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Tim Robson road tests and reviews the 2016 Mazda6 Atenza sedan with specs, fuel consuption and verdict.
Has the Mazda6 really been around since 2002? The launch of the mid-size car marked a genuine turning point in Mazda's timeline, erasing a history of dowdy, dreary and poor-performing 626s in one brightly handling, good looking swoop.
The world has changed in the last 14 years, though, and fortunately Mazda spotted the sales trend towards SUVs nice and early. Its relatively small size also allowed it to make the most of its platform infrastructure to launch a procession of hit SUVs that have taken the local market by storm.
The '6 has suffered as a result, with its sales slipping about ten per cent a year for the last few years, while the SUV that's built on top of the same platform, the CX-5, sells five times its volume in a year.
Mazda has a plan, though; it's noticed that premium brands like Audi and Mercedes-Benz have started to creep down into the Mazda6's price bracket, so it's fighting fire with fire and going after the same subset of sedan buyers.
Having only updated the car in 2015, Mazda hasn't gone all out on tweaking the four-door Mazda6 on the style front for 2016. In fact, it's safe to say it's left a good thing alone, with a change to the Mazda6 Atenza's exterior mirrors the only physical change for this year.
The '6's style has really settled over the last few years, with Mazda's distinctive Kodo design evident in the large, gaping grille and pronounced guards.
Simple, bright, uncluttered and stylish best sums up the Mazda6 Atenza's newly updated interior presentation.
The Mazda6 has always erred on the side of subtle style over flash, leaving that role to its more overtly shaped SUV siblings.
Simple, bright, uncluttered and stylish best sums up the Mazda6 Atenza's newly updated interior presentation. There are plenty of soft-touch surfaces, elegant shapes and understated quality touches throughout, like the leather dash pad, the machined metal multimedia dials and the classic three-dial instrument binnacle.
The small screen in the right side of the instrument binnacle is now full colour, but the large multimedia touchscreen hasn't gained an Apple CarPlay or Android Auto update, thanks to its use of apps like Stitcher, Pandora and Aha.
A high-sided centre divide between passenger and driver creates a cockpit-like effect, as well as providing a large bin with its own roller shutter. Two cup holders reside in the bin, while two more are located in the rear armrest. Each door, meanwhile, can hold a one-litre bottle.
Back-seat passengers in the Atenza are especially spoiled, thanks to loads of leg and toe room and a surprising amount of headroom.
The front seats are low-slung and sufficiently comfortable, and the Atenza has added a memory function that allows different drivers to quickly call up their preferred seat settings as well as binnacle screen info and even the dash brightness.
Back-seat passengers in the Atenza are especially spoiled, thanks to loads of leg and toe room and a surprising amount of headroom, as well as heated outboard seats and air vents, but alas, they miss out on USB ports. There's a pair of ISOFIX baby mounts for the outboard seats, as well.
There is 474 litres of space in the boot, which is quite narrow thanks to the car's boxed-in wheel arches and its swan-neck hinges. The 60/40 split/fold rear seats can be released via switches in the boot, which is handy.
It has to be said, though, that the almost white Nappa leather of our test example is possibly the least practical colour choice for a car interior ever conceived. If you've got kids – or even if your neighbours have kids – run a mile from this option... black leather is also available.
The 2.5-litre petrol-powered Atenza is second from the top of Mazda's range (below the diesel version of the same car), and costs $45,390 before on-roads. Just one transmission choice is available; a regular torque-converting six-speed auto that can be used with steering wheel-mounted paddles in manual mode.
It also comes with 19-inch alloy wheels, a sunroof, heated front seats, active driving display, adaptive front-lighting system and adaptive LED headlamps, keyless entry, rear heated seats and Nappa leather interior in white or black.
Mazda has espoused the notion of natural aspiration for its four-cylinder engines for the best part of the last decade, looking to elements like thermal control, very high compression ratios and clever valve timing to reduce both emissions and fuel consumption.
The Euro V-spec 2.5-litre non-turbo four-cylinder engine in the Mazda6 is no different. Its 138kW and 250Nm outputs are sufficient for a car of the Mazda6's relatively lean (1531kg) stature – but one can't help wonder what the new 2.5-litre turbocharged donk from the new Mazda CX-9 would feel like under the bonnet.
My first drive in a Mazda6 was literally jaw-dropping.
It's also fitted with a regenerative brake system (i-Eloop) that feeds converted braking energy back into the car's ancillary system, helping to power things like the air-conditioning system.
The gearbox is a straightforward six-speed torque converter automatic; there's no CVT, manual or dual-clutch in sight.
Mazda rates the 2.5-litre petrol Atenza at 6.6L/100km on the combined fuel economy cycle, and we achieved a dash-indicated best of 6.9L/100km over a shortened 180km test.
My first drive in a Mazda6 was literally jaw-dropping; having spent a lot of time in the previous generation 626, it was like jumping from a covered wagon to a Lotus Elise. Light, nimble and imbued with real personality, the first Mazda6 changed the complexion of the company for the better.
I get a bit of a feeling, though, that time has perhaps wearied that initial blush.
With extra sealing and sound deadening fitted for 2016, it's certainly quiet, and it's definitely composed at a steady cruise.
The new Mazda6 inherits the company's much vaunted torque vectoring system (G-Vectoring Control) that acts almost invisibly on the front end to minimize weight shifts across the front axle and to calm the steering. It's more noticeable in the Mazda3, and verging on invisible in the Mazda6.
That's not to suggest the '6 is not a relaxed, well-behaved car to drive; far from it. With extra sealing and sound deadening fitted for 2016, it's certainly quiet, and it's definitely composed at a steady cruise.
We wonder, though, if the combination of the larger 19-inch rims and the extra work needed to make the naturally aspirated motor match the handling has blunted the edge of the Mazda6 dynamically.
Even a little more low- to mid-range torque would give the Mazda6 an even more sophisticated veneer, especially from takeoff and around town at lower speeds.
A maximum of five ANCAP stars has been awarded to the Mazda6, which in top-spec Atenza guise offers the full suite of reversing camera, blind spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alert, automatic emergency braking, radar cruise control, forward obstruction warning, lane departure warning, lane-keep assist system and smart brake support.
The Atenza has a three-year, unlimited kilometre warranty as standard, and requires servicing every 10,000km or 12 months.
Servicing will set you back around $1,047 over the three-year period.
Mazda has the job ahead of it to convince a premium badge hunter to cast an eye over in its direction – but that's not the fault of the Mazda6, which is rammed full of drivetrain and safety spec not always attainable in premium marques for sometimes twice the price.
Sedan sales, too, will continue to slip, as more and more companies – Mazda included – continue to flood the market with more and more SUV derivatives to tap into the seemingly endless demand for high-riders – and the Mazda6 will, unfortunately, slip with it.
|Atenza||2.2L, Diesel, 6 SP AUTO||$19,000 – 26,510||2016 Mazda 6 2016 Atenza Pricing and Specs|
|GT||2.5L, ULP, 6 SP AUTO||$17,900 – 24,860||2016 Mazda 6 2016 GT Pricing and Specs|
|GT Safety||2.2L, Diesel, 6 SP AUTO||$18,600 – 25,850||2016 Mazda 6 2016 GT Safety Pricing and Specs|
|Sport||2.5L, ULP, 6 SP AUTO||$13,400 – 19,360||2016 Mazda 6 2016 Sport Pricing and Specs|