The old Mazda 6 was the acceptable face of repmobility. Will we get more of the same?
When the first 6 came out in 2002, it was a genuinely surprising and enjoyable product in the stale upper-medium market. But they grow up so fast these days, and only five years later the 6 is being replaced. This car is almost entirely new, and despite trading bits and pieces from the Ford parts bin, Mazda has gone it alone and the new 6 (available in saloon, hatch and estate form) shares almost nothing with its Mondeo cousin. Which seeing how good the Mondeo is, might be seen as an unnecessary risk.
There’s something about this design that reminds me of a misty forest...
Absolutely. And hints of a samurai sword, a sumo wrestler and a jewellery box. According to chief designer Youichi Sato, the 6 has the combination of the contrast between sharp and soft of the forest, the taught calmness and explosive power of the sword and sumo and the craftsmanship of the box. Or ‘Yugen’, ‘Rin’ and ‘Seichi’. All a touch on the ethereal side but pointing to the shift in design thinking at Mazda: its cars must be Japanese in style, and not bland Euro-replicas. Hmm. So wide, sharply creased front wheelarches, slashed headlights, low glass and deep body is the style. And it works. There’s no jumbotron Mondeo styling here. The 6 is a very sharky, good-looking car indeed and it looks particularly suited to the Japanese national colour of white.
It’s looking a little heavy on the petrol front though...
For the European market, the three-to-one split between petrol and diesel is looking worryingly one-sided. As company cars, most buyers will be looking for diesel and the carryover 140bhp 2.0-litre MZR-CD will be fighting a lone battle. The petrol line-up is more fulsome, with entry level 120bhp 1.8, 147bhp 2.0 and a new 170bhp 2.5-litre. All are four cylinders, with the smallest mated to a five-speed gearbox. All others are six-speeders, while the 2.0 petrol is also offered as an auto. Execs won't commit to a more powerful diesel, but it’s a given there will be a 160-170bhp version sooner rather than later. If Mazda wants to attract more profitable, user-chooser company car drivers, it will need it. Prices aren’t yet released but expect them to start at £15,500 and top out at £22,000.
The last car handled well, but was noisy. Any change there?
The front and rear suspension has been updated, with the front subframe now mounted at six points rather than four for quietness and better handling. The steering system has been replaced for RX-8-based rack-drive electric power assistance and the steering has also been quickened. There’s also the usual claim about increased body stiffness. Engineers have fitted a lot more sound absorption materials around the cabin, and reckon they got the car running so quietly, they discovered all sorts of other rattles and squeaks they didn’t know were there. Bugger. And it has to be said, at idle, the 6 is near-silent. And mercifully rattle-free too.
So it’s bigger with more technology, safety and soundproofing. Is this the big pig-out after the dieting of the MX-5 and 2?
Mazda has a graph that compares the change in weight of first- and second-generation 6 to its competitors, and the downward direction of the Mazda line means it’s the only one qualifying for Weight Watchers’ Slimmer of the Month. Through some obsessive fasting, even down to lighter stuffing in the seats and different material for the speaker magnets, the new car is about 35kg lighter than the outgoing one. It’s a strategy that genuinely puts Mazda in a class of its own as all other cars get heavier with each iteration, and helps to limit fuel consumption and emissions as well as helping to dodge less ponderous handling. In fact, the lesser weight has meant the 149g/km diesel will be four company car tax bands lower than the old model.
The theory seems sound. How does it drive?
These were pre-production cars, but the first impressions are that Mazda is onto a winner with the 6. It feels snappy and alive. Even the 1.8-litre isn’t horribly slow. Turn in and the 6 reacts sharply with no roll or delay. There’s plenty of grip and no lardy understeer. Tighten your line and instead of the front washing out, the back starts to shift and grip, rather like a well sorted hot hatch. Very tidy. There was no diesel to try but the 2.0-litre petrol was probably the nicest, with a crisp engine note and gearshift, while the 2.5 had a very sensitive throttle and felt a little coarse.
So it looks good and drives well. Will I feel an emotional connection with the new 6?
With a Ginsters pork pie in one hand, an angry boss on the phone and 273 miles until you get to the Carlisle branch, you should still feel ‘Kizuna’ with your 6, if Mazda has its way. It is seeking to create this ‘oneness’ between driver and car based on feelings of reliability, comfort and empathy, apparently. To get you in the mood, the car welcomes you with a plethora of red lighting when you open the door – that’s either Tron’s brothel or cool KITT kitsch depending on your point of view – and a handy ‘Zoom-Zoom’ message in the display panel to get you in the brand mood. It's all a bit naff. There’s also some blue backlighting for the audio controls to calm you in the dark on the way home. Beyond all the gimmicks though, the interior is good. Decently comfortable, with a good driving position and plenty of rear space, it’s a tidily presented, well built, if not especially inspiring cabin.
The Mazda 6 can’t fail. Beyond the pleasingly eccentric theories attached to the design and conception of this car is a simple proposition: a good-looking car that drives really well, feels solidly built and is likely to be competitively priced. Pass me the Ginsters. Let's gets repping.