Six Sense

Road test: the new Mazda6 range at UK launch

Mazda is keen to keep the pressure on in the D segment arena and its latest Mazda6 arrives just four years after the previous version.  It has dropped the hatch rear and now offers only Saloon and Tourer variants, stating these satisfy the vast majority of existing Mazda6 owners’ requirements – and steering customers towards the CX-5 cross-over should they desire full versatility.  The Tourer variant is expected to make up 40% of sales.

Smart and distinctive

There was little disagreement among the journalists: the new 6 is smart and distinctive, still easily identifiable as a Mazda but more grown-up.  Look closely and there are hints of other cars in there – Jaguar XF in the C-pillar, Volvo at the front and even a touch of Infinity when square-on to the grill.  It’s worth taking a little time to study the shape as there are many complex lines; the sweeping front wing is the most obvious and continues the Mazda family theme.  It works well on a car of this size.

Inside, it’s a little plain.  Everything is where it should be and the ergonomics are good but the plastics aren’t quite up there with the premium sector models.  Storage space is surprisingly scarce with tiny door pockets, two cup holders by the hand brake and a modest bin between the seats.  There is also an absence of lateral bracing in the central console around the hand brake so it flexes easily from side-to-side.  I did like the integral audio/sat-nav touch-screen interface and the instruments are smart and easy to read.  The Sport model comes with acceptable Bose speakers but the lower models’ sound quality is poor.

The Mazda6 adopts the company’s SKYACTIV branding, first seen on the CX-5 last year.  In essence, it’s about refining engines, reducing weight and using technology to eek-out the fuel and reduce emissions. On all but the 145 PS petrol units, there is energy regeneration from braking (which Mazda calls i-ELOOP).  This is used to charge a capacitor – which in turn contributes to powering the ancillary electrical devices, saving reported 10% in fuel consumption.  Mazda is committed to avoiding the full hybrid path and this efficient technology is completely non-intrusive from the driver’s perspective.

Pick of the crop

Mazda has always been about the driving experience so how does the new 6 measure-up?  I drove all variants but started and finished with the 150 PS 2.2 litre diesel, the pick of the crop – not only for drivability but likely to be the fleet manager’s friend; with 108g/km CO2, it attracts the lowest-but-one band of tax.  It’s quite a remarkable diesel unit, pulling from 1,000 rpm way beyond the red line (in the interests of mechanical sympathy I changed-up at 5,900 rpm).  With this rev range available and ample torque, six is almost one too many ratios but cruising at 80mph is extremely relaxed at 2,200 rpm.  It is very quiet both in the cabin and outside the car and could almost be mistaken for a petrol engine; Mazda has also done well with the vibrations inherent with compression ignition – there is negligible chatter through the steering, gear lever or pedals.

Nearly £30k seems expensive for the top-spec 175PS Sport auto diesel given the interior finish is identical to lower specifications but the ‘box changes smoothly and quickly.  The higher output 165PS petrol sounds as loud as the diesel with its exhaust tuned for aural delight.  I’d argue this engine variant is almost redundant, given the competence of the 150PS diesel unit.  On paper, they hit 62 mph within 0.1 seconds of each other but the 380Nm torque (vs. 210Nm for the petrol) makes the free-revving diesel option feel less stressed.

Excellent grip and composure

Handling is good, with a suitable amount of turn-in, but the ride is on the firm side, even with four adults and luggage.  There was little variation in ride between Saloon and Tourer models – both are quite jiggly over anything but smooth tarmac.  Despite snow- and ice-covered roads around the Scottish Lowlands, the Mazda6 maintained excellent grip and composure.

After a couple of days’ driving, the supportive seats, great diesel engine and good handling proved the Mazda6 is a sensible choice for anyone covering the miles.  Exterior design will stand out in the company car park and low CO2 plus competitive BIK figures make it easy to convince the accountant, too.  Slightly over-firm ride and lack-lustre interior finish shave a point off.  For the private or fleet buyer alike, the 150 PS diesel is the one to have.

Our pick: Mazda6 Saloon SKYACTIV-D Diesel 2.2 SE-L Nav, at £23,195.  Mazda6 range starts at £19,595

Power: 150 PS (4,500 rpm), torque: 380 Nm (1,800-2,600 rpm), emissions: 108g/km CO2 (band B), 0-60 mph: 9.0 secs.

Motor Writer rating: ●●●●○

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