Fleet News

Mazda6

Mazda

Review

BOMBAST and grand claims were the order of the day at the launch of the Mazda6. The manufacturer reckons the new Mazda6 is one of the most important cars in its history, boasting that it is 'redefining the midsize car of today', claiming the car is class leading in a number of areas, and pledging to take the German marques on in the vicious and demanding premium upper-medium sector.

Wow! There's less posturing at a Lennox Lewis–Mike Tyson press conference. The Mazda6 has to live-up to its billing.

In fact, the car represents a new start for the firm - a health farm, head straightening, full detox sort of new start.

So the Mazda6 is the first full scale embodiment of the Mazda brand ideology, which uses lots of earnest marketing words like 'dynamic' and 'insightful'.

The 'insightful' Mazda6 comes in three body styles: four-door saloon, five-door hatch and Wagon estate. The versions that go on sale on July 1 all come replete with petrol motors, and will be four and five-door versions. Three months later, diesel-engined types and the very attractive Wagon will come on stream.

According to Mazda UK managing director James Muir, the firm has drawn a line under its rather haphazard recent history, and is going back to its roots. He said: 'We do not want to be just another 'me too' company.'

By this, he means that the 6 represents the first step in a new direction for the firm, away from making cars that sit steadfastly in the middle of the road and are by nature mediocre, and into an area where they stand out for doing something different and daring. Again, it is a bold move and you have to applaud Mazda's bravado.

In total, Mazda expects to sell 5,800 6s in the coming year, which in a sector of the market which sees around 400,000 cars hit the streets annually, is not large. But it is significant for a firm that has less than a 1% share of the total UK car market.

The 2.0-litre petrol model will provide the main volume, accounting for 48% of total sales. The 1.8 will take 15%, the 2.3 10% and the 2.0 automatic 27% (which seems rather high).

Mazda certainly needs the car to become a winner in the corporate market - about 70% of Mazda6s will be funded with company money.

To do this, it needs to compete on price and emissions, and it is competitively priced. The 1.8 S starts at £13,495 on-the-road, the 2.0 TS costs £14,995, the 2.0 TS2 is £16,495 and the range-topping 2.3 Sport costs £17,995.

This makes it cheaper than the Ford Mondeo, Vauxhall Vectra, Renault Laguna and Nissan Primera, and yet Muir reckons the 6 can go head-to- head with premium brands such as BMW and Audi, saying that a premium car doesn't have to have a premium price. Retail analysts would probably argue differently though.

Looking at the spec sheets, the car comes well equipped. The base model has driver, passenger, side and roof airbags, air conditioning, electric windows all-round, remote central locking, 16-inch alloy wheels and anti-lock brakes with electronic brakeforce distribution.

The TS, which is £1,000 more than the T in 1.8 and 2.0-litre guises, gets a CD player, trip computer, front and rear armrests, climate control, cruise control and leather steering wheel with remote controls for the stereo.

The TS2 has brake assist, BOSE audio system, sunroof and six-disc CD changer, while the 2.3 Sport has a rear spoiler, Xenon headlights, 17-inch alloys wheels and metallic paint as standard.

However, the Mazda6 has to match the others on emissions, and it is pretty high on the CO2 front, which is surprising when you consider it uses a development of the I4 engine in other Ford products, such as the Mondeo.

Mazda has developed the range of new four-cylinder engines, transmissions and drive systems for the 6. The snappily titled DOHC 16-valve Mazda Responsive Engine (MZR) comes in three displacements: a 120bhp 1.8-litre, 141bhp 2.0-litre and a 2.3-litre, 166bhp unit with sequential valve timing.

Generally the models are two or three bands above their competitors, with the 1.8-litre emitting 198g/km of CO2, and the 2.0-litre 203g/km, respectively qualifying for the 21% and 22% of list price benefit-in-kind tax bands. Oddly, the four-cylinder 2.3-litre is relatively low for its displacement, at 212g/km.

However, the low starting price of the cars ensures drivers will be paying about the same in tax as they would for the major fleet contenders, so a 22% tax-payer can expect an annual benefit-in-kind tax bill of between £600 for the base model to £930 for the 2.3-litre.

As for fuel consumption, the 6 is marginally worse than the Mondeo, at 34mpg for the 1.8, 33mpg for the 2.0 and 32mpg for the 2.3. It is not prohibitive, but is affected by high gearing, which illustrates Mazda's intention to produce a car with a bit of go. It should also hold its value, according to Cap's Martin Ward, who is expecting good residuals for the 6, and believes it will retain its value after three-years/60,000-miles better than the Mondeo/Vectra/ Laguna benchmarks.

And he added: 'For leasing and contract hire companies, the Mazda6 represents a good investment, as something different on the fleet like this is a good way of spreading risk.'

To complete its fleet proposition, Mazda needs to start plugging the gaping gaps in its dealer network, which Muir says it is doing, and needs to reassure fleets on service, maintenance and repair costs.

I hope it succeeds, because a car as good as this deserves every chance of success.

Behind the wheel

Not just another 'me too' car, then? When you first set eyes on the Mazda6, you get the impression immediately that it's right.

It is excellently proportioned, with a sylph-like glass and roofline sitting atop a meaty body. It looks smaller than its vital statistics suggest, because the body wraps itself around the mechanicals in a very elegant, taut way. It is a cross between an Audi A4 and Alfa Romeo 156, which, lets face it, is no bad thing. And what's this? A sharp, nose with, shock horror, thin slitted headlamps. Where's the wide-eyed stare and bulbous conk that is de rigueur these days?

The car tells the outside world it is designed for driving fast and enjoying yourself, not transporting children or picking up sofas from Ikea, both of which it can no doubt do. In many ways, there is a design philosophy that is positively old fashioned, and it's great.

Inside, the car is sensible, ordered and clean. The driving position is excellent, and has adjustability that few can match. I imagine the seats are supportive and comfortable, because after three or four hours hard driving, I hadn't noticed them, which is a good sign.

Some of the plastics are good, some of them are poor. On the good side is most of the dash, which has that pushy rubbery feel. On the bad, the doors, which felt wobbly and hard, and the silvery centre console could do with being more metallic.

Mazda claims the car has class-leading road noise levels, and it is quiet. But the engine noise is fairly loud on the 2.0 and the 2.3-litre, although this is offset by the fact the exhaust gives off a rorty note.

To compete with BMW and Audi though, the 2.3 probably would have been better as a six-cylinder.

I really like this car, I found myself thinking halfway through the drive. The steering has a decent amount of weight, and is sharp without being too skittish.

It rides well and corners flat. On fast lane changes on the motorway it settled and felt safe and secure. In the bends the 6 held itself in, controlled the shifting of its mass well and powered through the bend. The brakes are strong as well, and the gearshift adequate.

This really is a good car. It might not be as good as an A4 or 3-series, but it is a good car.

I think the 6 sits in that handy little niche, like the Alfa Romeo 156, that straddles premium and mainstream upper-medium. Time will tell whether it can make the difficult leap to become a premium brand, but it is cheap, so it compares with Mondeo and Vectra well.

The 6 has that added extra flair, that some drivers will definitely go for.

While it might not be 'redefining the midsize car of today' it is very good, and really should be able to shift more than the 6,000 cars a year it is pencilled in to sell.

CO2 emissions and fuel consumption data correct at time of writing. The latest figures are available in the Fleet News fuel cost calculator and the company car tax calculator.

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