Andrew Chesterton road tests and reviews the 2016 Mazda 6 Atenza sedan and wagon at their Australian launch.

If you’re looking for a sure-fire sign of Mazda’s dominance in the Australian market, you’ll find it in the plush, leather-wrapped cabin of the Atenza version of its updated flagship, the Mazda6.

In short, the Japanese powerhouse is running out of Australians to sell new cars to, nearing market saturation with its traditional customer base. And so it’s shifting upmarket, pouring luxury and equipment into its top-spec models in an effort to poach sales from a source that would have been unthinkable even a handful of years ago: the Germans.

It’s the reason the 2017 refresh of its Mazda6 sedan and wagon so heartily ignores the cheaper models, focusing instead on the top-spec GT and Atenza trim levels, upping the luxury and refinement in an attempt to lure customers from premium marques.

Or, in the words of Mazda Australia’s Managing Director, Martin Benders: “The premiums are coming down to meet the non-premiums. So we should really come up to meet them half way.”

The Mazda6 has been kicking about in its current form since December 2012, and it underwent a more thorough update late last year, which included a redesigned exterior. So for this update, then, the changes are minimal. Neither the engine options nor the asking price has changed anywhere in the range, and when a new wing mirror design headlines the exterior updates, you know you’re not talking wholesale changes.

What you do get, though, is some very clever new safety technology, a smoother drive experience and, if you spring for the top-spec Atenza, a reimagined interior designed to target its more premium competition.

Engines and transmissions

Engine options are unchanged, with a 138kW and 250Nm 2.5-litre petrol available across all trim levels, and a 129kW, 420Nm 2.2-litre diesel available on everything other than the entry-level Sport. Both engines are paired with a six-speed torque converter automatic transmission.

In lieu of new powerplants, Mazda’s engineers have instead worked on engine refinement, with particular attention paid to reducing the knock and clatter of the diesel engine, which now includes Mazda’s Natural Sound Smoother. The mechanics are insanely complicated, but a flexible pin is inserted into the engine piston which absorbs some of its movement, meaning smoother acceleration with less vibration. There were no diesel engines on offer at launch, however, so we can’t speak to its effectiveness.

Likewise, though, every Mazda6 now gets the G-Vectoring Control system that debuted on the Mazda3 as standard, which is designed to, in short, make you feel like a smoother driver. But more on that in a moment.

The Mazda6 felt engaged and entertaining both in the city and on some out-of-town twisty back roads.

Practicality

Practicality arrives in two serving sizes: standard sedan or supersized wagon. The former offers 474-litres of seats-up boot space, while the latter provides 506 litres, or an impressive 1,648 litres with the 60/40 split seats folded flat – which you can do via an easy-reach lever in the boot.

The cupholder count remains at four – two in the front, and two more in the pull-down seat divider in the back – while every door pocket has room for bottles. Both the sedan and wagon offer two ISOFIX attachment points in back window seats. And at over 4.8 metres in both sedan and wagon form, there’s no shortage of leg-room for rear seat passengers.

Mazda continues to pay particular attention to the subtle ergonomics of the cabin, with every model offering a specifically designed accelerator pedal that’s supposed to be more comfortable on your foot over longer drives, while all but the Sport get power adjustable passenger and driver’s seats.

Design

The headline act on the exterior of the refreshed Mazda6 is its redesigned wing mirror (yes, you read that correctly), which are now auto-folding on the Touring trim level and above. The rest of the exterior remains largely unchanged, following a more considerable update last year.

But that’s no bad thing: the Mazda6 remains a sleek and handsome offering in both wagon and sedan form, and especially in top-spec GT or Atenza trim levels, which ride on 19-inch alloys, rather than the 17-inch wheels found on the Sport and GT. The top two trim levels also score a sunroof as standard. All but the Sport get LED daytime running lights and front fog lights, while chrome exhaust tips are standard across the range.

Bigger things have happened inside. The entire range gets Mazda’s updated steering wheel, but the best new stuff is reserved for the top-spec models. In the Atenza, for example, Nappa leather now arrives as standard as part of a premium pack that also includes titanium highlights, chrome on the seat controls and glovebox latch and overhead LED lights, while the Mazda’s head-up system is in full colour on both the GT and Atenza.

Safety

Mazda already offers one of the most comprehensive standard-across-the-range safety packages on most of its range, and its business as usual on the refreshed Mazda6. With AEB already standard, the 2017 update adds rear AEB to the lesser models along with a pedestrian recognition system so it will react if someone steps out in front or behind you. The range in which the system works has also been expanded on the Atenza trim level, with the brakes now able to automatically step in at speeds of up to 160km/h.

A reversing camera and an updated blind-spot monitoring system that now scans a 50-metre area are standard across the range, along with a new driver fatigue system that will warn you if it starts to feel your attention drifting. The top-spec Atenza model ups the technology further, arriving with Lane Departure Warning and Lane Keep Assist as standard.

Finally, you’ll get parking sensors at the rear and a cross-path detection system for when you’re reversing right across the range, while all but the Sport get parking sensors at the front, too.

Every Mazda6 gets six airbags, two in the front, two on the sides for front-seat passengers, and two curtain bags that cover both the front and rear seats.

Price and features

Prices are unchanged across the range, with the 2.5-litre petrol sedan range kicking off with the Sport, which still wears a $32,490 sticker price. That climbs to $37,290 for the Touring, to $42,690 for the GT, and stretches to $45,390 for the top-of-the-range Atenza.

Your 2.2-litre diesel options begin at the Touring trim level, at $40,140, before climbing to $45,540 for the GT and topping out at $48,240 for the Atenza. Opting for the wagon body shape will add $1,300 to all of the above prices.

The 2017 update sees digital radio added across the range, while the Sport gets rear parking sensors for the first time, while Touring adds auto-folding mirrors.

Beyond that, though, the key updates are saved for the GT and Atenza models, with both adopting Mazda’s Street Sign Recognition system, which reads the street signs, and displays that information on the head-up display. It’s anything but infallible – it misses some signs, and time-sensitive speed limits (like school zones) get displayed regardless of the time of day, but it’s effective as an extra safety net.

The GT and Atenza both now arrive with rear heated seats, while a memory function has been added to both the driver’s seat and the head-up display.

The seats in the German-hunting Atenza are also now wrapped in soft Nappa leather, which adds a definite sense of luxury to the interior.

Fuel consumption

Opt for the 2.5-litre petrol – which sips 91RON or E10 blended fuel – and you should see a claimed/combined 6.6L/100km, while choosing the 2.2-litre diesel will reduce that number to a claimed/combined 5.4L/100km.

Driving

While we were only able to sample the petrol-powered Atenza sedan on our brief drive route, we were mostly obsessed with exploring the G-Vectoring Control system. It works by minimising all those tiny wheel corrections you make as a driver, increasing or reducing engine torque by miniscule amounts to match your steering inputs. So if you’re turning a corner, those torque changes will shift the mass to the front wheels when it detects you’re entering a corner, and shift the mass to the rear when you exit, which provides more grip and stability.

It works in a straight line, too, with the system adjusting the engine torque to your steering inputs. Mazda says it’s designed to be subtle, and in that they’ve absolutely succeeded, as, if I’m honest, I couldn’t actually feel the system doing anything.

Equally important, it doesn’t detract from the drive experience. Despite the fact we were trudging across a damp and soggy Victoria, the Mazda6 felt engaged and entertaining both in the city and on some out-of-town twisty back roads.  The power delivery, while not Earth-shattering, is constant and smooth, and the six-speed automatic gearbox is quick to react. Likewise, the suspension, though tuned for comfort, holds its own in the more enthusiastic moments.

Ownership

The Mazda6 range is covered by a three-year, unlimited kilometre warranty, and require servicing every 10,000kms, but no longer than 12 months. Total servicing costs will set you back approximately $1,047 for the petrol engine, and $1,102 for the diesel, over the three-year warranty period.