Fleet News

Mazda6 Sport4 AWD



WITH a successful first four months under its belt, the Mazda6 appears to be making many friends both in the fleet sector and with private buyers.

While the models which make up the vast majority of Mazda6 sales were available by September, the range-topping Sport4 has now joined the range to complete the line-up from November 1.

The car uses the same four-cylinder engine from the 2.3 Sport and adds an estate body, four-wheel drive and a five-speed automatic transmission.

These three additions all conspire to make the Mazda6 slower, although Mazda says it is targeting a small proportion of the market where drivers favour the load-carrying ability of a large estate, along with the traction of permanent four-wheel drive and the comfort and convenience of a five-speed automatic transmission.

The gearbox bridges the gap between a conventional automatic and a manual by offering a sequential shift for those with the occasional penchant for DIY - technology commonly found among rivals.

The torque is split 50:50 between front and rear wheels from a standing start, with electronics managing the share between the axles if wheels start spinning.

However, when driving on the motorway at constant speed, drive is channelled to the front wheels only, which is aimed at saving fuel.

But the Sport4 is still thirsty, especially compared with a car like the Subaru Legacy 2.5 auto, which achieves about 30mpg on the combined cycle against 26.3mpg for the Mazda.

Carbon dioxide emissions are also higher in the Mazda than in the Subaru, at 257g/km, but the Sport4 can combat this by offsetting the benefit-in-kind tax disadvantage through a lower list price.

At £19,995 on-the-road it is £1,000 cheaper than the Subaru Legacy 2.5 GX auto estate. The Sport4 can offer the benefit of four-wheel drive as well as a £1,000 price advantage over a Ford Mondeo 2.5 V6 Zetec S auto or Volkswagen Passat 1.8T Sport auto.

The Mazda6 estate, which was launched in September, has taken 7% of sales during the first four months, and although this proportion should rise during the first full year, the Sport4 is unlikely to take more than 4% sales for the range in the UK.

This means a maximum of 500 units in a full year total of 12,000 Mazda6 sales.

Behind the wheel

THE Mazda6 is arguably the most attractive car competing for fleet business in the upper-medium sector. The whole package is sleek and athletic where its 626 predecessor was dowdy and stodgy.

The estate is not just a 'lifestyle' car either, it is a genuine load carrier with nearly 500 litres of volume with the rear seats in place and nearly 1,700 litres with them folded. However, the four-wheel drive system prevents the rear seats folding flat.

The Sport4 costs £1,000 more than the 2.0 TS2 estate with automatic transmission, but offers drivers £3,000-worth of extra equipment, including four-wheel drive, xenon gas headlamps, an electric sunroof, 17-inch alloy wheels, a rear spoiler and self-levelling suspension. Options include leather trim and colour screen DVD satellite navigation system.

The interior is identical to just about any other Mazda6, which means a stylish metallic effect centre console with clear controls for the audio system and climate control. Sporty chrome rims surround the main instruments and the seats are supportive and comfortable.

Having briefly sampled the 2.3 Sport (a five-door hatchback) I was expecting to be similarly excited by the driving experience in the Sport4. But the car does not accelerate with the same gusto, with more than three seconds separating the 2.3 Sport and Sport4 in the 0-62mph sprint. Performance has been dented too much to make the Sport4 an entertaining drive.

Mazda claims the first three gears are short with a longer fourth and fifth to aid motorway refinement. However, it just doesn't seem to want to accelerate as fast as the driver would like.

On our foray into the Dolomites in northern Italy, the car hardly got any higher than second gear when going up hill as it struggled to find the torque to keep up with the terrain. And in manual mode, whereas most part-time manuals change up a gear when they reach the red line, our test car just bounced off the rev limiter.

Combined with the weight of the car, the transmission just feels lazy and belligerent.

However, at least the excellent handling of the Mazda6 hasn't been harmed in the transition, as the car still remains poised in extreme circumstances.

Driving verdict

AS an overall package the Mazda6 Sport4 AWD disappoints. We know the Mazda6 is a competent car with fantastic handling and is excellent value. The Sport4 is a misleading name because the car is more of a workhorse vehicle, but the engine which provides sparkling performance in the front-wheel drive hatchback is not up to the job here, coupled with a stubborn auto transmission.

Make: Mazda
Model: Mazda6 Sport4 AWD
Engine (cc): 2,261
Power (bhp/rpm): 160/6,500
Torque (lb-ft/rpm): 151/4,000
Max speed (mph): 117
0-62mph (sec): 12.3
Fuel consumption (mpg): 26.3
CO2 emissions (g/km): 257
Fuel tank capacity (l/gal): 62/13.6
Transmission: 5-sp semi-auto
On sale: Now
Price (OTR): £19,995

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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