Mazda 6 review
Voted Best Family Car by Auto Express, the Mazda 6 offers dramatic looks and efficient engines to rival the Skoda Superb and Ford Mondeo
The Mazda 6 has always been a sporty choice in the family car sector, and the introduction of the all-new model earlier this year only bolstered its position. It also saw the return to a four-door saloon bodystyle, while the brand focused on weight-saving to improve efficiency as well as performance. It won Best Family Car in the 2013 Auto Express New Car Awards for a simple reason: it’s brilliant in almost every respect. First there are its looks – and it looks great from every angle, with a swooping coupe-like profile, bulging wheel arches and a gaping grille. The design puts more soberly styled rival family saloons like the Volkswagen Passat or Skoda Superb to shame. But its sleek appearance and saloon layout comes without compromise – it’s bigger than the previous generation 6, and bigger, too, than rivals like the Ford Mondeo and Honda Accord.
There’s a 2.0-litre petrol engine with two power outputs, and the 2.2 diesel also comes in two guises. In fact, the most efficient engines in the range are capable of the kind of economy and emission figures that even a supermini would struggle to match. The model line-up also includes a stylish Tourer estate, and Mazda is also reportedly considering introducing a high-performance MPS version and a four-wheel-drive model. Trim levels comprise SE, SE-L and Sport. For greater practicality, Mazda offers an estate, just as Skoda does.
Our choice: 6 2.2D (150) SE-L
The Mazda 6 is elegant and sporty, and compared favourably against the rival Skoda Superb's plain looks. We’d go for the £660 optional Soul Red metallic, as the deep finish picks out the details in the Mazda’s bodywork.The pointed nose looks sharp, while chrome trim visually ties the grille and headlamps together. The LED running lights are well integrated, and don’t look like an afterthought, while the bulging wings add a muscular touch to the front end. At the back, the roofline swoops into a steeply raked screen and high-set bootlid, and the sharp tail-lights give a far more stylish look than on many rivals. Sport models have 19-inch alloys as standard, too. Every version comes well equipped, with even entry-level SE models getting 17-inch alloy wheels, daytime running lights, Bluetooth and a 5.8-inch colour touch-screen display. Overall, the Mazda’s cabin has very modern look, but it does feature some hard plastics, especially on the switchgear. It is well built, though. There‘s plenty of adjustment for the seat and steering wheel, so it is easy to find the perfect driving position.
If you want a sporty family car, then look no further than the 6. Although Mazda’s quest for weight saving has been in the pursuit of efficiency, it has resulted in a net gain for the model’s handling and performance. The 2.2-litre diesel is punchy, and with 173bhp and 420Nm of torque on tap it's always got plenty of power. In-gear response is instant at any speed, while the six-speed gearbox has a crisp action and a positive shift. The automatic box is very good, too, and allows the driver to execute manual shifts from the steering wheel-mounted paddles. But it’s through corners where the 6 really comes into its own. The chassis is nimble, and with even the slightest touch of the communicative steering, the Mazda changes direction instantly. The car is very responsive, and as a result is rewarding to drive on a twisty back road. It feels a lot smaller than it is, too, so it gives you confidence to push on. However, this responsive handling hasn’t come at the expense of comfort.
While the large 19-inch alloy wheels mean the ride is on the firm side, the Mazda is no less comfortable than the Skoda Superb when cruising. There’s a bit more road noise at motorway speeds, but the suspension still manages to absorb most bumps, with only the biggest potholes being felt in the cabin. The engine line-up starts with a choice of 143bhp and 162bhp four-cylinder petrol engines. But there’s also a 2.2-litre diesel unit that comes in a choice of two power outputs: 148bhp and 172bhp. The former is the most efficient engine in the range and offers truly outstanding economy. But all engines offer excellent performance and barely more than a muted growl until they are properly pushed. And even then, the 6 sounds sporty rather than overworked.
Japanese car makers trade on their reputation for reliability, and Mazda has a decent track record in that regard, with a fourth-place finish in our most recent 2013 Driver Power satisfaction survey. However, we’ve heard of a few teething troubles with the 6. There was a recall of 500 cars in the UK due to a potential electrical fault, and we’ve encountered glitches with the Mazda 6 Tourer we’re running on our long-term fleet. One area where the 6 does particularly well is safety. It earned a five-star Euro NCAP rating this year, while our tests revealed that it had shorter stopping distances and felt more stable under braking than the rival Skoda Superb. However, although Mazda offers smart city braking as standard across the range, its rear traffic monitor – which can anticipate an impact from behind – is available as an option only on the top-spec Sport. The car also gets driver, passenger and knee airbags up front, with curtain airbags the full length of the cabin. High-tech safety gizmos include active lighting, lane departure warning and the same autobrake system that is fitted to all UK CX-5s.
It’s clear that Mazda’s designers were going for style over practicality when they penned the latest 6. The old car’s hatch opening has been ditched in favour of a saloon rear, and there’s 27 litres less boot space than in the previous-generation model, at 483 litres. The opening is wider than the Skoda’s, but of course the Superb steals a march when you use the hatch instead. Although the 6 has a smaller boot volume, it has a larger floor area. There’s 102cm between the wheelarches, while the space goes back a long way, with a maximum length of 117cm. And if you want more, the back seats can be folded to create 1,632 litres. However, despite levers in the boot to make this easier, the seatbacks aren’t spring-loaded, so you still need to move the back seats to fold them fully. The resultant completely flat floor makes for easier loading of long items than in the Skoda. Those back seats are comfortable, yet there’s nowhere near as much space as in the 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. There’s also a wide range of optional assistance systems, such as radar cruise control, lane departure warning and emergency braking override.
Mazda’s SkyActiv technology means the powerful 2.2-litre diesel doesn’t compromise on efficiency. It has emissions of just 119g/km, and company car tax costs are competitive. It doesn't compare well to the Skoda Superb on value, though- it costs nearly £900 more than the Superb, and you need to add £700 to get TomTom sat-nav, while there’s no DAB digital radio option. The rest of the equipment list is comprehensive, with leather heated seats, all-round parking sensors and a USB connection as standard. In fact, the sole options other than sat-nav are the £700 Safety Pack (Sport only) and metallic paint. The 148bhp 2.2-litre diesel SE-L is the cheapest 6 to run. It has an average fuel consumption figure of 72.4mpg and CO2 emissions of 104g/km, which puts it well ahead of the 2.0-litre Ford Mondeo diesel’s 53mpg and 139g/km and the Honda Accord diesel’s 53mpg and 138g/km. The petrol models are also class-leaders in efficiency, with the entry-level 2.0-litre unit managing average mpg of 51.4 and emissions of 129g/km. Mazda is also offering a range of finance deals, while the three-year, 60,000-mile warranty should help keep other costs to a minimum.