First Drive: Mazda 6

Launching a car in Scotland in January is a brave move, but Mazda are taking a few gambles at the moment. From being seen as the next best choice after a Ford or Vauxhall, the Japanese brand is fighting hard to be seen as credible rivals to the likes of Audi and BMW.

The CX-5 crossover that I reviewed back in May last year marked a massive step forward for the marque, introducing the Kodo design language and the first iterations of their Skyactiv Technology designed to improve efficiency.

Externally, that Kodo design language translates well to the Mazda 6. The ‘wing’ that runs around the grille and headlights give a sense of movement, carried through the car right to the rear, where a sleek set of lights and chrome detailing can be found. Overall there is an attractive combination of curves and hard edges that come together to create a shape that is not particularly adventurous but is elegant and sophisticated.

Mazda 6 2013 Upper Front Right

It is on the inside that the huge steps forward Mazda are making show up best. Gone is the shiny plastic dashboard of old, with its functional but uninteresting design. In its place now is a very swish cabin that has design touches leaping out throughout.

Boldly sitting at the top of the centre stack is the 5.8” infotainment centre, covering audio and navigation, with the latter being a simple to use TomTom system. Why manufacturers continue to spend millions developing their own systems when off the shelf systems as good as this are available is beyond me.

Underneath there’s a black panel hiding LCD displays for the climate control, with intuitive dials making it easy to operate while driving. A BMW i-Drive style Multi Commander sits further back, ready to operate the infotainment system. Up front there is a three-pod instrument binnacle, with easy to read backlit displays. The third pod houses a multi-colour LCD screen that displays various warnings and information, never getting too obtrusive.

Mazda 6 2013 CabinIt’s all brought together well in a sweeping moulding that runs from door to door. The plastics used are classy, with soft touches everywhere and well damped rotary knobs and switches. Even the column stalks operate fluidly, with a solid clunk when in use.

There is a lot of CX-5 in the design, but take away the badge and the interior could be from any of the German marques, something that should impress prospective buyers.

Out in the Scottish Lowlands, dodging between bouts of fog, low cloud and blizzard conditions, the new 6 behaves extremely well. Whether in Sport or SE spec, long motorway cruises could almost be a time to savour thanks to the smooth ride that banishes undulations from the cabin. The same is true around town for the SE spec cars, although the larger wheels of the Sport model crash through potholes a little too roughly.

Mazda 6 2013 Skyactive Technology

Pushed to the very limit, the car feels well planted and secure, drifting to understeer before the computers kick in to try and gather everything up again. In drifting snow on summer tyres, a situation I can’t imagine the car will face too frequently, it performed well, never deciding on its own course.

There is plenty of power to pull you back on course though. Eschewing the trend to downsize engines, the 2.2 litre turbo charged diesel engine is available in two states of tune, either 148 bhp (150 PS) or 173 bhp (175 PS), and they return economy figures of up to 67.3 mpg. Choose the extra 25 horses and that drops to 58.9 mpg. A 2.0 litre petrol engine option is also available, although few are expected to choose that power plant.

Mazda 6 2013 Rear Light Detail

The economy figures and CO2 figures are absolutely class leading, despite the larger engine capacity. Beating off even the BMW 320d ED. There is simply nothing else in the class that produces lower emissions, and that’s without sacrificing performance. With 280 lb ft of torque (380 Nm), the Mazda 6 is also as powerful as anything Munich can throw at the market.

For the first time then, Mazda have a competitive product for both private and business buyers in this area of the market. It may not have the cachet or allure of a BMW 3 Series, the darling of the sector, but it is a car superior in many ways to the Insignia and Mondeo that dominate the volume brands. It’s right up there in terms of quality, price, performance, economy and emissions, and deserves to do just as well.

Take a gamble yourself. Go and test drive one and tell me what you think in the comments section below.

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Phil is a motoring writer for print and web, failed racing driver, car hoarder and banger rally competitor. Nominated for the Headline Auto Rising Star award and a MGMW member, Phil freelances for outlets as diverse as Diesel Car magazine, and Cambridge Magazine, amongst many others. He also maintains a fleet of unloved motors, but spends most of his time driving an old Corvette.