CJ Hubbard on a year and 18,000 miles of family life in a Mazda 6 Tourer
Update 1: Hello Mazda 6 Tourer GT Sport+ Nav 2.5 automatic
There’s a very good reason I’m in charge of the long-term test of this fine-looking 6 Tourer. Her name is Seren, and at the time of writing this intro she was just shy of seven months old.
That’s right, I’m now a Dad, so suddenly I find myself needing what my wife likes to call a ‘Dad car’.
Five doors, big boot (ahem… we’ll come back to this), a hassle-free automatic gearbox and lots of kit – the Mazda looks ideal for the job.
Hey, good looking
First impressions are excellent. This is a handsome automobile, in a manner that is distinctly different to any other rival estate car – especially finished in Soul Red and sitting pretty on the 19-inch alloys that are standard fit on GT Sport Nav+ trim.
The interior isn’t as immediately striking, being largely rather dark. But it doesn’t take you long to appreciate that it’s really a rather lovely piece of subtly intricate design, and I love that it's finished in dark brown, rather than boring black.
The Mazda 6 also has one of the best head-up displays I’ve ever used, packing a surprising amount of information into an unobtrusive space in a manner that isn’t overly distracting.
Don’t judge a book by its cover
It starts to fall down a bit for me when it comes to the driving experience. A non-turbo 2.5-litre four-cylinder petrol engine is certainly an unusual method of motivation for a new car these days, and I’m still coming to terms with it. Even though it packs 194hp it seems rather gutless.
The automatic gearbox doesn’t help; at times occasionally indecisive and jerky, if I wanted to change gear that badly I’d do it myself. It seems very much at odds with the modernity of the rest of the car, making it feel out of touch with the rest of the class.
Then there’s the ride quality. Those 19-inch wheels may look good, but on a family car I fear they’re a step too far.
What’s more, for all that this is an estate car – in other words a vehicle which is supposed to put practicality at its core – the boot doesn’t seem to be particularly big, at least when it comes to dealing with baby gubbins.
Ditto the rear passenger space, as we’re finding fitting in the little assassin’s car seat means compromising the position of the seats up front. Though perhaps her throne is an especially big one.
The opening verdict
So, mixed feelings thus far. But keep reading for our full impressions of long-term life with the Mazda 6 Tourer.
Update 2: Performance and handling
I wasn't massively impressed with the performance to start with. But over 12 months of driving this car I have really come to appreciate its speed and poise, possibly entirely because of the way it makes you work for it.
Where are all the horses?
As a life-long car enthusiast, the idea of a big, non-turbo petrol engine still holds plenty of appeal - but this Mazda initially feels decidedly sluggish.
Amusingly, there's a sticker on the driver's door frame that claims this particular car is a 2.0-litre model, and not the 2.5-litre it is supposed to be - which would explain how some of the claimed 194 ponies often feel like they've gone on holiday.
Of course, it's just the wrong sticker (Mazda doesn't sell a 2.0-litre petrol auto in the UK), so the lack of get up and go is more to do with the motor's characteristics in combination with the six-speed automatic.
And since this car doesn't have anything like the muscular low- and mid-range response of a modern turbodiesel I guess it's no surprise that it doesn't feel quicker.
Give it a chance
Updating this in the days before the Mazda is set to leave the Parkers' fleet, I'm happy to report that my feelings about the 6 have definitely changed.
Whether I've just adapted to it or whether the engine has loosened up considerably over time, I've become much keener on the way it behaves. Driven at a moderately brisk pace, in a situation where you are able to keep up momentum, there is a satisfying sense of completeness about the way the engine, the gearbox and the handling gel together.
Add the soulful bellowing sound the engine makes when accelerating hard, you could even call it characterful.
No, it isn't as instantly quick as the turbo-powered opposition and the gearbox is comprehensively out-classed by slicker-shifting alternatives with even more ratios. But the handling is sharp enough to satisfyingly dispatch a curving sequence of roundabout and slip road, body movement is well controlled, there's plenty of grip and bumps are swiftly dealt with.
Certainly I've found it a comforting place to return whenever I've spent an extended period driving other vehicles.
Update 3: Interior and equipment
Since this particular car is in range-topping GT SPort+ Nav trim, you'd be right to expect a huge amount of standard equipment, and I'm pleased to report it does not disappoint. The only option is the Soul Red paint, everything else - from the heated and cooled front seats to the awesome surround view camera system - comes included in the asking price.
The MZDConnect infotainment system is not the most cutting-edge system on the market, especially when it comes to the somewhat simple graphic interface. But its functionality is superb, with a very logicial menu system and a rotary controller that's easy to use on the move - far more so than almost any touchscreen I've encountered.
The sat-nav is clever as well, with the ability to avoid individual roads (goodbye A14...) or change the programmed route for a period of miles ahead.
Handy if you're bored with the journey or local congestion.
Another great feature is the head-up display, which not only shows you speed and sat-nav directions, it also also serves as a secondary blindspot monitor in addition to the warning lights in the door mirrors and shows you the speed limit thanks to traffic sign recognition.
How's the build quality?
I like the part-digital instrument cluster with its active speed limit marker (a red point on the dial that moves as the speed limit changes), and although it's a little odd that there are two fuel gauges, I do like the way the remaining range is indiciated on the digital one and makes its way down the gauge with the fuel level.
I was less impressed when, on one winter's morning, the digital panel lit up as a screen of purest green.
Not especially reassuring, but this only happened once over the entire year.
Similarly unexpected was when one of the plastic panels in the driver's footwell fell off while I was driving my daughter to nursery.
The car had been at a bodyshop the week before (see below), so perhaps the panel had been removed and not put back properly. No harm done, and it clipped back into place easily - where it has thankfully stayed.
How has the Mazda 6 coped with family life?
As you can imagine, with a small child around, the 6 has been subject to all sorts of traumas - from buggies in the boot to emergency nappy changes at the road side. And it's worn the experience extremely well overall.
The plastics are evidently highly scratch resistant, as those appear to have survived without incident. But the seats haven't endured quite so well.
While having a heavy Isofix seat base repeatedly removed and re-installed hasn't scarred the leather, it does seem to have left some tell-tale signs (hopefully these will ease themselves out over time; the seat had only just been removed in the below photo).
Similarly, the leather on the driver's seat base seems to have gone slightly baggy - can't really explain this, as I only weigh around 77kg.
Regardless, it's a shame that my daughter has never really enjoyed travelling in it. Though she seems to quite enjoy the big pickups and vans I bring home, she routinely vocalises her dislike of riding in the Mazda. She's too young to ask, but I suspect this is related to the dark headlining and small rear windows, which make her feel rather enclosed.
Still, she's not been travel sick in it at any point, which is something. My wife often complains about the ride quality, however...
Update 4: Practicality and comfort
Comfort is a contentious area of this car, as though several colleagues have commented on how well resolved they think the damping is overall, I still say it's too firm and abrupt over minor bumps, making longer journeys somewhat irritable.
I've also really struggled to get on with the driver's seat. Something about the firmness of the seat base and lack of support in the back rest tends to leave me aching after around an hour at the wheel.
There's plenty of adjustment, all operated by electric motors, so perhaps I'm just a funny shape.
Aren't estate cars supposed to be practical?
More of an issue for my small family is that we've struggled with the boot. The space between the load cover and the boot floor is shallow, while the heavily contoured rear pillars reduce practicality if you remove the cover - which lifts out easily enough but can't be stored elsewhere in the car.
I understand the styling benefit of the pillars - this is a good-looking car - but I would certainly sacrifice some of that in order to have a more practical storage area when travelling with a baby.
Versus the Billy bookcase
It wasn't until I'd actually pulled the Billy bookcase off the rack at Ikea in Milton Keynes that it occurred to me quite how long the box for something that stands over two metres tall would be. Suddenly my decision to bring the 6 instead of a van wasn't looking like such a smart one. But I persevered - surely any estate car can swallow a Billy, the standard measure of modern furniture buying?
Well, it turns it's almost as if the Mazda 6 was made for the task. Admittedly, the Billy is a tight enough fit that you'd better be travelling on your own (or with only a companion who can fit behind you), as it means moving the passenger seat right forward. But the process gave me a much greater appreciation of this car's load-lugging credentials.
Not only is it nearly exactly long enough inside for said bookcase, the rear lip is protected by these neat metallica panels that also help you slide heavy objects into the boot. I was less impressed when part of the load cover pinged off, but I retrieved the bits and it's stayed back in one piece so far.
It's a better estate than I initially thought.
Update 5: Adventures in the Mazda 6 Tourer
I'm not naturally superstitious, but I've never had a car that's had so many misfortunes in such a short space of time. Yet the Mazda 6 also proved a fine partner on a thousand-mile, three-day roadtrip into Germany. Details of all our adventures together are collected together below.
The unfortunate incident of the postman and the parcel
Scenes you don't want to see when looking out of your lounge window while feeding your infant daughter: a postman placing a parcel on the bonnet of your shiny long-term test car.
I couldn't do a thing about it in the moment - due to the gargling guzzler - but sadly when I did get out to check the car 20 minutes later, that beautiful Soul Red paint was scratched. And the parcel hadn't even been for us.
Turns out that the Royal Mail has a claims procedure for exactly this sort of incident, requiring two quotes for the cost of repair. It also turns out neither the Cambridge nor the Peterborough Mazda dealers have an on-site bodyshop - but the former has an independent smart repairer and the Peterborough BMW dealer is also an authorised Mazda repairer. Sorted.
(There is an authorized Mazda repairer nearer Cambridge, but they wanted £25 for a private quote. Sod that.)
The letter I got back from RM was mildly hilarious, stating the postman admitted the action but that RM didn't think it had caused the damage - yet it included a cheque for the exact amount of the cheaper quote anyway.
This was for Sycamore BMW. The car was duly booked in, and the technicians did a fantastic job of polishing the marks out.
Tyring times during eBay expedition
Having decided we needed a coat stand for our small hallway, I duly located the perfect candidate on eBay. Near Southampton. Cue a five-hour round trip because I like an aesthetically pleasing bargain. This was not a sensible decision.
The problem wasn't the journey - or the coat stand - but rather the small van that abruptly changed lanes not so much in front of me but directly into the space where my front wheel would have been if I hadn't taken emergency evasive action.
Even hitting the brakes wasn't enough. The van was so close when it cut across me it actually forced me into the curb. I swore a bit, but without a dashcam there was little else I could do, and with the car appearing to behave fine over the next few miles, I carried on.
It wasn't until I stopped for fuel on the way back that I spotted the marks on the wheel where the curb had slammed the tyre into the alloy, and then the associated gash in the sidewall. Bugger. But also quite a testament to the quality of the Bridgestones the Mazda left the factory on, as it had taken the abuse without total immediate failure.
Replacement rubber was duly sourced by the Cambridge Mazda dealer, and the car booked in for fitting the following day.
All was smooth sailing until I got a bill for £60 more than I was originally quoted - the cost of correcting the tracking, which had understandably also taken a knock.
When I mildly raised an eyebrow at not being informed about this additional cost, the dealership instantly volunteered to halve the amount. Unexpectedly generous, and very welcome.
The 6 Tourer has keyless entry and start - both marvellous innovations, but they have led to me being rather blase about the location of the key.
This bit me on the backside one morning, when I trapped a bag strap in the boot locking mechanism after having placed the key down inside the load area (it would usually be in my pocket).
Because the Mazda's keyless entry unlocks the boot without unlocking the other doors and the key has some sensibly limited proximity settings, this meant I had managed to jam the boot shut without leaving myself any way to get inside the vehicle through another portal.
Fortunately it turns out Mazda roadside assistance - which comes as part of the warranty package - is pretty handy at dealing with this sort of thing. From the kind lady on the phone to the cheerful chap who turned up in a van to break in on my behalf (took him five minutes), the experience post-idiocy on my part could not have been better.
I'm much more careful with the key now.
On the autobahn to the Auto & Technik Museum Sinsheim
I love a European road trip. So when a friend said he'd never driven on an unrestricted German autobahn, I immediately volunteered the Mazda's services. Especially as I knew he'd dig the Auto & Technik Museum Sinsheim - as soon as I explained this has a Concorde and a Tupolev Tu-144 mounted on the roof he was booking the Eurotunnel.
Since we'd be travelling around 1,200 miles, we elected to break up the journey a bit, and simply used day one to get to our first overnight stop. I'd left Keith (a third one, not either of the Keiths employed by Parkers) to sort the accomodation, so I think we were both pleasantly surprised when Speyer turned out to a delightful small town filled with spires and street art. The hotel was a hilarious trip back in time in design terms but clean and cheap, which was the main thing.
The Mazda shrugged off the distance from Cambridge without any sign of effort - by far the most stressful part of the trip being the entrance to the Chunnel train, as even with the bird's eye view parking cameras activated I still managed to ram the lip edge of the pedestrian walkway. No damage done, thank goodness. France and the Netherlands flashed by, making the first stop for lunch a currywurst just inside the German border.
Keith is a naturally cautious driver, so it took him a little while to get used to the idea that there really wasn't a speed limit whenever the derestricted sign appeared. The Mazda turned out to be an ideal car for a first experience of this - being both rock solid stable at over 100mph but also not especially quick to get there, so our closing speeds on other traffic were never really likely to get out of hand.
Top speed for this model is theoretically 138mph, but on this experience you'd need a lot of road to get there - I had to work it pretty hard to crack 120mph. But that's probably not going to bother too many UK buyers.
It was a short sprint to Sinsheim the following morning. I'd been before, but only for about half an hour during a photoshoot with a previous long-termer, so this would be my first proper chance to look round. It did not disappoint.
Keith - who's a senior volunteer member of the Air Cadets among other things - took one look at all the planes sprouting from the buildings and said it was as if Disney had done Duxford. He's not wrong. If you like planes, cars, tanks and trains it is well worth the trip. You could spend days there.
We only had a morning, made the most of it and then booked it back into France. After doing the traditional thing of stopping to look round the remains of the old Reims racing circuit (which seems in better condition than I remember) we enjoyed another amusing low budget but basically fine hotel in Saint-Quentin. The car continued to be completely unruffled.
On the final day we stopped at the utterly spooky Blockhaus d'Eperlecques - a former Nazi rocket base and now another very well done museum - before hunting down some macarons for my wife loading the car with wine for Keith's fridge (which the boot easily swallowed), and then heading back to the Eurotunnel. I manage not to tickle the pedestrian walkway on the return trip.
Full throttle for extended periods didn't even seem to massively dent the long-term average fuel economy, which according to the trip computer was still up around 36.8mpg. So all told, a very successful little excusion that showed off the Mazda's strengths to a surprisingly extent.
Update 6: Verdict
It took me quite some time to come to terms with this car - more so than any previous long-term test vehicle. But after 12 months and 18,000 miles, I have come to really appreciate its character. And although it seems like daming with faint praise, there really is something to be said for the fact it's not just A.N.Other bog standard, typical company car candidate.
The bright red paint helps it instantly stand out, while the cabin has proved its class and quality over time; I love the subtle attention to detail the interior designers have lavished upon it. If it took me longer to fully understand the merits of the petrol-auto combination - and having driven it back-to-back with a diesel manual, I'm pretty sure this 2.5 is still the wrong choice - it was quickly clear the menacing front end is excellent at reminiding slower traffic to observe good lane discipline.
Did anything go wrong?
Aside from that one blip with the dashboard, we've had no reliability problems with this car at all.
However, though it requested it's first service on spec at 12,500 miles, it was asking for another one just 5,500 miles later - some eight months early by the car's time-based reckoning, and presumably an indicator that it's been harder on its oil since the first dealer visit - perhaps the quality isn't as high as the black stuff from the factory.
Still, whenever we did have occasion to visit the dealer - EMG in Cambridge - the service was swift, efficient and genuinely difficult to fault. I wouldn't hesitate to go back there.
A final point to mention here, though, is that paint does not seem to have weathered a year of commuting through the extensive A14 roadworks very well - the number of stone chips is extraordinary, and possibly a sign the Soul Red paint is rather thin.
Would you want another?
That's a tough one. I continued to find the ride a little ridiculous on those 19-inch wheels - though I accept it handles neatly - and if I was buying an estate car to keep for a few years I would personally want a more practical boot. As a Tourer in GT Sport+ Nav specification, then, the 6 doesn't quite hit the spot for me as a family car.
Having said that, quirks and compromises often build excellent relationships, and taken as a whole this is fine piece of machinery, and - most crucial of all - I find that I am going to miss it.