Mazda6 review: is this the last chance for saloons?
The Mazda6’s price, spec and styling keep it competitive but in an ever-shrinking corner of the market
A quick glance at my wardrobe is enough to tell you that tastes come and go and fashions change, sometimes leaving the unwary behind.
Whether it’s the clothes we wear, how we decorate our homes or the cars we drive, nothing stays the same for very long and the pinnacle of desire one day is quickly cast aside when the next big thing comes along.
Take saloons, for example. Once they were the go-to model for any business or family buyer trying to show that they’re doing very nicely, thank you very much. But in the last decade the trusty four-door, three-box design has been abandoned by the car-buying public in its rush for anything SUV-shaped.
Which puts the Mazda6 in a rather awkward position. Along with mainstream rivals like the Ford Mondeo and Vauxhall Insignia it’s soldiering on, trying to stay relevant as its parent brand throws its weight behind its SUV offering.
Making our test car even less fashionable is its engine - a 2.5-litre naturally aspirated petrol. The only thing that could be more out of touch with current trends is if it was a diesel but Mazda has seen the writing on the wall and dropped oil-burners from the 6 line-up.
Despite packing nearly 200bhp, the engine feels old-fashioned. We’ve become used to relatively small turbocharged engines that spin up quickly and offer lots of low-down torque. In the face of those, the Mazda’s big slow-building unit feels a little lazy and unresponsive. You have to work it hard to get the best performance and doing so exposes a noisy and coarse engine note that’s out of keeping with the car’s general air of refinement.
It’s not all bad news, though. For a car its size still feels fairly responsive, with light and sharp handling and a decent ride that can handle tight A roads or long motorways with equal control. It’s a testament to the underlying chassis skills of Mazda’s engineers, who set a lot of store in the connection between driver and car.
Also testament to Mazda’s overarching philosophy is that, despite being more than five years old, the 6 still looks remarkably modern. The saloon shape might have fallen out of favour but the 6’s simple, unfussy styling means it is wearing its age well.
Inside, it’s more of a mixed bag. Mazda’s interiors have long managed to feel just a little more upmarket and well designed than their mainstream rivals and even now the 6’s spacious cabin feels well built and classy. The choice of materials and simple layout work in its favour but certain elements - principally the poorly integrated and low-resolution infotainment screen and simple analogue dials - are beginning to feel a little outdated, not just compared to rivals but compared to other Mazdas.
To try to add a fresh sheen to the 6, Mazda recently announced a special Kuro Edition. Based on the 163bhp petrol model and limited to just 100 units, it builds on the Sport trim with a standard metallic grey paint finish, gloss black 19-inch alloys, black exterior trim and burgundy leather upholstery.
Our test car, however, was the top-specification GT Sport, which means a gunmetal finish to the grille plus perforated brown Nappa leather seats and real wood trim. Goodies such as heating for front and rear seats and the steering wheel plus ventilation for the front seats mark this trim out, along with a 360-degree camera system, adaptive LED headlights, 11-speaker Bose sound system and adaptive cruise control.
The specification helps keep the Mazda6 in touch with rival models and it still leads the way on styling but it’s competing in an increasingly irrelevant market. Ford has already said the Mondeo will be killed off in 2022 and the Insignia is expected to morph into a crossover but Mazda still sees a global market for the 6, with a new model on the way in 2023. Until then, it’s pressing on with the existing model which, for all its qualities, feels increasingly left behind in a fast-moving world.
Mazda6 GT Sport
Price: £32,370; Engine: 2.5-litre, four-cylinder, petrol; Power: 191bhp; Torque: 190lb ft; Transmission: Six-speed automatic; Top speed: 142mph; 0-62mph: 8.1 seconds; Economy: 38.2mpg; CO2 emissions: 167g/km