Existing Mazda owners may be surprised by the third generation Mazda6, a family car with more than mere practicality to recommend it. June Neary checks out the improved version.
Will It Suit Me?
Mazda has always been a brand that shouts sensibility. If you discount the sporty MX-5 roadster, the rest of the line-up tends to be thought of as practical rather than passionate. Yet since the arrival of the new generation model like this Mazda6, that's been changing. First and second generation versions of this car set Mazda on its new 'zoom-zoom' path and this third gen design aimed to continue that momentum when it first arrived in 2013. It's now been usefully updated too. Whereas in previous guises, the Mazda6 was becoming a little forgettable, this is now a car that will catch the eye, both in the driveway and on its way down the high street. It's unashamedly sporty, not only in its looks but in terms of ride and performance. If you don't like that, then you won't like this model. Fortunately, I did.
This car reminded me of the old Xedos 6 that Mazda made a few years ago, but that design flattered to deceive. It looked sporty but didn't drive that way. The outside looked classy but the interior was lifted straight from the old 626 - all dull black plastic. This time, Mazda has done the job properly. Take a seat behind the wheel and there's a high quality ambience relayed by the nice quality console surfacing. Mindful that rivals were getting larger, Mazda's designers knew they needed a larger cabin, yet the shape needed to retain the sharp sportiness of the original version. By and large, they've succeeded. The windscreen is deeper and higher, creating a feeling of spaciousness actually delivered by a slightly wider body that offers occupants greater shoulder room. Thanks to the longer wheelbase, knee room for the rear passengers is also increased. A comfortable driving position is easily found in the supportive seats with their pronounced side bolsters and the steering column is adjustable for rake and reach. The same could be said for the exterior. A key design criteria on the second generation Mazda6 was the 'it should still look fresh in ten years time'. That might be stretching things a bit but the stylists have certainly created a good looking and slippery shape.
Behind the Wheel
The Mazda6 continues to offer a polished driving experience but criticisms levelled at the old model for its fidgety ride are less valid in the current car. The suspension is supple and you're less conscious of imperfections in the road surface, although the ride remains firmer than most in the sector. The cabin is a more serene place to be generally now with beefed-up sound insulation and upgraded body rigidity cutting back on vibrations. That extra rigidity also helps the handling with the 6's trademark sharp turn-in still in evidence and the cornering stability now inspiring even greater confidence. Onto the SKYACTIV engines then. There are basically two, with high and low outputs in both cases. The 2.0-litre petrol unit offers either 145 or 165PS and feels pleasingly responsive, even the lower-powered version managing 62mph from rest in 9.5s on the way to 129mph, figures the pokier variant improves to 9.1s and 134mph. But the vast majority of British buyers will give these powerplants no more than a passing glance on their way to place an order for the 2.2-litre diesel I tried. I went for the high output 175PS version which, with 420Nm of pulling power on tap, is good for rest to 62mph in 7.9s on the way to 139mph. The vast majority of customers though, will be more than happy with a little less grunt - 380Nm - from the standard 150PS version of this unit, good enough to cover the benchmark sprint in 9s and top out at 131mph. Mazda tell me that they identified several key requirements in the development of the Mazda6, one of which was to exceed the quietness and refinement of the best Japanese midsized vehicles. In that respect, it's hard to give an unqualified thumbs up based on the diesel version I tried, since this is one of those engines you can definitely hear at speed. Having said that, it's a nice, sporty note that will please those who like their driving.
Value For Money
Mazda6 pricing ranges in the £20,000 to £28,000 bracket typical for a medium range Mondeo segment car. Like Peugeot, Volkswagen, Honda and Toyota, Mazda reckons that there isn't much customer demand for providing a five-door hatchback bodystyle in a car of this kind. That leaves the choice of either the saloon bodyshape I tried or the Tourer estate, which requires a premium of around £900 over the equivalent four-door. Most customers for this car will be business buyers who'll want the diesel engine and as usual, there's a reasonably large premium to pay for it over equivalent petrol power - around £2,200 in this case to get yourself into a 150PS 2.2-litre diesel rather than an equivalently-specced 145PS 2.0-litre petrol variant. The driver and passenger benefit from independent air temperature controls, and the optional keyless entry system includes the currently fashionable engine start-stop button on top of the instrument panel. An eight-speaker, BOSE premium sound system, and a Bluetooth hands-free mobile-phone interface are options that most customers will want. I also liked the way that the driver's seat armrest can slide backwards and forwards until you find a comfortable position to rest your elbow on it.
Could I Live With One?
With this car, Mazda has made another step forward. I would never have considered a medium range model from this marque before trying the Mazda6: now it's a car that would be higher up on my shopping list.