SIX figures mean a lot on a sales chart. Mazda has fast-tracked its new Mazda6 to ensure the brand tallies more than 100,000 in a calendar year for the first time. In industry-speak, ``new'' can really mean ``revised'', giving rise to the risible tautology ``all-new'' to describe a genuinely new model. The third-generation Mazda6 is ``all-new'' in several important respects.
Being a global car for all markets, it is altogther bigger. It runs more powerful but leaner engines. It loses the popular hatch shape and manual transmission option. It's a big family sedan, or wagon, with small-car economy. It's also here when almost all Australian buyers are thinking once, thinking again, and going for an SUV.
Going auto-only pushes the starting price of the entry-level Mazda6 Sport to $33,460 with 2.5-litre petrol engine. Step up to the Touring edition and it's $37,500. The GT badge is a new one, starting from $43,220. The flagship Atenza (the 6's name in Japan) starts from $46,810.
The 2.2-litre turbo diesel line-up starts at $40,350 for the Touring model. The GT is $46,070 and the Atenza tops the list at $49,660. The wagon adds a reasonable $1300. The hero Soul Red paint, which uses two different base coats to change shade depending on the angle and light, is $200.
Standard fare includes 17-inch alloys on the Sport and Touring, 19s for the GT and Atenza. There are also adaptive bi-xenon headlights on the top two models, leather-wrapped steering wheel, dual-zone climate control with rear vents, TomTom satnav, cloth trim on the Sport and leather trim and powered front seat adjustment on the rest of the range.
Mazda claims improvements in phone noise suppression and voice recognition and a new function for Bluetooth-connected smartphones that can display and read out phone messages and email on the touchscreen.
You'll have heard or will hear a fair bit about ``Skyactiv'' tech. That encompasses engine and ancillary functions, including the 6 bringing the brand's new capacitor-based ``i-Eloop'' brake energy recovery system.
The system can be charged quickly and more often than the current battery set-up and works with the stop-start fuel saving system to minimise the use of the electrics. Meanwhile the ``i-stop'' fuel miser uses combustion energy to restart, rather than the conventional ignition.
The 6's Skyactiv-D 2.2-litre turbo diesel already serves in the CX-5 and the Skyactiv-G 2.5-litre petrol four comes online for the SUV in the new year.
Fitted with sophisticated direct-injection and running on high compression, the petrol engine can run on on basic unleaded, developing 138kW at 5700rpm and 250Nm at 3250rpm. These are big increases on the outgoing car yet the claimed 6.6L/100km and 153g/km of COinf2 are substantial reductions.
The more familiar diesel features a low 14:1 compression ratio and a twin-turbine turbocharger to produce 129kW and a fat 420Nm at 2000rpm. Juice use is 5.4L/100km.
The 6's snout is a more elegant version of that seen on the CX-5. Overall it simply strikes you as a bigger car _ the sedan's overall length up 13cm to 4.8m; the wagon's wheelbase is 25mm longer than the sedan's.
Yet cargo space suffers markedly. At 438L, the sedan is barely better than a small hatch's load space. The loss is more dramatic in the wagon, where's its fallen from 519 to 451L. With the seats folded, the capacity is 1593L (down from 1751L).
The new model is not going to blot the copybook of the outgoing five-star car. The safety suite includes radar cruise control and auto-braking. The top-spec Atenza also has lane departure and blind spot warning systems and auto-dipping high beam for the adaptive front headlights.
Some would say it has been a long time coming but the new Mazda6 has been worth the wait. While there's no hatch and no manual, neither will be missed to any great degree. The sedan was first model sampled, in 2.5-litre direct-injection petrol four-cylinder guise, which offers 138kW and 250Nm underway it feels greater than those numbers suggest.
First impressions back the company's claim of a stronger bodyshell, but not at great detriment to the kerb weight -- it feels strong and refined.
The new dashboard layout is easy to navigate and the instrumentation is informative - the high-set touchscreen is easy to read and most of the controls are self-explanatory.
Willing and smooth, the direct-injection four-cylinder even has a soundtrack that has character, with a clever six-speed auto making the most of the outputs when driving proactively, although it is quiet and smooth at cruising speeds.
The fuel use at the end of our short but spirited stint in the petrol model was within 8L/100km, within sight of the 6.6l/100km claim under ADR protocols. From behind the wheel, the first thought was the steering assistance is a little too light for some -- but it gets the nose into corners with enthusiasm that isn't standard in the segment.
The top-spec models sit on 19in wheels with 45-profile tyres, which means a little skittishness on rapid-fire small bumps but the suspension has a well-controlled balance between handling and ride. It's not rattle-guts hard and there's a little body roll, but once settled into a corner it is supple and dismisses road surface changes without disturbing the chosen line.
But it is the diesel powerplant that once again outshines its ULP-sipping sibling - the 2.2-litre turbodiesel delivers 129kW and 420Nm in emphatic fashion, with few clues to the fact that it is a diesel.
The fuel use will give it away - the claim is 5.4 litres per 100km and after some spirited country driving the trip computer was showing around 7 litres per 100km. The six-speed auto is well-suited to the high-torque task and seems to have had an additional dose of smarts since it first appeared in the SUV.
It hooks up quickly to give the driver instant no-fuss in-gear acceleration, in an even more spirited manner than it does in the CX-5. Full throttle acceleration is overkill, as the mid-range is more than meaty enough for overtaking and long hillclimbs, but it remains smooth and quiet.
The cabin is comfortable for those not above average height and quiet and while loadspace has shrunk a little (it is somewhat shallow) there's still enough room for most luggage requirements.
The arrival of the new 6 is set to make the medium segment an interesting battleground next year. With the Koreans beefing up their mid-sizers to take on the might of Camry, Ford's Mondeo getting the EcoBoost engine, there's no shortage of competition for the new Mazda mid-sizer - but the 6 has the arsenal to top of the segment as the best medium drive, if not in outright sales.
Price: from $33,460
Warranty: 3 years/unlimited km
Resale: 54% (outgoing model, Source: Glass's Guide)
Service interval: 10,000km/6 months
Safety rating: five stars (outgoing model)
Engine: 138kW/250Nm 2.5-litre 16-valve DOHC 4-cyl; 129kW/420Nm 2.2-litre 16-valve DOHC intercooled turbodiesel 4-cyl
Transmission: 6-speed auto; FWD
Body: 4.8m (L); 1.8m (w); 1.5m (h)
Thirst: 5.4-6.6 1/100km, tank 62 litres; 155-141g/km CO2