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Mazda 6

Dramatic looks give it a visual edge – but can the Japanese car keep up on the road?

The 6 has been around almost as long as the Mondeo, but a recent facelift and revisions to its engine line-up and trim levels have ensured the dramatic-looking hatch is still at the top of its game. The Mazda is arguably the most visually interesting of the three and has been redesigned front and rear. It now wears the firm’s new family face and more stylish light clusters.

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The dynamic nose is set between a pair of sharp and elegantly detailed headlamps. It looks the smallest of our trio, and the official measurements confirm this, as the 6 is shorter, narrower and lower than its rivals. As with the Mondeo, the rear is the least successful aspect of the car, and its clear tail-light lenses look more like aftermarket add-ons than original equipment. Still, the Mazda is a handsome car, and lives up to its Sport badge.

The racy theme continues inside, where metal pedals and trim add a welcome dose of interest to the otherwise dark and drab cabin. The driving position is low and snug, feeling much more involving than the higher-set Skoda or Ford. It can’t beat its rivals for comfort, though, as the Japanese car’s hard seats lack under-thigh support and become tiresome on longer journeys.

The rest of the cabin is also dated compared to the Superb and Mondeo. With simple red-on-black LCD displays for the auxiliary instruments, no option for integrated sat-nav and hard plastics, the Mazda is at the bottom of the pile here.

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Deep cowls for the speedometer and rev counter and a sporty three-spoke steering wheel improve matters, but the poor quality switchgear is a letdown.

Rear passengers get less space than in its rivals, and with the seats in place the Mazda also has the smallest boot. However, its square shape and wide opening help you to make full use of it.

Hit the road and the 6 feels quick, with barely any difference from the Mondeo. The 177bhp unit sits between the Skoda and Ford for power and performance, but it proved to be the least refined of the lot.

Accelerate from low revs and there are vibrations through the car that aren’t evident in its rivals.

The sports suspension works well in corners, with weighty steering and impressive body control, but venture on to a motorway and the car is less relaxing than its peers. The stiff springs ensure you feel every broken surface or expansion joint. Travel for any real distance and this combines with the gruff engine to make the 6 much less comfortable.

The Mazda scores a hit for its CO2 emissions. An output of 142g/km is the lowest here, and the Mazda only costs £125 to tax. Still, the 38.5mpg achieved over our test isn’t hugely impressive and is 13.8mpg down on the official combined figure.

With sporty looks, impressive handling and perky performance, the Mazda is an involving family car – but will its relative lack of refinement cost it dear?

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Chart position: 2WHY: If you want sporty looks and value pricing, the Mazda 6 takes some beating – especially now that the Japanese firm has improved its family car offering...

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