MANY moons ago, there was a mythical era in which wifey and I lived, now known as ‘The time before kids’. It was a care-free place, where we clung onto our youth and lived with wild abandon.
At some point, adult responsibilities kicked in and we decided we should act our age and become sensible. Well, sort of.
Kids were going to be on the cards soon and we conceded that the old BMW E30 318i coupe wasn’t going to cut it – we needed to buy a practical car in which to transport our imminent brood.
This is going back almost a decade to 2010, when Commodore was king, but the Toyota Corolla and Mazda 3 would soon topple the Holden in the sales charts.
Our criteria back then was for a decent-sized sedan that was vaguely economical, but also a bit of fun to drive. On top of our list were the Honda Accord Euro and Mazda 6, both of which had performed well in Wheels comparos (including one in September 2010).
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Ultimately, the 6 won out. In our opinion it looked better and was more fun to drive, plus it had more space. We managed to pick up a black ex-demo hatchback at a decent price, and that car still sits in our driveway, having served us faithfully since.
Fast-forward to the present and I’ve been handed the keys to an updated Mazda 6. This one is a fresh Atenza wagon, finished in Snowflake White Pearl. It’s the range-topper of a model range that has just gone through a recent round of updates, refreshing the third-generation 6, which was launched in 2012. Riding on new 19-inch alloy wheels and wearing 225/45R19 rubber, the exterior changes are subtle but for the better.
The redesigned grille is deeper and has a classier mesh design and the fog lights are now integrated into the headlights, giving the front of the car a simpler, cleaner appearance.
The rear has also been tweaked, with the exhaust outlets increased in diameter and nudged outward, and the whole bumper is now body-coloured, ditching the previous model’s unpainted lower plastic panel.
Okay, none of this is hugely significant, but after spotting a previous-gen wagon recently, the subtle but effective visual lift became obvious. All of which pleases my design-nerd sensibilities.
Step inside and the cabin is finished in a new Walnut Brown Nappa leather (exclusive to Atenza models), with Sen wood accents and suede trim. I’ve never been a massive fan of brown anything, but in this car it matches the exterior perfectly and adds a touch of class, which I clearly need.
On the safety front, the 6 now comes with standard i-Activesense tech, which incorporates Smart City Brake Support (auto braking), adaptive LED headlights and Intelligent Speed Assist (a warning system for when you’re accidently lead-footing it). Also included is radar cruise control, which controls the speed and distance to the vehicle directly in front, bringing the Mazda to a stop if needed. Should we say ‘hello Skynet?’
Atenza models also include Mazda’s new bingle-preventing 360 View Monitor and a new 7.0-inch LCD display screen in the dial cluster. Other additions include a revised centre console and redesigned seats – ventilated in Atenza spec only. Bring on summer!
The biggest change for the latest update is under the sculpted Kodo bonnet – the upgrade from atmo to turbo power for GT and Atenza petrols. The SkyActiv-G 2.5-litre turbo petrol engine is borrowed from the COTY-winning CX-9 and lifts power by 30kW compared with the atmo 2.5 Sport and Touring to a total of 170kW. But it’s the torque boost that’s really significant – a 168Nm bump to 420Nm.
Yes, it’s nice having the latest tech and a sleek-looking exterior, but the biggest drawcards by far are this new engine and the dynamic capabilities promised by Mazda’s latest offering.
The question now is, almost a decade after we bought one – would a Mazda 6 still be worthy of our family-car dollars? The next few months will reveal all.
By Felipe Ubilla
BLAME THE Griswolds in National Lampoon’s Vacation. Their horrid 1979 Ford LTD is one of the most hideous examples of a wagon I’ve ever laid eyes on. Not only did it sear my retinas, it also put me off the body shape for over a decade. It wasn’t until Audi came through with the RS4 in 1999 that I paid any attention to cars of that shape. The clean design and brutal performance (mostly) had something to do with it.
Since then I have developed a soft spot for wagons and the possibility of actually owning one has become very real.
Enter the Mazda 6 Atenza I’m currently the custodian of. For a car that’s been around for almost eight years, its design is doing well to stand the test of time. The boffins at Mazda’s design studio have done an exceptional job of crafting a body that’s good to look at from all angles – in my opinion the wagon looks superior to the sedan.
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Things get even better on the inside. The clean and simple design is easy on the eye and even nicer to the touch – the range of materials used are all of exceptional quality with a matching finish. There’s a sense of German influence that other Japanese manufacturers haven’t come close to yet.
One aspect that jarred with me was the central infotainment screen. At times in the past I’ve wondered why Mazda has persisted with a relatively small unit while competitors have gone to cinema-sized displays. Living with it, I’ve come to realise that it doesn’t need to be bigger – all the information needed is presented in a clever format, without redundant info that would only be a distraction. It’s a good execution of KISS – keep it simple, stupid.
The seats are the real treat in the 2018 update. Rolling on 19-inch wheels and tyres, the ride is a bit on the firm side but the seats do a great job of suppressing any spine-jarring jolts that our rubbish roads can dish out.
With Melbourne’s bipolar weather tendencies, the heating and ventilation feature in the front pews is a welcome inclusion on the Atenza’s feature list. Cold morning + toasty seat = nice fuzzy feeling.
Thus far the 6 has been a pleasure to drive day-to-day, my only gripe being with the thick A-pillars that can obscure your vision in some situations.
If you’re thinking of upgrading, Chevy Chase, please take note.
By Felipe Ubilla
THIS past month the Mazda 6 Atenza has done a fine job of lobbing the kids around and doing the daily grind to and from work. Anyone that’s jumped in for a ride has been complementary of the car’s interior and premium feel. More than enough to bring a proud smile to my face, even if the car isn’t mine.
In the middle of the month the routine was broken by the week-long organised chaos that is COTY. Throughout the year there’s nowhere better to compare the latest and greatest new metal in one location.
While the Camaro, A110 and I-Pace held my interest, there were a choice couple that needed scrutinising – the Camry and Commodore. From this year’s COTY line-up, these two are the closest rivals to the 6.
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This year the first round of action took place at the Ford Proving Ground in Sandy Creek. Taking country roads to the event presented the perfect opportunity to stretch the Atenza’s legs.
Surrounded by green farmlands, the Japanese wagon ate up the scenery, demolishing long straights broken by occasional sweeping curves. Taking the punishment from dips, potholes and dirt roads, the 6 never felt unsettled. Mazda has done a brilliant job there. Its suspension almost feels tailored for local conditions.
In between ferrying cars to wash-bays and photoshoots, I nabbed the keys to the Toyota Camry SL V6 and took it for a quick spin. The exterior styling has come a long way, making the 2018 model a visually attractive option. There’s a generously sized interior with great forward vision, although you feel as though you are sitting on the car, not in it. This model had the grandpa-spec beige interior and while quite good, it doesn’t match the 6’s polish and design sophistication.
The engine – a bigger 3.5-litre V6 – really lacks the low-end punch of the Mazda’s 2.5 litre turbo – peak power feels like a lifetime away. If excitement is what you lust for maybe look into the hybrid powertrain with the higher torque figure.
Next was the ZB Commodore. While the RS packs more power and arguably drives better, it’s let down by its interior quality and design. As for space, it’s generous and makes for a great option as a family vehicle at a lower price point.
For me, the 6 presents a better balance of the previous two – reasonable grunt when needed and attractive packaging. The list of standard features leaves out little, and puts pricier vehicles in our current Wheels garage to shame.
The keys are due back soon. Dread is beginning to sink in.
By Felipe Ubilla
Blame the dog. No, seriously, blame Tess the golden retriever for my doubts over the capabilities of the Mazda 6 wagon.
Allow me to elaborate.
Over the Christmas break we scored a house-sitting gig right next to the coast for four weeks. Simply looking after a dog and a cat, with the beach just down the road, it was more like winning a free holiday.
The only downer was that I could only take the first two weeks off, and would have to commute to work for the second part of our stay. This meant that two cars would be needed. Not an issue, given we’d have plenty of space in our own 2009 Mazda 6 hatch and the trusty Atenza wagon long-termer to carry our gear down.
Surprisingly, though, we managed to fill both cars very quickly. Clothes for four, a pram, beach gear, Christmas presents, toys, food, plus a bloody Thermomix – all the space we had disappeared very quickly. Taking the PS4 with the wheel and pedal stand probably didn’t help, but I’m on holiday, so screw it.
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I’m sure we could have cut the pile down and stuffed it all into the wagon if need be. The 506 litres of cargo capacity, measured to the tonneau cover, is more than what is available in many mid-sized SUVs.
But having now spent a month with Tess, we’ve suddenly realised we want a golden retriever. Unfortunately, something like the 6 wagon just wouldn’t cut it as our primary family hauler with a canine added to the mix. Not unless we bought a chihuahua.
The 170kW turbo engine had little issue on the way up the winding mountain road, but the suspension isn’t tuned for outright performance, and so the wagon can feel like it’s leaning through corners. Powering out also incites wheelspin and electronic intervention when all 420Nm kicks in.
The 6 is great as a tourer, though, and is a good size for a family of four, but anything more than that and you really should be looking at something larger. Well, unless you’re a family of nudists.
By Felipe Ubilla
It’s not perfect by any means, and there are things I dislike. The A-pillars are overly thick, the infotainment screen is small compared to almost any new release and the sunroof seems minuscule when competitors have vast panoramic offerings.
The low-slung wagon style also might not agree with families with small children. My two kids are old enough to clamber up individually and the youngest just needs help with the booster-seat straps.
Had I been driving the Atenza three years ago the story would have been different – constantly crouching to strap in wriggling kids might well have destroyed my spine. The temptation to buy a high-riding SUV in these situations seems justified.
The cargo space may also be an issue for families with more than one kid. Its respectable 506 litres is trumped by the likes of the Skoda Octavia or Holden Commodore wagons.
Part of that is due to the 6’s swooping body and roof line, tapering down into the rear hatch, and thus compromising the internal space.
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But those lines are one of the 6’s great assets – its fluid shape helps to differentiate it from competitors, carrying over the Kodo design language. As a design nerd I’ve always admired Mazda’s knack for creating vehicles that all look related – throw an RX-8 and a BK-series 3 in the same room and you’ll soon understand what I’m preaching. All the update tweaks to the 6 in 2018 only strengthened the range’s looks and appeal.
Step inside and things only get better. The 6 possesses cleaner design and is more aesthetically pleasing than its competitors. Using materials that include Nappa leather, wood and suede trim, it sets the benchmark for this segment and makes it feel a class above.
The overall design works incredibly well, everything is within reach and topped off with considered touches, like the infotaiment screen being slightly angled toward the driver. Smart.
Tie all this in with an 11-speaker premium Bose sound system and a great seating position and there’s not much that can ruin the driving experience.
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The 2.5-litre 170kW turbo engine, donated from the CX-9, is smooth in delivering its 420Nm of torque from 2000rpm. It will hustle along nicely, as long as you don’t expect performance-car figures. That’s not the point of the Atenza, of course. It’s a refined and effortless car to drive. If thrills are what you’re looking for, have a drive of an Octavia RS instead.
So five months after first grabbing the fob, the 6 Atenza is still impressing. With great presentation and safety features (too many to list), the Mazda presents a difficult option to pass up as a family hauler because it ticks so many of the boxes sought by people with children to transport.
Whatever I jump into next has a hard act to follow.