The Mazda 6 has BMW firmly in its crosshairs with its new inline-six RWD layout. Can the Japanese take on the mighty Germans in the premium mid-size sedan market? Well, they're going to do their damndest to find out.
Mazda has always marched to its own beat and has given us incredible vehicles and technology while doing so. From leading the rotary-engine charge, and being the only manufacturer to win LeMans with that technology, to their latest Skyactiv-X tech that blends petrol ignition with diesel compression for lower emissions.
More recently, their foray into the mid-upmarket bracket has placed them in a quandary of sorts; are their terrific interiors worth the premium price tag over their rivals? Would you rather acquire a VW Golf or a more expensive Mazda 3? This may seem like an obvious choice for most, but when last did you climb into a Mazda?
Not satisfied with pushing the envelope enough, Mazda has now set its sights on the premium market, more specifically, taking aim at BMW. To do this, they've developed a new platform for the future Mazda 6; an inline-six driving the rear wheels. The powerplant will incorporate their Skyactiv-X compression-ignition petrol technology with a 48-volt hybrid system. A diesel derivative will likely make an appearance, as well as a plug-in hybrid, 9-speed auto and – speculatively – a yet-unconfirmed manual transmission.
Earlier this year, a patent filing revealed quite a bit about Mazda's new powerplant. According to the Japanese website, super.asurada.com, the filing includes "an engine exhaust structure capable of ensuring exhaust efficiency while reducing the size of the engine by changing the structure of the exhaust port." This seems to suggest that Mazda has found a way to modify the exhaust ports to allow for a smaller strait-six engine, thus allowing it to fit into a shorter engine bay than traditionally required.
The patent has also revealed another first for Mazda, and that's an all-new eight-speed automatic transmission. Their current auto is a long-in-the-tooth artefact from the days when they were married to Ford. This unit is up against some stiff competition, with most other manufacturers embracing many more cogs in their gearboxes. Not only will eight speeds be a great marketing tool, but it'll benefit fuel consumption too, which should make these new Mazda's very efficient indeed.
It all sounds rather exciting, but how will a vehicle manufacturer that sells in relatively small numbers be able to afford to develop such an extravagant platform? The simple answer is that it can't do it by itself, and that is why the relationship developing with Toyota is so relevant.
The likelihood that the next generation of both the Toyota Lexus and RC adopts Mazda's six-cylinder Skyactive-X is high and, with the budget that Toyota City can provide to the Hiroshima-based manufacturer, will be all the boost they need to create an excellent platform.
And, talking of Lexus, this also raises speculation that Mazda may offer this inline-six in both sedans and coupes. If we cast our minds back to the four-door Mazda Vision Coupe from 2017, with its long bonnet and short cockpit, it's easy to see them turning that into a sexy two-door, rear-wheel-drive sports coupe. And that is exciting!
Their new platform won't be reserved for the Mazda 6 exclusively, it's likely the next-generation Mazda CX-9 will also ride on the same setup, as the current models do. This new "Large Architecture" as Mazda calls it, will mean that these two models will both be rear-wheel-drive with optional all-wheel-drive almost a given. The only other RWD in the Mazda lineup is the tiny MX-5 Miata sports car.
As Mazda evolve their current seductive styling into a new breed of vehicle, with luxurious appointments in the cabin and a longitudinally-mounted six-cylinder under an elongated hood, the new Mazda 6 is set to cause more than just a stir. BMW better watch out...