Gordon Hall – Motormouth
Mazda Southern Africa has kept a low profile until recently. For example, the 2012 facelift of Mazda6 passed unheralded and its new 2.2-litre Skyactiv-D engine, developed from the MZR-CD series, wasn’t mentioned.
Newly separated from Ford SA, the company rebirthed in a blaze of publicity over the past few months. With 46 dedicated dealerships and separate marketing, spares and maintenance programmes, the brand aims to regain its almost-cult status of bygone years. New models are coming, but for now the company is running with updated and facelifted versions of old favourites. That includes Mazda6 with its legacy pair of petrol engines and the newly updated diesel.
It uses common rail injection and runs on a low14:1 compression ratio to reduce operating temperatures and, consequently, nitrous-oxide emissions. Its aluminium block reduces weight to the same as that of a petrol engine and eliminates nose-heaviness often found with diesel-powered cars. Twin (big and small) turbochargers kick in and out as needed to produce an even spread of power; spinning freely to over 5000 rpm.
Put plainly it drives smoothly, revs almost like a petrol motor and has big-engine torque for loafing along at low rpm with power in reserve for overtaking. Audiby a diesel to those listening outside, it’s practically silent within. Switching off the Bose 11-speaker sound system and keeping aircon fan speed low, all you should hear, while getting a hustle on, is the subdued snarl of a sporty car doing its work.
On that note, the car’s front strut- and multilink rear suspension might be set a little too firmly for drivers expecting luxuriously cushioned comfort, but those wanting a sporty ride that handles confidently, and hangs on tenaciously, will be pleased with it. An unfortunate side-effect of the firmness is that it tends to “clonk” over speed humps; even taken at whatever cautious speed was posted for that section of road.
Mazda decided against dual-clutch innards for its six-speed SkyActiv automatic because that technology apparently doesn’t behave well in certain situations. Instead, Mazda re-designed its conventional autobox so the torque converter takes less strain while a multi-plate clutch keeps it disengaged most of the time. The transmission, with its short torque converter and integrated clutch, occupies the same space as a manual ‘box.
In simple English it shifts quickly and smoothly without defaulting to a higher ratio simply because that’s what others do. Sixty km/h on a level road is usually tackled in fourth at usable revs, for example, and it always seems to be in the perfect gear whatever the occasion. It behaves exactly like a decent twin-clutch even though Mazda doesn’t like you saying so.
Speaking of defaulting, the music player switches back to radio on restarting the engine, so you have to reselect USB for instance. And retell it to play random tracks. It gets annoying. A less irritating default-to-off is rear vehicle monitoring (RVM) that lets you know when a vehicle is in your blind spot or about to overtake. It stays off until you engage it, because unwanted beeping and flashing could become tiresome.
Because this is the top-of-line Atenza model, it is very well equipped. Apart from expected braking, handling and safety features including six airbags, cruise control, ISOFix, lane departure warning, RVM, daytime running lights, automatically dipping rearview mirror, adaptive bi-xenon headlights and high beam control, it also features parking monitors and a reversing camera. It is 5-star ANCAP rated.
Comfort and luxury items include dual channel climate control, Bluetooth, touch-screen controls, leather upholstery with powered adjusters for both front chairs, two memory settings and lumbar adjustment for the driver, powered sunroof, autolock, remote opening boot lid, electric windows and mirrors, keyless entry with push-button starting and a trip computer.
The boot is generous without being huge. A bonus is that it’s sufficiently deep for a big cooler box to fit below the reinforcing beam – so you don’t lose loading length as on some cars. Back seat passenger space is plentiful and nicely appointed, although the usual caveat for middle passengers applies.
Attractively styled, spacious, well made, economical and with all the power you need, the Mazda6 is your free-will alternative to pretentious and predictable Euro-wagons.
Test car from Mazda SA press fleet
The cheat sheet
Price: R 430 500
Engine: 2191 cc, four-cylinder, chain driven DOHC, 16-valve turbodiesel
Power: 129 kW at 4500 rpm
Torque: 420 Nm between 1800 and 3000 rpm
Zero to 100 km/h: 8.4 seconds
Maximum speed: 215 km/h
Real life fuel consumption: About 7.3 l/100 km
Tank: 62 litres
Boot: 483 litres
Warranty: 3 years/unlimited distance; with roadside assistance
Service plan: 3 years/unlimited distance; at 15 000 km intervals
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