Mazda 6 / Atenza


Debut: 2012
Maker: Mazda
Predecessor: Mazda 6 Mk2 / Atenza



 Published on 29 Oct 2012
All rights reserved. 


We are biased towards special cars, no matter they work or not. Think about it: if all cars in the world are built like Camry or Accord, will our motoring lives be as colorful as today? Fortunately, there are companies like Mazda and Subaru dare to be different. Don't get me wrong, the new Mazda 6 employs neither rotary engines nor gullwing doors, but by family car standards it is unusual. Its exterior design, engines and chassis are all built out of philosophies very different from its mainstream rivals. No matter what the results are, its radical thinking is already worth our admiration.

The radical thinking can be seen from a host of innovative technologies called "Skyactiv". These include efficient engines, lightweight chassis and others, but it is best demonstrated by the new regenerative braking system called i-Eloop. While other manufacturers use expensive absorption glass matt battery to store the high electric current regenerated from braking, Mazda employs super-capacitor and the existing lead-acid battery to do the same job, hence saving weight and money.

The unusual character is also evident from the styling. A prominent, in-your-face front grille ignores the conventional wisdom that tells us the best selling family cars must be inoffensive. In conjunction with aggressive headlights and strongly flowing front fenders, the Mazda 6 looks like a leopard ready to launch a powerful attack on his quarry. It brings a vibrant – or even unsettling – atmosphere that you won't feel from its rivals. Meanwhile, its unusually long bonnet makes it look like a rear-wheel-drive machine, which should delight keen drivers. This visual effect is implemented by turning the front grille upright and pushing back the A-pillars by 100 mm – or the same tricks that Mercedes applied to its new A-class. Mazda wants to make the 6 a poor man's BMW.



The side view of the new car is the most beautiful, because you can see a sleek, "4-door-coupe" proportion. Its C-pillars are so steeply raked that you might wonder how much headroom is left for the rear passengers (don't worry, you'll see later). Compare with the outgoing generation, the new Mazda 6 looks so much slimmer, lighter and sportier. It is also more slippery through the air, as shown by the drag coefficient of 0.26.

Having said that, its exterior design is far from perfect. It has too many rough edges, such as the fog lamp assemblies, the lower intake and probably the whole tail. They are compromised for production feasibility and cost control. If you look back to the 2010 Shinari concept and the 2011 Takeri concept that foreran this car, you will see the production 6 has lost a lot of opportunities. Its shape could have been more adventurous and its details could have been more stylish. The basic elements are carried over from the Takeri, but some subtle changes of curvature and reworked details downgrade the visual appeal considerably. Perhaps Mazda should consult Jaguar's Ian Callum how to make production cars true to the concepts.



The outgoing Mazda 6 offered two versions: a smaller global version and a larger American version. The former was built at its home factory in Hiroshima and the latter was assembled at the Flat Rock plant in Michigan, which was a 50-50 joint-venture with Ford. Now Mazda is no longer tied to Ford and, naturally, the new 6 is to be produced exclusively in Hiroshima. As a result, it can no longer offer two markedly different versions. American motorists will get the same car as those in Japan and Europe, except different choices of engines and slightly different suspension tuning. However, to meet the needs of American, the new sedan is sized to be one of the largest in its segment. In other words, it is a lot larger than the old global version, and close to the old American version:


New Mazda 6
Old Mazda 6 (global)
Old Mazda 6 (USA)
Length
4865 mm
4735 mm
4920 mm
Width
1840 mm
1795 mm
1840 mm
Height
1450 mm
1440 mm
1470 mm
Wheelbase
2830 mm
2725 mm
2790 mm

Strangely, the wagon version is more compact than the sedan, with 80 mm shorter wheelbase and 65 mm shorter length. Why? Because Mazda sees America will be the largest market for the sedan while Europe and Japan will snap up the majority of the wagon. Therefore they are sized differently.

These days all rivals talk about weight reduction. However, most of them resort to high-strength steel. Mazda is different. Not only lifted the use of high and ultra-high strength steel from 40 to 60 percent of the chassis, it goes as far as modifying the chassis structure, strengthening the central tunnel and relocating the load paths so that it can cut unnecessary materials elsewhere without affecting crash worthiness. It also tune the acoustic properties of the chassis so that it can reduce the use of sound deadening materials. As a result, the body-in-white is lightened by 8 percent while torsional rigidity is lifted by 30 percent from the old model. In addition to other weight saving measures, the new Mazda 6 is about 50 kg lighter than the old compact version, even though it is a lot larger, and about 140 kg less than the old American version. Compare with its current rivals, it is about 100-150 kg lighter. That makes a difference in acceleration and handling.



The Skyactiv-G (gasoline) and Skyactiv-D (diesel) engines it used are even more innovative. The former utilizes long 4-2-1 exhaust manifolds, high-pressure direct injection and special pistons to enable an unusually high compression ratio of 14.0:1, lifting power and torque output. Take the Skyactiv-G 2.0-liter for example, it pumps out a remarkable 165 horsepower and 155 pound-foot of torque yet returns excellent fuel economy and emission. Another Skyactiv-G engine is a 2.5-liter four-cylinder, primarily destined to the America. Its compression ratio is a little lower at 13.0:1 as it needs to be compatible with regular (91 RON) fuel, but still it produces a remarkable 192 hp and 189 lbft. Moreover, the maximum torque needs no more than 3250 rpm to realize, guaranteeing good tractability. Mazda found an alternative solution to modern turbocharged engines.

Even better is the 2.2-liter Skyactiv-D turbo diesel. It offers two states of tune – 150 hp / 280 lbft or 175 hp / 310 lbft. Contrary to the petrol, it employs the lowest ever compression ratio (14.0:1) for diesel engines. The lower pressure in combustion chambers results in less NOx formation thus allows the engine to comply with Euro 6 and US standards without resorting to expensive urea (adblue) after-treatment. Moreover, due to the reduced stress it can switch to aluminum head and block, lighten the pistons, con-rods, crankshaft and uses smaller bearings. These result in a saving of more than 30 kg and 20 percent of friction. Reduced compression would have led to lower combustion temperature hence misfire during cold start, so Mazda employs variable valve lift to open exhaust valves during intake stroke, drawing hot exhaust gas back to the combustion chambers and lifting temperature. Besides, piezo injectors are employed to enable up to 9 injections during each combustion cycle to keep temperature under control. Finally, a two-stage sequential twin-turbo system (with a small turbo and a larger turbo connected in stage) ensures quick spool up and high output simultaneously.


In reality, the 2.2 Skyactiv-D engine is a gem. It revs like a petrol engine thanks to the lighter reciprocating parts. Redline is unusually high at 5200 rpm. Power delivery is smooth and responsive. Its strong torque and flexibility leave you no regret for the demise of V6 engine. The only downside is a little more diesel clatter at startup and when you push it hard, which means it is not the most refined diesel in Europe. This is a diesel engine for the enthusiasts.

Annoyingly, Mazda also dubs the 6-speed manual and 6-speed automatic transmission as "Skyactiv" technology. Their designs are actually conventional. However, keen drivers will be delighted with both units – the manual has a slick, short-throw and mechanical-feeling gearshift like that of the MX-5, while the torque-converter automatic is smooth, responsive and clever. They are simply the best of the class.

Unfortunately, the chassis dynamics are not as good as the powertrain. While the car feels light and responsive to steer, its strut and multi-link suspension rides unexpectedly firm, especially on 19-inch wheels. This sporting flavor is similar to Ford Fusion but without the latter's compliance. On rough surfaces the ride could be harsh and noisy. Yes, noise is an issue in the cabin. Mazda has reduced sound deadening to the extent that the cabin can hear noticeably more suspension, road and engine noise than its main competitors. If you look for comfort and refinement, you had better to avoid this car.

The new electrical power steering is also disappointing. Quick and precise it might be, it just lacks feel, especially around the straight ahead. This makes it less engaging to drive than the Ford Fusion.



The interior is a mixed bag, too. Its design is old-fashioned and boring, a sharp contrast to the exterior. Materials are expensive enough, but the conventional instrument lacks sophistication. The TomTom sat-nav display looks terrible, not only its small size but also its poor integration with the center console. It looks simply like an aftermarket installation! TomTom is usually used in cheap small cars, no wonder its graphic looks grained and its reaction is slow. However, if your first priority is to enjoy driving, this cabin should be a good companion. The driving position is excellent. The seats are supportive. The thick-rim, small-diameter steering wheel feels great in hands. Besides, all four corners accommodate 6-footers with ease, despite of the sloping roof line. Only the fast C-pillars present some difficulties for tall passengers to get into the cabin.

Overall, the new Mazda 6 is a welcomed attempt to break the mold of mainstream family cars. It has some really innovative and efficient engines. It looks and drives different from the established nameplates. However, as much as we love unusual cars, we cannot give it top rating due to its flaws in ride comfort, noise suppression and steering feel. At the current state, it is not good enough to challenge the new Ford Fusion / Mondeo.
Verdict: 
Specifications





Year
Layout
Chassis
Body
Length / width / height
Wheelbase
Engine
Capacity
Valve gears
Induction
Other engine features
Max power
Max torque
Transmission

Suspension layout

Suspension features
Tires
Kerb weight
Top speed
0-60 mph (sec)

0-100 mph (sec)

Mazda 6 Skyactiv-G 2.0
2012
Front-engined, FWD
Steel monocoque
Mainly steel
4865 / 1840 / 1450 mm
2830 mm
Inline-4
1998 cc
DOHC 16 valves, DVVT
-
DI
165 hp
155 lbft
6-speed manual

F: strut
R: multi-link
-
225/55R17
1300 kg
132 mph (est)
8.6 (est)

-

Mazda 6 Skyactiv-G 2.5
2012
Front-engined, FWD
Steel monocoque
Mainly steel
4865 / 1840 / 1450 mm
2830 mm
Inline-4
2488 cc
DOHC 16 valves, DVVT
-
DI
192 hp
189 lbft
6-speed manual or
6-speed automatic
F: strut
R: multi-link
-
225/45WR19
1360 kg
138 mph (c)
6M: 7.9*
6A: 7.4 (c) / 7.0* / 7.4**
6M: 20.0*
6A: 20.0*
Mazda 6 Skyactiv-D 2.2
2012
Front-engined, FWD
Steel monocoque
Mainly steel
4865 / 1840 / 1450 mm
2830 mm
Inline-4, diesel
2189 cc
DOHC 16 valves, VVL
Sequential twin-turbo
CDI
175 hp
310 lbft
6-speed manual

F: strut
R: multi-link
-
225/45WR19
1405 kg
139 mph (c)
7.9 (c) / 7.9***

21.2***





Performance tested by: *C&D, **MT, ***Autocar





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