The Mazda 6 provided a sporty alternative to family car rivals like the Volkswagen Passat when it was first put into production in 2002. This all-new model was released in 2013 to enhance that appeal further and it’s so good that it won the title of Best Family Car in the 2013 Auto Express New Car Awards.

It’s not hard to see why we gave it that prestigious title either. The Mazda 6 is certainly one of the most stunning models in the family car sector, making rivals like the Volkswagen Passat and Vauxhall Insignia look dull by comparison.

A bold front end, coupe-like looks and strong overall presence are all very hard to ignore. These design features are inspired by Mazda’s recent KODO Design philosophy, which aims to combine elegant and masculine looks into one striking package.

Then there’s the excellent performance across the Mazda 6 engine range. 2.0-litre petrol and 2.2-litre diesel engines in two power outputs are available and both offer a good driving experience. They’re both fairly economical, too, thanks to Mazda’s innovative fuel saving SkyActiv technology. Some superminis like the latest Honda Jazz struggle to match the most efficient engine’s economy figures.

As is usual in this market sector, there’s an equally stylish Tourer estate version of the Mazda 6. All models come in SE, SE-L and range-topping Sport trims, each with a generous list of standard and optional equipment.

Our choice: 6 2.2D (150) SE-L

Styling

The Mazda 6 has sporty, elegant looks that are particularly striking when compared its competitors. We recommend picking the £660 optional Soul Red metallic paintwork if you want a deep finish to accentuate the details in the Mazda 6’s bodywork.

The pointed nose looks sharp, while chrome trim visually ties the grille and headlamps together. LED running lights are well integrated, and don’t look like an afterthought, while the bulging wings add a muscular touch to the front end.

The roofline swoops into a steeply raked screen and high-set boot lid at the back, whilst the sharp taillights look far more stylish than those on close rivals. 19-inch alloys come standard on Sport models, whilst entry-level SE trims get 17-inch alloy wheels.

Inside, the Mazda’s cabin has very modern look but it does feature some hard plastics, especially on the switchgear.

Driving

The Mazda 6 is a suitable choice for those after a sporty family car. Reduced weight means the handling and performance have never been better.

The 2.2-litre diesel model is available with two power outputs. The 175bhp version offers 420Nm of torque and injects plenty of performance but the 150bhp unit is also adequate.

The four-cylinder petrol models come in 145bhp and 165bhp outputs. They all offer excellent performance and sound sporty rather than strained when pushed.

In-gear response is instant at any speed, while the six-speed gearbox has a crisp action and a positive shift. The automatic box is very good, too, and allows the driver to execute manual shifts from the steering wheel-mounted paddles.

Corners are where you’ll have the most fun, though. A nimble chassis means the Mazda 6 responds to the lightest touch of the steering wheel. It changes direction instantly and feels a lot smaller than it is, giving you confidence to push on.

This responsive handling hasn’t come at the expense of comfort either. While the large 19-inch alloy wheels mean the ride is on the firm side, the Mazda is no less comfortable than the Skoda Superb when cruising.

There’s a bit more road noise at motorway speeds, but the suspension still manages to absorb most bumps, with only the biggest potholes being able to rattle the cabin. 

Reliability

Japanese manufacturers are known for their reliability and Mazda is no different. In fact, the Mazda 6 ranked fourth in our 2013 Driver Power Satisfaction survey.

Despite that, 500 UK Mazda 6 models were recalled because of a potential electrical fault. We’ve also encountered glitches with the Mazda 6 Tourer we ran on our long-term fleet.

There’s no faulting its safety, however. It earned a five-star Euro NCAP rating in 2013, while our tests revealed that it had shorter stopping distances and felt more stable under braking than the rival Skoda Superb.

Although Mazda offers smart city braking as standard across the range, its rear traffic monitor – which can anticipate an impact from behind – is available as an option only on the top-spec Sport. The car also gets driver, passenger and knee airbags up front, with curtain airbags the full length of the cabin. High-tech safety gizmos include active lighting, lane departure warning, parking sensors, and the same autobrake system that is fitted to all UK Mazda CX-5s

Practicality

A little practicality has been sacrificed for the Mazda 6’s sleek looks. The hatch opening from the previous generation has been swapped for a saloon rear and the 483-litre boot is 27-litres shallower than the old one.

Fold the rear seats down and the 1,632-litre space is bigger than in the Skoda Superb. Levers make this easier, but the absence of spring loaded seatbacks means you will have to push them fully down yourself.  The resultant completely flat floor makes for easy loading of long items.

The back seats in the Mazda 6 are comfortable but there’s nowhere near as much space as in the class-leading Superb. Legroom is fine, although headroom is limited by the sloping roofline and steeply raked rear screen. Mazda has also made the door openings wider so that long-legged passengers can climb in and out more easily.

There’s a decent list of technology features that should make the Mazda 6 driving experience more practical. This includes leather-heated seats, a 5.8-inch touch screen and USB and Bluetooth connectivity. However, you do need to pay £700 for the optional sat-nav and there’s no DAB digital radio.

Running Cost

Mazda’s SkyActive technology means the powerful 2.2-litre diesel engine doesn’t compromise on economy: it emits just 104g/km of CO2 and does 74.2mpg. That puts it well ahead of the 2.0-litre diesel Ford Mondeo, which does 54.3mpg and 119g/km of emissions, for running costs. 

The petrol engines are decent too. They’re class-leaders in efficiency, with the entry-level 2.0-litre unit managing average mpg of 51.4 and emissions of 129g/km.

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