From £19,5957
Refreshed saloon is much more convincing inside, but range-topping 2.5-litre petrol engine makes concessions not seen lower down the range

What is it?

The Mazda 6 has undergone the third and most far-reaching facelift since the attractive mid-size saloon went on sale six years ago.

Not that the Mazda 6 shouts particularly loudly about it. The mesh of the grille sits a touch deeper, its chrome surround now extends outwards to underline revised LED headlights and the lower front bumper has been re-profiled, but overall Mazda has resisted tampering too eagerly with the car’s gracefully ageing features. Safer to make more subtle changes such as mounting the wide-bore exhaust tips a fraction further apart for more ‘stance’.

Under the bonnet things are different, because this updated 6 marks the debut of Mazda’s direct-injection 2.5-litre SkyActiv-G engine. It’s making an appearance because the company anticipates – naturally – a slight shift in its sales composition from diesel to petrol, and wants to offer buyers greater choice.

The new engine is naturally aspirated and already serves diesel-averse Americans who own the mammoth CX-9 SUV and its smaller sibling, the Mazda CX-5. With 191bhp it’s the most powerful engine to feature in a UK-spec 6, but also features cylinder deactivation, operating just two of its four combustion chambers under light throttle loads. Combined fuel economy is duly rated at 42.2mpg on the new WLTP cycle.

This range-topping 2.5 is joined by subtly revised versions of the existing 2.0-litre SkyActiv-G engines – of 143bhp and 163bhp – and is mated solely to Mazda’s six-speed auto gearbox, which uses paddle-shifters mounted on the back of a thin-rimmed steering wheel.

3 Mazda 6 saloon 2018 fd hero rear

What's it like?

Inside it’s surprisingly plush. The 2.5 is available only in a new trim level known as GT Sport Nav+, which adds a 7in TFT screen to the instrument binnacle, Nappa leather for the seats and wood trim apparently ‘modelled on the pillars of ancient Japanese temples’. Mazda has also tried to exaggerate the width of the cabin, not least by extending the air vents into the door trim and making the ventilation panel wider and slimmer. No longer does it feel as though you’re stepping into a lowered Mazda CX-5.

The operation of the electric seats is still offensively loud, mind, and the infotainment system still asks you to wade through clunky menus, even if the resolution of the screen is now acceptably sharp. You might expect a company known for its engaging sports car to position the driver more comfortably, too. For taller drivers there’s neither enough reach-adjustment in the telescopic steering column nor scope to set the lightly bolstered seats satisfactorily low. The driving ergonomics are otherwise straightforward and the cabin uncluttered.

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On the outside, GT Sport Nav+ models get 19in alloys with a 'ghost-chrome' finish – a similar treatment is applied to the grille – and gloss-black rear bumper trim. You might also go for the Soul Red Crystal paint of our test subject, which Mazda claims is now brighter and applied more deeply than before. It costs £800 but it looks superb.

There are reasons why you might want your petrol-powered Mazda 6 to tout more than just the 163bhp offered by the most powerful 2.0 unit, not least because this excellent chassis deserves it. The front-driven 6 has always exhibited nimbleness, changing direction easily and neatly with steering that’s unusually delicate, direct and feelsome by the standards of the class. In fact it can be difficult not to start judging it against more illustrious machinery such as the BMW 3 Series, rather than its natural rivals such as Ford’s Ford Mondeo and the Volkswagen Passat.

Mazda has nevertheless made alterations to the car’s MacPherson strut front suspension and multi-link rear, both of which continue to use passive dampers. To achieve more linear steering, the front steering knuckles have been lowered, while the mount of the lower arm is raised, and the steering is now rigidly mounted to better transfer those minute mid-corner corrections we’re constantly making.

The manner in which the anti-roll bars are attached has also been adapted to help smooth suspension travel. The dampers have increased in diameter, to improve ride comfort, and the rear top mounts are now made of urethane to further improve the damping characteristics.

There are more changes – too many to list here – but the upshot is the 6’s likeable dynamics remain. The steering is enjoyably direct, the car’s nose keen to tilt into bends with a generous but orderly measure of roll. You’re invited not to grab this chassis by the scruff but to flow it through direction changes. Too much pace and it’s the vertical control that gives up first, the body beginning bob out of time with the contours of the road, but by that point you’re likely asking too much of a front-driven executive saloon. Overall it’s a competent, characterful steer.

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Mazda has also made improvements to sound insulation and in terms of tyre-roar and engine noise the 6 is impressively muted at a cruise. There seems, alas, more wind noise than before, although this could well be because it’s now that much more apparent.

This atmospheric 2.5-litre engine requires more commitment than drivers of torque-rich turbodiesels will be accustomed to – no surprise there. Peak torque arrives only at 4000rpm, with 191bhp arriving at 6000rpm, and so brisk progress isn’t simply ‘on tap’. However, whereas those turbodiesels become downright lifeless at high revs and its 2.0 range-mate is eventually neutered by the car’s tonne-and-a-half mass, the 2.5 never feels less than respectably quick, with Sport driving mode further honing an already sharp response to throttle inputs.

Along flowing Cotswold A-roads interrupted by 30mph speed limits through villages, the 2.5 manages around 37mpg, whereas the more powerful of the 2.0-litre 6 variants, which we also tested briefly, manages nigh-on 50mpg. Whether that’s an acceptable trade-off between power and economy is up to you.

It’s a shame Mazda doesn’t offer the 2.5 with the six-speed manual. There’s little wrong with the shift quality of the automatic, but the light, precise action of the manual option will be missed. Moreover, the clutch action is conveniently devoid of heft – as befits an everyday kind of car – and yet the brake and throttle pedals are thoughtfully placed for rev-matching during downshifts. Hardly the stuff of class-leading sales, but to us it’s the sort of thing that makes the ownership experience that much more satisfying.

5 Mazda 6 saloon 2018 fd dashboard

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Should I buy one?

If you care about driving and your reasonably priced saloon must sup unleaded petrol, the Mazda6 makes a strong case for itself. For a front-driver it’s not only unusually satisfying but satisfying full stop.

We have our doubts about this 2.5-litre engine, however. It doesn’t spin out quite as sweetly as the 2.0, and when it does the additional thrust comes at a disproportionate cost to fuel consumption. With the top-spec 6 you’re also obliged to have to the six-speed automatic gearbox, which seems a shame when the manual alternative is so good to use. To us, the sweet-spot would be a manual 2.0-litre car with around 180bhp, but unfortunately that doesn’t exist.

The 6 is therefore a 3.5-star car in the range-topping guise tested here but worthy of four stars if you go for the more powerful 2.0-litre variant in a high specification. The interior feels more sumptuous than ever and the standard specification is generous. It’s a smart, comfortable, spacious saloon (or estate) that stands out among staid rivals both for its design and handling.

Mazda 6 2.5 194PS GT Sport Nav+

Tested Cotswolds, UK Price £30,795 On sale now Engine 2488cc, 4cyls, petrol Power 191bhp at 6000rpm Torque 190lb ft at 4000rpm Gearbox 6-spd automatic Kerb weight 1532kg Top speed 138mph 0-62mph 8.1sec Fuel economy 42.2mpg CO2, tax band 153g/km, 31% Rivals Volkswagen Passat, Ford Mondeo

11 Mazda 6 saloon 2018 fd otr front

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Richard Lane

Richard Lane
Title: Deputy road test editor

Richard joined Autocar in 2017, arriving from Evo magazine, and is typically found either behind a keyboard or steering wheel.

As deputy road test editor he delivers in-depth road tests, performance benchmarking and supercar lap-times, plus feature-length comparison stories between rival cars. He can also be found on Autocar's YouTube channel

Mostly interested in how cars feel on the road – the sensations and emotions they can evoke – Richard drives around 150 newly launched makes and models every year, and focuses mainly on the more driver-orientated products, as is tradition at Autocar. His job is then to put the reader firmly in the driver's seat. 

Away from work, but remaining on the subject of cars, Richard owns an eight-valve Integrale, loves watching sportscar racing, and holds a post-grad in transport engineering. 

Join the debate

Add a comment…
GCCK 6 August 2018

250bhp Turbo 2.5 for UK?

Just done a search and in USA, Mazda offer the 6 with 2.5l 250bhp Turbo with Auto. Also offer the N/A 2.5 with Manual.

Apparently Carplay/Auto coming via dealer update or standard from December'18. USA only or for UK too?

GCCK 6 August 2018

2.5 N/A Petrol seems like a sticky plaster...

I love my 2014 6 Tourer Diesel and playing around with the idea of replacing it. However, not enough has been done to unseat me just yet. The styling changes & nicer cabin are all good, but where's the mild hybrid, dual-clutch 'box, or even turbo petrol engines to keep up with everyone else?

2.5 N/A petrol auto seems like a desperate raid of the global parts bin to give the range a flagship but it's too slow & thirsty. Sweet spot is still lower down the range, diesel & manual, when it's still unbeatable.


Einarbb 19 July 2018

"This atmospheric 2.5-litre engine"

Do there exist ICE engines not needing air to breath? If they'd be capable of working on the Moon. Or not, then there exist no ICE engines that aren't -- atmospheric. The correct phrase is -- normally aspirated. To employ the phrase "atmospheric" to describe an engine lacking forced induction, this normally aspirated -- is moronic. I hope the staff at Autocar desist with moronic phrasing in the future.