The Mazda 6 has long been considered a worthy but uninspiring mid-sized saloon or estate – but no longer, because the latest generation of the car is now good enough to rank among the best.

This is because the 6 has taken a leap forward in terms of technology, efficiency, dynamics and design. Mazda has achieved this stride forward through the full implementation of its oft-mentioned SkyActiv technology, which has dramatically transformed the appeal of its flagship.

The full meaning of SkyActiv will be explored in more detail throughout this test, but the short summary is that this ground-breaking approach to car-building means that Mazda’s days of being an also-ran in the segment are, for the time being, a thing of the past.

The company says the 6 is larger, lighter and much more economical, endowed with the kind of performance figures and low emissions that make waves on a fleet manager’s spreadsheet. A good deal of technology migrates from the Mazda CX-5 we tested last year, but there is fresh innovation, too.

What we have here, then, is a seriously credible car available in saloon and estate form, with a variety of appealing petrol and diesel engines.

However, as ever, the 6 will need every advantage going as it locks horns with heavyweights such as the Ford Mondeo and Volkswagen Passat in a bid to attract buyers.

Top 5 Mid-size execs

First drives

Find an Autocar car review

Driven this week

  •  Kia Optima PHEV
    First Drive
    25 August 2016
    Plug-in hybrid Optima is a practical, tax-efficient PHEV that undercuts rivals and fulfils its main remit well, but keen drivers need not apply
  • Kia Optima Sportwagon
    First Drive
    25 August 2016
    New Kia estate looks the part, has good space and handles tidily, but its engine's flexibility and refinement let it down
  • Lamborghini Huracán LP610-4 Spyder
    First Drive
    24 August 2016
    Awful driving position aside, drop-top Huracán handles UK roads well. It's more dynamically rounded than its rangemates, but lacks rivals' handling bite
  • Porsche Panamera 4S Diesel
    First Drive
    23 August 2016
    Its predecessor may have been a bit limp, but the Porsche Panamera 4S Diesel is crushingly rapid and suitably luxurious
  • Car review
    23 August 2016
    Can the best sports coupé of the decade absorb a contentious new engine?