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Click to view picture gallery“When it comes to one
  car fit to suit all the
  family, the terms
  ‘sporty’ and ‘practical’
  rarely appear together.
  But they can, and do.
  And one of those
  places is called
  Mazda6...”


IMAGINE YOU'RE PLAYING automotive word association.
I say
'Mazda' and you say
MX-5. Or RX-8. Correct on both counts. And the point is…?
Just that Mazda is known for
its sporty cars. But substitute
'family' for 'sporty' and then what would you say? 'Mazda6'. Because if you've ever driven the Mazda6 you'd know that choosing 'family' doesn't mean losing 'sporty'.

Today's buyers are pretty much spoilt for choice when it comes to choosing a competent set of 'family' wheels. But when it comes
to selecting one that can serve up some decent driving enjoyment along with accommodating a large — but not quite MPV-large — family, then the Mazda6 should figure high on the shopping list.

Available as a four-door saloon, five-door hatchback or in estate car guise, the Mazda6 has, in a few short years, collected more than
100 international awards for its qualities. Petrol engines come in three sizes: 1.8, 2.0 and 2.3-litre. Alternatively, there's a choice of two turbocharged 2.0-litre diesels, both with Particulate Filters: a 143PS (141bhp) 'high power' version or the more economical model tested here, the 121PS (119bhp) five-door TS hatchback that costs £16,250 on the road.

While we're talking numbers, let's do the rest; 119bhp, 236lb ft of torque at 2,000rpm; 0-62mph acceleration in 10.6 seconds and a top speed of 119mph.

Of those 100 well-earned awards the Mazda6 has picked up, one of them could well be for 'user-friendliness'. Get behind the steering-wheel and you'll find a good driving position, enhanced by a fully-adjustable steering column and excellent all-round visibility. Controls are logically sited; dials clear and — what joy! — the air conditioning controls and large audio buttons are self-explanatory and so easy to use.

Actually, the feel-good factor begins before you get inside. It's a smart looking car that is, in the metal, subtly dramatic — particularly in a strong metallic finish. We had a number of positive compliments on its looks during our week-long test. Externally the Mazda6's 'broad shield' grille, topped with a wide blade of chrome and flanked by slim front lights, gives it a clear identity. The pronounced V-shaped bonnet, narrow four-light headlamp units and defined front wheel arches have echoes of Mazda's sporty coupe, the RX-8. At the rear the silver tail light units wrap cleanly around the rear wing, extending into the tailgate, and are topped off with a meaningful rear spoiler. Large Mazda badges are worn proudly on the rear 'lid' and the grille, ensuring everyone knows it's a Mazda.

The Mazda6 is a generously proportioned, family-sized car with sleekly purposeful looks and — according to Mazda — has the best-in-class head, shoulder and leg-room as well as luggage space. Open a door and climb aboard and it all checks out. The interior is spacious and the comfortable front seats are well-shaped and supportive and well able to accommodate taller occupants. Those travelling in the rear are also well catered for, with large rear doors that open wide for excellent access and padded arm rests to the sides and in the centre. Six-footers may struggle for headroom in the back.

Also making life easy for Mazda6 owners is Mazda's excellent 'Karakuri' folding rear seat system. The simple pull of a side-mounted handle in the boot is all it takes to fold down the spring-loaded, 40:60 split-folding rear seats to quickly maximise luggage capacity. They fold completely flat and no time is wasted removing and stowing the head-rests. The hatchback's boot is long and shallow and, even with the rear seat backs in place, is accommodating. It's also easy to load. Drop the seats into the floor and the hatchback should provide more than enough space — 492 litres — for just about any contingency.

The roomy and well-finished cabin has a light, welcoming air and the driving position ensures you remain comfortable and in control behind the wheel, however long your journeys. For the record, one of our road testers who suffers with a bad back managed a 200-mile round trip without a whinge. The soft-touch leather-rimmed steering wheel offers a good range of height and reach adjustment, visibility is good all
round and the driver's seat has a pump-up height adjustment facility. Tasteful highlights include chromed instrument bezels and well judged dark Titanium metal-look trim. Controls for the music system and cruise control are mounted conveniently on the steering wheel.

Standard equipment also takes in a CD/Radio, climate control air conditioning (with easy to use 360-degree air vents), four one-touch electric windows with auto down, heated and power-operated door mirrors, cruise control, trip computer, power steering, a smart set of 205/55 16-inch alloy wheels, dual-stage front airbags, front side airbags and front and rear curtain airbags, whiplash-minimising front seats, three 3-point rear seatbelts, Isofix child seat anchorages, and ABS with Electronic Brake-force Distribution.

Other notable touches include the precise acting rotary knobs with lovely non-slip milled edges for the climate control which at night are 'ringed' in red, the big easy-to-use-on-the-move buttons for the stereo and the rear belt display above the rearview mirror that tells
the driver how many of the rear seatbelts are in use — handy when there are little people in the back.

The textured cloth upholstery is pleasant to the touch and adds to
the comfort of the seats. There's also ample oddments storage for four including a large, lockable glovebox, a two-tier storage unit beneath the central armrest, wide door pockets, a quartet of cupholders and a very useful lidded cubby in the dash top above a slim display strip showing current time, climate, trip and audio information.

The Mazda6 is not only pleasant to sit in; it's extremely pleasant to drive. Implicit in Mazda's 'Zoom-Zoom' slogan is that Mazdas — all Mazdas — are fun to drive. The moment you're under way, you're aware that the steering is precise and direct — if a tad on the light side. Nevertheless, it imparts the '6' with a well-connected feel that,
in conjunction with good body control on bumpier B-roads, makes it
fun on twisty roads. Adding to the dynamic pleasure is a suspension set-up (double wishbone front suspension with a multi-link arrange-ment astern) that soaks up bumps and pitted tarmac while riding smoothly, securely and quietly on the motorway. At cruising speeds wind, tyre and engine noise are all negligible.

Some family drivers might consider low-speed town riding a little on the firm side. But in return, the Mazda6 feels assured and predictable
on the open road — gripping well and always keen to respond. Enough to make tackling challenging cross-country roads something to look forward to.

And there are no unpleasant surprises, even when pushing decidedly hard. In fact, you'd have to be seriously over the top to upset it.
It wouldn't be amiss to say that its driving dynamics are on a par to those of the class-leading Mondeo. The brakes (discs all round and ventilated at the front) are more than up to stopping the Mazda6 in the shortest possible distance when you really need them to, and progressive enough to ensure smooth brake-accelerate-brake driving
in heavy traffic.

Engine-wise, the turbocharged 1,998cc in-line four-cylinder diesel is a good choice. For starters, it's economical. Officially it returns 47.1mpg during mixed driving. Town and touring consumption are, respectively, 37.7 and 55.4mpg. Our test average over 500 miles of very mixed driving came out at 42mpg, and that figure is sure to be more than agreeable for the majority of families. The 14.8-gallon fuel tank offers
a potential 700-mile touring range but equally welcome is the performance.

Thanks to strong torque — 236lb ft on tap from 2,000rpm — it offers gutsy urge in 2nd, 3rd and 4th. Which also explains why it always feels far quicker off the mark than the 10.6 second zero to 62mph time would have you expect. The crisp gear-shift action takes the hard work out of manually changing gears. And cruising at 70mph calls for no more than an effortless 2,000rpm.

UK motorists traditionally prefer the versatility offered by five-door hatchbacks. They won't be disappointed with the Mazda6. And for the family man (or woman) who gets pleasure from their driving, the re-warding to drive '6' could be just the car to inject some fun back into their family motoring. It looks attractive, is well kitted out as standard, is well built and well finished, rides comfortably and handles itself well. That it also functions efficiently as everyday family transport only adds to its charm. Think of Mazda6 as the 'Room-Room' car with the 'Zoom-Zoom'.

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Mazda6 2.0 TS Diesel 5-door | £16,250
Maximum speed: 119mph | 0-62mph: 10.6 seconds
Overall test MPG: 42mpg | Power: 119bhp | Torque: 236lb ft

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