Choice is good, choice is great. Or so capitalists would lead you to believe. Choice is the reason why there are sixty-eleven different kinds of coffee offered at any given cafe. Choice is the reason why Donald Trump is President. Choice is the reason why North Korea hates the West.
Choice is also the reason why we’re inundated with a new crossover niche every second Tuesday. Go to any school during drop-off and pick-up times and I can guarantee you most children will be ferried in a SUV/crossover of some sort.
Gone are the days where ‘soccer mum’ cars meant minivans and station wagons. Little Tommy and Izzy have to be driven around in faux-tanks to protect them from kidnappers, Zika virus, and gluten. I get the need to protect your offspring but that doesn’t necessarily mean driving around in SUVs and crossovers.
What happened to station wagons anyway? It seems overnight the appeal of these cars has disappeared. I remember a time when they were actually considered to be cool cars. Remember the Audi RS2? The E60 M5 Wagon? Hell, even the Volvo 850R was cool enough to go Touring Car racing.
We don’t have many cool wagons nowadays but I believe there’s still a place for the family wagon in our day and age. I’m probably in the minority where I still would prefer a wagon to a crossover. Think about it; most crossovers and SUVs at this price range only have five seats. The same as most wagons as well. Except wagons look better, drive better, and are more economical. Sure, wagons these days have the sex appeal of corduroy trousers but there are exceptions. Take the Mazda6 Wagon as an example.
The Mazda6 range should be familiar to most people as it’s been a popular car since the first generation was launched in 2002. You can have the 6 in either sedan or wagon body styles with the choice of petrol or diesel engines. There are three trim levels available; GLX, GSX, and Limited.
Mazda keeps the range quite simple. You get two petrol engines to choose from and just the one diesel. The base GLX wagon comes with a 155hp/114kW 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol. Step up to the GSX in the sedan and wagon and you get the bigger 2.5-litre four-cylinder petrol with 187hp/138kW. The diesel, in my test car, was a 2.2-litre four-cylinder unit with 175hp/129kW.
Prices in New Zealand start at $43,795 for the 2.0 GLX Wagon and topping at $58,245 for the 2.2 Diesel Limited in either sedan or wagon body styles. All Kiwi-new Mazda6 are available only in front-wheel drive, other markets get the option of all-wheel drive.
The range comes fitted with Mazda’s MZD infotainment system, bluetooth audio, cruise control, keyless entry, and push button start as standard. The GSX adds; automatic climate control, leather on the steering wheel and gear knob, sat-nav, parking sensors, blind spot monitoring, and auto headlights.
The range-topping Limited adds luxuries such as a Bose sound system, leather trim, electrically powered front seats, auto LED headlights with daytime running lights, radar guided cruise control, lane keep assist, lane departure warning, driver attention alert, forward collision warning, and an electric slide and tilt sunroof.
You’re probably thinking reviewing a diesel wagon family car is about as relevant as a review of Windows XP. Does anyone really want a wagon, let alone a diesel one, in a world post-Dieselgate and where hybrids and EV crossovers are all the rage? Hell, even in the Japan market there aren’t many offering diesel cars. In fact, Mazda are the only domestic manufacturer that actually sells clean diesel cars in Japan.
Then there’s the segment the 6 is competing in. The mid-size segment is, and there’s no other way to get around it, boring. Take a look at the cars offered by other mainstream manufacturers and it’s easy to see why consumers are flocking to more trendy crossovers. There’s a sense most have given up on sedans and wagons and are focusing all their efforts in crossovers and SUVs.
Not Mazda. Yes, they also do some brilliant crossovers and SUVs, but you have to give them credit where credit is due. The Mazda6 sedan and wagon are easily the best looking cars in their class. They’ve got their own distinctive look that wouldn’t be out of place in a more premium segment. I know Fred won’t be a fan of the colour but the fact that even in silver it still manages to look good is a testament to Mazda’s design. That said, the ‘Soul Red’ option makes this car look even better.
It’s hard to get excited over what is fundamentally a family car. But I’m a huge fan of Mazda’s Kodo design. It’s supposed to look like a predator getting ready to pounce. I’m not so sure about that, but I do like the athletic looking lines, which hide its side well. This generation has been out since 2012. It recently received a facelift earlier this year cleaning up the overall look a bit. Mazda didn’t need to change much as the 6 still looks modern and handsome.
I especially like the new LED lights, with the LED strip that runs along the grille. There’s no practical feature for that light. It’s there for the sake of looking cool; I like that a lot. I also like the gunmetal finish on the alloys. It’s little details like these that make me respect and admire Mazda even more. There’s still a pulse in their design department.
Mazda’s interiors should be a test case for other Japanese mainstream manufacturers. The design and the materials are on par with more premium cars. Everything you see and touch in this top-of-the line spec car looked and felt every yen/cent of its asking price, and some. Okay, sure if you look for it you’ll find some hard plastic down the bottom of the interior but that’s only if you’re really looking for it. Most of the time you’ll be impressed with the quality and the toys you’ve got to play with.
Taking centre stage is the 7-inch touchscreen display for the MZD infotainment system. The screen displays everything from the sat-nav, climate control, audio, contacts, settings, and the reverse camera. Unlike other systems, it can be operated via touchscreen or a rotary dial on the centre console. It was both a good and a bad thing having the touchscreen function. On the plus side, it was very convenient. On the downside, seeing fingerprints on the screen annoyed me a lot.
The rotary dial has quick jump menu buttons around it, similar to the setup you’d find in most European cars. There’s a sophisticated feel to it and the system itself overall was easy to use.
Another plus was the sat-nav system. It’s one of the best I’ve used. It’s not the fastest system out there, there were some laggy moments, but the instructions were clear and having some of the information displayed on the heads-up display was a nice bonus. In fact, it was very similar to BMW’s sat-nav system which I’ve repeatedly have said is the best. Actually, the whole interior looked and felt quite Bavarian-inspired. That’s no bad thing.
The front seats, which by the way were electrically powered and heated, were both supportive and comfortable. I have one of those backs that aches quite easily after a long journey yet I had no complaints about the Mazda’s seats. A nice little touch was the heated steering wheel, which was used a lot since winter was on its way.
Rear occupants also get impressive space with more than enough legroom for adults to be comfortable in the back. You really can fit adults in the back as the Mazda was wide enough to seat three comfortably. There was quite a high transmission tunnel but the footwells are large enough for the middle passenger to have somewhere to put their feet.
One thing that does let the Mazda down are its stylishly small windows. Yes, they look great outside but inside with the black leather interior, can make it feel quite dark. It’s especially apparent at night as there’s little in interior lighting. Rear visibility was also hindered by the quite narrow rear window. Probably not a massive issue if you have young children but it will be if you’re carrying colleagues to a business meeting.
This being a family wagon, there a plenty of useful cubbyholes. The glovebox was a decent size and was actually usable. There’s a cubby hole under the climate control, erm, controls perfect for smartphones. The cupholders are ideal for both beverages and extra camera lenses. Good thinking there Mazda. Even the storage bin under the central armrest was the right size for me to put my DSLR in.
That’s before we get onto the boot. The tailgate isn’t electrically operated, you have to open and close it the old fashioned way, but it’s a quite a sizable boot at 506L. It’s not class leading in terms of size, but it’s still bloody big. The shape and low load lip means it’s usable for everyday purposes. Luggage space can be increased by folding the 60/40 split rear seats for up to 1600L of capacity. That’s a lot of camera gear. Or tubs of ice cream.
The first thing I noticed after about 30 seconds of driving the Mazda was how solid it felt. Other mainstream Japanese cars have quite a loose and light feel to them but the Mazda felt, well quite European to be honest. The steering was nicely weighted, the pedal feel was responsive, and the gear changes were so smooth I only felt them happen a couple of times when left to their own devices.
Now, given this was a diesel wagon I had no expectations of this being a sports car, but that didn’t mean it wasn’t good to drive. In fact, it was surprisingly composed and pleasant. For a mainstream family car, the steering feel was verging on sporty. It felt sharp and direct. Despite having a diesel up front and being front-wheel drive, the Mazda6’s handling felt neutral and never wanted to understeer. Certainly, it felt more planted and composed around corners than a high-riding crossover or SUV.
The 2.2-litre turbodiesel diesel engine provided more than enough grunt for your Average Joe/Joanne. With 175hp/129kW and 420NM of torque on tap, the Mazda6 Diesel can get from 0-100 km/h in a claimed 7.8 seconds. Compared to other diesel family wagons on sale, the Mazda is quicker to 100km/h and has more torque.
Off the line the Mazda felt like it was 7.8 seconds fast. Where it’s at its element was mid-range pull, or in other words overtaking. Once the engine livens up at around 1500rpm-2500rpm, the wave of torque kicks in and you’re off. It’s a brilliant diesel engine this and let’s just say it’s fast enough to get a speeding ticket. Anyway, moving on. I like how Mazda hasn’t gone down the downsizing route and stuck their guns with having proper sized engines.
I respect Mazda’s philosophy of designing the entire car to be as economical as possible from the ground up. Rather than making a car and then relying on the engine alone to be economical, every part of the car has been designed as efficiently as possible. Lightweight parts, efficient engines and transmissions, and aerodynamic design come together effectively. Take Mazda’s 6-speed automatic which has been designed to work in conjunction with the 2.2-litre diesel engine to be as economical as possible.
On a steady cruise the 2.2 unit was quiet, refined, and economical. Mazda claims an average fuel consumption of 5.4L/100km. By the end of my time with the 6, I was averaged around 7L/1000km. That’s not too bad considering I’m far from the most economical driver and I spent most of my driving time on winding mountain roads rather than smooth motorways.
Speaking of which, as a motorway cruiser the Mazda6 was quite decent. Most outside noise was kept to a minimum with tyre noise only really seeping inside sometimes. The ride was acceptable, though it’s more on the firm side. Some might find the ride firmer than others in this segment but the trade off was better behavior around corners. Stopping the car was quite effective too, the brakes themselves were responsive and the pedal feel was impressive for a family car.
The vast array of driver’s aids such as blind spot monitoring, lane departure assist and warning, and particularly radar guided cruise control, all made for a stress free drive. I do hate how I’ve been spoilt by these systems but they really are handy to have, especially in Japan with long motorway journeys and stop-start traffic.
Also, these systems were reserved for only the poshest luxury sedans a couple of years ago. For a Mazda family wagon to have all these systems and more was quite surprising. Spec up a similar sized BMW or Mercedes with similar equipment that’s standard on the Mazda and you’d be looking at a $100k easily.
In town, the Mazda6 manages to hide its size well. It’s a big car, at 4.8m it’s more BMW 5-Series than 3-Series. But it was easy to drive around in Tokyo. For some odd reason, the diesel doesn’t get any selectable driver modes so the steering and engine response can’t be set to eco or sport for example. Petrol Mazda6s get this function though.
That said, it wasn’t a mission driving the Mazda6 Wagon around town. The steering lightens up at low speed and the stop/start system cancels out any of the diesel noise at standstill. It’s not the loudest diesel engine in the world, but you can still tell it’s a diesel at low speeds. Most people probably won’t care but as someone who doesn’t drive diesels often, it took a while to get used to.
For the competition table I decided to add some ‘premium’ diesel wagons as well as the more obvious mainstream rivals of the Mazda. I’m not saying someone looking at an Audi A4 is going to cross shop the Mazda6 but rather to show this top-spec Mazda with all the toys is reasonably priced. But that was when I was looking at the Japanese prices.
The New Zealand-spec car is quite expensive, though that said does come with more standard equipment than the Japanese car. For example, my test car didn’t have a Bose sound system or a sunroof. I understand Mazda wanting to position themselves slightly more upmarket, and their products certainly deserve to do so, but at this price range they’re up against some strong competition.
|Brand/Model||Engine||Power||Fuel L/100km||CO2 g/km||Price – High to Low|
|Audi A4 Wagon TDI||2.0-litre, four-cylinder turbo diesel||190hp/140kW||5.0L/100km||116g/km||$87,400|
|BMW 320d Wagon||2.0-litre, four-cylinder turbo diesel||190hp/140kW||4.9L/100km||129g/km||$81,000|
|Mercedes-Benz C200d Wagon||1.6-litre, four-cylinder turbo diesel||136hp/100kW||4.7L/100km||124g/km||$76,400|
|Mazda6 Wagon Diesel||2.2-litre, four-cylinder turbo diesel||175hp/129kW||5.4L/100km||141g/km||$58,245 (NZ-spec price)/¥3,715,200/$46,637|
|Volkswagen Passat TDI Wagon||2.0-litre, four-cylinder turbo diesel||190hp/140kW||4.6L/100km||120g/km||$55,240|
|Skoda Superb Wagon TDI||2.0-litre, four-cylinder turbo diesel||149hp/110kW||4.5L/100km||117g/km||$51,900|
|Ford Mondeo Wagon Diesel||2.0-litre, four-cylinder turbo diesel||180hp/132kW||5.3L/100km||140g/km||$47,590|
Pros and Cons
What We Think
I’m not going to hide it, I’m a fan of Mazda these days and I like the direction they’re heading in. I like most of their cars are still being manufactured in Hiroshima where other Japanese companies are moving manufacturing overseas.
I also like the Mazda6 Wagon. In this body style with that diesel engine, it’s truly a jack of all trades. If you want a sensible family wagon to carry children, dogs, things, whatever, it’s hard to think of any reason why you shouldn’t go for the Mazda. If style is an issue, just look at it. In my opinion it’s better looking than any other mainstream crossover or SUV for the same money, especially in that gorgeous dark red colour you can have it in.
The 2.2-litre SkyActiv-D engine is a gem as well and proof manufacturers needn’t downsize to achieve efficiency and performance. The interior and driving dynamics were well up to scratch and felt more European and premium than you’d expect for a mainstream Japanese car.
The pricing in New Zealand for the top-spec car is quite high but then it does come with considerably more standard equipment than its rivals. Apart from that it’s hard to find any faults with the Mazda6 Wagon. It does everything you’d want it do and more. It’s that annoying overachiever you want to dislike but just can’t.
Handsome looks, a brilliant engine, decent driving dynamics, lots of toys to play with, rides well, top-notch quality and materials, and will probably never break down. It’s very easily one of the best all-rounders on sale right now.
|Vehicle Type||Station Wagon|
|Starting Price||NZ-Spec Pricing: $58,245 ¥3,774,600/$47,383* (Japan Pricing)|
DVD Player + Digital TV Tuner: ¥27,000/$338
4 Speakers: ¥-86,400/-$1084
|Engine||2188cc four-cylinder turbocharged diesel|
|0-100 kph||7.8 seconds|
|Length x Width x Height||4805mm x 1840mm x 1480mm|
|ANCAP Safety Ratings||5 Star|