Few family cars are as stylish or efficient as the Mazda 6
These days the most popular family saloons tend to be premium-badged models from the likes of Audi, BMW and Mercedes, but the Mazda 6 shows there’s still a place for a stylish and well equipped mainstream alternative.
It’s available with a range of engines that are both powerful and efficient for their size, and will be cheap to run as a company car.
But the 6 has been around in this form for a while now, and in that time, new versions of the Ford Mondeo and Volkswagen Passat have both arrived on the scene and put it under pressure.
Lots of legroom, but rear headroom is a little tight
The Mazda 6 is a long car, which allows it to offer more legroom than premium-badged alternatives, such as the Audi A4 and BMW 3-series. Unfortunately, taller adults may well find they have to slouch a bit when sitting in the back of the 6 due to its rakish roofline.
Boot space is harder to fault; there’s more than enough room for a couple of large suitcases, and the rear seats lie pretty much flat when folded down. That said, the boot opening is smaller than a Ford Mondeo’s, simply because the 6 is a saloon instead of a hatchback.
There’s plenty of in-car storage, including deep door bins, a good-sized glovebox and a central lidded box between the front seats.
Petrol engines are noisier than diesels
Supportive front seats with lots of adjustment provide some comfort, but the Mazda 6 has quite firm suspension, meaning it doesn’t isolate occupants from poor surfaces as well as a Ford Mondeo.
The 6 also lets in more wind and road noise than the Mondeo on the motorway, but it does have quieter diesel engines.
That said, the petrol engines can get raucous when they’re worked hard – and as they deliver their power quite high up the rev range, you have to do that often.
Dashboard layout 8/10
Not as clear as some, but works well enough
A large speedo that you can read at a glance is positioned directly in front of the driver, and most of the other controls on the dashboard have been well thought-out, too.
The touchscreen mounted on top of the dashboard is also clear and easy to use, though it has an irritating habit of becoming unresponsive if you haven’t touched it for a certain amount of time.
You then have to ‘wake it up’ by using the rotary controller Mazda has fitted between the front seats. Fortunately, you can control most of the touchscreen’s functions through this, too, if you so wish.
It might take you a bit of time to get used to the fact that the volume control is down next to this rotary controller, though.
But with the exception of these minor gripes, the 6 is easy to get along with; what’s more, smart materials and nicely damped controls make it feel classy inside.
Easy to drive 6/10
Strong diesels; limited visibility
Mazda offers the 6 with a pair of 2.0-litre petrol engines and a pair of 2.2-litre diesels, and it’s the diesels that suit it best because you don’t have to work them as hard.
The weaker of the two diesels is particularly good; while it’s ultimately slower, it pulls strongly almost regardless of the gear you’re in, whereas the more powerful diesel requires extra gearchanges to keep it in its sweet spot.
Both diesel engines and the weaker of the two petrols can be specified with an automatic gearbox; you might want to go down that road if you find changing gear a chore, because the manual gearstick is quite stiff.
It’s easy to see out of the front of the 6, but your rear view is quite limited due to a shallow rear window. The front and rear parking sensors – standard on the mid-spec SE-L model upwards – are very welcome, and if you can stretch to Sport Nav specification, you’ll get a reversing camera too.
Fun to drive 7/10
Good apart from the steering
The 6’s steering offers little in the way of feedback, and its lightness can be disconcerting at times when you’re pushing on, especially in petrol versions.
At least the responses to your inputs at the wheel are quick and consistent, and the car’s firm suspension helps it stay composed in corners.
Throw in strong grip and punchy diesel engines that make overtaking easy, and the 6 can be an enjoyable car to drive. However, it isn’t as involving as a Ford Mondeo or a BMW 3-series.
Mazda’s customer satisfaction record leaves room for improvement
The Mazda 6 finished a very respectable 23rd out of 109 cars in the 2014 JD Power customer satisfaction survey.
What’s more, Mazda ranks 7th out of 39 manufacturers in the Warranty Direct Reliability Index, which is based on warranty claims.
It’s just a pity Mazda offers only a three-year, 60,000-mile warranty. Buy a Hyundai i40, and you’ll get a warranty that lasts for five years, with no mileage limit.
Fuel economy 8/10
Close to the very best
There was a time when the Mazda 6 was head-and-shoulders above the rest of its competitors for fuel consumption, but the rest of its class has now caught up.
That’s not to say that the 6 is falling behind, mind you; with a figure of 68.9mpg, the entry-level diesel model is still as economical as the equivalent VW Passat, and more so by a whisker than a similarly-powered Ford Mondeo.
That said, there are more efficient versions of the Passat, Mondeo and other rivals available with smaller, less powerful engines; an option not available to 6 buyers.
And you must stick with the standard manual gearbox if fuel economy is a high priority; diesel versions of the 6 average a much less impressive 58.9mpg when fitted with the optional automatic.
Makes a fine company car choice
Fuel economy and CO2 emissions are directly linked, so the Mazda 6 is one of the cleanest big saloons you can buy as well as one of the most efficient. This in turn keeps company car tax bills low.
Although the 6 isn’t especially cheap as a private buy, its comprehensive specification makes it decent value overall, and it will hold its value much better than a Ford Mondeo or Vauxhall Insignia.
Fixed-price servicing is offered as an option. And Mazda promises to match like-for-like quotes for servicing from independent garages.
Lots of standard safety kit, with the option for more
Every version of the 6 comes with front, side and window airbags, and a stability control system that helps to prevent you sliding off the road. Meanwhile, SE-L models and above also have a city collision avoidance system; this automatically applies the brakes if it looks like you’re going to run into the car in front in slow-moving traffic.
Adult occupant protection was found to be particularly good when the car was crash tested by independent safety specialists Euro NCAP. However, the 6’s child protection score is bettered by many small hatchbacks, including the Mazda3.
Standard spec 8/10
Most things you’ll want are standard
There are two main specification levels – SE and SE-L – each available in a Nav variant, which adds an integrated satellite navigation system. At the top of the range, meanwhile, is the plush Sport Nav.
SE cars come with cruise control, air-conditioning, a Bluetooth hands-free phone connection and a socket that lets you connect an iPod to the stereo.
We’d upgrade to the SE-L model, though, because this brings those all-important parking sensors, automatic lights and wipers and additional safety kit.
The Sport Nav has extra luxury features, including a Bose audio system, electrically adjustable and heated front seats, LED headlamps, leather upholstery, and of course, satellite navigation.