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Image © Mazda
Mild visual refresh for 2010 hides some useful technical improvements
We like - Solid, well built, strong economy, loads of room for people and luggage
We don't like - Firm ride, modest seat comfort, some wind noise
How the car market has changed: Sales of traditional family saloons slide year-on-year, buyers preferring to downsize to something compact like a Focus, Astra or Mazda 3, or move upmarket with the Audi/BMW premium thing.
But the industry still plugs away with these cars, not so much with family saloons but with their hatchback and estate derivatives. A lost cause then? Not a bit of it.
Buy a car like the Mazda6 and you get one thing neither of the above alternatives can promise: masses of space for people and their gear.
Today this type of car offers almost as much practicality as the big old clunkers like the Vauxhall Carlton and Ford Granada, at a price that makes huge sense for many.
The current Mazda6 is at the stylish end of the scale, with plenty of hints carried over from the sports cars in the Mazda range. For 2010 it gets a nose job and some tweaks to the interior, but it's the changes beneath the surface that make the real difference.
The majority of engines have been tuned for improved economy and CO2 emissions, but the petrol 2.0-litre is all new. Direct petrol injection isn't original and the promise of better performance coupled with greater efficiency is often offset by more noise.
Yet this 155hp engine is as quiet as you'd like, good engine compartment soundproofing across the Mazda6 range means that whatever the engine, these are refined cars.
With this level of power it should be quick too and it is, entertaining even on the open, deserted roads of the Scottish Highlands where we got to evaluate the revised Mazda.
The engine revs willingly and rapid progress is possible if you exploit the strengths of this engine through judicious use of the six-speed gearbox (this is also the only engine where you can combine a five-speed auto as an option).
Yet the 2.0 is compromised in other ways. Compared with the superb low-speed pulling power of even the least powerful diesel Mazda6, its acceleration can feel lifeless without dropping down the gears more than you might like.
The 129hp diesel is a more relaxing car to live with in many ways, the lesser power hardly compromising its ability in the majority of situations.
Ride and handling
The bias here is towards sporty rather than luxurious, a judgement we'd question. Yes, the Mazda6 does offer some fine tactile returns on the right roads, but it would have been cleverer to add more comfort into the equation.
The ride is far from a serious problem, just a little too firm. Whether this is the result of the suspension changes in this revised car we can't tell. The enthusiasm for ever wider, lower profile tyres certainly doesn't help the case.
If it's space you're after, the Mazda6 comes up trumps. Plenty of shoulder room, ample legroom front and back and a boot you can get lost in.
The fascia is typically Mazda, clear, easy to use but without the special feel you get from the premium German models.
Still, there are new silver-rimmed dials and controls in the driver's instrument binnacle, with high-gloss piano-black trim on the centre console and steering wheel spokes and a "more tactile" finish to the dashboard.
What you can't get is satnav ("too expensive as a factory fit option") and the MP3 connectivity is just a 3mm socket rather than full iPod connectivity. The climate control system is superb, though.
Economy and safety
The economy of every Mazda6 we drove impressed us, with this 2.0-litre showing 34mpg on the trip computer even after spirited driving. It proved easy to see figures in the high 40s from the 129hp and 180hp diesels.
New on this revision of the Mazda6 is the Emergency Stop Signal that initiates the hazard lights if you have to brake heavily. Pricier models also get hill start assist and bendy headlights too.
All versions come with front, side and curtain airbags, and the Mazda6 got the full five star EuroNCAP safety assessment in its earlier guise.
MSN Cars verdict
Full-sized family cars like this Mazda6 have always made a lot of sense. Roomy but not too big, they should offer an unbeatable blend of space and comfort for your money.
Trouble is, most depreciate heavily, in part driven by the big discounts that are usually negotiable at the front end. The Audi A4, BMW 3 Series and Mercedes C-Class will all hold up better if you look just at list prices.
But these premium German brands offer significantly less space and also make a statement that some buyers are uncomfortable with. That's where a car like the Mazda6 comes in.
Certainly the quality and reliability of the Mazda is up there with the best, but it needs slightly more comfortable suspension and seats to win a five star rating.
Then again, there's the strong economy from most petrol and diesel engines, coupled with pleasing styling. It's a sensible choice.
|Need to know|
|Engine - petrol||1.8, 2.0, 2.5|
|Engine - diesel||2.2 Turbo in three versions|
|Torque (lb ft)||122-295|
|Top speed (mph)||121-137|
|CO2 (g/km)/Tax (%)||143/19-186/26|
|Rating||Mazda6 2.0 TS2|
|Ride and handling||****|
|MSN Cars verdict||****|
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