First drive - Mazda6 2.2 diesel 150PS SE-L Nav

Interesting times for Mazda. The Japanese automaker is once again independent, after several years under the effective control of Ford. And Mazda’s new-found independence is giving it the confidence to reassert its presence in the market with some distinctive and original designs.

The latest is the new-generation Mazda6, which went on sale in the UK at the end of January with a choice of Saloon or Tourer bodies. It’s a big and handsome beast, an all-new model that comes heavily loaded with technology designed to improve fuel economy and safety. Mazda claims combined fuel economy as high as 67.2mpg and CO2 emissions as low as 108g/km, without any sacrifice in performance over the previous Mazda6.

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And with much-improved rear cabin accommodation compared to the last Mazda6, Mazda believes the car should have genuine appeal as a top-end private hire vehicle, or even an executive chauffeur car to compete with the Volvo S80. It’s certainly got the looks – purposeful, smooth lines with a bold new-shape grille and distinctive bulging front wheel arches.

Interior

Inside, the finishes on our test vehicle were decent – perhaps not up to German luxury standards, but every bit as good as the comparable Toyota Avensis or Peugeot 508. But we like the layout, with three circular dials, one of which contains a digital display. The sat-nav is Tom-tom-based, so the 5.8in display is a little high-street, though it looks pretty good in 2D mode. The screen isn’t as big as some rivals, though it’s well sited on the dash, above the air conditioning vents.

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The dash is very logically laid out, though, with the sat-nav inputs controlled via a large knob on the centre console. The leather-trimmed steering wheel contains many buttons, including cruise control and radio controls. If you want leather seats, however, they’re only standard on the top-line Sport trim level.

The rear seat dimensions are impressive too. Both saloon and estate offer excellent rear legroom for the segment and are also at or near the top of the class in terms of front shoulder room as well as rear knee clearance.

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Improving include a wider opening underneath the front seats to give more foot space for rear-seat passengers. The Mazda6 has new lightweight seats with improved rigidity and more lateral support. The rear seats, too, offer enhanced support and comfort, with a longer cushion (+20mm in the saloon, +30mm in the wagon), higher seat-back (+36mm and +29mm), and a 60mm wider rear armrest.

The boot opening is larger than the previous model’s, and luggage capacities of both body styles are decent - 489 litres for the sedan and 522 litres for the wagon, with the seats up. Hoop hinges aren’t as intrusive as some on the saloon. For the estate, the 60:40 split rear seats fold into a flexible flat cargo area. With the seats down, this gives a maximum cargo capacity of 1,664 litres.

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Price and specification

While the car’s external and internal dimensions are right up at the top of the sector, the Mazda6’s price certainly isn’t. Diesel variants start at £21,795 for the 2.2-litre 150PS Saloon SE through to £28,045 for the 2.2-litre 175PS Tourer Sport Nav Auto, positioning it competitively against obvious rivals such as Kia Optima, Hyundai i40 Tourer and Skoda Superb.

The Mazda6 has been designed around a new Mazda approach, which the company calls Skyactiv. This covers engines, gearboxes, stop-start and alternator systems, and the construction of the body. So Mazda refers to its new engines as Skyactiv engines; the chassis is a Skyactiv chassis, and so on. The buzzwords are a little wearing, but the technology has been well thought through.

On the road

The diesel engines take a different route to most manufacturers. Rather than downsizing, the Skyactiv-D four-cylinder diesels are bigger – 2.2 litres - but with a lower compression ratio than any rival engine. The result is a very smooth and quiet engine, with hardly any distinctive diesel ‘clatter’ when cold and hardly any noise at cruising speed.

There are two power outputs available with the 2.2-litre diesel – 150PS and 175PS. We drove the lower of the two, which felt entirely adequate, with plenty of low-end torque. In terms of torque, there’s not a lot of difference - the 2.2-litre 150PS produces a peak of 380Nm from 1,800rpm to 2,600rpm, while the 175PS engine gives 420Nm at 2,000rpm.

The diesels use a two-stage turbocharger, with two turbines and a large intercooler to produce exceptional torque – even at low rpm. A smaller turbine operates in the low rpm range, and is joined by the larger one when required. And the twin-turbo set-up eliminates just about all the turbo lag, so the car feels very responsive under acceleration.

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There’s a choice of 6-speed manual or 6-speed automatic. The auto isn’t a dual-clutch transmission – inevitably, Mazda calls it Skyactiv-Drive. In fact it’s a new design, but it’s every bit as slick as a DSG, giving almost imperceptible shifts while keeping the revs down below 2,000, even under brisk acceleration.

Mazda claims the Skyactiv-Drive box offers better shift response, faster downshifting and easier starts than a dual-clutch transmission, and smoother shifting than dual-clutch or conventional torque converter transmissions, together with better fuel economy than a CVT at high speeds and a torque converter unit at low speeds. It’s hard to argue with these claims – it’s an excellent gearbox.

The body feels firm – we drove both saloon and estate versions, and both felt equally as stable and squeak-free. And the engineers in Hiroshima have endowed the Mazda6 with the sort of precise steering that you’d expect on a BMW. Only small steering inputs are needed, making the Mazda6 a real pleasure to drive around town.

Fuel economy and CO2 emissions

This all contributes to the exceptional fuel economy and CO2 emissions achieved by the car – the low-output diesel, with manual gearbox, gives a stunning 104g/km of CO2, performance comparable to a hybrid. The automatic box does impact CO2, forcing it up to 127g/km, however.

Combined fuel economy for the 50PS diesel manual is quoted at 67.3mpg – we drove Euro-calibrated left-hookers on test, so it’ll be interesting to see the real-world results when we drive a UK-spec car for a longer period.

The excellent fuel economy is helped by other technologies, including Mazda’s i-ELOOP brake energy regeneration system. The Mazda6 is the first Mazda car to get this system and it is fitted as standard to the majority of Mazda6 models sold in the UK. It’s a clever bit of technology, using a capacitor as an energy storage device, thus bypassing the lead-acid starter battery.

i-ELOOP works in tandem with the i-Stop stop/start system – the capacitor can store enough energy to power the car’s systems for a minute just during normal deceleration, and the energy stored is used when the engine has shut off when the i-Stop system kicks in. The i-ELOOP system can boost economy by up to 10%, depending on driving conditions.

Safety features

Safety features include class-leading impact protection thanks to highly rigid impact-absorbing structures and innovative load paths to disperse energy away from the cabin. Active safety options include radar-based rear vehicle monitoring, smart city brake support (SCBS) and lane departure warning system.

SCBS is similar to Volvo’s CitySafety system, offering autonomous emergency braking at  low-speeds if the car’s sensors detect an imminent impact. It works between 2.5mph and 19mph, though smart brake support also works at higher speeds of up to 90mph, in tandem with Mazda’s adaptive radar cruise control (MRCC) system, which maintains a safe distance from the preceding vehicle under a variety of traffic conditions.

Mazda6 SE-L and Sport models are fitted with SCBS as standard, and enjoy a significant drop in their insurance group rating - up to five groups lower for diesel-powered models and six groups lower for petrol-powered versions than the previous model. 

LED lighting is standard, and includes automatic high-beam switching when the camera mounted behind the rear-view mirror detects there are no oncoming cars. Adaptive front lighting helps drivers see around curves at night – predicting the course of the road ahead based on driver steering input and directing the headlamps accordingly.

Other safety features include lane departure warning system (LDWS) and rear vehicle monitoring (RVM). LDWS monitors the lane markings on the road, providing audible and visual alerts when it detects an unintentional lane change at speeds above 40mph. RVM, meanwhile, keeps an eye on the blind spots, informing the driver via LEDs in the appropriate side mirror of vehicles approaching from behind in adjacent lanes. Should the driver signal to change lanes, a buzzer sounds and the LEDs start to blink. RVM works at speeds as low as 19mph.

To avoid rear-end shunts, the Mazda6 has an Emergency Stop Signal, which rapidly flashes the hazard lights during heavy braking from speeds of at least 30mph. It switches on the hazards at normal frequency, too, 6mph or less to notify other drivers when the vehicle is about to stop.

Verdict

Mazda has raised its game with the new Mazda6. It looks good, it’s extremely roomy and it drives extremely well. New-found independence has allowed the company to innovate and develop new systems and technologies that make this one of the most appealing cars in its sector.

Comfortable rear seats with plenty of legroom and headroom makes this the most practical Mazda saloon from a private hire standpoint in many years. And the car’s handsome appearance certainly will go down well with your customers.

The good news is that Mazda’s UK management seems to have woken up to the opportunity that the newMazda6 presents – even eyeing the likes of the Volvo S80 as a rival, offering the potential for executive chauffeuring and airport runs as well as general private hire work.

It’s well priced, though you’ll need to go toward the top of the specification levels to get the benefit of all the available technology – or leather seats. But it’s a very likeable car, and that bodes well for Mazda’s independent future.


 

Data

Mazda6 2.2 150PS diesel Saloon SE-L Nav

Price £23,195
Options
Metallic/Mica/Pearlescent Paint (excluding Soul Red)   £520
Soul Red Metallic (as tested) £660
Specification
Engine 2,191cc four-cylinder common-rail direct-injection turbodiesel
Transmission Six-speed manual, front drive
Power 150PS at 4,500rpm
Torque 380Nm at 2,000rpm
Top speed 132mph
0-62mph 9.1sec
Fuel comsumption 67.2mpg (combined)
CO2 emissions 108g/km
Boot space 489 litres
Fuel tank capacity 62 litres
Length 4,870mm
Width 1,840mm
Height 1,450mm
Wheelbase 2,830mm
Warranty 3 years/60,000 miles
Insurance group 19e
VED band C

 

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