Motors

Mazda 6: one of the best cars on sale today

The Mazda 6 is one of those rare cars that feels just right from the moment you sit in it

William Scholes
25 April, 2017 11:01

I AM in the happy position of getting to drive lots of new cars of different shapes, sizes and prices, writes William Scholes.

Conventional wisdom these days suggests that there is no such thing as a bad car and, indeed, this is for the most part true.

This is unreservedly good news for punters and means that - unless we're talking about something as unpleasant as the first Vauxhall Mokka or the Mercedes-Benz A-Class - it's hard to go wrong.

While I might be able to happily recommend most of the cars which pass through my care, few and far between are those on which I would spend my own money.

The car on these pages, the Mazda 6, is one of that special breed.

In fact, Mazda is unique in having a full range of cars that fall into this category.

Nor is this just idle journalist talk, for the Scholes family wagon these days is a Mazda CX-5.

A Mazda 6 would fit the bill too, though. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but is there a more handsome family saloon or estate?

  Mazda 6
The big Mazda's appeal is much more than skin-deep. It's one of those rare cars that feels just right from the moment you sit in it.

The driving position is spot on, the gear shift is as precise and mechanically connected as you will find on the MX-5 sports car, the pedals are correctly and consistently weighted and the steering as feelsome as you could hope for on a large family car.

The instruments are is clear and easy to read and there is a general lack of gimmickery around the dashboard which is appealing.

  Mazda 6
It's all very intuitive and obvious, with a special mention for Mazda's infotainment control system, which it calls MZD-Connect.

This pairs a rotary controller, situated between the front seats, with a touchscreen in the middle of the dashboard, and makes you wonder why other manufacturers can get it so wrong when it comes to helping you operate telephone, radio and satnav features.

The big Mazda's appeal is much more than skin-deep. It's one of those rare cars that feels just right from the moment you sit in it.

There's more than enough room for front passengers. Those in the rear might not enjoy quite as much lounging room as they will find in a Skoda Superb, but there is no reason for complaint; the saloon's low, coupe-like roofline does rob some headroom compared to the estate, though.

Mazda gave the 6, which debuted in 2012, a minor facelift for 2017. Understandably, it left the svelte exterior alone - there are blink-and-you'll-miss-it tweaks to the headlamps, grille and wheels - but spent more time upping interior quality and refinement.

It's paid off. New door seals, laminated side windows and extra sound proofing means the 6 is quieter and more upmarket feeling.

You can have your 6 with a 2.0-litre petrol engine in 143bhp or 163bhp, but most people will go for the 2.2-litre diesel unit. It is available in either 148bhp or 173bhp states of tune.

All of the engines boast eye-catching fuel economy figures. As is the way of the official figures, you will need access to your own laboratory and rolling road to match the 68.9mpg some examples are claimed to be capable of, but be in no doubt that for a large, quick family saloon car, the Mazda is notably frugal.

In 173bhp diesel guise, the 6 is a genuinely brisk car - far more so than the power figure would suggest - though the trade off for such fun and games is inferior fuel consumption to the 148bhp version, which loses little enough in everyday driving to make it the default choice for most customers.

The six-speed manual gearbox is so good that you would have to really, really dislike shifting gears yourself to tick the box for the six-speed automatic alternative.

As part of the refinement drive, Mazda has fitted a clever device to reduce vibration in the diesel engine, which involves fitting a damper inside the engine's piston pins.

Other upgrades include G-Vectoring Control. This sounds like it could have come from the Starship Enterprise but is, in fact, a system which monitors steering and throttle position to alter torque.

Turn into a corner under power, and GVC reduces the amount of torque delivered to the front wheels for a split second, or just long enough to transfer a fraction more weight on to the front axle. This is all in the name of allowing the front wheels to turn more precisely.

The 6 has always been an outstanding car to drive, with a really keen and accomplished front-wheel-drive chassis.

Mazda says GVC can even reduce driver fatigue and increase passenger comfort by removing the need for those millimetric steering corrections that we all make, almost subconsciously, on straight roads.

Another device, Transient Control, reduces turbo lag, boosts torque and gives the Mazda snappier throttle response than is normally associated with turbocharged diesels.

The 6 has always been an outstanding car to drive, with a really keen and accomplished front-wheel-drive chassis.

The cumulative effect of the marginal gains from GVC, Transient Control and so on is to apply a layer of polish to the 6's handling gloss.

An effective estate version - Mazda calls it a Tourer - costs around £1,100 more than the equivalent saloon.

This depth of talent is among the reasons the Mazda stands proud of perceived rivals such as the Ford Mondeo.

It's just as comfortable blatting up and down motorways as it is tackling a B-road; that it does it all so engagingly is a bonus.

The Mazda's sheer competence in every area that matters - space, quality, reliability, driving dynamics, efficiency... - would be enough to get it on to my 'recommended' list; but it is the panache and verve with which it goes about its job that makes it really stand out.

It's not the cheapest car in its class, but it is value for money - the least expensive version is a fiver under £20,000, and the more representative 148bhp diesel SE-L Nav sneaks under £25k.

The range-topping Sport Nav with the 173bhp engine - the one you really want - is £27,875. You would need to spend at least £3,000 more on a comparable BMW 3 Series but it doesn't feel as cohesive and of-a-whole as the Mazda 6.

It really is a special car, which is why it makes it into the 'I would spend my own money on one' hall of fame.

AT A GLANCE

  Mazda 6
Mazda 6 2.2D 150PS Sport Nav

Price: £26,795. As tested £27,355, with mica paint £560

Engine and transmission: 2.2-litre four-cylinder diesel twin-turbo, six-speed manual gearbox, front-wheel-drive; 148bhp, 280lb.ft

Performance: Top speed 130mph, 0-62mph in 9.1 seconds

Fuel consumption: 68.9mpg (EU combined); 47.7mpg (real world)

CO2: 107g/km

Car tax: £140 annually

Benefit in kind: 23 per cent

Euro Ncap safety rating: Five stars (92/77/66/81), 2013

25 April, 2017 11:01 Motors

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