What is it?
This is our first chance to drive one of the latest rivals for the Ford Mondeo – as it happens, an “in-house rival”, from Ford subsidiary Mazda, in the 6 hatchback – on UK roads. Our man Steve Cropley returned broadly impressed with the 2.5-litre Mazda 6 after his outing on a Hungarian test track. Now we look at a more affordable model, the entry 1.8-litre petrol in TS trim, on our home turf.
Sat in the car park – next to a conveniently parked new Mondeo – the more demure 6 with smaller 16in alloys looks sleek and attractive. Mazda says this version is meant to look more ‘Japancentric’, and whatever that means it seems to works in Britain too. Muscular front wings inspired by the RX-8 coupe enhance the 6’s road presence; the shape is fluid, the tapered light clusters look smart and the paint finish is excellent.
Mazda is riding a wave of confidence with the new 6, generated by the acclaim the previous model earned in 2001. So the new car is based on the same old platform, shunning the newer Ford Mondeo/S-Max floorplan that could have been used.
There are changes; the 6 is now 90mm longer than before, benefiting cabin space, although impressively it weighs 35kg less than the old model. The result is a saloon that’s in total 240kg (or three average-size adult passengers) lighter than its supersized rival Ford.
Mazda’s engineers claim the new 6 is as aerodynamic as possible too, and that it’s one of the quietest cars in class. Safety hasn’t been compromised either; Mazda expects maximum NCAP stars for occupant protection.
What’s it like?
Scanning the interior from the driver’s seat, the cabin seems modern but this car doesn’t share the premium feel of a Mondeo or a VW Passat. For sure, it’s very well built, but cheap plastic below the eye-line and an uninspiring dash design deny the new 6 an upmarket ambience.
There’s adequate legroom and clever storage, but there isn’t enough headroom for six-footers in the back - an unexpected flaw most rivals don’t share.
Get going and the Mazda’s engine really is very quiet, although not noticeably more so than its best rivals. This 1.8-litre petrol produces a modest 118bhp and - although our test car was a tight low-mileage example - it felt lacklustre, particularly when mid-range urge was needed. It does return 40mpg though, assisted by the reduced weight and enhanced aerodynamics.
The chassis remains impressive and the 6 handles well, responding smartly to steering and throttle inputs through corners. Reduced weight makes it feel more agile than many rivals. It’s also very safe and predictable, even when provoked on slippery surfaces.
But we have criticisms of this car’s low speed ride - on typical urban roads the 6 fidgets, refusing to settle as soothingly as its rivals can. Go faster and the ride’s fine, on the motorway particularly, working well with the standard suspension and the smallest 16in alloys. But around town it’s not quiet or comfortable enough.
Should I buy one?
Despite being slightly more expensive than the Ford Mondeo, the 6 isn’t a better car overall. But it is cheaper than a VW Passat and Honda Accord, and runs them closer as an overall package.
The Mazda is another very accomplished large family car, among the leading models in a mightily competitive class, but not the best among them. We’ll have a full road test next week, but on this evidence it’s not quite good enough to worry Ford of Europe too much.