It is not uncommon to hear car owners muttering such statements as, “I got 800km from one tank!” or “This car does six litres of petrol to the 100km”. Sure I don’t deny that most new cars these days could get you from one end of the Peninsula to the other on one tank of petrol or achieve such low fuel consumption figures, but I would hazard a guess that these figures are the result of steady driving spread across a long interstate journey or squeezed out from a hypermiling expedition of dogged determination and steely patience.
When Bermaz Motor asked me if I would like to have a go at their Mazda 6 2.2 SKYACTIV-D Diesel I leapt at the chance of taking one of my favourite executive cars for a spin. The only catch to this is that this is the only one in Malaysia; a test model to assess the engine’s durability in swallowing our crude Euro2M quality diesel.
Normally when the keys to such a car are handed over, the usual thing to do is to take it on a long highway journey and talk about how quiet the engine is at a cruise and how little fuel it consumes. But not this time, no, I quite like to see what this diesel can do by showing it some challenging roads. And since I, technically, cannot refuel the car with the diesel from our pumps, I’m going to have to do the whole journey without refuelling its tank.
My journey will be a not too challenging 250km round trip from Kuala Lumpur, up to The Gap of Fraser’s Hill, and down the other side of the hill through to Bentong, with a brief stopover at the small village of JandaBaik, before a quick jaunt over the Karak highway and back into Kuala Lumpur via the DUKE highway.
The only thing is, that before setting off, I had already racked up 70km worth of mileage doddering about in mostly stop-go traffic the day before, so even though the digital fuel gauge still has a full set of bars lit, there is definitely a significant amount that is not accounted for. If you know how the mechanics behind gauging the fuel level work, you would know that once the meter starts its descent, it will escalate quickly and accelerates to the ‘E’ mark.
Nevertheless,the trip computer readings in the wee hours of the morning were encouraging, 800km of range, but those figures can quickly tumble the heavier your foot becomes, especially when mountain roads are involved. And according to the trip computer’s readings from the moment I picked up the car, an additional 200km worth of projected range was gobbled up in those 70km of traffic the day before.
It goes without saying that diesels were made for long stretches of highways, their lazy demeanour and wealth of torque makes it idealfor the task of covering huge distances quietly. The 6 Diesel ate away at the kilometres effortlessly, but I was curious about its performance on tighter winding roads, where a diesel engine’s characteristicturbocharger lag and weight comes into play. Part of the reason behind sticking to naturally aspirated petrol engines was for lightness, and weight blunts handling, but is that true with the diesel variant of the 6?
I didn’t have to wait long to answer my curiosity as I turned off the North-South Highway at the Bukit Beruntung intersection and headed into the endless green countryside. Here the back roads which connect Bukit Beruntung to the small town of Kuala Kubu Bharu consist of a collection of dips, ruts, potholes, and cracks, created from years of neglect and the passage of heavy vehicles. If there is any place that would punish a car with a badly tuned suspension, you would find all of thosewrong conditions here.
Conditions which revealed that the 6 Diesel’s suspension doesn’t exactly boast the same level of pliancy over poor road conditions as its petrol powered siblings. Where the petrol variants would glide effortlessly over the odd undulation or pothole, the 6 Diesel had a stiffer front end which tends to dive and pound the tarmac.
Where the diesel shares similar qualities with the petrol variants is to be found in its steering. To coin the term “sweet” might not sound like the best way of describing the 6’s steering, but that is probably the most descriptive word to use. It hits the right spot in terms of steering weight and accuracy, is not too overly-assisted that it becomes nervous at high speeds, nor too quick that any little steering input would make it too twitchy.
After a brief stopover in the quaint town of Kuala Kubu Bharu, the mountain roads begin. Just as the roads begin to grow narrower and the corners start coming up fast, the diesel engine’s weight does show its hand again. Compared to the equivalent petrol, the 6 Diesel tips the scales with an additional 70kg on board, weight which becomes all the more apparent over tighter sections where its nose felt less eager in changing directions, and more willing to plough ahead on its current course.
Press on the throttle and there is a notable delay in the engine as the turbochargers rush to spool up and deliver its load. No immediate flare of revs from the engine, or instantaneous response from the engine up front, which made the job of overtaking on the short and straight stretches tricky for undertaking.
What is more is that even though the engine boasts an impressive torque figure of 420Nm, all that twisting force only feels present at 2,000rpm, which is rather high for a diesel engine. Fall anywhere behind the 2,000rpm and the diesel engine feels lethargic. That said,switch the six-speed automatic transmission into manual override and it keepsthe engine revs hovering in the 2,000rpm range, right at the point where the engine’s full torque output is right at the driver’s disposal, regardless of how insistent you are at wanting to go up a gear.
The abandoned colonial mansion that once was the Gap Rest House stands as a silent marker of where the road diverges up a narrow one-lane road that continues up to the main town of Fraser’s Hill. For me it symbolises where the route will begin its descent onto the other side of the Titiwangsa mountain range. A quick glance at the fuel gauge shows a rather encouraging reading of three-quarters of the car’s 62-litre tank remaining. A petrol-powered competitor would have already drunk half its tank dry with consumption figures well into the 12L/100km range. But right now, the 6 Diesel’s trip computer is showing a respectable 8.7L/100km and plenty of range left in its belly.
Despite their efforts to infuse as much of their “Zoom-Zoom” qualities into the 6 Diesel as possible, Mazda’s engineers couldn’t cheat physics, particularly alluding to hiding the heft of that engine blunting its handling and removing that finesse in handling bad roads. The petrol-powered 6 still comes across as the sharper and more stirring car to drive in this respect, with the 6 Diesel being more focused on being a better and more economical highway cruiser.
With the fuel-intensive part of the journey over, the journey back to Kuala Lumpur via Bentong was without any worry about running low on fuel. Even a quick blast on the country roads and up through the winding Karak stretches and I only managed to burn off just a fraction of the 6’s fuel reserves. Despite my reservations of the petrol variant being a better driver’s car, the 6 feels more suited as a diesel powered model with a mix of refinement, frugality, and huge power reserves. It is an unfortunate reality that such a circumstance as poor-quality fuel would deny us of such a car.
This story first appeared in the April issue of Malaysian EVO magazine, a sister publication of Carlist.my and LiveLifeDrive.com.
Mazda 6 2.2 SKYACTIV-D Sedan
Engine 4-cylinder, 2191cc, diesel turbocharged
Power 175PS @ 4500rpm
Torque 420Nm @ 2000rpm
Transmission Six-speed automatic, front-wheel drive, ESP
Front suspension McPherson strut
Rear suspension Multi-link
Brakes 297mm ventilated discs front, 278mm solid discs rear, ABS, EBD
Wheels 7.5 x 19in front & rear
Tyres 225/45 R19 92W front & rear
Weight (kerb) 1,571kg
Basic price N/A
On sale N/A