Mazda 6 review
The Mazda 6 was Auto Express’ Best Family Car of 2013, with dramatic looks and an excellent driving experience
The current Mazda 6 went on sale in 2013, ditching the previous model’s practical hatchback for a sleeker saloon body shape. There’s a wide range of economical petrol and diesel engines, as well as the option of a more versatile Tourer estate.
Here at Auto Express, we’re big fans of Mazda’s stylish saloon car - so much so we gifted it best family car for the second year running in the 2014 New Car Awards.
There are plenty of reasons why it won - not least the fact its good to look at, great fun to drive, and cheap to run, too. In fact, it makes rivals such as the Vauxhall Insignia, Peugeot 508 and Toyota Avensis look dull by comparison.
That said, it does face some tough opposition in the form of the new Volkswagen Passat and Ford Mondeo, but the Mazda’s bold front end, coupe-like looks and strong overall presence are all very hard to ignore. These design features are inspired by Mazda’s recent Kodo Design philosophy, which aims to combine elegant and masculine looks into one striking package.
Of more importance was the introduction of Mazda’s SkyActiv technology to the family car range. This has helped to cut emissions without compromising performance, with the powerful 2.2-litre diesel delivering the efficiency of a much smaller engine. There’s a choice of 148bhp or 173bhp versions, as well as a selection of quiet petrol engines.
As is usual in this market sector, there’s an equally stylish Tourer estate version of the Mazda 6. All models come in SE, SE-L and range-topping Sport trims, each with a generous list of standard and optional equipment.
Our choice: 6 2.2D (150) SE-L
Mazda dared to be different by giving the MkIII 6 a sporty saloon shape, instead of the practical five-door hatchback body of its predecessor. The brand’s Kodo design language has influenced the styling, and the sharp nose, swooping front wings, arcing roofline and high-set tail combine to give a dynamic look that helps the 6 to stand out.
Top-spec Sport models get large 19-inch alloys as standard, while the optional metallic paint options also help the Mazda 6 stand out.
Climb inside, and you’ll find a big difference in quality between the 6 and the new VW Passat. While the Mazda is well built, the dash layout looks rather dated when compared to the VW’s. There are LCD displays set in the dials and for the climate controls, while the small touchscreen appears old fashioned, too.
It all seems a bit cluttered when compared to the simpler, newer layouts of more recent rivals, but Mazda is introducing a revised 6 in the coming months which will hopefully rectify these issues with a bigger touchscreen and a new dash layout.
Overall, there are enough high-grade materials to give the cabin a reasonably upmarket feel. The 6’s seats are pretty comfortable, too, although if you want leather, you need to upgrade to Sport trim.
If you’re a keen driver, the 6 is the family saloon for you. Mazda’s engineers ensured that the current car was lighter than its predecessor. As a result, the larger 2.2-litre diesel makes the most of its 173bhp and 420Nm of torque, and in-gear acceleration is impressive. The 148bhp diesel should be quick enough for most drivers, though, offering a great mix of performance versus running costs.
The four-cylinder petrol models come in 145bhp and 165bhp outputs. They all offer excellent performance and sound sporty rather than strained when pushed.
The short-throw gearlever has a light and precise action, while the steering also delivers decent feedback when compared to cars like the Volvo S60. Turn-in is sharp, and the low-slung Mazda has plenty of grip – delivering entertaining handling with an eagerness to change direction that belies its large dimensions.
The automatic gearbox is very good, too, and allows the driver to execute manual shifts from the steering wheel-mounted paddles.
But entertaining handling is only part of this car’s talents. The diesel is quieter and more refined than its rivals’, meaning the 6 is relaxing to drive at motorway speeds. Sport models do fidget a little, but that can be put down to the large 19-inch alloys.
As with all Japanese manufacturers, Mazda has a reputation for building reliable cars, but the 6 didn’t have a solid start upon its launch at the start of 2013, as we’ve heard reports
of electrical niggles as well as brake issues. However, these are early production teething troubles which should be resolved on later examples, while the range update due in the spring should improve matters, too.
If you do need to get a problem sorted, you can be sure of decent service from one of Mazda’s 170 UK dealers. They came 12th out of 32 in our Driver Power 2014 satisfaction survey – well ahead of Ford and VW’s.
Euro NCAP awarded the 6 a maximum score of five stars for safety when it was tested in 2013. You get six airbags, while hill hold, tyre pressure monitors and a smart city braking system are all standard. Rear vehicle monitoring and lane keeping are available, but only as part of the £800 Safety Pack offered on the top-spec Sport model.
A little practicality has been sacrificed for the Mazda 6’s sleek looks. The hatch opening from the previous generation has been swapped for a saloon rear and the 483-litre boot is 27-litres shallower than the old one.
However, fold the rear seats down and the 1,632-litre space is bigger than in the Skoda Superb. Levers make this easier, but the absence of spring loaded seatbacks means you will have to push them fully down yourself. The resultant completely flat floor makes for easy loading of long items.
Up front, the standard electric driver’s seat has plenty of adjustment, plus there’s decent storage under the armrest, and in the door bins and glovebox. The central screen is a bit small, but the joystick controller makes it easy to navigate.
The back seats in the Mazda 6 are comfortable but there’s nowhere near as much space as in the class-leading Superb. Legroom is fine, although headroom is limited by the sloping roofline and steeply raked rear screen. Mazda has also made the door openings wider so that long-legged passengers can climb in and out more easily.
Cabin storage is OK, although the circular door bins are designed to take upright bottles, but that’s redeemed by a deep glovebox and a large centre armrest cubby.
There’s a decent list of technology features that should make the Mazda 6 driving experience more practical. This includes a 5.8-inch touch screen and USB and Bluetooth connectivity as standard across the range. However, you do need to pay £700 for the optional sat-nav and there’s no DAB digital radio.
Mazda’s SkyActiv technology means the lower-power 148bhp 2.2-litre diesel engine doesn’t compromise on economy: it emits just 104g/km of CO2 and does 67.3mpg. Even the more powerful 173bhp version will do 62.8mpg. Adding an automatic gearbox will harm economy by a few miles to the gallon, but if you need a self-shifter, you shouldn’t be too disappointed.
The petrol engines are decent too. They’re class-leaders in efficiency, with the entry-level 2.0-litre unit managing average mpg of 51.4 and emissions of 129g/km. Even the larger capacity unit will do 47.9mpg.
The car comes well equipped as standard, so you shouldn’t need to go near the options list, although it's not the best for company car tax - top-rate earners face an annual tax bill of nearly £2,000 for the 2.2D Sport Nav model.