September 15, 2016 @ 04:38 PM

Review: Mazda 6 2.2 SkyActiv-D - Left field yet on track

The agile and smartly-dressed Mazda 6 slips into something brawnier but does that take away anything from its refined persona? Fortunately, things only get better.


Mazda has never been one to bend over for conventional wisdom. When many carmakers wouldn’t touch the rotary engine with a ten foot pole, the eccentric Hiroshima manufacturer further developed Felix Wankel’s engine and fixed its inherent frailties to power its vehicles for decades.
 
Similarly, when Mazda made the decision to develop diesel engines, it did so innovatively to deliver a refined yet sporty, torquey yet economical engine that could amalgamate all the virtues of its current Zoom Zoom ethos.
 
Having sampled the SkyActiv-D Mazda 6 a while back; and being blown away by the sum of its capabilities, some extra seat time allowed us the opportunity to experience the finer traits of the sedan.


 
Joining the three current petrol-powered SkyActiv-G variants, the Mazda 6 SkyActiv-D is priced at a premium over its own siblings, let alone its rivals. It packs identical equipment to the flagship petrol guise and will cost north of RM200,000, placing it right smack in the middle of the BMW 318i’s court. Its direct rival, and only, is the Peugeot 508GT that makes more power and torque but lacks the polished finish of the 6.
 
The premium pricing is something that will undoubtedly be a stumbling block for the generic D-segment buyer but Mazda isn't going to lose any sleep over that. Since its revival here under the stewardship of Datuk Ben Yeoh, he has pursued quality over quantity and positioned the 6 a step above its peers; an option to bridge the gap between a traditional D-segment and the entry-level premium German sedans.


 
Nonetheless, buyers above this price bracket are more accustomed to longitudinally-mounted engines driving the rear wheels and not transversely-mounted blocks powering the steered wheels but the SkyActiv-D 6 argues a good case for itself.
 
Dressing up the diesel 6 to the nines of its petrol sibling has made distinguishing the variants a near impossibility save for two giveaways that even the most perceptive would be forgiven for overlooking. Rear fog lights and the SkyActiv-D badge; those are the only visual clues.


 
The rest of the cosmetic collection is standard fare for Mazda; wheels one size too large to intricately mirror the Shinari concept that is the embodiment of its Kodo design language. Unmistakable from any distance, the 6 exudes understated elegance and debonair refinement even in its iconic shade of Soul Red.
 
On a side note, the stickers aren’t standard; for those of you leveraging your purchase decision on it being a rolling billboard.


 
Justifying the premium places on its price to the last cent, the cabin is an extension of the exterior with its muted yet assertive and ergonomic styling that impishly blends a deep; almost black, brown with a proper black for a seemingly monochromatic interior colour scheme. It takes a while to ascertain the brown trim bits but when you do, the realisation of how well it gels together dawns upon you.
 
Only the best will do for Mazda and in this case, it extends to the materials as well. As restrained as the switchgear design comes across, its inherent grade is immediately discernible. Freeing up space in the centre console is the switch from a mechanical to electronic parking brake that also adds to the sense of premium-ness it surrounds itself with.


 
Under the hood sits the advanced 2.2-litre SkyActiv-D turbodiesel mill that packs some pioneering engineering to put it ahead of the oil-burning pack. It all begins with the petrol-esque low compression of 14.0:1 that results in a cleaner, more complete burn for almost negligible levels of nitrogen oxide that sees it adhering to emissions requirements without the need for a diesel particulate filter.
 
Diesel engines generally operate at a higher compression ratio, necessitating a stronger block to handle the pressure. With the drop in ratio, the block can be made thinner, hence lighter, and the SkyActiv-D mill adopts some petrol engine traits.


 
It revs much smoother and quicker, displaying an urgency for the redline that complements the chassis’s dynamic qualities. Packing 171bhp and 420Nm of torque, the engine is uncharacteristically lively and the six-speed automatic SkyActiv-D transmission is the consummate middleman to channel the power to the front wheels.
 
Shifts are firm and surprisingly quick when pushed yet the torque-converter automatic will take a step back and ease up a bit in regular traffic. Regardless of your right foot’s aggression on the throttle, the shifts are seamless and well isolated from the cabin; even on downshifts closer to the redline. Paddle shifters are not out of place here, adding to the sensation of speed that flows from the seat through your bottom.


 
Mazda are the undisputed purveyors of reasonably-affordable-yet-dun-to-drive cars and the 6 has always been a deft touch or two ahead of its peers. Although the accelerating intensity of the petrol-engines suit the 6 better, the fact that the SkyActiv-D engine resembles a petrol mill more deems the shortcomings negligible.
 
High speeds reflect a stability that is calming and reassuring while turns are taken convincingly with agility that is missing from its rivals. The electric power steering is unsurprisingly communicative whilst numbing the imperfections of the roads without leaving anything lost in translation.


 
As athletic as the chassis is, the ride is supple and plush. Given the paper-thin sidewall profiles, the engineers have managed to fine tune a sporty yet forgiving ride.
 
Mazda claims an official fuel consumption of 4.8 litres/100km. We never got close to it, returning the car with an average reading of 7.5 litres/100km. Blame can be directed specifically at the engine’s punch that continuously egged us on to faster speeds and the chassis’s confidence-inspiring sure-footedness.


 
Making an out of town trip with average speeds close to 180km/h isn't going to help the fuel figures but applying some common sense for a bit saw the numbers drop to below 7.0l/100km before the devil got the better of us.
 
The Mazda 6 SkyActiv-D is everything we like in a diesel sedan. It’s punchy, frugal and the Zoom Zoom maxim adds a fun factor that is glaringly absent in its class. The low end kick of torque and unruffled cruising capabilities suit urban and highway driving. It all boils down though to the fundamental justification in purchasing a car; is the diesel 6 worth the premium in its price? We certainly think so.



Mazda 6 2.2 SkyActiv-D
Engine: 2191cc, DOHC 16V, inline-four, commonrail turbodiesel, variable geometry turbine, 171bhp @ 4500rpm, 420Nm @ 2000rpm
Transmission: Six-speed automatic, front-wheel drive
Performance: 8.4sec 0-100kmh, 216kmh, 4.8-litres/100km
Dimensions (l/w/h): 4865mm, 1840mm, 1450mm
Weight: 1525kg

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