Recreating a brand

When you’re able to drive a few hundred kilometres and not count down the distance to your destination as you’re driving, then you might not be driving such a bad car.

During the recent Mazda 6 launch we drove the two models for about 600km and were surprised at how effortlessly Mazda’s new flagship chewed up the kilometres.

Thanks to the phenomenal success of the Mazda 2, the company was one of two car manufacturers in South Africa that was able to show a year-on-year volume increase from mid-2007 to mid-2008. The other marque enjoying similar success is Mercedes-Benz, largely because of the success of the new C-Class.

But, while the Mazda executives did look chuffed about the success of the Mazda 2, the new GM, Brendan Lyne, was quick to point out that the South African market is decreasing at such an unpredictable rate that it’s almost impossible to anticipate how many cars will be sold by the end of this year.

“The Mazda 2 served as a vehicle for us to sell other Mazdas and we’re confident that the Mazda 6 will do the same for the brand,” said Lyne.

I don’t think his prediction is far off.

As a family car the Mazda 6’s most striking attribute is its character. It’s not like the sometimes insipid family cars that make you feel numb when you drive them. Sure, it’s not a supercar that’s going to make you feel like a rock star every time you start it up, but it’s not going to make you fall asleep at the wheel either. It’s dynamic, sporty to a degree and has an overall sense of refinement.

Four models are available with two petrol engine derivatives (a 2,0-litre and a 2,5-litre), in either six-speed manual or five-speed automatic.

From an appearance point of view there’s nothing terribly startling — the rounded body panels give it a nice bulbous look while the angular light clusters (front and rear) give it a welcome edginess.

Inside, the car — which is obviously bigger than its predecessor — is spacious and comfortable with standard features such as a CD system with MP3 compatibility, manual climate control, active head restraints to protect the neck in the event of a rear impact, ABS, EBD and six airbags.

The top-of-the-range 2,5 Individual benefits from bi-xenon headlights, keyless entry with a new engine start/stop button and a Bose audio system, among other things.

I first drove the 2,5-litre (125kW of power and 226Nm of torque), which replaces the 2,3-litre in the previous range and it didn’t feel quite as athletic as I hoped it would at sea level.

It’s quick enough and sufficiently composed on a variety of road surfaces, but it’s not all that exhilarating. Maybe it was the slight vagueness in the steering or maybe it was my fault for expecting it to embody more of the Zoom-Zoom philosophy, but it didn’t leave me feeling terribly moved. That’s not to say that it wasn’t capable, but rather that I expected more (perhaps unfairly) of a range-topping model.

Oddly, the 2,0-litre (with 109kW and 184Nm) I drove afterwards was more impressive for the simple reason that it just got on with doing the job of being a good, somewhat engaging family car.

And while we didn’t get to drive the automatic, which seems to be the natural option for parents these days, the manual gearbox was pleasantly smooth.

Despite the increased dimensions and loading capacity, the new Mazda 6 is about 30kg lighter than the outgoing model and is therefore slightly more fuel-efficient. Mazda claims consumption on a combined cycle of seven litres per 100km for the 2,0-litre and about eight litres for the 2,5-litre.

The Mazda 6 is covered by a five-year/90 000km service plan (with services at 15 000km intervals) and a four-year/120 000km warranty. Prices also include emergency roadside assistance.

Ranging in price from R219 990 to R278 990, the Mazda 6 represents yet another addition to a range of family cars that are shrugging off the curse of being the natural choice of fuddy-duddies.

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