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Mazda 6 saloon review (2013 onwards)
Clever, accomplished, good-looking and good-value new saloon that is priced to worry the mainstream but has premium ability in places too.
We like: appealing styling, exceptional diesel engine, first-rate manual and automatic gearboxes, responsive dynamics, very roomy, good value for money
We don't like: Bland and plasticky interior, petrol engine can be vocal, noisy ride on certain surfaces
If we buy premium cars for their badge, we buy mainstream cars for their looks. And there's probably not a more striking car in the large family sector than this new Mazda 6, showing the strength of its Kodo design language despite all the silly marketing flannel that comes with it.
A key box ticked then, which is why Mazda's predicting this new car's arrival, from the end of the month, will double Mazda 6 sales in the UK. Admittedly not from a high base, but it's still a fairly popular player in Britain. One in 10 large family cars bought by people spending their own money is a Mazda 6.
Prices start at less than a Kia Optima
The new car is the second model to showcase the firm's advanced new SKYACTIV technologies. These cover new engines, gearboxes, stop-start and alternator systems, even the way the body is constructed. If all this new methodology is to be a success, the first car bringing it to a mainstream audience must be a hit. The company's future independence depends on it.
Much anticipation precedes the arrival of this new VW Passat rival then, which Mazda has stoked by revealing very competitive list prices early on. It starts at less than £20,000 - less than a Kia Optima - and yet has lots of equipment and some very impressive CO2 figures. Pretty and smartly configured, this is a new car more promising than many.
The SKYACTIV-G petrol engine has an ultra-high compression ratio, for efficiency. This seemingly makes it rather throbby and vocal under acceleration too. There's no doubting its fair-game torque and high-rev vim - not to mention the fact it sounds like an MX-5 - but some might find it too intrusive.
The 2.2-litre SKYACTIV-D alternative is utterly sublime. Uncannily smooth, this lacks clatter at idle and even under acceleration the quality is of hydraulic-damped quality rather than the tinny rattle and drone of some rivals. It whooshes rather than roars.
We drove the 150hp version; there's also a 175hp but the base car is ample, with 280lb ft of torque from 2000rpm and purposeful, low-lag immediacy to the throttle at all times. Hushed sophistication that should justify the £1,200 extra over the comparable petrol.
Mazda's new six-speed manual gearbox is meaty, snick-snick and as rewarding as an MX-5's. The new automatic is just as impressive though, with DSG-fast gearchanges, unimpeachable gearshift logic and a tight, direct feel. You'd be happy with either 'box.
Ride and handling
This is one of the lightest cars in the large family sector, despite also being one of the biggest. Mazda's made sure weight has been taken out of the right places too - lighter engines and gearboxes have an appreciable effect on the car's dynamics, for example.
The suspension has a sporty setup, but not an over-firm one. It has purpose to the ride but well judged spring and damper rates mean initial in-town nibbles don't degenerate into open-road stiffness (pity about it being a bit noisy over certain surfaces and intrusions, mind). The quality of the damping on undulating roads is superb.
The Mazda 6 lives up to its sporty looks
The engineering excellence of the chassis soon emerges too. You sense Mazda has spent a lot of time designing suspension that remains efficient even when cornering hard. The extra confidence and foursquare reassurance this gives to the driver is clear.
With quick response to the steering and a really grippy and roll-free front end, the Mazda 6 lives up to its sporty looks. If BMW made a front-wheel drive car in this class, this is how it may feel. That's the quality of driving dynamics we're talking about here.
The interior is very spacious, both front and rear. A wheelbase stretched by a staggering 100mm over the old car is key. It has liberated a huge amount of rear space, which Mazda has made more practical still by details such as making sure there's lots of footroom beneath the front seats and the B-pillars don't get in the way when you enter and exit.
For the driver, the fundamentals are strong. The driving position is good, with hints of MX-5 in the gearlever and steering location, and the new wheel feels good (even if its buttons do look cheap). Mazda says there's more stowage space, which tiny door bins are at odds with, but it's otherwise all easy to use.
Perceived quality lets it down. The dash top plastic looks plain and lower plastics are hard to the touch. The TomTom sat nav screen is too small and looks base-spec; details like only one electric window switch being (dimly) lit seem bizarre. It's built like a premium car, better than most mainstream rivals, but the finishing touches aren't there.
Mazda reckons forward visibility is improved thanks to redesigned A-pillars. This may be the case but they still get in the way at junctions, due to the steep angle near their top. B-pillars are thick too and the base SE doesn't come with standard rear parking sensors, which are needed.
The saloon doesn't have the practicality of hatch rivals (or the estate alternative) but the 489-litre space has been thoughtfully designed. It's wide, flat and Mazda's even fitted useful little stowage trays on either side. Remote-control fold-flat seat backs are standard as well.
Economy and safety
The new Mazda 6 becomes the most fuel efficient car in its sector. Indeed, even the petrol returns economy on a par with rivals' diesels. That's how good it is. The diesel averages an amazing 67.2mpg and emits just 108g/km CO2 - better even than the greenest 1.6 diesel Ford Mondeo, and this has 35hp more…
The petrol is even more noteworthy, despite lacking the clever i-Eloop capacitor charge system of the diesels. It averages 51.3mpg and emits 129g/km CO2 - company car drivers will find this is actually the more tax-conscious choice, thanks to the lower list price.
The new Mazda 6 hasn't been tested by Euro NCAP yet but Mazda has its fingers crossed for a good result - SKYACTIV body engineering has been created with this in mind. The new model also gets a brace of new generation active safety aids too, such as radar cruise control and emergency auto city brake.
The MSN Cars verdict
The great-looking new Mazda 6 is a mainstream car with premium car qualities. It pleases the driver no end and welcomes passengers with plentiful space, equipment and refinement.
It's a shame higher-finish materials weren't used inside, because the inherent quality is faultless, and the noisy-at-times ride dents its upmarket feel too. Factor in prices, fuel economy and reliability though, and the Mazda 6 emerges as a very strong large family contender indeed. Here's your new challenger, VW Passat and Hyundai i40.
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