By Andy Enright
The Mazda6 is a tough car to get a handle on. Why? Because it seems to change its look, its feel and its personality quite markedly from one generation to the next. There's no common theme running through the car's development cycle, with each successive model seemingly conceived by a completely different set of engineers and designers to those that worked on the previous car.
As is the case for any such vehicle like this - and Mazda isn't alone in this characteristic - there are good and not so good Mazda6 vintages. The improved MK2 model introduced in 2010 and continuing on sale until the end of 2012 was one of the better iterations. Here's what to look for if you're interested in grabbing a used bargain.
The Mazda6 hasn't had the easiest ride. The first generation car drove brilliantly but felt a bit lightweight and the diesel engines were plagued with reliability issues. The second generation model was an improvement in virtually every regard but seemed to lack its predecessor's personality and fun factor. Mazda had a good look at the second generation model in 2009 and realised that some remedial action was required. The 2010 model year car was the result of this review and it was so much more than a lights, grille and bumpers rehash.
The upgraded Mazda6 was given a make-over that featured more aggressive frontal styling, while the engines, suspension and steering were all fine-tuned to improve the quality and refinement of the driving experience. The 6 remained among the best-in-class for CO2 emissions and equipment levels were subtly tweaked as well. A Takuya special edition model was introduced in summer 2010 and got 18-inch alloy wheels, a sports grille and dusk-sensing headlights on the exterior, while the interior benefitted from an alloy pedal set, half-leather heated seats, auto-dimming rear view mirror, dual-zone automatic climate control air conditioning, leather steering wheel and shift knob and a choice of paint colours. This sold well and the Takuya model was reintroduced in 2011. This generation car made way for an all-new Mazda6 at the end of 2012, so used bargains should be easy to find.
What You Get
Without doing anything too dramatic or innovative to challenge the styling conventions of the medium range market, the Mazda6 is certainly a good-looking car. This improved MK2 version can be identified by even shapelier headlamps, trendy daytime running lights and a more sculpted bumper beneath featuring a trio of large intakes - the outer ones housing the fog lamps within their chromed boarders. The light clusters were also tweaked at the rear and the overall effect is one of simple, modern, uncluttered but clearly Oriental design. Just as a Mazda should be.
At the wheel, despite efforts with soft-touch dash-covering, chrome-trimmed instrument dials and various flashes of shiny piano black trim, there isn't an overly premium feel to entry-level 6 models but you do get it further up the range. You might well be able to do without the music notes and the 'hello' message on the digital display that greet you when you get in but otherwise, the driving position is hard to fault, with useful steering wheel-mounted controls for easier access to all the main functions.
Back seat room was usefully improved when the original version of this second generation model was introduced, its wider body allowing for greater shoulder room to complement useful knee room improvements. It's still not quite as big as a Mondeo in the back, but then few cars in this class are. Really tall rear seat passengers might feel headroom to be slightly compromised by the sloping roofline, so if that's an issue, buy the estate version. Should you do so, you'll find that the seats-occupied boot capacity rises but not substantially - from 510 to 519-litres. Extension of this space in either bodystyle (to either 1702 or 1751-litres respectively) comes courtesy of Mazda's neat 'karakuri' folding system in which the seat base automatically drops as you fold the seatback forward, though not by quite enough to facilitate a completely flat loading bay.
What to Look For
Mazda has a strong reputation for reliability and the Mazda6 should prove a durable companion. Some of the minor interior plastics aren't of the highest quality, so check for wear and tear in out of sight areas. The 2.0-litre diesel engines used to have issues with their DPF diesel particulate filter (especially if they were predominantly driven at low speeds in urban areas) but a redesign of this part cleared up that problem with this car. Make sure the diesels start relatively crisply and don't suffer from lazy glow plugs.
(approx. based on Mazda6 2.5). Parts prices aren't the cheapest, but they slot between what you'd expect to pay for a Ford or Vauxhall and what you'd spend if you opted for a BMW or Audi. A clutch assembly will cost around £172, while a new radiator is a reasonable £140. An alternator weighs in at around £250, while a starter motor retails for about £220.
On the Road
It's a testimony to the go-ahead spirit pervading Mazda that though, with their brand then part of the Ford family, the engineers had class-leading Mondeo underpinnings on hand for this car, they chose not to use them. You don't, after all, beat a competitor by merely copying it but by improving upon what's already out there. Whether this was achieved in this case may come down to personal taste - the differences aren't great - but many will feel that this car shades its outstanding Ford rival. Being lighter and smaller helps for a start and revisions to the suspension improved the ride while keeping body roll well in check.
In other words the 'zoom-zoom' advertising catchline isn't just a slogan: this genuinely is a family car you can really look forward to driving, agile and grippy with a sharp electric steering set-up from Mazda's RX-8 sports car and a precise five or six-speed manual gearbox, plus large brakes. All of the engines, bar perhaps the entry-level 120PS petrol 1.8, have enough about them for you to put all this to the test when the family's been dropped off and there's no one but you on your favourite back road home.
Mazda developed a direct injection 155PS 2.0-litre DISI petrol unit for this car to slot in below the minority interest 170PS 2.5-litre petrol variant but most buyers will want one of the 2.2-litre diesels with their prodigious pulling power, even in entry-level 129PS guise. The top 180PS model has a smaller turbo than it boasted in its original MK2 model form, the idea being to achieve greater efficiency. Mind you, it's still impressively torquey, though not noticeably more than the 163PS version that most buyers choose, capable of 0-60mph in 9.2s on the way to a maximum of 132mph.
It's usually good form to wait, if you can, for the facelifted version of a car to be launched before buying. All of the small niggles and problems of the launch model tend to go on a to-do list and are ruthlessly ironed out in the facelift car. Of course, it helps if the styling isn't ruined by heavy-handed designers, but fortunately the facelifted version of the MK2 Mazda6 escaped that particular affliction. The changes turned what was already a good car into a more expressive, confident and talented contender.
Not enough to significantly boost sales though, new car buyers in the 2010 to 2012 period perhaps finding it difficult to forget the rather anonymous original MK2 model that the car we've been looking at here is based upon. Still, that's good news for the clued-in used buyer, who can benefit from the general public's lazy apathy. There are used bargains in this range from top to bottom. Get 'em while the getting's good.