Mazda ring changes to 6 as premium buyers are targeted, but is it enough to keep SUV exit at bay?
First drive in Mallorca: Mazda6
For as long as I've known Mazda they have regarded themselves as being higher up the food chain than your ordinary mainstream car maker.
No, they are not snobs (well I don't think so anyway), they are just intent on pitching things a bit higher towards the 'quality' end of the market.
Which means making more 'upmarket' cars.
They have strengthened that claim and ambition with some excellent vehicles over the past few years especially.
But it is a ceaseless errand these days. Not only do the premium marques they are attempting to emulate keep getting better, but the Japanese automaker is confronted with the haemorrhaging of buyers from saloons to SUVs.
Against that backdrop then, they've recently rolled out the latest Mazda6 following another injection of premium.
I have to say the 6 is a car I've always liked a lot, but its credentials, I feel, are not fully reflected in the volume of sales it accrues.
They are attempting to address that conundrum (again) with this latest upgrade.
Effectively they want buyers of the Audi A4, BMW 3-series, Mercedes C-Class to consider the 6 as a real alternative - not to mention owners of the Lexus IS, Jaguar XE and imminent Volvo S60.
It's a tough target and one easily dismissed as fantasy, but Mazda tend not to give up so easily.
So what have they done to warrant confidence of, at least partial, success with their latest endeavours?
Frankly, nothing that is singularly massive; rather a litany of touches, tweaks and improvements across the board.
Briefly, they have given the front a serious lift, with a new grille and light arrangements having greatest effect.
They say they've changed the back too, but you'd really want old and new side by side to notice the difference.
Stuff you can't see, which they claim influences handling and ride - in other words some work on the chassis and suspension - is designed to give the drive a bit of an edge. More anon.
Then there are technical/driver assist additions all over the place for comfort and safety.
But most of all they have given the cabin a thorough uplift to justify the challenge of competing with the premium and wannabe posh cars just outlined.
The seats are excellent in what has always been a roomy cabin.
As well as that, the dash and instrumentation are stylish, more focused and user-friendly.
Materials are noticeably improved too, especially in the higher trims.
Power, for Irish drivers, will come from two versions of the new 2-litre petrol and two from the updated 2.2-litre diesel.
As I say, the overall package is the cumulative effect of myriad improvements, with the emphasis on spec levels, materials, technology and drive.
That makes comparisons with the outgoing car relevant only to a point because the increase of €2,000 or so on starting price is being justified on the improvements and additions.
I don't think the increase will deter too many Mazdanistas from going 6 again whatever about converting hordes of the targeted premium audience.
The revised motor starts from €31,945 for the 2-litre 145PS petrol saloon; the 165PS version costs from €38,445.
The 2.2-litre diesel (150PS) saloon kicks off from €33,945 with the 184PS (higher-spec entry and up 7PS) from €42,285. The 150PS diesel Tourer (estate) starts from €35,545.
We drove the 150PS manual estate diesel, the 184PS auto diesel saloon and the 2-litre 165PS petrol saloon. You can have manual or auto transmission with any of the models.
The estate - never a big seller in Ireland - was okay but it was underpowered at 150PS and not madly exciting.
However, the 184PS diesel saloon was the business. And the 165PS petrol was as sweet as a nut: a reminder of how an engine can transform the feel of a car. It's an option if you don't journey much more than 15,000/17,000km a year.
If you do, the pick would have to be the 184PS diesel though its high-spec entry price pushes it well into the €40,000s, where those premium buyers start.
There are three spec levels - Executive SE, Platinum and Platinum+.
Standard spec (Executive SE) includes: 17in alloys, LED headlights/rear combi lamps, high beam control, radar cruise control (MRCC), intelligent speed assist, advanced smart city brake support, pedestrian AEB, blind spot monitor w/rear cross traffic alert, lane-keep assist system (LAS), navi set w/ TSR, USB socket for rear-seat occupants.
Platinum trim has 19in alloys, LED DRLs etc. Platinum + adds different design front grille, Nappa leather (brown), front seat ventilation, 7in colour TFT (digital meter set), heated rear seats, sunroof, adaptive LED headlights (ALH), 360° view monitor, smart city brake support.
So how does it all add up?
Of course it was an improvement, especially on feel, looks and excellent cabin.
Driving is a more incremental matter really, though, and I await a fuller drive on Irish roads.
Will it get you to buy? As always it is a bit of a treat to drive a 6, but the harsh reality is that large saloon sales are being hammered by the exodus to SUVs in the €30,000 to €40,000 bracket.
Realistically, fewer people are buying this sort of car.
But I will say this, the revised 6 makes a better case for sticking with tradition than the old one did. That's progress.