Mazda 6

With it's new 6, Mazda has BMW and Audi in its sights. Can the range-topping SL beat the best from Germany?

The Mazda 6 has always been a family car with sporty intentions, but the original demanded sacrifices. The all-new car reinforces its reputation as a great drive, and now offers the creature comforts and quality that has become a must in this segment. It seems to have all the bases covered, including keeping eco-conscious buyers happy by shedding the pounds – a trend that other car makers will hopefully take note of.

Quality, not quantity, is the new focus in the family car sector. Models such as the Ford Mondeo and Renault Laguna have raised their game, and are chasing premium offerings from BMW, Audi and Mercedes in an effort to reverse slowing sales.

Now, it’s Mazda’s turn – with this, the upmarket new 6. Figures for the original 6 confirm how important the new model will be when it goes on sale in January – more than 470,000 examples found homes, making the previous-generation machine the com­pany’s best-selling product ever.

Early indications are that the latest car has moved things on. It’s difficult to find an area where the new 6 hasn’t improved on its predecessor. A glance at the specification reveals that it’s now bigger, faster, more economical and lighter by up to 35kg.

This weight saving – or what top brass refer to as ‘gram strategy’ – is something Mazda is proud of, and has already been seen on the latest incarnations of the MX-5 and the 3.

Fuel economy is boosted not only as a result of the strict diet the 6 has been on, but also through its class-leading aerodynamics. So how does it shape up in terms of desirability? Well, the newcomer’s dynamic lines, helped by short overhangs at both ends and pronounced swooping wheelarches, certainly turn heads.

There’s also more than a hint of Lexus about the Mazda’s chiselled design, especially in the Pearl White finish of the car we drove. Highlights include the bonnet’s tight shut lines, which angle down to the V-shaped grille, plus the LED rear lights, which mimic the flowing lines of the Mazda badge on the bootlid.

Interior quality is something to behold, too, with form and function served up in equal measure. The blue backlighting of the red instrument dials gives an expensive feel to the cockpit, while touches such as the steering wheel-mounted controls for the sat-nav, stereo and climate systems are attractive and intuitive to use.

The 6’s wheelbase has been exten­ded by 50mm, which frees up some extra room in the back for taller passengers, while the boot offers a useful 519 litres of space. A quick look around the cabin, however, reveals the occasional use of cheap plastics which don’t belong in an interior boasting this level of craftsmanship.

A wide range of engines is avail­able, with a 2.0-litre diesel and three petrol options; a 1.8-litre, 2.0-litre and the new 2.5-litre four-cylinder motor fitted to our car. The latter revs crisply and effortlessly and provides ample pace for motorway cruising or even fun along a twisty back road.

Peak power doesn’t arrive until 6,000rpm, so you have to work the gearbox hard to extract the potential of the engine – although the six-speed unit’s precise change makes this a pleasure and not a chore.

A new electrically-assisted steering system offers a nimbleness that belies the car’s dimensions – the latest 6 always feels on its toes and ready for action, despite the fact it’s carrying a heavy engine up front.

The revised suspension provides excel­lent ride comfort, and road noise – one of the criticisms levelled at the previous generation – is substantially reduced. Overall, the new 6 has a much more grown-up feel on the road.

As we took to the wheel, a Mazda engineer said that during the develop­ment of the car he had emphasised the word ‘Kizuna’ – a Japanese phrase meaning ‘emotional connection’ or the driver being at one with the machine. In the 6, not only do you feel this tog­etherness, but you will be travelling in style and comfort – and grinning with excitement all the way.

Rival New Citroen C5
The next C5 has gone from an ugly duckling to a stunner in one generation, while putting more emphasis on quality than ever before. A powerful V6 diesel will provide decent performance, while Hydractive self-levelling suspension may just give the Citroen the nod in terms of ride comfort. But whether it can keep up with the dynamics of the Mazda 6 remains to be seen. We get behind the wheel early in 2008.

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