Back seat head room isn’t great but will be fine for kids, or shorter trips for adults.

VER­DICT

If the driv­ing ex­pe­ri­ence mat­ters, the Mazda6 needs to be in the mix if you’re buy­ing a new sedan. And if you drive one af­ter test­ing an SUV, ex­pect a rev­e­la­tion.

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