Mazda 6

Facelifted model remains a superb car to drive

Take a look at Mazda’s back catalogue, and you’ll discover a lot of quirky machinery. From complex Wankel-engined coupés to supercharged diesel hatchbacks, the Japanese firm has built a reputation for doing things differently.

However, when its comes to big family cars, bosses have always played safe – and the current 6 is no exception. Launched in 2008, it quickly gained a reputation for practicality, value and entertaining driving dynamics. But despite successfully taking the fight to the class leaders, sales of the Mazda have been steady rather than spectacular. In an effort to boost the car’s appeal, bosses have treated it to a makeover.

Video: watch CarBuyer's video review of the Mazda 6

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At the heart of the changes is a line-up of reworked engines that are cleaner and more efficient than the units they replace. The 118bhp 1.8-litre petrol engine of our mid-spec TS test car now emits 155g/km, which is a 7g/km reduction over its predecessor. Elsewhere there have been tweaks to the cabin – where you’ll find more kit and better quality materials – and a reworking of the exterior. You’ll struggle to spot the differences, though.

Look closely and you’ll discover a fresh grille and reprofiled headlamps, while moving around to the rear reveals the subtly altered tail-lights. Our test car’s looks are given a further boost with the addition of a standard-fit bootlid spoiler and 16-inch alloy wheels. While the overall effect is handsome rather than eye-catching, the 6 has the bland Avensis beaten for visual appeal.

Inside, the biggest alterations have been reserved for the dashboard, which gets a soft-touch finish and a set of classy new dials. The rest of the cabin remains unchanged, meaning you benefit from excellent build quality and plenty of space. Passengers in the rear get bags of head and legroom, while a wide range of seat and steering wheel adjustment helps drivers of all sizes get comfortable. There’s plenty of standard kit, too, with desirable items such as dual-zone climate control – Toyota owners have to settle for manual air-conditioning.

Swing open the 6’s large tailgate, and you’ll discover a decent 510-litre load area. Fold the rear bench flat, and the available space increases to an estate car-rivalling 1,702kg. Better still, the hatchback opening adds an extra dose of versatility that the four-door Avensis can’t match.

However, the Mazda had to give best to its rival at the test track. With only 118bhp, the 6’s 1.8-litre engine can’t match the 145bhp Toyota for outright pace. The newcomer completed the sprint from 0-60mph in 10.4 seconds – eight-tenths slower than the Avensis. Get out on the road, though, and the differences are small.

The Mazda’s smooth-spinning powerplant feels keen even at low speed, while the slick and precise five-speed gearbox helps make the most of the car’s limited performance potential. But’s it’s the 6’s sharp chassis that shines the brightest.

On the move, it’s clear that the five-door hatchback takes its dynamic cues from the firm’s sportier models. Turn into a corner, and you’re treated to terrific poise, while the steering is full of feedback.

The Mazda costs £18,045, which is £490 more than the Toyota, but the entertaining driving dynamics alone are enough to justify the premium. Add in the 6’s longer list of standard kit, and its case for victory in our Japanese shoot-out looks even stronger.

Details

Chart position: 1WHY: A host of revisions aim to improve the 6’s looks, boost economy and slash emissions, while retaining a practical five-door hatchback layout and entertaining driving dynamics.

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