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 and now the Japanese manufacturer has introduced a lightly facelifted version. 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. And the revised model doesn't dissapoint.
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 and the facelift plays to the cars strengths. 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 Nav models get large 19-inch alloys as standard, while the optional metallic paint options also help the Mazda 6 stand out. A new bold chrome grille and reshaped nose give the facelifted model a modest refresh. Sport Nav models also get LEd headlamps and tail-lights, as well as a dark finish to the alloys.
The big rims combine with flowing lines over the wheelarches to give the Mazda a surprisingly muscular stance in the metal for a family saloon car. It doesn’t look too extravagant, though, and these changes definitely provide more kerb appeal.
However, the adjustments Mazda has made to the exterior styling are minor. Instead, the brand has chosen to focus on updating the old 6’s biggest drawback – the design and layout of the cabin. The improvements here really work, with a lower dash profile reducing the height of the previously bulky facia, plus a slim, seven-inch colour touchscreen adding class on top.
Details like this are important when trying to compete against premium brands like Mercedes, BMW or, indeed, Volkswagen, and Mazda has upped its game accordingly.
For example, the multimedia system is controlled by a knurled metal rotary dial that feels solid as well as upmarket, just like the heater controls. Plus, with fewer buttons and knobs to press now, the revised infotainment set-up spruces up the interior, but also makes it much easier to use.
Compared to the systems in German rivals, the Mazda’s is still slightly less intuitive, but with more time in the car, we found it quickly became familiar to operate.
On the road is where the 6 really excels. Mazda has only enhanced the areas where the previous car was lacking, leaving alone those where it was already the class leader.
SkyActiv technology also contributes to a thrilling drive. The stiff, lightweight chassis was designed to keep fuel economy high and CO2 emissions low, but a neat benefit is that it makes the Mazda agile and responsive.
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.