Mazda 6 2.5 GT Sport Nav+: long-term test review
Final report: as the new MX-5 takes its place, we bid farewell to our much-loved Mazda 6 family car
The Mazda 6 isn’t a class-leading car, because other models are better value. But we’ve fallen for the big saloon’s charms after living with it for six months; it’s really comfortable and satisfying to drive.
Mileage: 9,967Economy: 38.9mpg
As one door closes, another opens. That’s literally the case on our test fleet, because as soon as one model leaves our car park, there’s another to take its place.
I’ve become quite fond of our 6 over the six months or so it’s been in our care. I don’t think this flagship GT Sport Nav+ model, with its 2.5-litre petrol engine and automatic gearbox, is the pick of the range – far from it, in fact, as neither of the elements in its powertrain is convincing. But the rest of the package is exactly the kind of thing I would be looking for in a family saloon if I wanted to buy one.
The 2.5-litre engine is surprisingly economical (we managed 38.9mpg on average, with more possible on motorway-heavy trips), although if cutting fuel bills is a priority then the diesel versions are better.
If it’s fun you want, then I suspect the smaller 2.0-litre petrol will be a better choice, because the 2.5 doesn’t much like to be revved, despite its power arriving high up in the rev range. Still, I prefer it to the dull turbocharged units in rivals like Skoda’s Superb. At least it has a bit of personality.
The same can’t be said of the gearbox, which is pretty old-school. It’s dim-witted and slow to change when you use it manually. Considering the manual boxes in every other Mazda are pretty much perfect, that’s definitely what I’d pick.
But when you look at all the aspects that are important in a family saloon, the rest of the car hits the nail on the head.
The main one is the ride comfort, which is excellent. The 6 is composed and potholes don’t crash into the cabin on B-roads. On the motorway it’s as smooth as luxury cars that cost tens of thousands of pounds more, yet it doesn’t feel floaty or unwieldy in corners.
There’s enough body roll that you won’t mistake it for a sports car, and while it doesn’t have the incredible balance of ability found in BMW’s saloon car range, it’s good enough to keep your confidence up.
The ride is complemented by the brilliant and supportive seats, which are part of a similarly excellent interior. Some of my colleagues aren’t fans of the Mazda’s design, but I love its simplicity, and the quality of the materials is impressive. Overall, the 6 has a very Japanese feel – built to a high standard, without being flashy or tacky.
It’s just a shame that its infotainment system is so far behind what you get in its European rivals. The standard interface is well thought out and easy to understand, but it looks a bit last-generation. We also had Apple CarPlay and Android Auto fitted as part of a dealer upgrade during our loan; sadly they’re pretty awful on the 6’s screen.
Once it’s up and running, it works well enough, but it’s just about the slowest-loading smartphone interface I’ve ever used. I was very nearly late to my meeting with James because I was sitting in my driveway waiting for the system to warm up so that I could input the destination to the nav.
I was glad to get the 6 together with our new MX-5, because it shows off just how well Mazda is doing at exterior design these days. The Soul Red Crystal paint on both cars is stunning in direct sunlight, and the LED lights look brilliant, too. These are two different ends of the brand’s range, but they would make a great two-car garage for me.
The MX-5 is one of my favourite modern cars to drive, and its new, more powerful engine makes it better than ever, while the 6 is perfect for long motorway trips.
So, while I’m sad to see the back of our saloon, the MX-5 should make up for it.
Mazda 6: third report
Our Mazda 6 impresses by eating up the motorway miles in calming refinement
Mileage: 6,304Economy: 38.9mpg
So far, we’ve done 6,304 miles in the Mazda 6, and I’ve been hugely surprised by it – for all sorts of reasons. Its ability to put miles quietly and calmly beneath its big 19-inch wheels while keeping me chilled and in air-conditioned comfort didn’t come as that much of shock, though. If it couldn’t do this, then the 6 would not be fulfilling its core brief, and few Mazdas are ever that far wide of the mark.
Yet its supreme long-distance refinement has genuinely taken me by surprise. Truth is, I expected the 6 to be a good motorway cruiser, but not this good. Not this relaxing, this comfortable, nor this refined.
As such, I think the 6 is one of the best cars I’ve ever driven over long distances that isn’t a full-on luxury limousine. Its seats are superb, as is the driving position, which adjusts in multiple ways. The refinement from its big-capacity 2.5-litre, 191bhp, non-turbo four-cylinder engine is way better than I thought it might be when it’s settled at a steady 70mph cruise.
Likewise, the ride comfort, ride noise refinement and tyre noise suppression are also astonishing, given how big the rims are. And as for the infotainment system, the sat-nav and the Bose stereo, each contributes to make the 6 a near-perfect companion on a 250-mile journey down to Wales, or up to the North York Moors – to a point where I’ve come to relish rather than recoil in horror from the idea of having to drive this far before dawn or after dusk to and from a remote photo or video shoot.
The cabin has an unusual sense of space and luxury for this class of car, certainly in the front seats. But the rear chairs, although beautifully trimmed in high-quality White Nappa leather (£200) like those up front, are less impressively spacious for the legs, given just how long the 6 is. Having said that, the seats themselves are heated, which is a nice touch, and the boot behind them is vast.
We decided to retro-fit Apple CarPlay to the 6 recently. It costs £350 but is, I believe, well worth it because not only do you get pretty much full use of your smartphone via the touchscreen once it’s installed, but the dealer also upgraded the stereo software at the same time, which has made it sound better than ever. Being able to use Google Maps easily on the move is great, too, even though the standard nav is decent.
Where the 6 is less convincing is when you leave the motorways and start driving it on more challenging roads. It’s not overtly bad in anything it does here, but neither is it engaging in any great way. The 2.5-litre engine becomes quite vociferous, slightly coarse even, when you start to rev it higher and harder, while the six-speed auto box feels quite old school in the lethargic way in which it responds – even if I select “sport” or use the manual shift paddles.
The handling and steering precision are also not exactly cutting edge, even though both are perfectly decent in an anodyne kind of way. But then let’s face it, the 6 isn’t meant to be a B-road bruiser. Its brief is not to take you to the precipice of driving nirvana. Still, if it wasn’t such an excellent cruiser, its beige B-road behaviour would be far harder to forgive. I’m prepared to put up with the lack of outright enjoyment I get out of the Mazda away from motorways, given how good it is when you’re on them.
In any case, the days of tearing around on B-roads seem like a distant memory in most parts of the UK nowadays; there are too many cars, poor road surfaces and so on. Which probably means Mazda has got it about right with the 6’s balance of overall abilities.
One last thing: the styling. I thought the 6 looked barely more than okay initially. But I’ve become quite fond of its design. And so, it seems, have quite a lot of other people. I’ve been asked what it is, then told how nice it looks, usually by observers who are well beyond their youth. It seems to hit the spot visually with a fair chunk of the public. Yet it also blends in and doesn’t shout about itself. I really like that – much like the rest of the car.
Mazda 6: second report
Mazda 6 connectivity update is music to our ears
Mileage: 5,490Economy: 39.4mpg
To be honest, I was perfectly happy with the factory-fit sat-nav on the Mazda 6 we’re running on our fleet, as well as its excellent Bose stereo and fine hands-free communications package. But when I found out Android Auto and Apple CarPlay could be retrofitted to our car (it costs £350), I wasn’t going to say no.
Apple CarPlay allows me to hook my phone up to the infotainment system, so I can drop pins to navigate to the most remote spots and use my phone’s features on the move without having to take my hands off the wheel. Let’s face it, that’s pretty useful.
Hendy Mazda Horsham in West Sussex also upgraded the Bose stereo as part of the fitment package, so my music sounds better than ever, plus in some cases the car’s firmware gets an upgrade (although our model didn’t need it).
I’d presumed that adding CarPlay would require no more than a few minutes on a laptop to install some new software and then, bosh, I’d be on my way. But I was wrong. It takes a good couple of hours to fit, because half the dashboard needs to be removed to add extra wiring, along with some new hardware bits to improve the sound system.
So our car went into the dealership for a couple of days and I was given a Mazda 2 to nip about in as a replacement, which I enjoyed an awful lot more than I thought I might. When I went to collect our 6 it had been valeted from top to bottom and the CarPlay system was up and running. It really does work a treat, and the Bose stereo sounds better than ever.
When staff told me what the installation involved, I did wonder whether the Mazda might gain the odd rattle as well as phone functionality, but, so far, there hasn’t been a sound.
Mazda 6: first report
Is the non-turbo Mazda 6 saloon a throwback like a classic camera?
Mileage: 2,601Economy: 39.9mpg
Our new Mazda 6 saloon has been welcomed to the fleet by going straight in at the deep end: a 2,000-mile drive down to Italy on its first week with Auto Express.
There was plenty of time for me to contemplate the Mazda’s merits on the two-day trip to Piacenza, and I came to realise that the 6 has something in common with my 35mm film camera.
If you’ll excuse the slightly tenuous link, the Mazda’s naturally aspirated 2.5-litre engine is a bit of a throwback in the modern era of turbocharged engines, just like using film. But for me, both of these older methods add to the experience hugely. It’s fun to take pictures on film, just like driving a car with a responsive, smooth and revvy non-turbo engine is a treat.
This large 2.5-litre motor isn’t the best example of this theory because it doesn’t relish revs, but for me, it proves that even a disappointing naturally aspirated engine is more entertaining to use than most turbocharged units.
This powerplant is only available with an automatic gearbox, which is a bit of a shame; Mazda’s manual boxes are all class-leading. That reminds me of my autofocus camera, too: in the same way that I prefer to change gear myself, I’d rather focus manually while snapping.
One final thing they have in common is impeccable build quality. The camera is made of titanium and is a delight to hold, yet because digital cameras are the current trend, it was very affordable to buy. Likewise, the Mazda’s interior is ergonomically superb and wouldn’t look out of place in a far more expensive car.
The more time I spent in the 6 driving through France and Italy, the more I came to appreciate just how well designed it is. The driving position is near-perfect, with the distance between the pedals, seat and steering wheel simply spot-on, even for a tall driver like me.
The seats themselves are plush and comfortable, too, and the cooling function was extremely useful in the 30-degree September heat.
Then there’s the suspension set-up, which provides a smooth ride on the motorway as well as neat handling on the twisty mountain roads once we arrived. It was only here that I really wished for that manual box, because while the auto is fine on the open road, it’s a bit lethargic on twisty sections.
There are better-value cars in this class, and many people will prefer the turbocharged engines in rival models. But the Mazda 6 ticks all the right boxes for me: the engine, driving position, the weights of the controls and the handling mean it’s a very satisfying car to drive, and with its impressive 39.3mpg economy figure, the 6 is my personal favourite family saloon, in part thanks to this long trip.
*Insurance quote from AA (0800 107 0680) for a 42-year-old living in Banbury, Oxfordshire, with three penalty points.