Mazda 6 - from £299 per month
The Mazda 6 has long been an Auto Express favourite, winning the Best Family Car category in 2013 and 2014. The fact that it's still one of the best in its class four years after its launch shows just how good it is.
The 6 is one of very few family saloons that are genuinely fun to drive, with sporty road manners and some impressive engines that do a fine job of combining strong performance and good fuel economy. Low CO2 emissions find favour with fleet drivers, too, as does the Mazda's keen pricing which makes rivals look a bit expensive.
Although it's not available as a hatchback, both the saloon and Tourer estate provide plenty of room inside for five people, plus generous boot capacities. The crisp, sporty lines don't impact too much on space, although it's not the most practical in this class. A facelift in 2015 made this car even better, improving the plain dashboard design -which had been one of its few weaknesses.
Mazda 6 2.2D 150 SE-L Nav
The Mazda 6 is a well established rival to the Ford Mondeo and Volkswagen Passat. The original model was introduced back in 2002, with a second-generation car following in 2007. But the Mk3 which arrived in 2013 is the best yet, using the very latest Mazda SkyActiv engine tech, a well-sorted chassis and a sleek body.
Technology took a step forward in the 2015 facelift and 2016 updates. It means 6 is a thoroughly up-to-date large family car that offers a high level of sophistication and modernity. It certainly stands out alongside older rivals such as the Vauxhall Insignia and Toyota Avensis -and as a result the Mazda feel a cut above some of its mainstream rivals.
It's a closer-run thing between the Mazda 6 and the Ford Mondeo, mind: this is where Mazda hopes its extra focus on sportiness, something that's been dialled back in the latest Ford, will pay dividends. The semi-premium appeal of the Volkswagen Passat saloon is also something that Mazda aspires to; if the VW is an affordable Mercedes, the 6 is a price-conscious BMW.
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The range is based around a front-wheel-drive chassis, with power coming either from 2.0-litre petrol engines (called SkyActiv-G) or 2.2-litre diesels (called SkyActiv-D). These serve up various outputs, but while the diesels are turbocharged, the petrol engines are not.
Trim levels comprise SE, SE-L and Sport Nav, with the latter getting sat-nav, as the name suggests. For company car drivers whose policies may not allow the selection of individual options, Mazda also offers SE Nav and SE-L Nav variants. The Sport Nav actually now looks slightly different to the SE and SE-L; it benefited from a mild tweak to its front end in 2015 which the other versions didn't get, although you'll need a keen eye to spot it.
As of 2016, Mazda tweaked parts of the interior, but also added a new system called G-Vectoring aimed at improving handling stability. The changes are very minor and the driving experience feels barely altered from behind the wheel, so it doesn't alter the 6's class position.
Engines, performance and drive
The diesels are strong, but while the non-turbo petrol engines perform well, they're probably too revvy for this class.
From the company that makes the marvellous MX-5 roadster, you'd hope the Mazda 6 would be sporty and satisfying car to drive. And you won't be disappointed. In giving it a driver-focused character, Mazda has built something that feels more agile than any crossover of SUV -although mindful of its market, this doesn't mean compromise elsewhere.
A criticism of earlier examples of the Mazda 6 was that the ride was perhaps a bit too firm and sporting. But far-reaching detail revisions in 2015 cured this for the mainstream versions: now, it's only the Sport Nav that has a taut ride, which means it can fidget around town over bumps and potholes, but does still smooth out at speed.
The benefit of this sporty suspension is excellent handling across all versions of the 6. Turn-in is sharp, there's plenty of grip (particularly with the Sport Nav's 19-inch wheels) and feedback through the steering is accomplished. The 6 is a great driver's car and owners seem to really rate its talents behind the wheel.
Mazda 2016 update for the 6 included an innovative new system called 'G-Vectoring'. Essentially, it subtly adjusts torque delivery according to steering angle with the aim of providing a more stable and comfortable driving experience - different to more grip-focused torque vectoring systems. While various graphs and videos by Mazda show it working, we were unable to really detect it from behind the wheel - although it could benefit passenger comfort on long drives.
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The only omission in the Mazda 6 engine range is a truly sporty engine to make the most of this talented chassis. The most powerful version is actually the diesel; Mazda doesn't offer a higher-power turbo petrol model as it believes sales would be meagre - it's not the only manufacturer to think that way.
All Mazda 6 models apart from the base SE come with Smart City Brake autonomous emergency braking as standard. It's a useful safety aid, although in town, owners are more likely to appreciate the convenient hill hold assist function.
Two engines form the core of the Mazda 6 range: a 2.0-litre SkyActiv-G petrol and 2.2-litre SkyActiv-D diesel. Both are offered in two power outputs: the petrol with 143bhp or 162bhp, and the diesel with 148bhp or 173bhp. Both are in-house Mazda designs not shared with any other car maker.
The SkyActiv-D engines are easily the most popular. They have an unusually low compression ratio for a diesel, which is good for efficiency and emissions: Mazda prefers this approach with a slightly larger capacity than the 2.0-litre engines of many rivals.
The regular SkyActiv-D 150 diesel produces 148bhp and 380Nm between 1,800rpm and 2,600rpm. It takes the car from 0-62mph in 9.1 seconds and on to a top speed of 130mph, and is a very well rounded engine with a smooth nature, plenty of punch and linear power delivery. Hooked up with Mazda's short-throw six-speed manual gearbox, it's a satisfying choice.
The SkyActiv-D 175 offers more performance and pulling power, even if it's a bit peakier, with the 420Nm of torque plateauing at 2,000rpm. This car is noticeably faster, though, sprinting from 0-62mph in 7.9 seconds and hitting a top speed of 139mph. The extra power is satisfying and it's no less refined than the low-power unit.
Both diesel engines can be combined with Mazda's six-speed automatic gearbox option. Performance does suffer a little, though; the difference is greater in the SkyActiv-D 150, suggesting the 173bhp engine has more in reserve to offset the auto's power sap.
In contrast to the diesel, the 2.0-litre SkyActiv-G petrol engine has an unusually high compression ratio, again for efficiency and power. Both versions produce their maximum power at a heady 6,000rpm, and don't deliver their identical peak torque of 210Nm until 4,000rpm. Good job the gearbox is as snappy as it is in the diesel; you need to work it.
The two petrol cars serve up similar performance; it's only if you frequently use high revs that you'll feel the benefit of the extra power. Most drivers won't, because while the 162bhp version is a smooth and effervescent engine, it's rather vocal and prominent when revved hard. This is the sort of noise you wouldn't mind in an MX-5, but isn't really what you expect from this class of car.
The low-power petrol engine is offered with the six-speed automatic option as well; it's the only version that can't cover 0-62mph in less than 10 seconds.
MPG, CO2 and running costs
Strong fuel economy and low emissions combine with Mazda reliability and value for money to ensure low running costs
Mazda's developed its SkyActiv engine range to achieve strong fuel efficiency and low emissions. It's succeeded, particularly in the core unit of the range, the SkyActiv-D 150 diesel.
This engine claims excellent 68.9mpg fuel economy and CO2 emissions of just 107g/km, despite its well rounded performance. That's great news for company car drivers keen to find a stylish car with emissions below 110g/km. It comes as standard with engine stop/start, which Mazda refers to as i-stop, and an energy regeneration system called i-ELOOP.
The SkyActiv-D 175 engine isn't quite so efficient, but still averages 62.8mpg. CO2 emissions of 119g/km are competitive for an engine with such strong performance; coincidentally, both automatic versions of the diesel engine emit 127g/km of CO2 and claim 58.9mpg.
Petrol versions of the Mazda 6 are efficient for their type, although nowhere near as good as the diesels. The 143bhp engine has an official economy figure of 51.4mpg and the 163bhp unit promises 47.9mpg; CO2 emissions stand at 129g/km and 135g/km respectively.
At first, insurance groups for the Mazda 6 appear a little curious. Base SE petrol cars sit in group 18, with the SE-L in group 16; 148hp SE diesels are in group 21 and SE-L models in group 19.
The reason soon becomes clear, though: SE-L and Sport models get the Smart City Brake autonomous emergency braking system as standard; regular SE models don't. Car insurers value this safety assist technology so highly, they're willing to lower insurance ratings accordingly.
Insurance groups are higher for Sport versions of the Mazda 6; the petrol car sits in group 19, and this rises to group 21 for the 148hp diesel and group 23 for the 173hp version.
Mazda has enjoyed strong residual values in recent times on the back of its move upmarket and the Mazda6 is no exception, retaining around 34% of its value over a typical ownership period. This compares well with the Ford Mondeo and Vauxhall Insignia but also with premium rivals like the Audi A4 and BMW 3 Series.
An improved facia design and upgraded technology give the Mazda 6 interior a welcome lift for the latest model year.
One of the weak points of the Mazda 6 at launch was its interior -namely, the rather poor integration of the infotainment system into the dash. For 2015, Mazda went back to the drawing board and the result is a much-improved layout that's far more modern and contemporary.
Instead of the ugly built-in centre display, the car now gets a freestanding-style seven-inch set-up in a silver surround. Functions can now be controlled via the touchscreen or a BMW iDrive-style rotary wheel between the front seats -for ultimate convenience, you can combine the two systems part of the way through an input. The new set-up, called MZD-Connect, blends in with the rest of the interior far better and has given the car an upgraded feel.
Other technology offered within the Mazda 6 includes an 11-speaker Bose sound system and a head-up display: both are standard on the Sport Nav, which also gets LED headlights, adaptive front lighting, keyless entry, electric leather seats and, from 2016, a heated steering wheel. Radar cruise control is also offered on some Sport Nav variants.
For 2016, updates extended to some higher resolution graphics for the instrument display and head-up display, with some new materials and a tweaked steering wheel design. Active safety kit improved, too, with a more advanced forward-facing camera and road sign recognition.
The tech upgrades complete an extremely well rounded interior that's really solidly put together and made from high-grade materials. The Mazda 6 has a top-quality air, with plush plastics and stylish trims. Its sporty steering wheel and cowled dials have traces of the MX-5 roadster, and the moody dark colour schemes add to the racy feel -if you don't like dark interiors, choose the optional Stone Leather pack.
Apart from the drop in insurance groups, it's worth choosing SE-L over SE models because the price increase (around GBP 1,000) brings kit like climate control, auto headlights and wipers and front and rear parking sensors. The SE-L also gets rear privacy glass, power-fold door mirrors and even two extra speakers for the stereo. Sport Nav models see a bigger jump in price, but the standard equipment reflects this.
Sat-nav, stereo and infotainment
Mazda's impressive latest-generation sat-nav is an effective, easy-to-use system that currently includes three years' free map updates. It's well worth spending the GBP 700 extra to jump into a Nav model if you can.
The regular stereo is decent enough, and is ready for Internet radio or Bluetooth streaming via a compatible mobile device (it easily connects with your Bluetooth smartphone, too). Plus, the set-up has DAB and USB sockets, although it's a bit disappointing that there are only four speakers; best to step up to the SE-L, which offers six.
Better still, choose the Sport Nav; it features that 11-speaker Bose sound system, complete with Digital Sound Processing and eight channels of custom sound equalisation.
The MZD-Connect set-up is very easy to use, thanks to its clear design and dual rotary controller/touchscreen logic. The display on the home screen is logical and it's straightforward to get your head around. It's a shame, however, that there's no allowance for Apple CarPlay or Android Auto smartphone connectivity.
Practicality, comfort and boot space
Large, practical Mazda 6 is a comfortable long-distance car, although the saloon boot isn't as flexible as it could be.
The Mazda 6 is only sold as a saloon and Tourer estate these days, unlike earlier generations, which offered a hatchback option, too. This is part of the company's desire to push the 6 upmarket, as more of a premium alternative. However, it does limit practicality a little alongside volume rivals: most versions of the Ford Mondeo and Vauxhall Insignia are offered as hatchbacks, for instance.
The boot is still pretty roomy, though, plus there's no shortage of passenger space; the large exterior dimensions are reflected inside. There's an excellent, feelgood driving position, with plenty of adjustment to take full advantage of this space, and when you sit behind the wheel the Mazda 6 inspires confidence.
Cabin stowage space is good, enhanced since the 2015 revisions by an electronic parking brake that makes the central stowage area even more useful. The door pockets could be better shaped, but the glovebox is a handy size, as is the space ahead of the short-throw gearlever.
This is a large car; at 4,870mm long and 1,840mm wide, the Mazda 6 is roomy and accommodating inside. All family cars are large these days, and this one follows the trend; it's wide, too, although just on the right side of manageable on the road.
It's almost identical in size to its rivals. A Ford Mondeo is 4,871mm long and 1.852mm wide, for example; a Volkswagen Passat is a bit shorter at 4,767mm, and a little narrower at 1,832mm wide. Incidentally, the large dimensions are why we'd go for at least an SE-L model; this has front and rear parking sensors as standard.
Leg room, head room & passenger space
Passengers fare pretty well in the Mazda 6. Wide door openings make getting in and out easy and, once inside, there's decent legroom, even if it isn't anywhere near as roomy here as the vast Skoda Superb.
The sporty saloon bodystyle does slightly compromise rear headroom for taller passengers, though: the rear screen is steeply raked, which brings the roofline down slightly, although most people won't have an issue.
The Mazda 6 saloon's boot can't match the carrying capacity of its key mainstream rivals. It has 480 litres of space, compared to 541 litres in a Ford Mondeo hatch and a yawning 625 litres in a Skoda Superb. Space is more on a par with premium cars such as the BMW 3 Series.
The seatbacks do fold, however; push them down (they're not spring-assisted, despite the handy levers in the boot), and you can free up a completely flat load area of 1,632 litres, although again the Superb has the edge here, with a maximum capacity of 1,760 litres. Still, the space in the 6 is long and useful, making full use of the car's overall length, and the boot's usefulness is only really limited by the overall height of the body.
If you are planning on using the Mazda 6 to tow, you should be aware that its maximum braked towing capacity changes dependent on specification. The 143bhp petrol is the least capable tow car in the line-up, only managing a maximum of 1,300kg, but the 148bhp and 172bhp diesels (both available as autos) sit at the top of the range, able to pull 1,600kg.
Reliability and Safety
After a few early niggles, latest 6 has reverted to Mazda's usual strong reliability, although some owners still report issues
The Mazda brand has an excellent reputation for reliability and has been praised for this in the annual Auto Express Driver Power satisfaction surveys over the years. The latest 6 did suffer from a few electrical gremlins when first launched, but these have been ironed out and the car is now largely dependable, as you'd expect from the Japanese brand.
The Mazda 6 has still slipped in our rankings as a result of these early issues; compared to other Japanese cars, build quality isn't as good as it could be, which is partly down to the disappointing interior in the pre-facelift model. The latest cars are much better here, which should filter through to Driver Power results in time.
It's also worth noting that, externally, the Mazda 6 is a beautifully built car. Panel fit and finish are exemplary and the appearance is very much that of a carefully assembled premium car.
The Mazda 6 was crash tested by Euro NCAP in 2013, and was awarded a full five-star score, with individual rankings of 92 per cent for adult protection and 77 per cent for child protection. Pedestrian safety was rated at 66 per cent and safety assist systems an impressive 81 per cent. It's also worth bearing in mind that the car tested didn't feature autonomous emergency braking.
SE-L and Sport Nav models feature this Smart City Brake Support system, which insurers officially recognise as a major safety benefit. The system was improver in 2016 with proper pedestrian detection and activation at higher speeds.
However, the full Safety Pack of adaptive LED headlights, blind spot monitoring, lane departure warning and Rear Smart City Brake Support is an GBP 800 option restricted to the Sport Nav version.
Mazda offers a three-year/60,000-mile warranty on the 6, supported by a paint and surface corrosion guarantee that has the same age limit but no mileage cap. This package is fully transferrable, and also covers anti-perforation rust protection for 12 years, again with no mileage limit.
Buyers have a suite of extended warranty packages to choose from, too. There are three levels -Essential, Elite and Complete -and each can be tailored to an owner's requirements, with quotes available through an online calculator.
Service intervals for the 6 are disappointingly frequent -a check-up is required every 12,500 miles, or on an annual basis if you don't cover that many miles. As ever, following these intervals to the letter is a requirement of maintaining the full warranty cover. It may be an inconvenience to high-mileage company car drivers, but Mazda's robust build quality and integrity does keep the cost of maintenance down.
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