The Japanese car maker has set the sights of its flagship passenger car range at entry level BMW 3 Series, Audi's A4 and Mercedes-Benz C-Class models. The result is outstanding and will give the Germans - as well as other Euro, Lexus and Infinity brands - cause for concern.
Gear includes front fog lamps, LED tail lights, push-button start, dual zone climate air-conditioning with rear vents, Bluetooth, power mirrors and windows, cruise control, automatic headlights and wipers, leather gear shift knob, handbrake handle, steering wheel and seats.
There's also paddle shifts, automatic dimming rear view mirror, satellite navigation, powered front seats with driver's memory function, tilt and telescopic adjustable steering wheel, trip computer, radio, Bose sound, CD player, auxiliary and USB ports and steering wheel-mounted audio controls.
All this for $20,000 less than its European rivals. It's $44,344 drive away. The Germans are $64K and more. Mazda6 sales were up 13.2 per cent last year to 6558, despite being the old model, second behind the fleet-led Toyota Camry (27,230) and ahead of Honda Accord Euro and Ford Mondeo in a market of 68,847 in the under $60,000 sector.
But the Mercedes-Benz C-Class was top dog in the $60,000-plus sector with 6676 sales, ahead of the Mazda. Mazda expects the new 6 to do much better this year, even though the popular hatch is no longer.
It's full of goodies and the ambience on the whole is upmarket. It looks great and it could easily pass as a premium Euro brand. But snobs will still want the badge and shell out $20,000 or more for the prestige.
Inside and out, on the road and in the showroom, the Mazda6 can hold its own with pride. There's a nice mixture of Audi and Jaguar in the styling of the svelte sedan. The diesel engine is a gem, the road-holding, handling and ride are up to Mazda's usual sporty standard, the fit and finish is top class and a highly sophisticated dashboard oozes quality.
The new 6 is a great-looking car with only the grille perhaps too dominant. It certainly looks and feels bigger than the second generation model. Soft plastics on the dash and doors, a standard sat-nav media screen that doubles as a reversing camera display, nice leather and neat finishes make for an above-average first impression inside.
The sedan's boot space is shallow compared to some rivals. It also gets 60/40 split rear seats which can be folded via levers in the boot. Up front a clever media system control knob near the handbrake is simple but effective. But speed will only appear in digital layout on the central read-out when the sat-nav is operating.
The test car was the second level Touring sedan with the 2.2-litre turbodiesel engine and six-speed automatic transmission. The diesel is a fantastic engine. It's quiet, refined, frugal and works excellently with the standard six-speed automatic. I achieved an average of 7.6L/100km/ Mazda says it should be 5.4L.
On the safety front are five airbags, Anti-lock Braking System (ABS), child restraint anchor points and rear door locks, Dynamic Stability Control (DSC), Electronic Brake-force Distribution (EBD), Emergency Brake Assist (EBA), engine immobiliser, parking sensors (front and rear), remote central locking and a reversing camera.
Press the start button and the 2.2-litre turbocharged four-cylinder diesel engine springs to life. It's only apparent as a diesel from the outside and gets smoother and more refined as it warms up. The engine is lively and cruises comfortably. Give the 6 a bit of a prod and the needle whizzes around the rev counter to the near 6000rpm redline in a very uncharacteristic diesel way. A little turbo lag mars the start.
The standard six-speed automatic excels, holding gears when needed and moving into a higher cog when required. The engine's stop-start system works seamlessly and fires up quickly from stop. The front wheels can be easily spun too.
The old Mazda6 was at the top of the pack for its road manners and the new model is similarly great to drive. Its new electric steering system isn't as quick as the previous one, but it still offers generally good response.
There's a bit of fidgeting over small bumps, but it never jars over bigger ones. Handling, grip, ride and brakes are superb. The 6 was a joy to drive up the Gillies Range just outside Cairns and was a lot of fun over the tight and undulating 10km of road between Walkamin and Oaky Creek on the Tablelands.
The new 6 is still too rowdy on coarse bitumen, otherwise marring a mostly refined vehicle. The legroom in the back of the sedan is excellent but taller passengers will notice the sloping roof-line.
The Mazda6 is a class act and deserves to be shopped against the diesel variants of Germany's mid-sizers as well as other Europeans. Inside and out it oozes quality and drives and performs like a good sports sedan should.
The other factor against the Mazda6 is its higher levels of road noise and tyre roar, particularly on our frequent coarse bitumen roads. But overall this is a great car and is an early contender for Car of the Year.
Mazda6 Touring sedan
Price: $44,344 driveaway
Engine: 2.2-litre four-cylinder turbodiesel, 129kW/420Nm
Transmission: Six-speed automatic, front-wheel drive
Thirst: 5.4 litres/100km, diesel (7.6 on test), CO2 153g/km
Warranty: Three years/unlimited km