Mazda is gunning for Audi with the new and improved Mazda6.
The all-new model features a handsome, business-like exterior that is complemented by a larger, better quality interior. The dimensions of the five-seat car have grown, as they are built on the CX-5's platform. Fuel economy and power are excellent, too, thanks to Mazda's 'SkyActiv' technology.
The exterior features a bold new front end that is imposing and proud. This new look is in keeping with what the other major car manufacturers are doing - such as Ford with the Mondeo (due later this year) - to make their cars more purposeful on the road. Two subtle, but beautifully executed chrome wings feature to the front and rear of the new 6 to add sophistication. It has always been an uphill task for Japanese brands to break the luxury 'design' stranglehold that premium European makers like Audi and BMW have over us, but Mazda has delivered an exterior that is full of detail and thought.
Inside the cabin there are no major dash or dial revelations, but the big news is the amount of space. Up front there is plenty, but there is even more in the rear. Legroom is much improved, thanks to the extended wheelbase that the CX-5 platform delivers.
At the European launch we drove the saloon and estate versions. The saloon reminds me of the old Xedos9 and is a smart business machine. But my favourite version is the slightly shorter estate version; it is very practical while good-looking, too.
While the entry Mazda6 is a 2-litre petrol (€28,745), the big seller will be the 150bhp/380nm diesel. This 2.2-litre common rail diesel does without a turbo and is very clean, producing just 108g/CO2. When we asked why Mazda doesn't make a smaller cc engine for the Mazda6, a boffin said that there was no need as their 'SkyActiv' technology is so efficient.
On the road, power delivery to the front wheels is smooth and there is plenty of torque. If you need more power a 175bhp/420nm version of the 2.2 is available - the only penalty is a higher price tag and slightly higher fuel consumption. The ride on the 'Sport' specification 17-inch alloys was composed and forgiving. We also tested the larger 19-inch alloys fitted to the 175bhp car. They looked great but made the ride a little too firm on B roads.
Mazda6 is stuffed with new technology, like the fastest available engine stop/start system, optional LED headlights, 'iActivsense' safety system and an even more impressive thing called 'i-Eloop'. This is Mazda's unique regenerating braking system that uses a special alternator to charge a capacitor - not a battery. The moment you lift off the accelerator it starts to work. In a nutshell, it's electrical witchcraft that saves fuel and power and is extremely clever. In most other cars with brake regenerations systems, a constantly engaged alternator is used, thereby sapping up to 10% of the car's fuel and horsepower.
Mazda6 is not an Audi A4. Euro for euro, it is better in so many ways bar the big one: people's perception of the brand.
Get behind the wheel of the new Mazda6 and prepare to think differently.