Mazda 6 SkyActiv-D 2.2 review 3

Hello and welcome to the 2013 Mazda 6. Before you pass this off as a severely-delayed review, hear me out. While it may appear to be an aged 6, a pre-facelift model at that, this Mazda has been assigned an important role, as you’ll soon find out once you look under the bonnet.

As some of you are aware, it has been highly suggested that Bermaz will be introducing a slew of diesel-powered vehicles in the country within the year. However, such a move isn’t done on impulse, which is why Bermaz has taken it upon itself to conduct some proper research and testing prior to introducing any diesel Mazdas in the country.

This Mazda 6 in particular, packs the company’s 2.2 litre SkyActiv-D inline four-cylinder turbodiesel engine. The mill provides 172 hp at 4,500 rpm and 420 Nm at 2,000 rpm, where the latter absolutely trounces the 2.5 litre SkyActiv-G petrol mill’s 250 Nm (though the petrol-powered 6 does have more horsepower at 185 hp). A six-speed SkyActiv-Drive automatic transmission handles power delivery to the front wheels.

The SkyActiv-D engine is an upgraded version of Mazda’s previous 2.2 litre MZR-CD mill, which was found on the second-gen Mazda 6 and Mazda 3, as well as the first-gen CX-7. The SkyActiv-D made its debut at the 2009 Tokyo Motor Show on the CX-5, and featured many enhancements for better efficiency and performance.

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For starters, the engine manages to deliver that amount of twisting power thanks to a two-stage turbocharger, in which one small and one large turbo are selectively operated according to driving conditions. The smaller turbo helps boost low-end torque, while the larger one increases high-end horsepower.

Other technical improvements include a compression ratio of 14.0:1 (decreased from 16.3:1), thanks to the adoption of new multi-hole piezo fuel injectors and exhaust valves featuring variable valve lift. Mazda say a lower compression ratio reduces the amount of nitrogen oxides (NOx) and soot emitted by its engine, allowing it to meet strict Euro 6 emissions standards. According to Bermaz, the car here is still running with its diesel particulate filter (DPF), which functions to catch bits of soot in the exhaust.

This is the opposite of petrol engines, where a higher compression ratio will burn more cleanly. For a diesel engine, a lower compression ratio also means less internal stresses, allowing for lighter, lower-friction components to be used here (aluminium block, lightweight pistons and connecting rods). The SkyActiv-D is claimed to be 20% more fuel efficient than Mazda’s older 2.2 MZR-CD.

How does all this translate to on-road performance? Pretty refined for an oil burner, actually. Throttle response is good, giving the driver the ability to ease the torque in at their own pace. It’s all very predictable and linear, so you won’t be surprised by a sudden kick in acceleration here. In practice, it feels loosely like a petrol-powered 6, but with a huge injection of torque at your disposal.

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And that generous serving of torque does get addictive. Put your foot down, and watch yourself propelled ahead of the car you are looking to overtake in a short amount of time. Peak torque (420 Nm) kicks in at a relatively low engine speed (2,000 rpm), so it’s almost always available without much delay. On hard acceleration, I did not notice a large puff of black smoke exiting the car’s tailpipe like on other diesel vehicles, although the distinct smell of a diesel engine’s exhaust fumes is noticeable.

On most occasions, the six-speed auto barely needs to downshift to ensure you pick up pace because there’s just so much low-end torque (more than a Mitsubishi Triton VGT) that you just waft along, unaware that the car tips the scales at 1,578 kg (kerb weight). This certainly felt better than the current petrol 6, even in 2.5 litre guise, where little torque low down, coupled with the lazy transmission makes the car feel a little lethargic by comparison. The facelifted petrol 6 does introduce a ‘Sport’ mode for the transmission to help hold the gears longer, but it isn’t something practical for daily use, as we found out with the CX-3.

Of course, the main appeal of diesel engines is their impressive fuel economy, which is a claimed 4.9 litres/100 km for this one. Having been through the Mazda SkyActiv Clean Diesel Challenge, I have little doubt that the diesel-powered 6 can achieve the feat if it spent most of its time on Malaysian highways. However, that’s not the case for most car owners.

After a few days with the diesel 6, where the majority of it was spent driving around the city, with a few trips to the airport and back, I managed an average fuel economy of 6.8 litres/100 km, even when using the torque sparingly. Even after doing nearly 380 km, I’ve only exhausted half of the car’s 62 litre fuel tank, with 332 km still in reserve (according to the trip computer).

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Pretty impressive considering my own 2 hatchback does 7.0 litres/100 km (mainly city driving), and would have required a fuel up by that point. If you’re a frequent traveler on Malaysian highways, the 6 should keep the fuel bill in check, that is if you’re not too overzealous with the accelerator.

The car isn’t without its downsides. Diesel clatter is an unavoidable trait with oil burners, and while seated in the pre-facelifted cabin, it is audible while idling and setting off. However, it isn’t overly intrusive, and as you’ll be having some sort of music playing through the pre-MZD infotainment system and speakers, it shouldn’t be a huge turnoff.

Does the diesel engine’s weight affect the ride and handling of the car in any way? Truth be told, not really. The diesel 6 feels a lot like the petrol version in terms of ride, which is firm but neutral at low and high speeds. However, the car still transcends the ‘Zoom-Zoom’ philosophy here, feeling agile through the corners, while maintaining good stability when cruising at high speeds. If you do push the car hard, understeer does creep in a little sooner but just as progressively as in the petrol version.

How much for all this? Well, the car isn’t exactly for sale because it is an internal test unit which Bermaz brought in from Japan to see how a diesel Mazda will perform in the country. After 52,791 km, a majority of it done on Euro 2M grade diesel, the car still performs as advertised, with no issues reported. According to Bermaz staff, the only issue that the car has experienced so far is related to its i-Stop system, which has since been rectified. This, of course, had nothing to do with the engine and/or the fuel used.

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This isn’t the only test car in the company’s fleet as there is also a Mazda 2 hatchback with a 1.5 litre SkyActiv-D diesel engine (105 PS at 4,000 rpm and 250 Nm from 1,500 to 2,500 rpm) that was imported from Japan (still wearing its Demio badge). Having tried one out in Thailand during the Mazda SkyActiv Clean Diesel Challenge, I can say that it is a pretty spritely thing.

While diesel remains a popular fuel in European countries, Malaysians have been pushed towards petrol passenger vehicles instead. When it comes to choices, you have the BMW 520d (320d looks set to be discontinued), Mercedes E300 BlueTEC Hybrid and GLE 250d, Peugeot 508 GT (and SW), Jaguar XF 2.2 Td and 3.0 Td, and the Jaguar XJ 3.0 Td. Beyond those options, you’ll have to look at the pick-up truck offerings like the Ranger, Triton, Hilux and NP300 Navara. Ford fans may recall the Focus TDCi in the past as well.

With higher-grade Euro 5 diesel now being more widely available in the country, it’s high time that we get more diesel offerings. However, should Bermaz offer diesel cars in the country, the CX-5 SUV would most likely be presented to us first. Currently, Inokom’s Kulim plant produces the diesel SUV for export to the Thailand market, which recently saw the 2.5 litre SkyActiv-G-equipped variant being dropped entirely.

If you’re looking forward to a diesel 6, sources say the car will arrive as a facelifted model from Japan (CBU), with features like the MZD infotainment system, Commander Control and heads-up display expected to be bundled, similar to what is offered in the current petrol 6 here. We can’t wait for that.