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 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.
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 Mondeo and the VW 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.
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.