Mazda 6

Just how close is Mazda to building a saloon that can compete with the very best in the class? The answer might surprise you. Jonny Edge explains… 

Competition can bring out the best and the worst in you. The pressures and demands of competing against the best can lead to people doing some very unusual things that, from the outside at least, can look really rather weird. In Japan, the homeland of Mazda, the company gives its vibrant products names like ‘Demio’ and ‘Axela’.  The car we have here today – the Mazda 6 – is actually known as the ‘Atenza’ back home.

This is Europe though, and in Europe, Mazda has to compete with some people called the Germans. Aside from dominating the car market and having an outstanding reputation for excellence, the Germans often like to keep things very organised and so organise their creations into categories, so they can be arranged perfectly on spreadsheets. Think ‘3-series’, ‘C-Class’ or ‘A4’. Mazda, peeking over the fence, saw this and decided to take away the names of its cars. No longer would they receive curious and slightly Sci-Fi movie character names, no, now they’re going to be called ‘2’ or ‘3’ or ‘6’. This is like changing your dog’s name to ‘9’ because it’s more likely to be associated with the neighbour’s very successful dog, ‘8’.

It’s a shame that Mazda doesn’t play on the personality of its machines a bit more because the firm is now making cars that should give some German brands a lot more to worry about, and if our German friends’ creations are short of anything its personality – imagine going to a dinner party with a VW Passat…

Suddenly it seems like the Mazda 6 is knocking on the door of some of the very best cars in this zone of the market and apart from the whole naming thing, it’s going about it in its own way and not copying an established recipe. It all starts with the looks - a Mazda speciality.

Now, we all know you can have the nicest personality in the world but if you don’t look right, nobody’s going to give you a chance to get to know them. Mazda doesn’t have that problem because the 6 looks like Idris Elba, strong and smart but also very stylish. In recent history, Mazda has been producing some of the most consistently excellent designs around and the 6 is at the very least far more interesting to look at than the likes of the BMW 3-series or Audi A4. Clearly those cars have something of an established reputation for quality, particularly inside, so how does the Mazda face up to the challenge in that area?

Well, let’s just say it’s close. The Mazda’s leather-trimmed dashboard and extensive use of leather and metals puts it up there, but probably isn’t better. Considering this isn’t a brand with the strength – and budgets - of the big names, it’s still a brilliant effort and it is certainly a big move up for any Synergy customer currently driving a traditional Mazda rival like the Ford Mondeo and Vauxhall Insignia. Furthermore, the quality of the 6 is unlikely to leave any Jaguar or BMW driver feeling disappointed. In terms of build at least, this is a serious premium saloon.

When it comes to driving characteristics what you prefer in a saloon will depend entirely on how you like to drive. Fancy taking it easy? Mercedes-Benz builds the perfect cruisers. Sporty and fast? BMW has you covered. The Mazda is front-wheel driven but this doesn’t stop it being fun to drive, though truthfully it sits somewhere between the Mercedes end of the scale and the BMW end. At all times it remains a comfortable and relaxing car to be in though and the 2.2-litre turbo diesel finds a happy spot to sit in whether you’re gunning it or relaxing. A 6-speed manual gearbox helps you have a little more say in what’s going on, too.

Hats off to Mazda, here. The brand has turned out a superb car in the 6 and come to think of it I don’t think Mazda actually makes anything sub-standard at the moment. On lease agreements, the 6 looks like an excellent choice and whether or not you’re considering a premium or sub-premium rival the Mazda 6 should be on your shortlist of cars to consider. Oh yes, this one’s highly, highly recommended, though it could have a much better name.