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

  • BMW 5 Series
    Superb engine and cabin, but ride and handling let the side down

    BMW 5 Series

    1
  • The second generation Jaguar XF

    Jaguar XF

    2
  • Audi A6
    The Audi A6 is a car that delivers in every area

    Audi A6

    3
  • Mercedes-Benz E-Class
    The E-class more than lives up to traditional Mercedes values

    Mercedes-Benz E-Class

    4
  • Lexus GS
    The Lexus GS is unusual in the part of the market in not offering a diesel option

    Lexus GS

    5

First drives

Find an Autocar car review

Driven this week

  • Ford S-Max Vignale
    First Drive
    24 June 2016
    The Ford S-Max Vignale is the company's premium executive express. Can it really be worth the extra over the standard S-Max?
  • Volkswagen Scirocco GTS
    First Drive
    23 June 2016
    Still a really fun and likeable coupé but the extra power doesn't justify the VW Scirocco GTS's high price
  • Ford Fiesta ST200
    First Drive
    23 June 2016
    Fresh from testing it abroad, we've just got our hands on the Ford Fiesta ST200 for a blat on UK roads
  • Alpina B4 Biturbo Convertible
    First Drive
    23 June 2016
    Alpina's appealing BMW M4 alternative arrives in convertible form with a more relaxed nature than BMW's M car but still impressive performance and handling
  • Infiniti QX30
    First Drive
    21 June 2016
    Likeable for its fair refinement and comfort, and that quirky rarity factor, but small inside and with merely adequate handling