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.
Inside, the Mazda can’t quite match its rivals with the quality of its materials, but the layout is easy enough to get along with. Although the switches and rotary controls feel as though they’re made from cheap plastic when compared to the well damped switchgear in some premium rival cars like the Audi A4, everything seems well screwed together and is likely to be just as robust.
The stylised air vents take inspiration from the grille, while Sport models get a flash of dark red translucent trim across the width of the dash.
Other criticisms include the low-resolution graphics used on the sat-nav screen, plus the blocky digital displays on the instrument binnacle – both need a bit of a refresh to incorporate the latest displays seen in the new Mazda 3.
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.
Japanese makers have a strong reputation for reliability, but Mazda isn’t quite at the top of the class for trouble-free dependability. Indeed, the 6 has had a few teething problems. The Tourer we ran on our long-term fleet had issues with its electrics and brakes, and while this wasn’t an isolated case, everything was dealt with under warranty. Hopefully quality control has improved so that the most significant bugs have been ironed out on new models.
The Mazda has a five-star Euro NCAP crash test rating, with the usual raft of airbags and electronics to keep you protected. However, like its rivals, the company offers a number of hi-tech safety features – including rear vehicle monitoring, lane departure and an automatic main beam function – as part of an optional Safety Pack. This is £700 extra on top-spec Sport models only.
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, parking sensors, and the same autobrake system that is fitted to all UK Mazda CX-5s.
All things considered, potential buyers should take confidence in the fact that the Mazda brand came in 8th out of the top manufacturers in the 2014 Driver Power customer satisfaction survey.
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.
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.