For every truly innovative or exciting product Mazda produces – the peerless MX-5 or the rotary-engined RX-7 and RX-8 – there was a slew of anonymous ‘boxes’, often derived from other manufacturers, to make up the rest of the range. Even the die-hard Mazda fan won’t look back too fondly on any generation of the 121…
As Ford has taken its money out of Mazda’s pot, the Hiroshima-based manufacturer has taken the opportunity to divorce itself from blue oval platforms and struck out on its own. The $3 billion project, called “SkyActiv”, comprises chassis, engines and other components developed in-house to instil the Mazda ethos into everything it makes.
The first car produced from this project was the CX-5 crossover – a must-have for any manufacturer these days – but following it quickly was the Mazda 6 saloon. Formerly based on the Mondeo, the 6 has been Mazda’s flagship product for a few years – so has the company made it count where it matters most?
We’re going to have to stick out our collective necks a little bit here and say that there is simply no better looking, mainstream family estate car on the market. It was actually quite surprising to see, when the 6 was originally revealed in 2012, that Mazda had effectively put their Takeri concept car directly into production with only slight concessions to make the car road legal.
The gaping front end treatment has made its way over entirely untouched, as part of a company-wide design ethos dubbed “KODO – Soul of Motion”. It’s flanked by what appear to be a pair of huge wheelarch extensions which ride horizontally over the wheels before plunging into nothingness down the front doors as the ridge line from the grille makes its way seamlessly up into the A-pillars.
A pretty hefty shoulderline defines the sides of the car, forming the top of the taillights as it rounds into the back. As it rises towards the rear of the car, the roofline drops to meet it at the pretty steeply angled rear screen. The rear wheelarches are aggressive too and the 19 inch wheels that fill them on this model do a great job of minimising how much bodywork is visible above them.
We can take or leave the chrome strips in the boot lid and along the top of the grille but, as a whole, the car’s a bit of a stunner considering the market position. While the saloon is a handsome car, the estate is subjectively more complete from a design point of view.
There’s a distinctly contemporary look inside too. There’s nothing thrilling or overtly flashy, but it’s well laid out and nothing is hidden away or hard to read – though the central LCD screen seems a little on the small side.
The materials are very well chosen, with nothing but soft-touch plastics on surfaces anywhere you’re likely to probe. There’s leather in this Sport Nav model – which also adds that dark red flash across the cabin – but the cloth of lower grade cars is fine too.
Oddly, depending on your body shape, it can be a bit difficult to get your driving position just right, despite the 6-way adjustable electric seats and rake and reach steering wheel. Once you’ve got it, it’s spot on but it can take quite a bit of fiddling to get there.
There’s plenty of head-, leg- and shoulder room all round and there are enough cubbies for you to lose every phone and set of keys you own. Rear seat passengers don’t lose out, with extended seat cushions providing a little extra leg support. If you have to have the rear seats occupied there’s 506 litres of boot space and that was plenty for a 700 mile round trip with 2 kids in the back and 2 dogs in the boot. You can also fold any one of the rear seats down individually (a 40:20:40 split) with a single catch in the boot, or drop them all for a pretty impressive 1,648 litre load bay.
This is somewhat of a party piece for the Mazda – and indeed the brand in general. It makes very few cars that don’t both ride and handle well and the 6 is no exception.
While the saloon model gets a few reviewers commenting on the firm ride, there’s none of that in the Tourer, as we found it to be an excellent motorway companion whether empty or stuffed to the eyebrows with children, luggage and dogs. It’s quiet enough to hold a conversation with anyone but a grunting teenage back seat dweller, with little wind or road noise. It’s not so composed over sudden dips in the road surface, as if the dampers are set more to resist the expansion of the springs than the compression, but it merely sends a thunk into the cabin rather than compromising ride quality.
Take it onto fun roads and it’s something else entirely. There is far more grip available than you’d need for a car of this type and the body control is superb. The steering is beautifully communicative – if you’ve tried electromechanical steering racks before and hated them, give this one a go to change your mind. The whole package is much more fun to drive than some companies’ sports cars – if you’re a fan of enthusiastic driving and you’ve been forced into a sensible family estate car, look no further. Just bear in mind that other occupants might not appreciate you doing a point-to-point rally while they’re on board.
Our test car came with one of Mazda’s new super-low-compression diesel units, a 2.2-litre model sporting 148hp. It’s not really a performance option, sprinting from 0-60mph takes (on paper) 9.2s – it’s sufficient enough to make driving relaxing if not engaging. If you want to ally the excellent driving dynamics to some decent pace between the bends, you’ll want to step up to the 173hp version of the same engine.
This version is the most economical though, with 64.2mpg according to the official consumption stats. Thanks to spending much of our test week fully loaded and driving through the middle of Wales on A-roads enjoying the handling, we didn’t really trouble the official numbers – barely breaking 40mpg – but mid-50s is a reasonable proposition. All cars also come with Mazda’s almost seamless iStop stop-start system and the daftly-named iELOOP regenerative charging technology that powers cabin electronics with scavenged kinetic energy under coasting and braking.
Value for Money
Tested here is the range-topping Sport Nav, which comes with just about every optional extra Mazda can offer tacked on, though our car also included the Safety Pack which adds rear view monitor and possibly the most amusing lane departure warning system you can find on any car – rather than beeping at you, it plays a rumble strip noise through the relevant door speaker. All in it falls a little shy of £29,000.
It’s pretty hard to get close to this figure in rival estates and still maintain the same equipment levels, build quality, space and fuel economy (on paper or in the real world) all in the same package. That said, if you won’t miss the leather, it’s worth dropping to SE-L Nav specification and saving a couple of grand – Mazda still offers the same engine and even satellite navigation – to make it an incredibly compelling purchase.
It’s genuinely very hard indeed to think of anything wrong with the Mazda 6 Tourer, but very, very easy to think of what’s right with it.
Folding together a decent amount of storage space with a nice environment for occupants is challenging for most manufacturers, but if you ask them to throw in a car that drives brilliantly as well you’ll be told you can pick any two from three. The 6 Tourer does it all and does it well – probably the only thing it’s missing is a true performance variant to make the most of that superb chassis they’ve created.
The Mazda 6 has been one of the sector’s hidden gems for a couple of generations, but this car should change that. It’s no longer the car you buy as an alternative to mainstream models, but the car mainstream models need to chase.