The occasion: Mazda6 UK media launch. The location: Edinburgh and the Scottish borders. The weather: A despicable -2, lying snow and a brisk, flesh-eating wind. Tyres: Standard, non-winter rubber.
Perfect ingredients for 480 miles of exhilarating, heated seat driving.
☀ ☀ ☀
Eleven years is a long time. In 2002, under Ferrari team orders, Rubens Barrichello slowed in the final few metres of the Austrian Grand Prix to ‘gift’ Mr Schumacher an unnecessary race win. Madonna was already 43 (I KNOW!) and in denial about pretty much everything.
But in the hyper-competitive world of international car design and manufacturing, eleven years is a veritable aeon.
In 2002, Mazda introduced the 6 range, replacing the ageing 626 which was at the time saturated with Ford DNA. Prior to that, Mazda sold 4,3 million units worldwide of the 626 and its Telstar-branded Ford sibling. Since its 2002 introduction, the Mazda6 has found a further 1,26 million international customers.
Mazda’s plethora of new technology on the new 6 – from the SkyActiv set of efficiency gains and emissions and weight savings first aired on the CX-5 last year, through to the ingenious i-Eloop kinetic energy recovery system, sets it apart from their opposition. Far enough apart to now stand out from, indeed lead, the C-segment crowd.
Look closely at the Mazda6. Externally, the well-trumpeted Kodo design language translates more appropriately to the sleeker stance of the Saloon and Tourer Mazda6 variants, than to the CX-5 SUV. The flight of chrome running around the grill, culminating over the brow of each headlight cluster is a neat and elegant touch. A pleasing array of curves and formed edges result in an overall shape that is uber smart, refined and a very classy package.
Internally, it gets even better. The plastics are high quality, with soft touches throughout the cabin. Well-housed, softened rotary knobs and fluidic switchgear along with multi-purpose column stalks that operate with a reassuring thunk when applied, round off a significantly-improved environment for all occupants. It’s a calm, relaxing and peaceful place to spend quite a bit of time.
Such is the premium feel running throughout the interior of the new 6 that, should the logo be removed from the steering wheel, it could arguably be derived from any of the high-end German brands such as Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz. Comparisons that may not go unnoticed by private buyers or fleet managers.
On the road
The beautiful Scottish countryside south east of Edinburgh is challenging at the best of summer times. In winter it is a bitterly raw environment that continues to welcome a seasoned driver with unbridled thrills and adventure. Low cloud, blindingly-white lying snow and a bitter, thin wind that I swear would scythe a grown man right in half, the Mazda6 flipped a confident bird to the conditions and proved more than capable to the challenge.
It displayed impeccable road manners and remained unflustered throughout the two-day, 480 mile assessment. Whether tooting along narrow country lanes with an occasional sprinkling of opposite lock, crowded urban school runs or mile-munching motorways, the car delivers a smooth ride from a well-insulated cabin, the suspension soaking up any undulations in the road. In rural Scotland, undulations and the odd pothole are mostly what you get.
At cruising speeds, there is wind noise around the mirrors. Other than that, refinement is exemplary. Folding them on the go helps reduce the noise but rather negates their raison d’etre.
While the steering was a little numb to the feel at dead-ahead, the speed-sensitive setup is pleasantly light for parking and offers tangible feedback through sweeping curves and at motorway cruising speeds. The Sport grade offers a slightly stiffer suspension set-up over the SE/SE-L and, while delivering sharper ride and handling, there is none of the harsh, intrusive crashing and crunching commonly found in the ‘sport’ settings of less spine-friendly cars.
Cornering is a delight in either setup. When the guardian angel that normally perches atop my right shoulder in these assessment situations took an overdue nap, I pushed the car to a limit that resides near the edge of self-preservation. The car felt constantly planted, secure, with a noticeable drift to understeer at which point the on board computers kick in and try to gather most of it up again. The electronics are there but you hardly notice them and they certainly don’t spoil an entertaining drive. And that’s the way it should be. Overall, it drives and handles exceptionally well and offers occupants a refined and comfortable ride. But when the mood so determines and you want to mix it up a bit, it’ll soak up that treatment too, without so much as a whimper.
The range of Saloons and Tourers offers both petrol and diesel engines in variants of SE, SE-L and Sport – all with or without the excellent TomTom satellite navigation. Petrol power is available in a 2.0-litre engine, tuned to either 143bhp (51.4mpg + 129g/km CO2) or 163bhp (47.9mpg + 135g/km CO2). Both were acceptably adequate in the performance and fuel economy departments.
The more attractive and punchier 2.2-litre turbo-charged diesel is also available in two states of tune at 148bhp (67.3mpg + 108g/km CO2) and 173bhp (62.8mpg + 119g/km CO2). It is unlikely that many in the UK will choose either petrol unit, opting rather sensibly for the more than ample 148bhp turbo-diesel as the pick of the bunch for most private and fleet buyers. It would undoubtedly be mine. It’s a cracker of a power plant.
The economy and CO2 figures are overwhelmingly class-leading, despite the larger engine capacities. Such are the advances made by Mazda in the engine and drivetrain departments – particularly the diesel which delivers 280lb/ft (380Nm) of torque – the new Mazda6 is as powerful and efficient as any C-segment competitor emanating from Germany. And I’m not taking the proverbial by using the words ‘competitor’ and ‘Germany’ together as reference points for the Mazda6.
After eleven years, the appeal of the all-new Mazda6 has been strategically and significantly broadened. Because of that, Family Guys and fleet managers the length and breadth of the UK should think with their hearts, heads and eventually their feet and cheque books.
After all these years, Mazda’s new 6 really is a car for all reasons – and seasons.