Earlier this year, Chasing Cars attended the launch of the 2018 Mazda 6 facelift and came away even more impressed with Mazda’s midsize sedan and wagon. Despite shrinking sales in the medium car segment, this Japanese brand has pulled out all the stops to keep the 6 relevant in the face of fierce pressure from the SUV corner. Originally dating to 2013, the third-generation Mazda 6 has been improved incrementally in the intervening years culminating in this year’s major field of changes, which saw a turbo petrol engine added and a substantial interior upgrade. But while Tom concentrated mainly on the top-spec Atenza on launch, today we’re checking out the mid-spec 2019 Mazda 6 Touring diesel sedan to see if life is just as good a few rungs down the 6 ladder.
Spoiler alert: all things considered, the Touring manages to be even better – and not just because it is a huge $9,100 less expensive than an Atenza in diesel form, listing at just $39,690 (currently $43,920 driveaway). The Touring slots in as the second tier of four models in the Australian Mazda 6 range.
The entry-level, atmo petrol-only Sport grade kicks things off in the 6 lineup at $32,490 ($36,346 driveaway). From there, the option of a twin-turbo diesel comes on the boil with the Touring before the upmarket GT (from $43,990, $48,367 driveaway) introduces a 2.5-litre turbo petrol, with the range capped by the Atenza (from $46,690, $52,252 driveaway).
A wagon body style is also available for a $1,300 upcharge while the diesel engine is a $3,000 upgrade on the Touring and a $1,100 premium on GT and Atenza.
Reflecting the challenger status of the midsize segment, all Mazda 6s have strong equipment levels despite attainable pricing. Rangewide, standard kit includes high-speed AEB, an eight-inch touchscreen with navigation and DAB digital radio, LED headlights, auto high beam, a head-up display, all-speed adaptive cruise control, blind spot monitoring, and rear cross-traffic alert.
The Touring is something of a sweet spot, adding to the Sport’s solid foundation with black leather seats with ten-way power adjustment and memory for the driver, an eleven-speaker Bose stereo, full keyless entry and start, auto folding mirrors, front and rear parking sensors, and an adaptive beam for the LED headlights. That’s a good upgrade considering the Touring’s premium over the Sport is just $4,200. The only thing we spotted that the Touring should include – and doesn’t – is front seat heating. Those leather pews are cold in winter.
In the same week as we reviewed the Touring, we had an Atenza on hand for an internal comparison. Though a GT model splits the two – and is the point the petrol engine goes from naturally aspirated to turbocharged – the Atenza is the focal point at the high end of the Mazda 6 range. But is it worth almost ten grand more than a Touring? We’re not so sure – its Nappa leather surfacing doesn’t feel meaningfully softer, though we do like its suede and Japanese Sen wood interior materials.
Whichever grade of Mazda 6 you choose, the interior will be a nicer place to sit than most rivals. The Touring’s closest competitor – the newish Holden ZB Calais – is a bit stark; by contrast, the Mazda feels like a Grand Designs effort, rather than The Block. Attention to detail abounds in this Japanese cabin, with a lovely material mix, properly comfortable and ergonomic seats, a smartly presented dashboard and little things, like rubberised door bins. Overall, you can tell that the company has worked hard to improve the touchpoints and overall feeling of the Mazda6’s interior, and it’s best in class as a result.
That said, despite being a huge 4,865mm long, the Mazda 6 is not quite as roomy as the Volkswagen Passat. There is good legroom in the back, but the bulky front seats and narrow body design ultimately limit space. This six-foot tester had enough room in all directions, but considering that this is Mazda’s flagship vehicle, even more space would be fitting. It’s the same story with the 474 litre boot: it’s got enough room, but there are no clever touches like nets, hooks or straps to hold items. The rear seats do split and fold, though the opening aperture is too small. The liftback Skoda Superb takes the practicality cake in this segment.
All new Mazda 6 models now feature a larger eight-inch touchscreen running Mazda’s MZD Connect software. This system gets a mixed rap in the industry, but we like it: it’s easy to use and offers the choice of rotary dial or touch input. The satellite navigation is easy to use and the inclusion of DAB digital radio still remains something of a premium feature. It’s just a shame that the screen is low resolution, the graphics are a bit cheesy and there are no live traffic reports. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto? These are due to be included in deliveries later this year, and current cars will be able to be retrofitted.
The 6’s analogue dials and digital trip computer screen do look a little dated. Thankfully, each Mazda midsizer is equipped with a clear, crisp, colour head-up display that shows a wide range of information – including feedback from the blind spot monitor. You don’t even have to look at the mirror to know a car is there (though we recommend doing so).
Despite a sales split massively favouring the petrol side when it comes to drivetrains, in our view, the Touring diesel makes the most sense in the Mazda 6 lineup. Mazda’s 140kW/450Nm twin-turbo 2.2-litre diesel is a great engine, far better than the standard 2.5-litre 140kW/252Nm aspirated 2.5-litre petrol standard in the Touring. And, at $39,690, the Touring diesel is $4,300 less expensive than the GT turbo petrol, which makes 170kW/420Nm. It’s a sweet spot, alright. The only issue with both turbo engines is that being front wheel drive with an open differential and plenty of torque, both will spin up the inside wheel while cornering with little provocation.
In the diesel, our fuel economy was fifty per cent better than the turbo petrol engine at all times – both in town (7L/100km) and on the highway (5L/100km). That’s really something to write home about. This opens up potential for a 1,300km highway range from the 6’s 62-litre fuel tank.
Beyond frugal consumption, what makes the 2.2-litre diesel so impressive is its refinement. The oiler is dead quiet, even when revved out – it makes the naturally aspirated petrol unit sound coarse by comparison. On the highway at 110km/h the diesel revs at 2,000rpm – maybe a touch high. An eight-speed auto would help bring this down and increase economy even further. The current six-speed automatic is particularly impressive with the diesel though – its wide spaced ratios sit perfectly with the diesel’s low end torque.
While Mazda have chipped away at the 6’s flaws in two facelifts of the current generation, ultimately, road noise is still a problem. The brand has worked hard to contain coarse chip surface noise in its other vehicles and the efforts are working, but it’s difficult to implement in an existing car rather than a brand new vehicle – the new-gen CX-9 is really quiet, for example. There has been a discernible improvement here, though too much noise still enters this cabin. The noise really is the only negative aspect of the driving experience because it’s otherwise a great car to drive.
Despite its length, the 6 is impressively nimble – typical for a vehicle wearing the Mazda badge. That’s even considering the heavy weight of a diesel engine up front, though the naturally aspirated 2.5-litre remains a featherweight if turn-in is your ultimate priority (though few buyers in this class would say that). This is a fun car to drive with intent: the steering is well weighted and delivers good feel. Despite the sporty handling, though, the Mazda 6 still rides quite well, particularly on the sensible 17-inch wheels on the Sport or Touring; the GT and Atenza’s larger 19-inch hoops are noticeably firmer and emit even more road noise.
The 2018 Mazda 6 Touring diesel sedan proves that the midsize car isn’t dead – or, at least, that it shouldn’t be. The 6 is better than it’s ever been, showcasing true all-round ability with a remarkable set of engines, a great ride-handling balance and a feature-packed specification sheet. Rarely did this car put a foot wrong – our complaints amount to bit issues of minor road noise and touchscreen resolution. Life’s good in the Mazda 6, so when a medium passenger car is this good – and this affordable – why buy an SUV?
Key specs (as tested)
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