Steve Sharpe drives the new Mazda6
I feel I owe the Mazda6 a bit of an apology.
The phone rang from reception to say my test car had arrived – the first delivery of 2014 – so as normal I slipped on my jacket and headed out into the car park to brave the Pennywell chill.
The delivery man gave me the keys and headed off into the distance, and I drove the car around the building into the staff car park.
Once inside a colleague asked me what car I was driving this week and I told him.
“Any good?” he asked.
“Only driven it a couple of hundred yards but yeah, fine, nice family car, nothing special.”
It was only later, after I’d had a good look at it and driven it home, that I realised I may have undersold this new version of Mazda’s big family saloon.
Strange, really, because I’d just been reading about how the 6, the third incarnation of the big car, had just picked up the Carbuyer Large Family Car of the Year 2014 award. Judges said that the saloon, which also drove off with the award in 2013, was “the perfect large family car... it offers plenty of space and practicality in a package that’s affordable to run, great to drive and just as good to look at.”
And the Mazda6 really is a desirable package.
At first sight it may appear slightly anonymous but when you look closer you get to appreciate a beautifully curvy, coupe-like four door saloon.
Its design comes under the umbrella of Mazda’s “Kodo Soul of Motion” styling – all “signature wings” and equally unfathomable descriptions.
But in real terms this translates into a rounded yet powerful shape, with a high window line, bulging wheel arches, bold front end and grille and chopped off rear.
Slip inside and you’ll find the interior smart and well put -together.
It’s nicely styled, with decent plastics, and everything appears to be solidly constructed.
Buttons and gauges are straightforward, with simple heating controls and clear speed gauges, although on the whole it does lack a wow factor. Levels of space are impressive too. There’s enough legroom and headroom in the front for anyone, and legroom is equally generous in the rear.
The tapering, coupe shape of the 6 means that very tall people may be skimming the roof but it won’t affect many.
The boot is a good size, too, although the saloon characteristics of this family car means that cargo has to be hoisted up, over and in.
But where Mazda really have made huge advances is in its levels of technology.
Mazda’s name for its own particular brand of high-efficiency technology is the SKYACTIV (in capital letters, so if you’re explaining it to someone you have to shout it out).
There are two petrol engines and two diesels paired to six-speed automatic or manual transmissions.
Emissions have been cut considerably, lowering road tax, and economy figures have risen accordingly.
The 2.2-litre 150ps diesel I tested boasted combined fuel figures of 70mpg – 10mpg more if you spend most of your time travelling up and down the motorway.
The Mazda’s performance is equally pleasing.
Turn on the engine by means of its push-button start and the 2.2-litre diesel purrs into life.
The engine is extremely quiet at idling, barely audible, with the engine noise being well-controlled even when speeds increase to motorway levels.
With very little road rumble coming through, the Mazda6 is an extremely refined car, although there’s a degree of wind noise whistling through occasionally.
What’s really impressive is its power.
Acceleration from standing is great and the six-speed gearbox is slick and well-spaced, moving the big car through the lower gears.
But it’s mid-range acceleration where this family saloon is at its most impressive.
The 6 accelerates effortlessly through third gear, through fourth and the top gears, meaning that overtaking is smooth and enjoyable, and motorway and dual carriageway travel is a pleasure.
As a family car it has to strike a balance between comfort and handling prowess, and the 6 is a pretty good compromise.
The ride is firm but comfortable over most surfaces. Road imperfections are happily dealt with, and there is a fine amount of control when cornering.
There are reassuring levels of road grip on tight corners, and although steering is a little light on feedback it still handles things well.
The Mazda6, which is after all a big family car, doesn’t drive like one, cornering with the minimum of body roll and accelerating gleefully out.
Around town the big saloon is surprisingly easy to manoeuvre.
One problem is visibility – a combination of hefty central and rear pillars and a tapering coupe shape means that reversing and peering over your passenger side shoulder when joining traffic, requires some degree of neck twisting.
This is a hotly-contested segment and the 6 is up against old favourites like the Ford Mondeo and VW Passat, not to mention relative newcomers like the Skoda Superb and Hyundai i40, so the 6 has its work cut out.
One thing in its favour is that it is competitively priced.
The saloon starts at £19,595 for the 2-litre petrol, rising to £26,295 for the 2.2litre-diesel Sport version.
There are a number of trim levels on offer, and Mazda have included an impressive amount as standard even in this cheapest version.
With the entry-level model you get daytime running lights, electric door mirrors, keyless start, air-conditioning and a touch-screen infotainment system as standard. Move up to SE-L and you add rain-sensing wipers, climate control and front and rear parking sensors, while SE-L Nav will add sat-nav to the bundle.
If you opt for top-spec Sports trim you’ll get 19-inch alloys, bi-xenon headlights, a reversing camera, leather trim and keyless entry.
There’s also a load of safety equipment as well, including a safety system to help the driver recognise and avoid potential hazards, six airbags, anti-lock brakes with Electronic Brakeforce Distribution, Brake Assist, Hill Hold Assist, Dynamic Stability Control and Traction Control System fitted as standard.
This Mazda is a fine-looking family car that’s agile to drive, smooth and comfortable, with decent levels of space and economy figures that will translate into large savings as far as fuel and road tax are concerned.
The awards the Mazda6 has picked up testify to the ground that Mazda has made up on the sector leaders.
With a car as impressive as the Mazda6, that gap in sales destined to get smaller and smaller.
Mazda6 2.2 SE-L Nav
Engine: 2.2litre diesel.
Transmission: Six-speed manual.
0-62: 9 seconds.
Top Speed: 131mph.
Economy: Avg 72mpg