The updated medium-sized Mazda is an impressive proposition, writes Kevin Hackett.
Road test: 2014 Mazda 6
Sometimes it's nice to be a bit different, to stand out from the crowd and make your mark as an individual. And in the reasonably priced, medium-sized car segment, there isn't much you can do to be different, is there? The world is awash with Toyota Camrys, Honda Accords, Nissan Altimas and Ford Mondeos - all of which offer something for buyers looking for reliability, roominess and, unless we're talking Honda, a bit of modernity.
Be truthful, though. How often does Mazda pop up on your radar as a potential purchase? On the basis of this car - the new Mazda 6 - it's possibly time to revisit the brand that time seems to have forgotten. Yes, the Japanese company that thrills tech-geeks every now and then with its wankel rotary engines has come up with a brilliant saloon that merits much closer inspection.
The first thing that you'll notice with the 6 is obviously the looks. A large, gaping front grille sets it apart, and there are swooping curves all over the place, which can appear to be quite lovely at first glance, before you get the nagging feeling that perhaps there's a bit of over-styling at play here. The rear end, however, is perfectly resolved and proportioned, with a premium appearance that, if it was just slightly wider, could be mistaken for the new Maserati Quattroporte. Overall, full marks for effort, because the Mazda 6 used to look drab in the extreme.
If only the designers had been feeling the same sense of adventure when it came to styling the interior, because here it could be practically any Euro box, and there's little, if anything, to make it individual. There's no fake wood trim, which is a relief, but still there's a sense that Mazda, like the other Japanese car manufacturers, has been unable to source a supplier for decent switchgear. It all looks and feels like the MX-6 that I owned 15 years ago - it does the job, but there's very little tactility, and that's a shame.
The centrally positioned multimedia screen looks cheap and is difficult to read when on the move. It's also far from easy when it comes to interactivity, repeating options and being infuriatingly difficult to programme. And, inexplicably, there's a rotary control knob on the centre console that does the same things as the knobs and buttons either side of the screen. Very odd.
That said, even standard equipment levels are excellent, and there's room aplenty for front and rear occupants, no doubt attributable to the generous wheelbase. The seats are very comfortable, and the boot offers a sizeable 483 litres of space, which is increased if you fold down the rear seats. So the 6 has most bases covered and boxes ticked. What, though, is it like on the road?
Powering the 6 is a 2.5L, four-cylinder engine that's mated to a six-speed automatic gearbox sending power to the front wheels. It's quiet and refined, with little evidence that the engine is actually running, until you really put your foot down - at which point the four-pot makes its uninspiring voice heard. It can tend to sound strained and a bit thrashy, making me wish for the creamy V6 that was fitted to my MX-6. If a more torquey motor was under the bonnet, the experience would be so much nicer.
However, it's a light car, weighing 1,466kg, making for a nimble handler. And this is the 6's trump card. Despite the impressive levels of kit, this Mazda feels swifter than it actually is. Its lightness of construction makes for greater levels of dynamism than its rivals, and there's little of the rolling and pitching that you get with heavier cars. It feels nimble, responsive and accurate, with nicely weighted steering, and offers plenty of information to the driver, making even the city commute a delight rather than a chore. Its parsimonious approach to fuel consumption is a bonus, too, even if that only equates to saved time as you need spend less of yours at the pumps.
All in all, the Mazda 6 is pretty close to being the leader in its segment. The interior is a bit of a let-down after the boldness of its curvy body, and it would benefit from a larger selection of power trains. But it absolutely shines as an involving driving tool, and that attribute is becoming more and more rare as time goes on, particularly in this section of the marketplace.
"You'll be amazed at a Mazda." So went an advertising slogan for the brand a few years ago in the UK. The 6 might not knock your socks off, but it has more than enough going for it to merit your consideration - especially when you see how little it costs. Individuality doesn't get much more affordable than this.
Price, base / as tested Dh83,000 / Dh95,000
Engine 2.5L, in-line four-cylinder
Transmission six-speed automatic
Power 188hp @ 5,700rpm
Torque 249Nm @ 3,250rpm
Fuel economy, combined 7.8L / 100km
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