Mazda 6

WHEN you are looking to bag sales from company executives it helps when a car’s presence in the staff car park is worthy of note.

While appreciative nods might be directed at cars wearing Mercedes, BMW or Lexus badges a longer period of contemplation might be undertaken when the new Mazda6 rocks up for the first time.

Mazda embraces its Japanese design philosophies and KODO, meaning soul of motion, seems to have done the trick. So much so that the 6 might even be able to duel with some established premium executive metal.

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In Estate form the Ford Mondeo, Vauxhall Insignia and Volkswagen Passat rival looks broad, low and concept car aggressive with prominent wheel arches defined by sweeping creases down each flank which appear to have been transferred straight from the designer’s pen into its panels.

It’s unmistakably Japanese, but the 6 is also handsome and sporty in a way that can outdo its now familiar rivals.

The Mazda6 joins the CX-5 SUV as the latest purveyor of the Japanese brand’s weight-saving drive for efficiency known as SKYACTIV.

The CX-5 recently shot to fifth place in Auto Express’ top 100 most satisfying cars to own and Mazda hope that together the two cars can fuel a 20 per cent rise in sales in 2013 (up from 26,200 last year).

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Three specifications of Mazda6 are available — SE, SE-L and Sport — with a £600 premium for integrated TomTom Sat Nav.

Prices start at £19,595 but tested here is the Mazda6 2.2D 148bhp Sport Nav Tourer. At £26,345 only the 173bhp 2.2D is more expensive.

It boasts power, performance and emissions claims that blow its similarly priced rivals out of the water.

The combination of a 9.2 second sprint to 62mph, 130mph top speed, 64.2mpg claimed fuel economy and 116g/km CO2 emissions cannot be matched in this class.

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Helping achieve those figures is a svelte 2,220kg gross weight, start/stop technology, a 0.28 Cd drag coefficient and the i-ELOOP system which sees Mazda employ regenerative braking to power its on-board systems for the first time.

The tax benefits of the Mazda6’s low CO2 score will make the Tourer extremely enticing for company car users.

As will a stylish interior that has already received awards for its design.

Mazda is good at driver-centric cabin design and a trio of cowled instrument dials, a short-throw gear lever and sculpted multi-function steering wheel all contribute to an excellent driving environment.

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Heated leather seats place the driver low down in the spacious interior equipped with a 5.8 inch touchscreen Sat-Nav and entertainment system, keyless entry and a reversing camera.

A soft touch dashboard and touches of aluminium on the door pulls, gear lever and elsewhere add to the well-conceived feel.

On the move the Mazda6 Sport’s suspension proves quite firm, just about isolating passengers from the worst of the road surface, but communicative steering and tight gear-shift contribute to an enjoyable interaction between car and driver.

The 2.2-litre diesel engine, meanwhile, gathers revs and pace with pleasing fluency and consistency with a determined tug of torque (280lb.ft. at 1,800 to 2,600rpm) available for overtaking.

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Some disappointing wind noise from around the A-pillars came as an unexpected intrusion given the 6’s slippery aerodynamic claims, however.

The Mazda6 Tourer serves up an eye-catching alternative to its established rivals and in terms of its power and economy it also looks like the bargain of its class.

In terms of outright interior polish it loses out to the Passat and a 506-litre boot concedes load-lugging honours to all three rivals, but it remains a compelling all-rounder that boasts a dose more desirability as well as impressive running costs.

Until the attractive new Ford Mondeo arrives in 2014 the Mazda6 should be the darling of company car drivers.

In my book, that makes it the current best-in-class.

Mazda6 2.2D 150PS Sport Nav Tourer

Engine: 2,191cc, 4-cyl, turbodiesel

Power: 148bhp and 280lb.ft. of torque

Fuel Consumption: 64.2mpg (combined)

Emissions: 116g/km CO2

Performance: 9.2 seconds (0-62mph) and 130mph

Price: £26,345

RATING: **** (out of five)