What is it?
Mazda’s big family car.

What’s in it?
A 138 kilowatt 2.5-litre four cylinder with a six-speed auto.

Is it thirsty?
I used 11 litres per 100 km in the city, 6.7 in the country. The official combined figure is 6.6.

Drive away
$51,216. Prices start at $37,388.

Thumbs up
Build quality, space, comfort.

Thumbs down
Space-saver spare, tight boot, the auto stop/start is rough.

Mazda 6Climb into practically any car made in Germany – anything from a Porsche to a Volkswagen – and the immediate impression is of solidity. It feels secure, robust, substantial. Above all it feels safe. It’s a thing the Germans can do that car makers across the rest of the world just can’t seem to achieve.

But the Mazda 6 is coming close. It’s not quite a BMW 3-series but it’s as close as a Japanese car has got. It’s a most impressive thing.

This all became clear on a sharp left-hander, pitted and rutted with old, weather beaten bitumen. It gets most cars untidy at 100 kmh, but the 6 rounded it beautifully, solid as a rock. No lateral bounciness, no skipping, no OMG moment. It felt as good as a BMW.

Japanese cars are not normally like this. You can pick them blindfolded; the controls are light, the handling is adequate if uninspiring, but there’s an overarching degree of blandness that makes the whole experience rather forgettable.

The 6 has gone a cut above. The controls are light but accurate and fast, and nicely in touch with what’s happening. The suspension rides nicely but it’s firm enough to feel good in the twisty bits. Mostly it just feels really well built, really well organised and really well sorted.

Okay, the engine note, although not unpleasant is nowhere near as nice as a BMW; when it’s under full load it’s more noisy than stirring, but the car is quick off the mark and overtakes with authority. Road noise is high at freeway speeds despite Mazda’s electronic noise-cancelling technology. A change of tyres may help this. And Mazda’s auto start/stop is pretty rough.

But it looks good. There’s a slightly muted aggression to the flowing lines and the back looks just as good as the front. I parked one beside a 3-series and it made the BM look, well, rather boringly conventional.

The interior is just as good; excellent seating although headroom is tight in the back, all mod cons and good quality audio and navigation. Boot space is nothing special and under the floor you’ll only find a space-saver spare.

All in all a thoroughly enjoyable drive. My only complaint was that around the city the automatic transmission, which is calibrated for economy, can be less than responsive.

The Atenza is the top model and diesel adds about $3000. Personally I’d have the petrol.

Published March 2013