But at Mazda it represents the date when a plan was launched to turn the company from a name in the shadows of fleet choice lists into a real power player.
The first and most significant step in the Millennium Plan was the Mazda6, which arrived in 2002 and immediately hit fleets’ sweet spot, with 790,000 units produced globally and 100 awards to its name – perhaps most notably the manufacturer’s first-ever Fleet News Award for Best Upper-Medium Car.
Since then the entire range has undergone the ‘Zoom-Zoom’ treatment and the 6 has now been refreshed for a second challenge.
Looked at from the outside Mazda hasn’t messed with a winning formula. In the UK, two-thirds of buyers said they opted for the 6 because of its design, so the facelift is pretty mild, with slight changes to the front and rear without altering any of the dimensions or the general look of the car.
The main change is the slightly shallower clear glass headlights and mild changes to the front grille and bumper.
Inside there have been a number of changes, with a new central console using a dark finish as opposed to the brighter silver finish of the previous model.
Dials are now encircled with chrome and there are slight changes to door handles and seats.
Additional features include global closing, which allows you to close all windows on the car using the remote control, seatbelt warnings for each of the rear seats and optional keyless entry.
The versatile Karakuri seating system remains, which allows one touch folding of the rear seats, while there is improved sound-proofing to cut road and engine noise. The range has been tweaked to reduce emissions and enhance fuel economy where possible for the three petrol units and two diesel models, which get particulate filters as standard.
Petrol drivers are offered a choice of 1.8, 2.0 and 2.3 litres, while the diesel comes in low and high power variants of the 2.0-litre unit.
Engine tweaks mean that the majority of the engines produce less CO2, apart from the 2.0-litre saloon, and all fall at least one band in tax terms, but a £200 price rise across the range cancels out any benefit.
For example, the driver of a 2.0 TS saloon would pay £812 in company car tax compared to £835 for the old model, while a higher rate taxpayer would save £41 a year, at £1,519. The saving on the diesels is also between £25 and £60 a year.
The five-speed manual remains for the 1.8-litre, but all other engines get a new six-speed unit, while a new five-speed auto is available for the 2.0-litre petrol.
A choice of 27 models will await buyers by the end of the year, starting with petrol engines available now, while diesel and automatics arrive at the end of the year. The estate is also due to get a 4x4 model.
Trim choices will be S, TS, TS2 and Sport.
Sales are expected to hit 15,600 units this year, with 51% going to fleet buyers, part of a drive for 18,000 fleet sales by the end of the year.
Adam Pumfrey, Mazda fleet and remarketing director, said: ‘Our brand awareness in the corporate sector has been growing daily and much of this has been due to the fantastic reception that the Mazda6 has had.
‘With these improvements I expect the new Mazda6 to prove even more popular.’
Behind the wheel
EVEN before the engineers had a second go at the Mazda6’s suspension the car handled pretty well, but improvements have gone beyond its admirable cornering ability.
Noise levels at motorway speeds have been significantly reduced and long distance ride comfort is excellent.
Away from motorway cruising, the car excels whichever of the variants you choose from, although there was broad agreement that for sheer flexibility and driving enjoyment the high power diesel model has it all.
Offering 141bhp at 3,500rpm, compared to the standard power unit which offers 119bhp, it also increases torque to 265lb-ft from 2,000rpm compared to the standard’s 236lb-ft.
This provides a free-revving engine that never seems to run out of breath, but also delivers more than enough grunt from lower down the power range.
Engine noise is barely audible at cruising speeds and almost petrol-like during press-on driving, while fuel economy is a promised 47.1mpg in the hatchback, the same as the standard power unit, despite being just over a second quicker to 62mph at 9.5 seconds and 7mph faster, with a top speed of 126mph.
On sharp corners, the diesel’s front wheels refused to lose grip and the brakes proved sharp and precise.
Although the steering felt light at first, a few miles behind the wheel proved initial impressions wrong, as it seemed perfectly weighted in all conditions.
However, Mazda has echoed Vauxhall in calling for fleets to do their homework before making a fuel choice, as the diesel will cost more and drivers will have to cover significant mileages before their fuel savings off-set the extra cost.
THE Mazda6 was good enough to win a Fleet News Award shortly after its introduction, beating off many established players. The minor changes have improved on what is already a credible choice for fleet decision-makers.
|Model:||1.8 petrol||2.0 petrol||2.3 petrol||2.0 diesel||2.0 diesel|
|Max power (bhp/rpm):||118/5,500||145/6,500||164/6,500||119/3,500||141/3,500|
|Max torque (lb-ft/rpm):||121/4,300||135/4,000||153/4,000||236/2,000||265/2,000|
|Max speed (mph):||122||131||133||N/A||127|
|Fuel consumption (mpg):||36.7||36.2||32.5||N/A||47.1|
|CO2 emissions (g/km):||184||186||207||165||165|
|On sale: Now|
Prices (OTR): £200 more than previous models