What is it?
Mazda’s new entry to the Passat class. Its designers say special efforts have been made to incorporate a genuinely Japanese aesthetic into the 6. Happily, the change of emphasis is subtle and does not damage the car’s suitability for Europe, where 450,000 of the total 1.3 million last-generation 6s have been sold since 2002, but it does successfully distinguish the new Mazda 6 from the rest of the horde.
Mazda does not hide the fact that the new 6 is based on the successful outgoing model. Critics agree the old car was good, they say, so why not use it as the basis for the new one?
There are, however, some surprising developments. The new model’s wheelbase has been extended 50mm, which improves rear legroom, and the car is 65mm longer overall though, at 4735mm, it’s still 30mm shorter than a Passat and 50mm shorter than the new Mondeo.
The extra length and enhancements to equipment and safety gear would under normal circumstances have added 90kg to the car, Mazda says, but a determined weight-saving campaign (including shaving 1.5kg from the audio system and 6.8kg from the interior trim) has cut kerb weight by 35kg.
The weight loss has not prevented Mazda improving body stiffness by around 30 per cent or cutting road noise by 2.5dB, an improvement they claim makes the car quietest in class.
An aerodynamic programme has also cut the 6’s drag factor to a class-leading 0.27. The suspension (still double wishbones in front and multilink behind) has been refined, the steering adopts a rack-mounted electric servo plus slightly faster gearing, and the front suspension subframe now has six mounting points to the body instead of four, cutting body vibrations.
There are three petrol engines and one diesel offered, as before, but the former 2.3-litre four has been bored and stroked so that it now displaces 2.5 litres and produces 168bhp at 6000rpm, along with 167lb ft of torque at developed at 4000 rpm.
All engines, because of the weight loss, aero improvements and subtle refinements such as lower rolling resistance, deliver economy (and CO2) improvements of between six and 12 per cent.
What’s it like?
When you’re settled behind the wheel, scanning the more sophisticated fascia design, there’s an overriding feeling of modernity and comfort, along with a new orderliness about the navigation/ventilation/trip computer display which Mazda labels CF-Net and claims as a safety feature because it distracts the driver less.
Our drive was very brief and restricted to a tight test track in Hungary, but the car’s solidity, its accurate steering and pleasantly predictable controls seemed a match for the best Europeans.
The 6 has exemplary cornering grip in the dry, it throttle-steers neatly for a big car, has powerful brakes and stays impressively stable even when grossly provoked.
The 2.5-litre engine is impressively torquey and mechanically refined, but whether the new Mazda can match a Mondeo for ride comfort or a Laguna over bumps are questions that must await more testing.