Mazda’s apparent intention was to make the 6 a more mature, refined and technologically sophisticated prospect. Whether you think that was called for depends on your perspective – but it has worked well in some departments. Not well enough to force a massive reshuffling of the class order, but well enough to widen the car’s appeal and keep it broadly competitive.
Our test car was a 148bhp 2.2-litre turbodiesel Tourer, in mid-spec SE-L trim, with Mazda’s six-speed automatic transmission, so it didn’t have the exterior styling updates of Sport Nav cars – but the new interior is a decent improvement.
For starters, Mazda’s easily smudged, fingerprint-magnet gloss black fascia trim has been replaced by a fillet of leather-faced plastic – and it’s vastly preferable. Applying the touchscreen multimedia screen, rotary controller and heating and ventilation controls of the Mazda 3 looks much neater than what went before, too. The new clocks are a bit uninspiring, but clear to read.
And while the sprinkling of richer materials is generally very welcome, the cabin still has as many cheaper-looking fixtures, some hard and inconsistently finished. This is one of the more practical cabins in the class, and it's now better looking and better equipped – but it’s relatively plain compared with the best.
At idle, at low revs and under light load, the diesel engine’s gruffness and vibration are now more thoroughly suppressed. Its main attraction is a fat slug of low and mid-range torque that’s generous enough for the everyday flow of traffic and typical daily use without ever really needing more than half-throttle or 3000rpm.
Extend it beyond that point and it gets more noisy – but not discouragingly so. The gearbox manages both upshifts and kickdown judiciously, and it harnesses the engine’s low-range strength and cleanliness of response very well indeed.
In other respects, Mazda has had less success in putting manners on this car. Even on standard 17in rims, our test car created above-average levels of road noise and allowed more fluttering wind noise into the cabin than some of its rivals.
A little dynamic progress has been made; the car is significantly more compliant than it was and rides smooth asphalt and gentler bumps much more comfortably. But hit a more coarse stretch of road and the chassis shows its uncouth side.
Those new dampers and bushings fail to filter out much surface roar at all, and the car fidgets and pings slightly over smaller disturbances of the kind that a more refined, rubber-footed family saloon might absorb.
There’s mixed news, too, about the car’s handling - an undoubted selling point for keen drivers up until now- because it isn’t just the Mazda 6’s ride that has been softened. The weighty, quietly feelsome steering of the outgoing car has been replaced by a set-up that’s just as direct, but lighter in your hands and a little lacking in centre feel.
Power assistance isn’t nearly as discreet, apparently building as you add angle and making the car a little vague and hard to place through a corner. Grip, response and body control are all still strong – but driving the car is marginally less enjoyable than it was.