The Tourer estate version of the third generation Mazda6 may be shorter than the saloon on which it's based but it's still a very practical choice. Jonathan Crouch checks out the improved version.
The third generation Mazda6 built on the success of its predecessor with sharper styling, better attention to quality and some very economical engines. Many wanted it in stylish Tourer estate guise, popularity likely to continue now that this variant features more equipment, greater refinement and a smarter interior.
The Mazda6 hasn't had the easiest ride. The first generation car drove brilliantly but felt a bit lightweight and the diesel engines were plagued with reliability issues. The second generation model was an improvement in virtually every regard but seemed to lack its predecessor's personality and fun factor. Now we have a third generation Mazda6 and it's brought back driving enjoyment to the mix, while coupling this with much improved quality and a more stylish and distinctive look. That's quite an aspiration, but the Mazda6 needs all of that in spades in order to stand out in a very tough part of the market. The Japanese brand knows this all too well given that since this vehicle was launched, we've seen all-new versions of rival estates like the Ford Mondeo and the Volkswagen Passat, plus heavily revised versions of others like the Peugeot 508SW and the Toyota Avensis Tourer. Hence a package of Mazda6 Tourer changes intended to allow this car to keep pace in its segment. Let's see what they all amount to.
The chassis that underpins the Mazda6 is a development of that which first debuted on the CX-5 SUV. It's been lengthened for this application and optimised for a lower and lighter car. Under the bonnet, the oily bits really haven't changed that much, but Mazda has responded to customer feedback and made the 6 that little bit more refined. The amount of sound insulation used has increased and the quality of the insulation improved. Detail changes to the suspension also mean that less noise is transmitted into the cabin. The petrol engines comprise 145 and 165PS versions of the 2.0-litre SKYACTIV-G four-cylinder direct injection unit, with the 2.2-litre SKYACTIV-D diesel engine available in either 150 or 175PS versions. All versions are front-wheel drive, feature 62-litre fuel tanks and are mated to six-speed manual gearboxes as standard, with a six-speed auto as an option. Keeping weight out of key components has been one of the major design priorities and the latest Mazda6 gets lighter yet stiffer front and rear suspension systems. The electric power assisted steering is quicker than the many of the rather flabby-feeling installations on most family cars, with a rapid 2.57 turn lock-to-lock ratio. In short, the Japanese engineers have done their best to bring the alertness of the first Mazda6 back to this bigger third generation car.
Even in estate form, the Mazda6 remains one of the most striking cars in its class. It's a mean and muscular looking thing; all pent-up curves and bulges, with beady eyes and a swooping, coupe-like roofline. In other words not a lot really needed doing to the styling. The range-topping Sport Nav models get a revised grille and signature wing design - incorporating powerful LED headlamps including LED daytime running lights, LED fog lamps, and LED tail lamps. Bulbs are so 2014. It also gets big 19-inch alloys. The Mazda6 interior, on the other hand, could always have used some help. It felt as if the styling budget had been blown on the exterior and the cabin was cobbled together on a budget. This time round, there's a cleaner instrument panel and centre console design which gives the cabin a more cohesive, less cluttered look. In terms of practicality, this Tourer estate features a boot capacity of 522-litres with the seats up. Or, if you operate the clever flat-deck Karakuri rear seat folding system, there's up to 1,648-litres on offer.
This Tourer estate requires a premium of around £900 over the equivalent four-door, which means that pricing sits mainly in the £23,000 to £28,000 bracket common to most Mondeo-class estate models. As for equipment, well the mainstream SE and SE-L grades now include an electronic parking brake, a coming/leaving home headlamp function and the Multimedia Commander with separate volume dial. There's manual driver and front passenger seat height adjustment and a 7-inch, full-colour touch-screen which incorporates DAB radio and the MZD Connect infotainment system some may already have seen on the smaller Mazda3. This pairs with a smartphone to bring internet connectivity into the car with onboard access to social networking. That deserves a like. Aside from the exterior jewellery, the flagship Sport Nav models get a six-way power adjustable front passenger seat, vinyl leather knee pads, a head-up display and an Integrated Navigation system. Sport Nav buyers can also option the car with stone leather upholstery (in lieu of black) and a Safety Pack incorporating features such as Lane Keep Assist, Blind Spot Monitoring and Rear Smart City Brake Support which works better than it sounds, applying the brakes if it thinks you're about to reverse into bollards, children or similar.
Mazda's commitment to stripping weight out of its vehicles has seen it develop a series of cars that deliver better fuel economy figures than you might expect. The Mazda6 is no exception to that rule: it's just a bit of a shame that the diesel models can't get a bit nearer to the 100g/km figure for carbon emissions. The best you'll get on that score is the 116g/km for the 2.2-litre diesel Tourer, which is still quite some showing for a sizeable car that packs 150PS. That rises to 121g/km for the Tourer in 175PS diesel guise. Even the raciest 165PS Sport Nav petrol model only emits 137g/km, so there's really nothing here that should give company car drivers too much of a jolt in the wallet. Some economy figures? The 165PS petrol model manages a creditable 47.9mpg on the combined cycle. Choose diesel and the 150PS Tourer model gets 64.2mpg while the 175PS version nets 61.4mpg.
The Mazda6 is a very good product in the medium range segment, especially in Tourer estate form. The problem for the Japanese brand is though, that it now competes against some other particularly good estates in this segment. It needed a bit extra to stand out. Will the package of updates we've been looking at here be enough to enable it to do that? Much of the answer to that depends on how Mazda promotes this car. Right now it's a bit of a forgotten choice in its sector but our experience at the wheel suggests that it doesn't deserve to be. Over to you.