This Mazda has six appeal
Y ou would be forgiven if you'd forgotten there were family saloons out on the road. If you look back over the last six months of reviews here, it has nearly all been crossovers, coupes and an eclectic mix that has rarely included the trusty old big-family car.
The Mazda6 is one of them. It has, like the Mondeo, Passat and Avensis, been around for so long (the old Mazda 626 stretches back to the mists of time) the names are nearly entitled to state pensions.
One reason they don't get as much of the limelight, maybe, is that they are perceived as not being as fashionable or indeed flexible as many of the new breed of crossovers and smart hatches. But they represent a substantial chunk of purchases. That's because they are more than family cars. Big numbers are bought by companies for sales executives who churn in serious mileage each year.
Competition between the big names in this sector was always fierce. It is doubly intense now.
Probably more than any other mainstream band of cars, there are acute demands and each model in this class provides a high level of 'must haves'. But the price has to be right for a demanding clientele who will take their money elsewhere as quickly as a TD heading off on a three-month summer break.
Put yourself in the position of an imaginary driver. Let's call him Dermot. Let's say he is based in the west but criss-crosses the country on his company's business on a daily basis.
For personal comfort and safety he wants plenty of room and equipment, decent seats, easy controls and a powerful but frugal engine to eat up the kilometres, leaving him reasonably fresh for business when he arrives ... and so on. His company will dissect the main competitors across a number of criteria because running costs and trade-in value also play a huge part.
Now put yourself in the position of his family counterpart -- Ger and his wife, Nora, who need a big-ish car for the family every day. It is obvious they are entitled to what Dermot expects, only they are plunging their hands into their own pockets to buy.
I don't know if the Mazda6 would be top of every shopping list but it would be prominent among the candidates. The challenge for Mazda, in this case, is to get it higher.
So they've given it a major makeover -- more than 400 modifications. The ones with greatest impact are the test engine (129bhp) dropping into the lower road tax bracket and fuel consumption at 5.2 litres/ 100km (an average 7pc lower).
They gave it a fresher look, especially out front, and reduced the level of noise overall, particularly in the cabin.
After giving it a fair old lash around the midlands, I have to say it still trails the Mondeo on handling and ride -- as do most in this sector.
While it is a smarter looking motor now and has plenty of room and cabin comfort, the single element that continually impressed me was the engine.
It cruised easily but there was great and instant pick-up when I needed to push on or overtake. I love that in an engine -- especially a diesel.
There's plenty of rear-seat space and a boot with a big surface area. These are important components in the case for the financial judges at Dermot's company or the bank manager looking after Ger and Nora.
Given a choice, Dermot would like the comfort, equipment and broad seating. He might not be so happy with the rear vision on long, arduous journeys and maybe he'd prefer more sport and zest from that suspension.
Ger and Nora would like the plush interior, the space for five, ease of access to the boot, low-consumption engine and maybe they wouldn't be that pushed about the finer points of the suspension. The rear view would bug them though.
Price is critical. It's hard to compare like with like but the Mazda is on the lower side. Against it are the Big Three -- Mondeo, Passat or Avensis -- whose pulling power is exceptional. Buyers can be conservative and a proven track record and trade-in values play a huge part in the final determination.
Yet I'd venture to suggest the Mazda6 has moved up the pecking order -- adding class that nudges it along the rocky road of getting people to buy large-family/fleet saloons and hatches in the crossover era.