The last Mazda 6 launch held in Rome back in 2002 wasn’t just so much the launch of a new car but the relaunch of a brand. Did a pretty good job too, and left a bunch of bemused motoring journos wandering around muttering how good it was when actually they were secretly expecting something rather naff.
Then, the emphasis had been on styling the car with a European look, no doubt to give it more credibility in the repmobile marketplace. It worked, and a few flourishes such as distinctly Alfa-esque air vents in the interior plus an exterior that while stylish, managed to avoid the Japanese tendency to overdo everything resulted in what was actually a rather classy piece of work. Combined with sharp handling and a strong engine range the result was a fitting beginning to Mazda’s renaissance.
So how d’you follow that?
Er, good question. Since then there’s been a facelift but this time Mazda are giving it the full-on makeover which in keeping with the rest of the range, means shedding weight (around 50kg) and like everyone else, madly waving a sheaf of paper around containing a long list of green credentials. Top of the list is weight saving, of course, because less weight means burning less fuel which is the only way (yes, really) to cut CO2.
But what’s slightly surprising is the approach to the design which this time ditches the European thing and is based on ‘Japanese Aesthetics.’ Apparently, this is a way to clearly distinguish the 6 from other Japanese and European cars and is based on three principles. The first is ‘YUGEN’ (ethereality) which is reminiscent of the gracefulness of nature. The second is ‘RIN’ (dignity of form) that communicates calm determination and strength and the third is SEICHI (exquisiteness). Get it? Thought not.
Perhaps a more British approach to describing the Mazda’s visual evolution (and why not, figures show the UK is the second biggest European market for the 6) is to say that it is has grown into a well balanced and elegant looking piece of kit inside and out. And yes, that curvaceous body is a bit sassy looking too. And fair enough, it does have it’s own distinctive look, ethereal or otherwise.
OK, so what’s the new Mazda 6 Estate like to drive?
Looks count for sure. But if you’re any kind of a petrolhead driving dynamics are what it’s all about and the Mazda has them in spades. Riding on big 17in, 215-section Bridgestone Potenzas the TS2 Estate doesn’t have the most supple of rides for this segment, though to be fair, the test route in North Wales wasn’t chosen as a study in smooth surfaces. What they did do though, was to emphasise what an enormously capable car the Mazda 6 is when it comes to the twisty bits and good enough to let you forget you’re driving what should essentially be a workhorse.
Electric power steering delivers enough feedback to keep you informed through the bends; the initial bite on turn-in is backed up by plenty of grip and body roll that’s kept firmly in check.
A Mazda family car… I’m still finding it hard to get excited!
Brakes are strong but not oversensitive, biting after just a few centimetres of pedal travel with a firm, solid feel. This feeling of mechanical precision is echoed by the shift quality of the six-speed box which snicks neatly between ratios. The shift precision is no accident and the manual transmissions have been tweaked with an improved design of selector mechanism and cable design.
What all these details add up to is the feeling of a thoroughly tactile and well sorted car. A few years ago, most D-segment cars felt as though the controls were connected together by rubber. Well not this time. The new Mazda 6 Estate is slop-free and sharp as a button.
You make it sound hot. But that’s still a diesel under the bonnet…
Yes, but it’s good. Power of 138bhp at 3500rpm backed a by a well rounded 243lb ft at 2000rpm adds up to a tidy score on the gruntometer. There are more powerful 2.0-litre diesels around but only at the higher end of the price scale. Like most these days, this one’s common-rail so it’s quiet when roused though a little rattly around the car park, despite claims that that a shutter in the intake ‘effectively eliminates idle knock.’
It’s not a new engine, the new 6 inheriting the diesel from the outgoing model. But the intake and exhaust manifolds have been redesigned and the engine management system remapped to further reduce emissions. It’s a four-cylinder, SOHC 16-valve turbodiesel which in the estate returns 49.6mpg on the combined cycle and 151gm/km CO2.
The benchmark 0-62mph takes 10.9 seconds but the torquey feel of the motor makes it feel quicker, with acceleration peaking at 123mph. Other engines in the Estate range include the smooth and revvy, 145bhp 2.0-litre petrol and 168bhp 2.5-litre V6.
It’s an Estate, so what’s the interior like?
The 6 is claimed to have one of the widest boot openings at 1066mm. Seats fold almost flat without the need to fold the rear seat squab forward first which can be annoying. The floor is 45mm longer than the predecessor which all in all makes the 6 a capable acquirer of DIY junk from B&Q and load lugging in general. Accommodation up front is good, too: the steering wheel is adjustable for reach and rake, while the seat is height adjustable for a good driving position. Clear instruments stare back at you from pods but orange LED displays are a styling faux pas – they’re just too hard to read. Plus those in the centre of the dash distract from the road ahead.
An already good car just got better with distinctive looks and sharp, responsive controls and handling backed up by a strong diesel and smooth petrol engines. According to Mazda UK marketing director Mark Cameron, the 6 appeals to a higher proportion of private customers than is usual for the sector.
‘Partly because of the styling and the fact it doesn’t look like a repmobile,’ he reckons. ‘Retail sales account for 63 percent of total Mazda business in the UK.’
If you’re one of those buyers whose mantra remains ‘European or be damned,’ you might want to think again while perusing Passats or musing Mondeos. But this entry-level 2.0 D S Estate costing £15,630 with grown-up styling and properly engineered detail is pretty persuasive. Now might be the time to switch from steak to Sushi.