Mazda6 SkyActiv First Drive

Dismissing Mazda against traditionally stronger rivals is a thing of the past. Any manufacturer that has won the 24 Hours Le Mans – as Mazda did in 1991 with the 787B – has serious engineering pedigree and, with the CX-5 SUV and now the Mazda6, it’s starting to show on the road with a dramatic new look to boot.

Purposeful front graphic is true to the radical 2011 Takeri Concept

Using the latest technology to make cars greener is very much a ‘two steps forward, one step back’ process. Fuel economy and emissions may improve with electric-drive equipment, ambience and comfort, too, but these are offset by significant increases in weight and, quite damningly for this fledgling industry segment, price. Mazda have chosen to avoid the hybrid middleman altogether and simply take a step forward by increasing efficiency and decreasing weight. The internal combustion engine isn’t dead just yet, and Mazda are proving it with the new 6.

Hugging the freezing cold tarmac against the snowy landscape of Midlothian in mid January, the new 6 – in Soul Red – looks wolfish, but underneath it’s more sheep. Beneath the bold KODO design, kerb weight is just 1480kg (15kg lighter than the equivalent BMW 3-Series) and the redesign of the chassis, drivetrain and body – part of the SkyActiv technology - are paying dividends in efficiency. Combined fuel economy, rated at 67.3mpg for the 150PS diesel, is second only to the aforementioned 3-Series and trumps quite a few old favourites in the segment.  Emissions of 108g/km CO2, on the other hand, are second to none.

Just 108g/km carbon dioxide emissions for the 2.2-litre 150PS diesel

On a skeletal level, using a continuous metal framework for the body (made possible by reducing the size of the engine/transmission package) has not only increased rigidity but also removed the need for excess reinforcements, which drastically cuts weight. As a result the new body is 8% lighter than before, due to using a third more high-tensile steel. A special resin, which is used for parts such as bumpers, helps further by offering the same level of rigidity as conventional materials but with less weight. Their moulding process is also shorter, reducing the amount of energy expended during production.

Brand new to the 6 is Mazda’s ‘i-ELOOP’, which uses a capacitor to temporarily store electrical charge harvested from the regenerative braking system. Not only does this forgo the need for a separate electric motor but it also improves fuel economy by 10% - the same proportion that usually provides energy for a car’s electrical systems and components. It’s a pretty clever piece of kit both in its conception and execution.

Interior functional but well built and comfortable 

The 6’s direct design ancestry can be found in 2011’s Takeri Concept – in fact, the 6 remains largely unchanged from the sparkling concept that drew partisan crowds at the Tokyo Motor Show and represents a radical departure from the previous 6, now a decade old. It’s the change in approach between the original 6 and this new one that is most encouraging. The original was a slightly atypical but largely inoffensive saloon, whereas as the 2013 model possesses a real identity that’s embodied by the deep and chiseled grille, linked to glaring headlights by a slender but strong chrome strip. The 6 looks physically powerful with cartoonish front fenders and a deep front valance, and whilst the juvenile KODO design was finding its feet with the vaguely awkward CX-5, in the 6 its philosophies and unique characteristics sit well having now matured.

The concern, however, for this kind of design is longevity, as it’s minimalistic designs that tend to remain contemporary. and minimalistic the 6’s intrepid design certainly is not.

The 2.2-litre 150PS diesel is the cleanest variant and also likely to be the best seller. It’s strong and smooth, whilst the ride is firm without being too rough. The 6 is faster than you might expect too, due to its relatively light weight, but conversely it feels quite wieldy because of its considerable size. The same size gives the car finesse at speed, and although the 6 isn’t as sporty or engaging as Mazda would like you to believe, its breadth of ability from arrow-straight motorways to slippery B-roads is as impressive as it is wide. It can’t compete with the BMW for engagement, nor a Mercedes C-Class for refinement, but if you want something in-between at a more reasonable price then the 6 is well worth a look. This particular one starts at £21,795.

Big wheels, pronounced fenders and a steep rake contribute to a focused stance

Don’t believe for a second that Mazda aren’t experimenting with alternative drivetrains behind the scenes, they’d be mad not to, but the new 6 embodies their mission to maximize the efficiency of conventional methods whilst pushing their own design boundaries ever further. It’s working well, for now.

Engine: 2191cc 4-cyl diesel Power: 150PS @ 4,500rpm Torque: 380Nm @ 1,800rpm Top Speed: 131mph 0-60mph: 9s Economy: 67.3mpg combined (manual) Emissions: 108g/km CO2 Price: £21,795 OTR

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