After a few years in the doldrums, there’s a renewed sense of energy in the upper-medium sector.
The decline in sales of the past few years is flattening out and there is plenty of new product in the sector to appeal to company car drivers.
Ford used virtually all the weapons in its armoury to launch the new Mondeo earlier this year, delivering a car which is imposing on the road, huge inside and with a renewed focus on quality and equipment.
And Renault has recently followed suit with a much improved new Laguna range, while others are waiting in the wings for their moment in the spotlight next year, most notably Vauxhall with its replacement for the Vectra.
But now it is the turn of Mazda to steal the limelight. In much the same way as the Mondeo and Laguna were well received, so the new Mazda6 is gaining plaudits.
It’s easy to see why. The new Six is pretty, with pronounced hips over the wheelarches and aggressive front-end styling which echoes that of the RX-8 sports coupé-cum-saloon.
It also builds on its successful predecessor – the car which well and truly put Mazda on the fleet map in the UK in 2002.
This means high equipment levels, strong build quality, reliability and keen pricing.
On sale from next month, the Six will be available in saloon and hatchback styles, and with a choice of 1.8, 2.0 and 2.5-litre petrol engines.
Supply problems mean there will be no 2.0-litre diesel models offered until January, followed a month later by the very attractive estate version.
This is unfortunate, but it shouldn’t hinder Mazda’s sales ambitions too much (remember, this is a car company on course for a record sales year despite having its biggest-selling model in run-out).
Mazda expects to sell around 14,000 new Sixes in the UK next year – the same level as the previous model.
Around two-thirds will be sales into the company car market with the 2.0-litre diesel obviously taking the lion’s share of registrations.
All engines offer lower CO2 emissions and increased fuel economy over the units they replace, with the diesel falling by four benefit-in-kind tax bands.
Even though the front-end price has risen slightly, this isn’t enough to offset the large drop in tax bands, which means cheaper bills for drivers.
James Hopkins, Mazda’s fleet and remarketing director, said: “I’m very confident the new Mazda6 will further accelerate our penetration into fleets, especially with user-choosers.
“This new model inherits and builds on all the key attributes of the outgoing car.
“Fleet buyers will get a substantially improved car that is cheaper for them in BIK terms – a real win-win situation.”
There is no one single area where the Mazda6 really amazes, rather its talents lie in doing everything well. It is well built, looks good, drives well and comes with plenty of equipment as standard.
It will also appeal to fleet managers, with CAP quoting a residual value forecast of 36% after three years/60,000 miles.
That puts it in close contention with the Volkswagen Passat and Honda Accord – two key rivals for the car, and well ahead of the new Mondeo and Laguna.
Behind the wheel
Due to the aforementioned supply problems there were no diesels to test at the UK launch, so instead I sampled the three petrol units.
First up was the 1.8 with 120bhp. To be honest this is not enough to lug a car of this size around and felt strained when accelerating.
Next was the 2.5 which offers 170bhp.
This is a much better drive, cruising capably at motorway speeds and having enough top-end shove to make driving fun.
However, it does struggle to pick up revs from low down which became quite annoying on the hilly test route.
The star of the line-up was the 2.0-litre engine, delivering 147bhp in a crisp manner.
This engine enjoys being revved and has a much more enjoyable noise and feel to it than the rather under-stressed 2.5.
While performance differs wildly between the three, other attributes remain constant.
The Six handles really well, remaining flat and composed during cornering and fast direction changes, the ride finds a very good balance between comfort and dynamism, the gearbox shifts sweetly and all three are very refined – there’s hardly any engine or wind noise intrusion.
Build quality feels very good, and the simplified dashboard layout looks and feels classy.
Interior space is more than adequate – it’s not Mondeo-big but there’s plenty of room for five adults and a huge boot, to boot.
The CF-Net system, which controls the stereo, climate control, trip computer and navigation from the steering wheel is excellent and helps you keep your eyes on the road – a key addition for any safety-conscious fleet manager.
Mazda can’t fail with the new Six – it’s a stylish, well equipped and well built car. With lower tax bills for drivers and improved RVs, it ticks all the fleet boxes.
|Max power (bhp/rpm):||120/5,500||147/6,500||170/6,000||140/3,500|
|Max torque (lb-ft/rpm):||123/4,300||136/4,000||167/4,000||243/2,000|
|Max speed (mph):||125||134||137||127|
|Fuel consumption (mpg):||41.5||40.4||34.9||50.4|
|CO2 emissions (g/km):||161||166||192||149|
|On sale:||December *|
* (diesel – January, estate – February)