The big Mazda6 tops the Japanese brand’s range and has always been handsome, engaging to drive, well-equipped and classy – if a slightly alternative choice.
Originally launched in 2013, and available as an athletic saloon or cavernous tourer estate, it competes with the likes of the Skoda Superb, Ford Mondeo and Volkswagen Passat.
Well, now Mazda has decided to give its UK flagship a mid-life makeover to keep it at the front of the pack.
The most obvious change is the revised front end which now features a bold new grille not unlike its SUV sibling, the CX-5. Deeper than before, it sweeps out to integrated LED headlights – there’s also a redesigned bumper and air intake. The result is distinctive, giving the Mazda6 a more aggressive stance and greater road presence.
There are more subtle tweaks at the rear with a remodelled boot lid, bumper and more body coloured areas, plus new alloy wheel designs and a striking Soul Red Metallic paint option.
Inside, Mazda’s used classy new materials such as real Japanese Sen Wood trim and brown Nappa leather and suede to underline the cabin’s premium feel.
Other design tweaks, such as extending the air vents into the door trim, have help create more of a sense of width in a cockpit which always felt spacious.
There’s a new 8.0-inch infotainment screen in the centre console, but a 7.0-inch info screen in the instrument binnacle.
The most welcome change is the adoption of a new head-up display, which dispenses with the flip-up perspex mini-screen and now projects directly onto the windscreen.
Apparently, seat comfort has also been improved, plus there’s a new flagship GT Sport Nav+ trim.
The big news is the addition of a new 2.5-litre petrol engine which includes cylinder deactivation (a technology that shuts down part of the engine when not needed to boost economy) mated with an automatic gearbox.
This 191bhp engine is capable of delivering 42.2mpg fuel economy and CO2 emissions of 153g/km. It’s also fast with an 8.1-second 0-62mph time and 138mph top speed.
Other enhancements include an increase in standard active safety equipment across the range – all models now feature Blind Spot Monitoring with rear cross traffic alert, active cruise control, lane keep assist and autonomous emergency braking (AEB).
The Mazda 6 range starts at £23,195 for the entry-level SE-L Nav+ 143bhp 2.0-litre petrol rising to £33,585 for the 181bhp GT Sport 2.2-litre diesel in GT Sport Nav+ specification.
And it’s the new 2.5-litre petrol engine in GT Sport Nav+ that I’ve been testing – on the road price £30,795.
Smooth and powerful, it feels brisker than the figures suggest. Slip it into Sport mode and it’s even more potent.
No complaints about the six-speed automatic gearbox either, but it’s a shame that there isn’t a stick-shift option – Mazda’s manual boxes are some of the slickest in the business.
However, the inside-cabin refinement of the 2.5-litre four-cylinder engine wasn’t quite so impressive and it was more vocal than I expected under heavy acceleration. That said, it settled down nicely when cruising on A-roads and motorways – the Mazda6’s more natural habitat.
Mazda’s also made modifications to the suspension. I can’t say I noticed too much of a difference, largely because it’s always been a star performer when it comes to ride and handling.
Offering real driver engagement, it’s planted and a joy to drive. Whether I’d pay the extra for the bigger engine is another matter, because the 2.0-litre petrols and 2.2-litre diesels are such good units.
Verdict: The revised Mazda6 is better than ever. Handsome, practical, well equipped, solidly built and great to drive, it’s still one of best cars in its class – just take your time to analyse the trim levels and test drive the different engines to work out which one is best for you.
Review in association with www.automotiveblog.co.uk