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Motors

A family estate you’d want to inherit

Wednesday, 20th March, 2019 4:25pm

We first got to drive the current Mazda 6 way back in 2012 when it was first launched.

It felt hugely more sophisticated than its (slightly workaday) predecessor when launched, and a brisk drive on European roads showed that it would sit rock solid and stable at way above the legal Irish speed limit. It was impressive, and we kinda assumed that, by now, it would have been replaced by an all-new model.

Certainly, all of its competition has seen that happen — the Passat, Mondeo, Insignia, Superb and Peugeot 508 have all since been replaced. Heck, Toyota has even stopped making the Avensis entirely and is about to re-introduce the Camry instead.

So we should have had a new 6 by now, right? Well, maybe, but that is not the Mazda way. Mazda, a much smaller car company (in terms of resources and sheer numbers of employees) than rivals such as Toyota and Honda, prefers to husband its resources carefully, so the 6 you can buy today is very much the same as the 6 you could buy in 2012.

Except that it isn’t. You see, Mazda tends to take a leaf out of Porsche’s playbook. Instead of completely replacing a model after six or seven years, instead Mazda’s engineers keep working on a car long after it has been launched.

Every aspect of its engineering and quality will be pored over, year after year. And, year after year, there will be updates, and improvements. It’s like seeing evolution happen before your very eyes.

So, yes, the new Mazda 6, the one we’ve just driven, clearly owes a lot to that 2012 original. It is very different in detail, though.

For this version, the grille and lights have been changed — subtly, but significantly. The grille is now deeper and more detailed, and the chrome ‘wing’ that swoops around it is new. It’s the kind of change you’d hardly notice in isolation, but one you’d be struck by if you saw this new 6 parked next to an older one. It’s much more handsome now.

The interior has also been given a good going over. The centre panel of the dashboard has now been stretched out into the doors, giving it a lower, wider look and the air vents are now finished in a lovely dark chrome that looks almost like titanium. There’s a very impressive heads-up display too, which (fighter-jet style) projects your speed and various other warnings onto the windscreen, so that you have to look down into the cabin rather less when driving.

There’s also a general sense that the cabin is now truly a high quality environment. When it was first launched, the 6’s interior looked smart and felt good, but in a very dark, plastic-y way that was kind of what you expected from a mid-size Japanese saloon. Now? Well, obviously this is helped somewhat by the high specification of our Platinum-edition test car, but the cabin now feels every bit as impressive as that which you might find in a BMW or an Audi.

The leather is supple and soft, the slivers of wood insert on the doors silky-smooth to the touch.

Equipment is impressive, too. Our test car was pricey — it’s a top-spec model, so it was listed at €40,195 — but for the money you got radar cruise control, leather, an eight-inch infotainment system, lane-keeping steering, a kick-ass Bose stereo, heated, electric front seats, keyless entry and walk-away locking, and some very smart-looking 19 inch alloy wheels.

You also get a petrol engine. Well, you can have a diesel of course — Mazda is keeping its existing 2.2 litre diesel on sale, in 150hp or 185hp forms — but this SkyActiv-G 2.0 litre petrol is hugely impressive, and so you should definitely bear it in mind unless you’re covering mega-mileage every year.

It too has been updated, with a new fuel injection setup, and new pistons in search of greater efficiency. It develops a very decent 165hp, and a slightly less exciting 213Nm of torque. That means that, unlike most rivals’ turbo petrol engines, you’ll need to rev the 6’s motor hard to get at its performance, working fast through the slick, six-speed manual transmission.

Does that hurt the 6’s fuel economy? A little, perhaps, but not as much as you might think. Around town, you should easily average around 7.5 litres per 100km (about 37mpg) which seems okay.

On the open road, unless you’re really leaning on it all the time in the lower gears, that should drop to around 6.5 litres per 100km (or 43mpg) which is not bad at all, and not a lot worse than I’d expect to get from most diesel engines of comparable power. It’s also very refined, which makes a very pleasant change from the usual diesel rattle and clatter, and how refreshing it is, from an enthusiast’s point of view, to have an engine that encourages you to use its revs.

To drive, the 6 remains a delight. Around town, the combination of relatively soft springs and firm dampers means there can sometimes be a slightly rock-and-roll quality to the ride, but on the open road that all goes way.

The 6 feels tremendously agile and rewarding to drive, not least thanks to its clever G-Vectoring Control system. This is basically clever traction control, which tweaks both the engine’s output and brakes individual wheels to help smooth out your steering inputs and help the 6 find the maximum possible grip in corners.

It’s effective, but you’ll never feel it working — instead you’ll just notice how smooth and fluid the 6 feels on a twisty road. It’s lovely.

On a practical note, this estate Tourer version — more handsome by far than the four-door saloon — boasts a big boot (552 litres) and buckets of rear seat space, so no-one in the family is going to feel let down.

Familiar from 2012, then? Yes, but still going very, very strong.

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