BMW fans will be quick to poo-poo comparisons with their beloved marque, but the fact is the Mazda6 has the performance, styling and driving crispness that the Germans have hitherto demanded as their own domain.
Mazda6 comes in a four-model sedan range, namely the Mazda6 2.0 Elegant five-speed manual, the Mazda6 2.3 Sporty five-speed manual the Mazda6 2.3 Sporty Lux 5-speed manual and the Mazda6 2.3 Sporty Lux four-speed Activematic (automatic).
Two all-new four-cylinder DOHC engines are on offer - a 2-litre producing 99 kW at 6 000 r/min with 177 Nm of torque at 4 500 r/min, plus a high-performance 2.3-litre with 122 kW at 6 500 r/min and 207 Nm at 4 000 r/min, the latter with Mazda's Sequential Valve Timing (S-VT) plus balance shafts.
The accent with the new cars, says Mazda, is on putting the SPORT back into the sporty saloon, and driving pleasure has been accented, along with high quality fit and finish, and good value for money in terms of overall pricing, specification, and running costs.
The latter is aided by 20 000 km service intervals, a three-year/100 000 km warranty, and Mazda's new five-year, 60 000 km maintenance plan, which is standard on every Mazda6.
Air conditioning, power steering, electrically operated windows and mirrors, remote central locking with a super lock feature and a radio/CD are standard across the range, with the Sporty and Sporty Lux models also including an in-dash six-CD front-loading player and cruise control, both with satellite controls operated from the steering wheel.
The Mazda Sport Lux models (manual and Activematic) also have the additional luxury of leather trim with electric multi-adjustable driver and passenger seats, a sunroof and automatic air conditioning with climate control.
The Mazda6 is fresh from the wheels up, and this shows in the suspension. An all-new E-type multi-link rear suspension has been developed, used in conjunction with double wishbone front suspension for optimum handling and ride characteristics, including low tyre wear in hard driving conditions.
Special emphasis was also placed on a low-profile suspension design to improve boot space.
The Mazda6 2.0 Elegant has 205/55 R16 tyres mounted on five-spoke alloy wheels, while the Mazda6 2.3 Sporty and Sporty Lux models are fitted with 17-inch alloy wheels with low profile 215/45 R17 tyres. All versions get a standard size steel spare wheel.
Safety is another keypoint, and Mazda says the Mazda6 has been engineered to meet or exceed crash safety standards in all major world markets.
In addition to Mazda's MAIDAS and Triple-H body structure, the comprehensive passive and active safety technology includes side impact beams, smart dual-stage air bags, plus a new Crashable Pedal design.
The Mazda6 2.0 Elegant gets driver and passenger front air bags, while the Mazda6 2.3 Sporty and Sport Lux benefit from the addition of driver and passenger side air bags and front/rear curtain air bags.
The front safety belts feature pyrotechnic pre-tensioners.
The brakes see large 380 mm disc brakes on all four wheels, ventilated at the front and solid at the rear. Four-wheel ABS braking with electronic brake force distribution (EBD) controls the front wheels independently and the rear wheels in tandem.
To deter thieves, all Mazda6s are fitted with an immobiliser linked to keyless entry central locking.
The single push button to remotely activate and deactivate the central locking is incorporated into the base of the Mazda6's key. A super-locking feature can also be activated to ensure that the doors cannot be open, even if attempted through a broken window.
The 60:40 foldable rear seats can only be lowered once two restraining levers are released in the boot, thus preventing unwanted access to the boot area from the passenger cabin.
Wheels24 spent three days with the Mazda6 "entry level" version, the 2-litre 2.0 Elegant, prior to the launch of the car, and we were delighted by the aggressive design, with sculpted metal on the bonnet and boot, clear glass on headlamps and tail lights, and the car's pleasant harmony of line.
This is carried through into the interior, where once more styling is modern, with the centre console given an aluminium look, and inserts of carbon fibre lookalike trim on the dashboard to give contrast to the black dash panel.
The driver's panel comes complete with two bold black-faced chrome-rimmed main dials (for speedo and revcounter) flanked by smaller fuel and temperature gauges, and the three-spoke steering wheel is leather-covered.
There is an aluminium insert of the gearknob for the five-speed gearbox, and the centre console flows back between the seats, hiding a covered kicknacks/cupholder section as well as a large two-tier centre cubbie.
There's more stowage space in the centre of the dashboard, as well as a locking glovebox, and even a special locker for eyewear under the dash on the right of the steering wheel.
Seats are well bolstered and covered in printed velour cloth, and give good support during cornering.
On the road
On the road we were particularly impressed by the car's solid feel. There's not a squeak or even the suggestion of a rattle, and road and wind noise has been cut to the levels expected from the Germans and Swedes.
Most of all, though, we were smitten by the very crispness of the car. The engine is sweet and free-revving, with a wide power band that belies the published figures, and lively performance.
The steering is sharp and precise, and the gear change like snicking a switch.
Handling is surefooted and, again, precise, with not even a slight trace of the wallow so often inherent in the compromises of design that encompass a four-door sedan.
Yet at the same time ride comfort is excellent.
In short, we believe Mazda has done the impossible. It took the BMW 3 Series, Mercedes C-Class and Volvo V40 as its benchmark, and managed to package a car that can look them squarely in the eye without flinching, strong in the knowledge that pricing is more than competitive.
Prices: Mazda6 2.0 Elegant R197 700; Mazda6 2.3 Sporty R224 000; Mazda6 2.3 Sporty Lux R236 400; Mazda6 2.3 Sporty Lux 4 A/T R245 474.
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