Making the move from mainstream to prestige Euro? Aspirational buyers beware; this one pulls on the hip pocket as well as the heart strings.
Aspiring to more
Somewhat of a hero in the medium sedan segment (under $60k), the 2018 Mazda6 always rates well when compared to its usual rivals, such as the Ford Mondeo, Kia Optima and Subaru Liberty.
Any previous shortcomings have well and truly been addressed in the recently updated 2018 Mazda6, which includes a punchy 2.5-litre turbocharged petrol engine in the GT and the (as tested) top spec Mazda6 Atenza. It’s not a stretch to suggest the 2018 Mazda6 is moving into Euro territory with not only its style, but equipment levels and driveability too.
Which leads us to an unlikely prestige rival, the 2018 Audi A4 1.4 TFSI, representing the medium sedan segment over $60k (the bulk of the range coming in over this threshold).
The 2018 Audi A4 comes in a four-model line-up which features two- and all-wheel drive, petrol and diesel engines, sedan and wagon body styles (like the Mazda6) and a dash of badge envy alongside its rivals such as the BMW 3 Series and Mercedes-Benz C-Class. The A4 range kicks off with the as tested 1.4-litre TFSI S tronic S Line, powered by a 1.4-litre turbocharged petrol engine paired to a seven-speed sequential gearbox.
Down the rabbit hole
A shift into the premium Euro car market can seem like a big step, compounded by a variety of unknowns where ongoing costs and true bang for buck are concerned. To help buyers who are contemplating trading up, we’re taking a closer look at these two proven offerings in the medium sedan segment – one Japanese built, the other German, top spec versus entry-level.
Separated by just $8410 (14.9 per cent), our top spec Mazda6 (from $47,690) and entry-level Audi A4 ($56,100) are likely to be cross-shopped by new-car buyers with a flexible budget and a Euro badge in their sights.
What these two cars also have in common is their fight against the rise of the SUV, each suffering sales losses even at the hands of their own jacked-up siblings. But that’s another story…
You can read full reviews of both the Audi A4 and Mazda6 offerings as previously tested, but for the purpose of this comparison we want to dig deeper into not only price, but standard equipment (versus options), fit and finish, cost of ownership and resale values so you’re armed with all of the information to decide whether a change of marque is right for you in the long run – emotionally and financially.
Who will they appeal to?
Our four-cylinder, front-wheel-drive sedans are dimensionally similar, will carry five occupants comfortably, can both tow up to 1500kg (braked) and share near identical cargo capacities (480L v 474L). They can cope with the family load and their proportions and practicality see them appeal to a broad demographic – think surfboards, prams, bikes and IKEA flat packs.
The Audi bears the understated confidence of the perfect little black dress, while the Mazda6 feels like it’s trying harder to please the same buyer. And while the Audi may well lack the lengthy equipment list of the Mazda6, it’ll please many with the inclusion of Apple CarPlay/Android Auto and tri-zone climate control as standard.
Keyless entry, push button ignition, electric park brakes and power adjustable seats on both vehicles address everyday conveniences.
Second row passengers are marginally better off in the Audi for overall space (head room in particular), but the heated seats and dedicated charge points offered in the Mazda6 more than make up for that.
With so many commonalities to speak of, our rivals are divided by their badge and price above all else. Euro brands have had the upper hand for a long time with respect to the quality of their fit and finish, their driveability and perceived value. But this gap has narrowed… a lot. With brands such as Mazda closing the gap, buyers are more spoilt for choice than ever before. But that step up comes at a price.
How much do they cost?
It’s no surprise the dollars create a more tangible divide between our rivals. The Mazda6 Atenza and Audi A4 1.4 TFSI S Line are in a familiar ballpark, divided by just $8410. But dig deeper and the balance of power swings – both ways.
Options are the undoing of many a well-managed budget and Audi is a repeat offender in this regard. Options fitted to our test vehicle include Mythos black metallic paint ($1420), advanced navigation package which incorporates Audi virtual cockpit ($2400), a convenience key ($900) and 19-inch Audi Sport alloy wheels ($1600) for an options tally of $6320; making the as-tested price $62,420 (plus ORCs).
Our Mazda6 Atenza adds just $300 for its premium Soul Red Crystal paint finish and $192 for floor mats; bringing its as-tested price to $48,182.
To bring the Audi’s specifications in line with the lengthy list found as standard on the Mazda6 Atenza, the dollars continue to add up. In addition to the options already fitted to the A4, you’ll be adding the assistance package tour (adaptive cruise control and active lane assist, $2470), parking assistance package (360-degree camera and auto parking assist, $1235) and Technik package (premium B&O sound system, LED lights front and rear, and head-up display, $5600) for a price of $71,727 (plus ORCs).
Your initial budget ‘stretch’ just jumped to over $23,000… around the price of a new Mazda3 Neo Sport. And still no heated seats, front or rear. Admittedly, optioned up, you’ll end up with a far superior infotainment interface in your Audi.
Ongoing ownership costs
Understanding the ongoing costs, such as insurance, depreciation and service schedules requires detailed investigation… and a calculator.
Comprehensive insurance prices gathered from AAMI – based on a 30-year old female, inner urban residence, clean driving history and less than 20,000km annual travel – results in the Mazda6 Atenza costing $958.10 per annum and the Audi A4 TFSI $1275.84 per annum. That’s a difference of $317.74 or 24.9 per cent! There’s an easy win to the Mazda badge.
In keeping with popular belief that Euro vehicles hold their value better than most, Redbook.com.au reports that after just one year of ownership your Audi A4 will depreciate by around 18.5 per cent, compared to a whopping 26 per cent for your Mazda6 Atenza. And thus the Audi redeems itself ever so slightly.
Doing the math around service costs is complicated as this is not an apples-for-apples scenario. Audi offers a three-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty versus five years/unlimited kilometres for Mazda. Yay for Mazda.
However, service intervals present a potential hitch. Audi recommends 12-month/15,000km intervals and these in total will set you back $1620 at the end of the car’s three-year warranty period. Mazda’s 12-month/10,000km schedule will cost you $1618 at the end of its five-year period. But wait. Those 10,000km intervals may creep up well before 12-months – in which case you’ll be hitting the service centre more frequently. It’s at this point that individual lifestyle factors need to be considered.
Likewise for their fuel consumption, the Audi’s 1.4-litre engine proves the more frugal at 5.7L/100km versus 7.6L/100km for the Mazda6. However, the Audi sips 95 RON fuel and the Mazda 91. Is your brain hurting yet?
At the bowser (at the time of publication) this represents around $7 difference to fill a 60-litre tank. But your guess is as good as ours as to who will be at the bowser more regularly given the more efficient Audi’s 54 litre tank capacity versus the Mazda’s 62 litres.
The Euro credentials that the Audi A4 brings are not an aroma of elitism, but something quite real and tangible. From the thud of the doors, to the touch of the chrome dials, the A4 feels more sophisticated and mature than the Mazda6 – despite a significant lift from the Japanese manufacturer.
The Audi’s execution is more thorough and simply better. Better leather, better plastics, better chrome finish, better stitching and better attention to detail – the 12-volt charger is even better. These are very small details that, combined, stand for something more substantial.
The Mazda looks the part, but upon closer inspection just doesn’t have the same quality materials (like dash inlays) or depth of attention to detail found in the Audi (like the boot, lower door trims and seat backs). What the Mazda6 does have however is close to everything you could ever want as standard, leaving you with a greater sense of transparency around what it is you’re getting for the asking price. Buyers who revel in checking off a lengthy spec list will be delighted.
Behind the wheel it was the Audi that felt more dynamically rewarding, thanks in part to better steering weight and pedal feel. And that 1.4-litre engine is a standout, the difference in performance between our rivals not as great as the specs would have you believe. With a full load, the Mazda’s extra power will show its superiority here.
Which wins, and why?
The deeper we dug, the more obvious the winner of this battle became. Nonetheless our judges still struggled with the final decision because of one key intangible, unqualified factor at hand – emotion.
We can’t put a dollar value on your need for a European badge; we can tell you however that the Mazda6 Atenza is punching well above its weight in its designated segment (under $60k). Neither package nor price is matched by the entry-level Audi A4 and the substantial cost in getting there (apples-for-apples sake) renders this particular trade up a deal breaker.
No longer a wannabe, the Mazda6 Atenza closes the gap on its Euro rivals and is a convincing winner.
2018 Audi A4 S-Line 1.4 TFSI pricing and specifications:
Price: $56,100 (plus on-road costs)
Engine: 1.4-litre four-cylinder turbo petrol
Transmission: seven-speed sports automatic
Fuel: 5.7L/100km (ADR Combined)
CO2: 132g/km (ADR Combined)
Safety Rating: Five-star ANCAP
2018 Mazda6 Atenza pricing and specifications:
Price: $47,690 (plus on-road costs)
Engine: 2.5-litre four-cylinder turbo-petrol
Transmission: six-speed automatic
Fuel: 7.6L/100km (ADR Combined)
Safety Rating: Five-star (ANCAP, 2012)