There's been plenty said about Mazda's 'Karakuri' rear seat folding mechanism but I had never tried it, so to witness it first-hand was another new experience.
Just one lever is all that is required to fold the seat down – ingenious and so beautifully simple you wonder why no-one else has thought of it. With children's buggies and other gear to consider, this is a real convenience.
The Mazda6 has taken a raft of awards since it was introduced, not least the Fleet News Upper-Medium Car of the Year Award in 2003, and only a short stint behind the wheel is enough to demonstrate some of the reasons for this.
The handling was crisp, entertaining and thoroughly engaging on my favourite cross-country road, yet the ride quality and overall comfort belie the fact this is a genuinely sporting drive.
Standard specification is also generous and includes a superb Bose sound system with in-dash six CD changer, alloy wheels, remote central locking and electric windows all-round.
Mazda does not have much of a track record in diesel so I had reservations about the quality of the unit in the Mazda6 – particularly as diesel is hardly relevant in Japan where the car is built.
But on paper the credentials look good: common rail direct injection and a healthy output of 134bhp with combined fuel consumption of 44.1mpg is highly respectable – and saloon and hatch models are Euro IV-compliant, though for some reason the estate is still Euro III and therefore subject to the 3% benefit-in-kind tax penalty.
On the road, it translates into brisk performance to say the least. But it's the torque figure that really impresses: 228lb-ft from just 2,000rpm means there's plenty of go available in any gear, which makes for relaxed driving and a startling turn of speed. In particular, the massively flexible third gear gives genuinely surprising overtaking capability.
If I have a criticism, it's that the engine displays quite marked turbo lag, which can catch you out from low revs – for example when entering a roundabout in second gear.
And though the engine is refined and smooth – so much so that colleagues on Fleet News have mistaken it for a petrol unit – road noise is disappointing, especially from the rear wheels.
Criticisms though these are, they don't change the fact that the Mazda6 fully deserves its awards. A car that is as practical and well-equipped as this, that drives and performs as well as this, is worthy of serious consideration.
Company car tax bill 2004/05 (40% tax-payer): £147 per month