Forbidden Fruit: 2016 Mazda6 Diesel Wagon

#hashtags: #SkyActiv #Mazda

When the Mazda6 debuted for the 2014 model year, the automaker had grand plans for its SkyActiv-D-powered family sedan. Tweaked versions of the 2014 Mazda6 diesel raced in Grand-Am, and a showroom-ready model with 310 lb-ft of torque would arrive before long, complementing the gas-powered model that was already good for EPA ratings as high as 28/40 mpg city/highway.

But Mazda’s plans weren’t to be.

First there was trouble at the race track, with the cars breaking down in their first race over the grueling 24 Hours of Daytona in 2013. Then there were delays. First the launch was pushed back from winter 2013 to spring 2014 because the manufacturer was having trouble getting its 2.2-liter turbodiesel I-4 to meet emissions standards without the use of a urea-injection system. Then it was delayed further, this time without a scheduled launch date. It’s been a waiting game ever since.

With a 24-hour layover in the U.K. scheduled on my way back to the U.S. from Iceland, I decided now was as good of a time as ever to experience the diesel-powered Mazda6. And if I was going to travel all the way to England to drive a SkyActiv-D Mazda6, I killed two birds with one stone by making it a wagon. The Mazda6 Tourer was never slated to come to the U.S. given our market’s general distaste for wagons and love of crossovers, but I wanted to see just what we were missing out on.

I first met my Deep Crystal Blue Mica (terrible name, great color) 2016 Mazda6 Tourer Sport-Nav parked in a dimly lit London Heathrow Airport parking garages. I popped the rear hatch, tossed two weeks’ worth of luggage in back, and climbed in the front door.

Wrong seat.

Walking around to the right door, I hopped in, and noticed the six-speed manual gearbox. Score. With a jab to the clutch and a push of the button, the 173-hp, 310-lb-ft 2.2-liter turbodiesel I-4 purred to life. The diesel had a soft, gentle clatter; I could hardly hear it in the well-insulated, leather-lined cabin. I slotted the shifter into reverse, backed out of my spot, and pointed the ‘6 Tourer south to my destination in Portsmouth, about 65 miles south on the English coast.

After navigating a handful of roundabouts and fending off traffic while entering the highway, my first impression was how huge this thing feels on these narrow roads. Second impression? What a great engine!

The SkyActiv-D is an absolute sweetheart – easily one of the nicest diesel-powered cars I’ve ever driven. The turbodiesel-4 is surprisingly a revver, with the tach swinging rather quickly to its 5,200-rpm redline. I actually found myself revving the Mazda’s engine out not because I needed the power, but just because it was fun to do. The engine offers plenty of torque off idle, which is a feeling missing from most of Mazda’s naturally aspirated American lineup. The engine only ever really needed a single downshift from sixth to fifth at highway speeds to pass slower traffic quickly.

Speaking of shifting, the Mazda6 Tourer’s gearbox is quite good. Throws are short and precise, with a very strong centering spring; I never found myself in the wrong gear. I liked the clutch a lot too; it was well-weighted and had an easy-to-feel catch point—something missing from Volkswagen’s diesel-manual combo in the U.S.

In my short stint in the U.K., I never really had the opportunity to test the Mazda6’s handling acumen, but as is the case with the Tourer’s American cousin, the steering is well-weighted, with good feedback and feel. I had the opportunity to test the optional Safety Pack, which includes radar-guided cruise control and lane-keep assist—a feature just now making its way to the U.S. on the new 2016 Mazda CX-9. The lane keep assist system had no trouble picking up lines on the roadway, and wasn’t as intrusive in its intervention. Although some systems from other automakers will quickly ‘yank’ at the steering wheel to redirect you into your lane, the Mazda system was much more subtle, gently guiding you down your lane’s centerline.

Ultimately my 24-hours with the SkyActiv-D-powered Mazda6 Tourer was a good one. The diesel-powered Mazda6 really delivers on the torque that I’ve always felt was missing from our car’s naturally-aspirated 2.5-liter I-4, which produces 184 hp and 185 lb-ft of torque.

Even after all this time, Mazda “remains committed to bringing diesel to the U.S,” a Mazda North American spokesman told us. As for the gorgeous wagon body style, looks like we can all keep dreaming; the same spokesman says “Mazda offers vehicles that are designed and engineered for North American tastes, including the all-new CX-9, which largely occupies the same space in the market as the overseas Mazda6 wagon.” No surprise there, as Americans are all about SUVs, and Volkswagen’s diesel issue complicates perception on the matter. But maybe there’s room for a compromise—how about the CX-9’s new 227-hp and 310-lb-ft of torque 2.5-liter turbo I-4 in the Mazda6; while we miss out on the wagon, we can finally get a taste of that sweet, sweet torque. Whaddaya say, Mazda?

Read our initial impressions on the 2014 Mazda6 Diesel European-Spec model here.