A mid-sized gem.
In the mid-size car sales race, the Mazda6 has sat in the number two position for a long time. Second doesn't always mean second-best, though, so if you've got a pulse, if you don't wear gloves or a cardigan, and if you actually enjoy your driving, then the Mazda6 should be considered as one of the leading bullet-points on your shopping list.
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On paper, the Mazda6 begins making a case for itself by offering an extremely competitive warranty. While most competitors offer only 100,000km of warranted driving, Mazda is one of the few that doesn't care how many kays you rack up in your car; if it's within the three year period, you're covered.
There's more. In the Mazda6 you do feel like you're steering a car, rather than turning the wheel on a butter churner. Helping things here were the 18-inch wheels on this week's test car. Sure, they make the ride a little jiggly, but the trade-off is assured handling (with a smidge of body roll) plus, they make the car look stunning.
The Mazda6's design is truly beautiful. From every angle, the car is assuredly gorgeous, and with silver accents around the fog-lamps, chrome borders for the side windows and clear, detailed tail-lamps, there's plenty of visual highlights. The swoopy Mazda design language works brilliantly with the proportions of the Mazda6, and thankfully the "happy face" isn't too prominent.
Inside, it's also a classy finish with clear, beautifully backlit instrumentation, well stitched seats and a smooth, flowing dashboard. The glovebox is a decent size, there's cupholders, keyholders and cardholders aplenty, and in a nod to its Sports moniker, the pedals are clad in drilled metal plates. There's a Bose stereo which for this price point is excellent, and fitted to our test car was the optional touch-screen sat-nav, which sits very neatly in the centre stack without looking like a stereo shop add on.
The boot is absolutely huge, and being a hatch is ridiculously easy to load family belongings. Rear seat legroom is actually excellent for this category (it is a mid-size car, don't forget) however headroom is knocked back due to its sloping roof. Other black marks come in the form of mismatching plastics across the dashtop; the passenger’s side is quite soft, while the driver’s side is hard. The door trim's hardness is somewhere in the middle, however the grain and colour on all three looks identical, so it claws back some points. The hill-hold (on manual models) is appreciated, too.
The front seats are supportive and the leather is quite grippy, meaning that the back seat's flatness isn't a problem. The brakes also work well, but only if they're pushed; there's not a lot of immediate bite which can initally feel unnerving, however you learn to trust it and use more pressure.
All driving controls fall to hand quite well, with the gear lever not being too tall, or too far away. The gate is quite narrow, but well defined, and combined with a light, progressive clutch, the Mazda6 is simple to drive. The steering, too, is well weighted and gives plenty of feel. It turns in cleanly, but it communicates its limits clearly and feels planted, so while it's not an out-and-out sports car, it's got all the right moves to keep you interested. It's certainly a cut above the Honda Accord Euro and Hyundai i45, and leaves the Toyota Camry trailing in a wake of grey blandness.
The Mazda6's 2.5-litre four cylinder sounds mostly smooth throughout the rev range (although it does get a bit breathy at the top end), and is quite responsive. There's enough torque down low, so it does pull from 1500rpm onwards, however 3500rpm is its sweet spot where it picks up and heads to its 6500rpm redline with urgency. It also returns good fuel economy - we matched exactly the 8.5-litre/100km ADR economy figure in our week of running around, which is quite impressive considering the driving was mostly city bound.
In the cut and thrust of traffic, the Mazda6 is a pearler. It's always smooth in stop-start conditions, the cabin is quiet, and the suspension never knocks or crashes. Sure, there's a bit of road noise on coarse-chip surfaces, but it's never wearing or overbearing. Rather, the 6 is one of those cars that you could imagine having the kids in the back for a long country drive to a summer holiday destination, or you could be wearing a suit and conducting a business meeting while driving - it does it all.
Whether it's the classy cabin, the unique exterior styling, or the capable handling and steering, there's a lot to like about the 2010 Mazda6. Why it's number two is beyond me.
I guess it's true what they say - two is better than one.
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*Pricing is a guide as recommended to us by the manufacturer and does not include dealer delivery, on-road or statutory charges.