Goodbye hatchback and hello Mazda saloon
Are the days of the hatchback numbered so far as the large family car is concerned? Apparently so, if we are to believe the figures because the best-sellers in what the industry calls the D segment are BMW's 3-Series followed by the Merc C Class.
Both are saloons and both illustrate the seemingly inexorable drive up-market for buyers who would have once signed up for a Ford Mondeo or equivalent Vauxhall.
True, the Insignia and the Mondeo are still big sellers but not as big as they once were. And now Mazda are on trend by ditching the hatchback option in its newly revamped Mazda 6, which hit showrooms at the end of January.
The feeling is we equate saloons as a classier car and a better car aesthetically; Mazda says the new 6 is the purest expression yet of its "KODO – Soul of Motion" design theme which is meant to embody vitality, athleticism and agility.
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At first glance it is undeniably a good-looking car; its low wide stance making it perhaps the best Mazda yet. Particularly when viewed in a new exclusive colour called Soul Red, which uses two different colour base coats under a clear coat to achieve a really vivid effect.
The car is offered as a saloon or estate.
"We did a lot of UK clinics because the UK is the biggest hatchback market in Europe and we discovered two things – one, that drivers were rarely using the hatchback's versatility and fold-down seats, and two, they wanted a more coupe-like look," said chief designer Akira Tamatani. "So we decided to create a sleeker and lower design based on a saloon."
Mazda says the saloon still remains a roomy, practical choice for families, thanks to a large boot and rear seats that fold down. For those demanding still more storage and flexibility, then the estate beckons. To these eyes it looks even prettier.
So goodbye hatchback, it was nice knowing you ...
It is certainly a tempting proposition all round; as a family car it demands consideration because it is bigger than the Mondeo and Honda Accord (including luggage space) and offers headline-grabbing low running costs. Similarly, it makes an excellent company car, particularly when viewed with tax-friendly emissions figures of 108g/km on the lower-rated of two 2.2-litre diesel engines.
The car can be ordered with either a two-litre petrol engine or a 2.2-litre diesel. The petrol can be specified as either 145 or 165 horsepower and the diesel with either 150 or 175PS. All models are fitted with start-stop technology and a number of innovations to keep the costs down.
Mazda's version of Efficient Dynamics (BMW) or BlueMotion (Volkswagen) is called Skyactiv, first seen on the company's CX-5 SUV last year. It means the engineers have wrung every last drop of efficiency out of the internal combustion engine without having to go down the hybrid route to achieve low running costs.
Hybrid, of course, adds a lot of weight to the car – here, with Mazda, we see dramatic weight reductions achieved by maximum use of high-tensile steel. It is also the first mass-production Mazda model to be equipped with i-ELOOP, the Japanese company's unique brake energy regeneration system. Fitted as standard to the majority of Mazda 6 models sold in the UK, this innovative system can boost economy by up to 10 per cent, depending on driving conditions.
The petrol engine claims to return either 57.6mpg or 60.1mpg, depending on power output, while the diesels up that to 72.4 or 78.5mpg, depending on model.
The lower-rated diesel will be the biggest seller, I'm sure, and I found it handled really well in some tricky conditions on snow-covered roads in Scotland where the grip was reassuringly impressive. The suspension was perhaps a tad stiff but I guess many will see that as a plus point when pushing on.
All Mazda saloon and Tourer SE models have the following standard equipment: 17in alloys, manual air-con, electric windows all round, CD/radio, trip computer, Bluetooth, 5.8in colour touch screen, front fogs, cruise control and leather steering wheel and gearknob.
SE-L grade adds dual zone climate control, privacy glass and power- folding door mirrors, front and rear parking sensors, automatic wipers and lights and extra speakers.
Sport grade completes the picture with bigger (19in) alloys, Bi-Xenon headlights, adaptive front lighting, reversing camera, full leather, power adjustable and heated front seats, and a premise sound system.
So, an all-round excellent car that can only do good for Mazda. More models like this and the sky really could be the limit.