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Mazda Mazda6 2.2D SE-L

Click to view picture gallery“The large car class is in seemingly
  terminal decline. Fewer and fewer
  people are buying big models from
  mainstream brands, shunning them
  in favour of 4x4s, MPVs and premium
  models...


THIS IS BAFFLING to me. Large cars tend to be much better to drive than 4x4s, as well as being more practical, and they're certainly a lot cheaper than both MPVs and SUVs.

Take the new Mazda6, for example. It's a fantastic car. Truth is, it's primarily aimed at company car drivers. Lucky them, I say. The new-generation 6 is going to do very well, of that I'm sure. The previous 6 was an excellent car but has dropped off most people's radar because it emits too much CO2, so it costs too much in company car tax.

The new one is far better — in fact, it's class-leading, with CO2 as low as 108g/km. That's going to put a broad smile on the face of anyone who has to pay benefit-in-kind tax based on emissions. Fuel economy looks very good, too: for instance, the best-selling 148bhp 2.2 diesel averages 67.3mpg!

“Up against rivals like
the Ford Mondeo, Toyota
Avensis, Vauxhall
Insignia and Volkswagen
Passat, the Mazda6 is
the new class leader
...”
The new 6 is available in both four-door saloon and five-door 'Tourer' estate forms, so for the first time there's no hatchback. Apparently buyers think style is more important than practicality, and the saloon certainly ticks the box on the style front. The front grille looks bold and I think I can detect hints of Jaguar XJ about the low, sweeping roofline, and those wheelarches look chunkily sporty.

It's very good to drive, too. Most buyers will opt for the 2.2-litre diesel engine because of its low CO2. I reckon the lower-power 148bhp diesel is actually better than the 173bhp version: it has plenty enough power and better refinement — as well as costing less to buy and run. It's also got an identical torque output of 280lb ft which, incidentally, matches the BMW 320d.

Both diesel engines are smooth and eager — the 148bhp version does 0-62mph in 9 seconds and tops out at 131mph (the 173bhp version takes 7.9 seconds). And they sound pretty good for diesels. Gear changes from the six-speed manual 'box are swift and slick.

I also tried the 163bhp petrol engine. It's quick, super-smooth and rev-happy, but does it make sense next to the diesel? Perhaps: it's significantly cheaper to buy, yet only slightly less economical. That's because of the clever SkyActiv technology under the bonnet — it gives fuel economy of 51.4mpg for the 143bhp petrol versus 67.3mpg for the 148bhp diesel. By my calculations, you'd need to cover fully 95,000 miles to make up the difference in the diesel's higher purchase price (some 2,200) in saved fuel.

The Mazda6 has always been known for its sharp handling, and the new one very much follows this tradition, with chunkily direct steering, very little body roll through corners and a confidence that lets you explore the limits of grip.

Yes, that does mean the suspension is set pretty stiff, which can make it feel jiggly on poor tarmac and there's some crashiness over potholes and speed humps. The standard 17-inch wheel option helps in this regard, so consider sticking with these rather than opting for low-pro-tyred 19-inchers.

“The Mazda6 has always
been known for its sharp
handling, and the new
one very much follows
this tradition, with
chunkily direct steering,
very little body roll
through corners and
a confidence that
lets you explore the
limits of grip
...”
Some owners may miss the practicality of a hatchback, as the saloon's boot isn't as big or as accessible. If boot space is critical to you, buy the Tourer estate even though its low roofline means it doesn't have quite as much space as the class leaders.

Turning to the cabin, the seats are very supportive and there's loads of headroom and shoulder room, even in the back. It's a fact that Japanese cars in general simply don't have great interiors, but the new 6 makes one of the best fists of it, with decent quality dashboard plastics. Lots of the controls are conveniently positioned on the steering wheel, and the 5.8-inch touchscreen works very well.

Prices start at 21,795 for the 148bhp 2.2-litre diesel saloon, rising to 28,045 for the top-spec 173bhp 2.2 Tourer. As ever, petrol models are cheaper, starting at what looks like a bargain 19,595.

Three trim levels are on offer: SE, SE-L and Sport, with all boasting AirCon, cruise control, curtain airbags, Bluetooth and iPod connectivity as standard. Automatic braking is standard on the SE-L, which also adds climate control, automatic lights and wipers, electric mirrors, parking sensors and tinted rear glass. The Sport has 19-inch alloys, Xenon headlights, a reversing camera, heated electric seats, keyless entry and an 11-speaker Bose sound system.

Up against rivals like the Ford Mondeo, Toyota Avensis, Vauxhall Insignia and Volkswagen Passat, the Mazda6 is the new class leader.
Chris Rees

Mazda Mazda6 2.2D 148bhp SE-L | 22,595
Maximum speed: 131mph | 0-62mph: 9 seconds | Overall MPG: 67.3mpg
Power: 148bhp | Torque: 280lb ft | CO2 108g/km