I liked it then and I like it now. And in 2.3-litre Sport guise with all the kit on which we have on test at the moment, I like it even more.
I like it so much that the other weekend, when faced with a 400-mile round trip, I had the choice between the 6 and an Audi A6 1.9 TDI Multitronic with a gorgeous cream leather interior and I found myself, after much soul-searching, choosing the Mazda.
Why, you may ask? Well, in 2.3 format the Mazda can finally use all its road-holding ability and sublime steering. The exhaust note sings at high revs, although the engine only really comes alive at about 3,500-4,000rpm, even with relatively short gearing. The steering is the best bit of the car. The rack is taken from the MX5 and, on the 17-inch wheels fitted to our car, is perfectly suited.
You can play a little game: watch the road surface ahead for marks and scars and then feel each one pass under the front wheels and travel up into your hands. The impression changes depending on the lump or bump encountered. It is the most involving feeling, for drivers who like that sort of thing, although some might find it a little wearing after a while. There's no other car in its sector like it, and I struggle to think of any other practical saloon car with such wonderful steering.
There is one thing that bugs me about the Mazda6 though, and that's the exhausts. It has two – one each side. They are both hidden under the rear skirting and are droopy, dull diesel pipe-looking efforts. If you've got it flaunt it, I reckon. With the rear spoiler and fancy alloys, it needs two shiny trick exhausts barking out of the back to complete the effect.
That aside, there's not much else to moan about, although the Mazda is only doing a smidgeon over 28mpg. But that's more down to how it has been driven rather than the car.
Another indication is that the front tyres look like they might need replacing soon, after only 12,500 miles, but all the Mazda's miles have been done as a long termer at Fleet Towers or on a certain BBC-owned motoring magazine, so it has not had a quiet life. Perhaps its next driver will treat the 6 more gently, but somehow I doubt it. It's too good a car.
Company car tax bill 2003/04 (22% taxpayer): £88 per month