New Mazda6 a stand

out model

Mazda6, front action
Mazda6, side action
Mazda6, rear action
Mazda6, front seats
Mazda6, rear seats
Mazda6, boot

IF a car maker wants to throw its hat into one of the most fiercely fought arenas, it pays to stand out from the crowd...a unique selling point, as the marketing suits say.

Mazda has done this all along with the 6 range. While rivals have been a slave to space and luxury, the Japanese maker has focused most on driving dynamics and handling prowess.

The latest version, the second mid-life facelift of the 6 line-up, goes a step further with the introduction of a new more powerful 2.5-litre petrol model, designed to win the hearts of keen drivers.

As SUVs have gained ground many manufacturers of saloons have favoured five door coupe styles with opening rear hatches, such as Audi A5, BMW Gran Coupe and the new Peugeot 508.

Mazda, however, has stuck with the traditional three-box route with a separate boot. There is however have an estate version - called the Tourer - with extra flexibility. Sales in UK are expected be 60/40 in favour of the saloon.

At a glance, there's little to mark out the refreshed version. A bigger grille, a tad more brightwork and tweaked rear lights are the main external distinguishing points.

But inside, it's a brave new world with a classier facia, more soft touch materials with central eight-inch touchscreen and heads-up display which allows you to watch your speed without taking your eyes of the road.

Height adjustable driver's seat with lumbar support is standard on all models, as is sat nav.

Prices range from £23,195 to £32,685 and the range is now on sale.

The new four cylinder 2.5-litre petrol engine puts out 191bhp and is coupled to a six speed auto box. It's the first time it has been installed in a 6 but has previously appeared in the big CX-9, which is not available in the UK.

Despite a power advantage of around 30bhp over the 2.0litre petrol there's only a marginal performance gain, and in general driving the two cars feel remarkably evenly matched.

A cylinder deactivation system allows two cylinders to be ‘dropped' between 26mph and 50mph to reduce fuel consumption.

Under full acceleration the 2.5litre sounded more strained and vocal than the smaller engine version which remains calm and unflustered. Combined consumption is given as 42.2mpg for the 2.5 which corresponded with my average of 33mpg over a 50-mile route.

Best seller is still expected to be the diesel 150bhp model which arrives in September along with a more powerful 181bhp diesel.

Driving through Gloucestershire's windy lanes and sweeping curves, the Mazda6's balance and dexterity becomes apparent with a sharp steering turn-in and plenty of road feel. It remains one of the best handling large family saloons.

The six speed manual gearbox, standard issue in the majority of the range, is among the best available with short, slick changes.

Suspension is a tad firmer than most rivals but is easily able to absorb all but the worst road irregularities. Latest tweaks to the springing have made the ride still better.

Passenger room in the saloon is similar to that of the Tourer, but the estate scores on boot space by being capable of carrying 522litres against the saloon's 480litres.

With traditional saloons and estates feeling pinch from the ever-growing swarm of SUVs, Mazda is hoping the latest improvements will allow the Mazda6 range to continue to outsell the Mondeo among retail buyers.

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