Subaru WRX VS Mazda 6
- Huge AWD fun
- Signature turbo engine
- Still decent safety
- CVT auto. Really?
- Feeling old inside
- Rough around town
- Beautiful looks
- Lengthy standard features
- New turbo engine
- Touring doesn't offer turbo option
- No Apple CarPlay/Android Auto
- Warranty looking a bit short
For many folks around my age, the Subaru WRX holds a special place in the heart.
This is because those of us born from the late ‘80s to early ‘90s are the so-called “PlayStation generation.” Growing up at a time where videogames bridged the gap from 2D to 3D leads to a lot of imprinted memories, a lot of digital firsts, which wowed and inspired, and a lot of rapid-fire nostalgia as hardware advancements left once-thriving game franchises in the dust.
It was also high time for the World Rally Championship's well-regarded Group A rally category, which forced manufacturers to make cars much closer to their production counterparts. It was frequently dominated by none other than the Subaru WRX.
Combine these two worlds and you end up with a lot of kids feeling like they could do anything in Subaru’s newfound performance hero from the comfort of their bedrooms, many of whom would go on to buy a second-hand one to slap P plates on as soon as they could.
Read more about the WRX
It was a perfect storm and made the WRX the right car at the right time to put a previously small-time brand well and truly on the performance map.
The question with this test is: Should those kids, now in their late 20s or 30s, still be considering Subaru’s halo car? Or, now that it’s the oldest product in Subaru’s catalogue, should they wait for the imminent reveal of the new one? Read on to find out.
|Engine Type||2.0L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Premium Unleaded Petrol|
The Mazda6 used to be just about everywhere. A classic go-to kind of car, it has been a constant presence in Mazda's stable of passenger cars. Mazda's well-timed shift to SUVs a decade ago could have seen the eventual decline and demise of the classic mid-size sedan, but here we are in 2018 and it's still going strong.
The new Mazda6 isn't a ground-up redesign, it isn't a revolution that brings with it electric powertrains or funky hybrid additions or some wacky weight-saving technology. Instead, this new 6 echoes the approach the Japanese company took with its big-selling CX-5; detail changes, and lots of them.
|Fuel Type||Regular Unleaded Petrol|
Although it's now the oldest car in Subaru’s catalogue, there’s nothing really quite like the WRX on the market. This is a car which is true to its roots, a rugged performance stalwart that comes with dollops of fun and compromise in equal measure.
Thanks to Subaru’s updates over the years, it’s fared better than some when it comes to technology and safety, but I’d still implore you to pick the manual to truly experience this car as nature intended.
The new 6 does exactly what's required, and that is to deliver a beautiful and refined car at a good price. The Mazda flagship is loaded with enough gear to give the Camry a run for its money, and it's hard to see why the 6 wouldn't be on your list.
Choosing a sweet spot of the range is tricky. The 2.5-litre Touring is well balanced when you consider value for money, but you can't help looking one step up to the turbo GT. That new engine really completes the transformation. So either hold out until Mazda relents and offers a turbo Touring, or live with the non-turbo 2.5.
I have always had a soft spot for the 6, but it required turning a blind eye to a range of deficiencies. Now they're pretty much gone, and I don't have to say, "But..." when asked about it. There must be thousands of changes in this new car and every single one of them has been an improvement.
What do you think? Can the 6 tempt you back out of an SUV or out of your current mid-size sedan?
I think Subaru was gunning for subtlety with the non-STi WRX. For a performance car, the design is a little sedate, with the WRX looking perhaps a little conservative to really stand apart from its Impreza sedan sibling, despite diverging from it some years ago.
There’s no mistaking the rally profile of the full-fat STi, with its huge wing and even bigger wheels, but here in the WRX premium it’s all a little toned down. Still, fans will love the absurd bonnet scoop, angry-looking alloys and quad exhaust. It’s stanced out a little by some flared bodywork, but the tiny lip spoiler at the back robs it of a bit of street cred. Perhaps it's to encourage you into the significantly more expensive STi…
Despite its relative age, though, the WRX still fits into Subaru’s lineup nicely. It has all the hallmarks; the small grille, the angled LED headlights, and the signature tall profile. The chunkiness is all there, too, both on the outside, with its flared bodywork and exaggerated scoop, and on the inside, with thick leather clad seat trim, and a chunky, satisfying steering wheel.
The abundance of red lighting in the dash cluster is reminiscent of the heyday of Japanese performance cars of years past, and while it’s not as plush on the inside as Subaru’s newer products, it’s not disappointing either, with nice use of soft trims.
The plethora of screens feels unnecessary, and the 7.0-inch multimedia unit is feeling very small now, compared to most more recent cars. At least the software has been updated since 2018 to have the more recent system used in the Impreza, Forester, and Outback. It’s simple and easy to use.
Compared to those Subarus, though, the WRX’s interior is feeling a little tired. It’s a bit small, and things like the CD drive and nastier plastic trims smattered around remind of days past for Subaru. It's a good thing the new WRX is coming soon.
Mazda's Kodo exterior design is hugely successful, so a top-and-tail is enough to bring the car up to date without ruining a look that has made it famously pretty.
All the front panels forward of the doors are new, with a new bumper, headlights and a 3D grille. New 19-inch alloys on the GT and Atenza also help. The new bumper features a different front spoiler, the fog lights have moved into the LED headlight assembly and the indicators are now eyebrow-style LEDs along the top edge of the lights. The chrome (okay, plastic) grille outline is slimmer and wider, making the car look wider, but also sportier. Much of what you see came from Mazda's Vision Concept car from the 2017 Tokyo Motor Show.
The rear has come in for similar treatment, with a new bootlid, bumper and bolder twin-exhaust treatment - the pipes have a bigger diameter and a more "sculpted" look.
Mazda tends to skip adding side skirts, a rear diffuser or rear wing, leaving the body kit work to the aftermarket brigade. The wagon does have a small rear spoiler over the rear window, though.
Interior photos photos show a new and lighter cabin, and you might be surprised to find that all that remains unchanged from the previous model are the steering wheel, some switches and the top of the gear selector. There wasn't a great deal wrong with the old one, but this new one seems even more coherent. The centre console is less cluttered, housing just the air-conditioning controls. Seat belt or airbag lights, for instance, are now in an overhead console which also features a sunglass holder.
Compared to the more forward-thinking designs in Subaru Global Platfrom vehicles, the WRX is feeling a little claustrophobic on the inside. Still, you could do much worse in a performance car.
Front passengers get nicely trimmed bucket-style seats with good side bolstering. Like a lot of Subarus, the seating position isn’t exactly sporty. You sit quite high, and for someone my 182cm height, it feels as though you’re peering down over the bonnet a little. Aside from that, height adjustability is pretty good from the electric seat, and there is a small bottle holder in the door, plus dual cupholders in the centre, a small centre-console box, and a small tray under the climate unit.
Overall, the dark trims in here conspire to make the WRX’s cabin feel a bit tight. This continues for rear passengers. The WRX really is a small sedan and room isn’t great for me behind my own driving position, with my knees touching the front seat. I have to duck a little to get under the sedan’s roofline to get in, and while the decent trim continues, the seat feels a little high and flat.
Rear passengers get pockets on the backs of the front seats, a drop-down armrest with two cupholders, and a decent bottle holder in the doors. There are no adjustable rear air vents or power outlets, however.
Being a sedan, the WRX has a rather deep boot, coming in at 450-litres (VDA). This rivals some mid-size SUVs, but it’s worth noting the space isn’t quite as usable, with a small loading aperture, and it’s a little tight when it comes to the available height. Still, it consumed our largest 124-litre CarsGuide suitcase with ample space to spare.
The interior dimensions of the 6 are unchanged, but it has always been a roomy sort of place. Rear legroom is expansive but if you're 185cm, your head might brush the (new) headlining.
Boot space for the sedan starts at 474 litres (VDA) and the wagon offers 506 litres. For more luggage capacity or cargo of a larger size, the space can expand to 1648 litres, which isn't bad given the wagon's smaller dimensions. A tonneau cover is standard in the wagon.
Storage is handy rather than extraordinary. Front seat passengers score a pair of cupholders with a neat cover for when they're not in use. The centre console is on the smaller side, but a decent phone cubby under the climate controls makes up for that. The fold-down rear centre armrest features a pair of cupholders, a slot to hold a phone or small tablet upright and a small lidded tray with a pair of USB ports.
Towing capacity for the 2.5-litre is 550kg unbraked/1550kg braked, and the turbo petrol and turbo diesel manage 750kg braked/1600 kg braked.
The turning radius differs between the sedan and wagon. The longer sedan (yes, really) has a turning circle of 11.2 metres, with the wagon completing the same trip in 11 metres. With ground clearance of 125mm, the 6 is not an off-road proposition.
Price and features
The WRX Premium auto tested for this review is a sort of mid-spec variant. Wearing an MSRP of $50,590, it sits above the standard WRX auto ($43,990), but below the more hard-core WRX STi ($52,940 – manual only).
When you look for rivals, it’s a harsh reminder of the distinct lack of small performance sedans in today’s market. You might consider Subaru’s hero against the front-drive Golf GTi (Auto -$47,190), Skoda Octavia RS (Sedan auto - $51,490), and Hyundai i30 N Performance (manual only - $42,910). There’s a more direct rival coming soon in the form of the i30 N Performance sedan, which will also be available with an eight-speed dual-clutch auto, so look out for that in the near future, too.
While it's now the oldest Subaru on sale by quite a margin, the WRX has been augmented in recent times to offer more up-to-date features.
Standard are mean-looking 18-inch alloys clad in skinny Dunlop Sport rubber, full LED lighting, Subaru’s typical assault of screens, including a smallish looking 7.0-inch multimedia touchscreen (mercifully with updated software since I last drove this car), a 3.5-inch multifunction display in the instrument cluster, and a 5.9-inch dash-top-mounted display screen, digital radio, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity, a CD player (how quaint), leather-accented interior trim, eight-way adjustable power seat for the driver, heated seats for front passengers, dual-zone climate control, and privacy tint for the rear windows.
The continuously variable automatic makes up the majority of WRX sales, so I’m told, which is particularly disappointing to hear. Especially given it’s a $3200 jump over the manual, and tarnishes the drive experience. More on this in the Driving section.
The WRX also comes with a safety suite that is impressive for a car of its vintage, which we’ll look at in the Safety section. Getting on it may be, but the WRX is surprising in how well it holds its own on the value front.
With four trim levels and three engine options, there are fourteen different versions of the 6. Our range review features a full model comparison and price list so you know how much you'll pay and what you'll get. Prices are RRP and therefore a starting guide - your final drive-away price will be down to you and your dealer.
The range starts with the Sport in sedan and wagon forms, with just one engine choice, a 2.5-litre 140kW/252Nm naturally aspirated petrol. Mazda claims the refreshed 6 Sport has $3000 of added value for no price increase. The Sport is priced at $32,940 for the sedan and $33,790 for the wagon.
Standard features include 17-inch alloys, head-up display, LED headlights, power mirrors, a power window in each door, auto headlights, rain-sensing wipers, six speakers, dual-zone climate control air-conditioning, leather steering wheel and gear shifter, sat nav, push-button start, remote central locking, active cruise control, rear parking sensors, GPS sat nav, DAB radio, trip computer, a safety package including lane assist and a space-saver spare tyre. The wagon version adds roof rails, an intermittent rear wiper, cargo cover and cargo net as standard.
Added to the Sport edition specs are leather seats, power heated and folding mirrors, electric front seats, 11 Bose-branded speakers (including subwoofer) for the infotainment system, leather steering wheel and gear shifter, smart key (keyless go and keyless entry), front and rear parking sensors and LED daytime running lights.
Next up, The GT drops the naturally-aspirated petrol and replaces it with the 2.5-litre turbo with 170kW and 420Nm. The diesel stays and prices start at $43,990 and end at $46,390.
Added to the GT are 19-inch alloys, black or white leather seats, heated front and rear seats and an adaptive front lighting system.
The top of the range Atenza features adaptive front LED headlights, white or walnut Nappa leather seats with suede inserts and wood trim. Available from $46,390 up to $50,090, the diesel versions are slightly more expensive than before.
Compared to the 2017 model year 6, Mazda says the 2018 model features extra value of between $1000 for a slight rise (Atenza) or drop (GT). The Sport and Touring pick up $3000 worth of gear, with prices either unchanged (Sport) or dropped (Touring).
There are eight colours, with Titanium Flash (grey), Deep Crystal Blue, Blue Reflex, Snowflake White, Sonic Silver and Jet Black all free, as well as Mazda's stunningly pretty Soul Red and the understated Machine Grey, both for a small extra cost. Sadly for fans of more out-there colours like yellow, purple or green, they're all off the menu.
Mazda's MZD Connect multimedia system is accessible through the dash-mounted touchscreen and a console-mounted rotary dial. None of the range feature Apple CarPlay or Android Auto (yet, but stay tuned, the Yanks have it already), but you can plug in your iPhone or Android device via USB or hook them, or another MP3 type player, up with Bluetooth .
The multimedia system is reasonably easy to use, the navigation system is a bit blocky but otherwise accurate, and the car's various gadgets are simple enough, so a trip through the owner's manual should be rare.
Various accessories such as a roof rack, towbar, cargo barrier and boot liner are available from a dealer. Your dealer will most likely offer you tinted windows and despite not appearing on the spec sheet, it seems floor mats are standard. As is right and proper.
Missing from the options list are a seat belt extender, homelink, panoramic sunroof, a premium package over and above the standard inclusions, 18 inch rims, 16 inch alloys, red brake calipers, performance brakes, park assist, radio-CD player combination, CD changer, xenon, projector, halogen or HID headlights, heated steering wheel, nudge bar, wifi hotspot or elegance pack.
The space-saver spare is no match for a full size tyre, but it sure beats a tyre repair kit
If you like your model statistics, then read on; Mazda expects the Touring grade to take just over a third of sales with the other three grades taking around 20 per cent each of sales. Two-thirds of all 6s will probably be sedans, and just five percent (fewer than 200 units!) will be diesel.
Engine & trans
The WRX’s engine is a tuned-up version of Subaru’s signature horizontally opposed “boxer” four-cylinder. In this case it’s a 2.0-litre turbo unit (FA20) producing 197kW/350Nm, ample for a little sedan like this.
Disappointingly for me, our particular WRX premium was an automatic, and it’s not a great one. While most performance cars will drop in a lightning fast dual-clutch, or at least have the decency to offer a classic torque converter with clearly defined ratios, Subaru falls back on its rubbery continuously variable automatic, as derided in the rest of its mainstream range by enthusiasts.
We’ll explore this more in the Driving section of this review. It’s not as bad as you think it’s going to be, but it still doesn’t belong in a car like this.
The 6 now has three engine options; two petrol and one turbodiesel. Both petrols are the 2.5-litre SkyActiv. The naturally-aspirated petrol is found in the Sport and Touring and generates 140kW and 252Nm (up from 138kW and 252Nm). From the same engine size but with a turbo fitted, GT and Atenza buyers score 170kW and 420Nm of torque.
The two petrols' specs include Mazda's i-eloop regenerative braking technology to help charge the battery while saving fuel. All engines feature stop-start to cut fuel consumption around town. The non-turbo also features cylinder deactivation. Mazda says that at a steady 80km/h, cutting two cylinders (one and four) reduces fuel consumption by five percent.
Other improvements to the 2.5-litre include revision of various components and a new continuous displacement oil pump.
Both of these engines drink 91RON, so no need to worry about paying for premium unleaded. Given the huge price difference between 91 and 95, that's an easy saving of around $1.60 for every 100km travelled, based on the quoted combined fuel mileage figure of the turbo.
If you were to put the thumbscrews on a Mazda engine expert, you might extract a dirty secret - run it on 98RON and you'll see somewhere in the region of 184kW from the turbo. But you didn't read that here.
The 2.2-litre twin-turbo diesel's ratings come in at 140kW and 450Nm. Both power and torque are up (from 129kW and 420Nm respectively), courtesy of the diesel's variable geometry turbos and updated injector sequence.
All 6s are front-wheel drive through Mazda's six-speed automatic transmission. There is no AWD, 4x4 or rear-wheel-drive version. A manual transmission option has long since disappeared, so the manual vs automatic argument is settled for you. No manual gearbox means no clutch to worry about, so manual transmission issues are a moot point. Also unavailable is an LPG version.
Oil type and capacity are dependent on the engine type. If you're interested in whether the engines feature a timing belt or chain, it's the latter.
Fuel consumption is likely to be at the bottom of your list of concerns when it comes to a small performance sedan, but on the official/combined testing cycle, this car will consume a claimed 8.6L/100km of mid-shelf 95RON unleaded.
Over our week of mostly urban testing, our car produced an unsurprising 11.2L/100km, which is actually under the official urban number of 11.8L/100km. Not bad for a performance car, really.
The WRX has a relatively large fuel tank for its size at 60-litres.
Mazda claims that the 2.5-litre petrol will drink at the rate of 7.0L/100km and the turbo petrol at 7.6L/100km, both sipping 91RON fuel and on the combined cycle. Diesel fuel economy is quoted at 5.3L/100km on the combined cycle.
Fuel tank capacity is 62 litres across all three engine options.
It truly pains me that this car is an automatic. Don’t get me wrong, I’m okay with an automatic performance car. Dual-clutch iterations of cars like the Golf R are great, but the WRX automatic is a CVT.
This transmission isn’t great in the brand’s regular range, let alone in a performance application, where snappy response and a predictable, linear riding out of the rev-range are really necessary to extract maximum enjoyment.
I was surprised to find the CVT isn’t as bad as I thought it would be. Perhaps through sheer torque, the WRX does hammer into its 2400rpm peak torque band rather quickly, for an immediately impressive 0-100km/h sprint of around six seconds, but it’s beyond this point where you’ll start to get dull, rubbery, and occasionally hesitant response from the accelerator. Not particularly appealing attributes when you’re carving up a few corners.
Handling-wise, the WRX is excellent with its robust all-wheel-drive system and firm-to-a-fault suspension. This makes it a true joy to fling around bends, with equally firm and rewarding steering giving you a truly organic and controlled handle on what’s going on at the wheels.
Subaru’s boxer engine gives the WRX a signature gruff sound under acceleration, with some turbo noise to boot, but with this particular transmission you won’t be getting the satisfying turbo blips you can extract with a swift kick of a clutch pedal in the manual.
Driving it around town every day is a little rough, with a brittle and busy ride, while the heavy steering will get on your nerves when you’re just trying to park the thing.
The firm ride, large wheels, and slim tyres makes the cabin noisy at all speeds, and occasionally sends shockwaves through the front of the car if you’re unfortunate enough to hit a pothole. It’s hardly the most pleasant companion to have on a freeway.
Honestly, if you’re after an automatic performance car, there are better options out there both in terms of response and everyday comfort, although none are quite like a WRX. I’d implore you to pick the manual if you can, it’s a better, more engaging experience in every way.
The 6 has never been a bad car to drive - far from it - but earlier models and the early iterations of this current 6 (before the facelift, obviously) suffered from reasonably high road-noise levels. This new 6 finally puts all that to bed.
Mazda has focussed a lot of attention on what they call conversational clarity. Luckily they don't mean what is actually being said - my blathering would instantly ruin their KPIs - but the ability to hold and hear a conversation. There must have been hundreds of individual changes just to address noise.
A huge number of components have been changed, right down to the undercarpet floor lining, to reduce the racket from the outside getting in. Now only a poor, coarse surface lets in tyre noise. Wind noise is down due to a variety of measures, and at speed the conversational clarity goal is well and truly achieved. The sound system doesn't struggle to cover what's left.
The updated petrol and diesel appear quieter and the 2.5-litre turbo (which we already know from the CX-9) is indeed very refined. You can barely hear a peep.
Performance figures for the two updated engines are unlikely to be substantially different, if at all. The new turbo petrol, while plenty powerful and seriously torquey, is no fireball. What it does is make those who aren't content with the standard 2.5-litre engine much happier with the way the car drives. It's far more relaxed; you don't need to work the engine at all hard and the in-gear performance is probably better than the diesel when you consider the weight difference. The extra horsepower calms the driving experience, particularly when out on the freeway.
The electric power steering won't set keen drivers on fire, but it's well-weighted and accurate.
Competent, secure and relaxed - those are the best three words to define the 6 experience, and even more so with the turbo petrol engine.
In good news for the WRX, Subaru’s signature EyeSight suite is mostly present here, albeit a slightly older version than the one that appears in its newer products. Regardless, key active items include auto emergency braking (works to 85km/h with brake-light recognition), lane-departure warning with lane-keep assist, blind-spot monitoring with rear cross traffic alert, adaptive cruise control, and auto high beams.
It misses out on reverse auto braking from more modern Subarus but features active torque vectoring to add to the standard suite of electronic aids like traction, brake, and stability controls.
The WRX has a maximum five-star ANCAP safety rating, although it dates way back to 2014, well before active safety items were even considered.
Mazda has certainly carved itself a niche when it comes to offering advanced safety features up and down all the cars in each model range, and the 6 is no exception. From the entry-level Sport up, the 6 has six airbags, ABS, stability and traction control systems (aka DSC), high beam control, lane departure warning, lane keep assist, blind spot monitor, radar cruise control, forward and reverse AEB, reverse cross-traffic alert, reverse camera and traffic sign recognition.
For all your child seating needs, you have three top-tether restraints and two ISOFIX points.
The Mazda6 scored a five-star ANCAP safety rating in November 2013. It seems unlikely a retest would see any issues scoring another five-star result. There's just one curious omission; a tyre-pressure monitoring system.
Annoyingly, the WRX requires six-monthly or 12,500km service intervals, a hold-over from Subarus past. It’s not cheap, either, with each six-monthly visit costing between $319.54 and $819.43 (ouch) for the first 10 visits covering five years of ownership. It averages out to $916.81 per year for the first five years. These are numbers which rival some premium European options.
Service intervals are the same for each engine type, arriving at 12 months or 20,000km. Mazda offers capped-price servicing for the ongoing maintenance of the vehicle and service costs are listed on the Mazda website, along with any extras.
Diesel engine problems appear to be a thing of the past, with few recent complaints of merit in the usual internet forums. Common problems tend to set these sort of places on fire with reports of faults and defects, but over the last few years, the 6's reliability ratings and general durability seem strong.
Where is the Mazda6 built? All Australian cars arrive from Japan.