Car Test   R0280
 
November 2002
Brief Test Mazda 6
Printer Friendly Page Featured model: Sport4 AWD Estate
Four-wheel drive estate cars have never really hit the big time. Fifteen years ago Ford’s Sierra, Vauxhall’s Cavalier and Peugeot’s 405 were introduced in this guise, but for them, the idea never really caught on. Only the trusty (and underrated) Subaru Legacy or Audi’s Avant Quattro developed a select appreciation society, with the Skoda Octavia as a more recent entrant.
  
   The problem is that, unlike burlier sports utility vehicles (SUVs), nobody knows you’re driving a four-wheel driver, in models like this.
  
   Take the Mazda 6, for example. It looks the same as any of its front-wheel drive stablemates and, commendably, even the rear axle is totally non-intrusive, when you compare rear accommodation, load deck height, and so on. And it doesn’t have the spare wheel hung on the tailgate – just a discreet “AWD” badge gives the game away. No, the extra £2000 you pay for this 2.3-litre petrol-engined wagon – compared with either a 2.0-litre automatic estate or a 2.3 (manual) Sport hatch – will impress you, but not your neighbours.
  
   The mechanical hardware has clearly been designed to improve traction off road, but only in “soft-roader” mode. It will keep going over pretty atrocious soggy grassland, but because it retains the standard ride-height (albeit with self-levelling) you can’t expect this 6 to prance over boulders or logs.
  
   On ordinary roads, however, you soon discover that both ride and handling have benefited from the technical tweaks. The steering response feels cleaner, more precise, with no tugging on full-bore acceleration; because it gets its power to the road more equitably, road grip and cornering response are better, too – no wheel scrabble away from T-junctions, for example.
  
   More-even weight distribution and that self-levelling have enabled Mazda to choose spring and damper settings to improve this version’s ride comfort, compared with ordinary estate versions of the 6, when driven unladen. This one felt very composed and even its tyres dealt with cat’s eyes with aplomb.
  
   The Sport4 AWD comes with full-time 4WD as well as stepped gearbox as standard. It has a fully auto “D” mode which gives lots of shift sensitivity.
  
   In truth, the car doesn’t feel particularly lively in overtaking, so a willingness to downchange on part-throttle is welcome. It also offers a sequential manual mode (now commonplace) and this works well except that the gear selector has to be moved towards you (ie backwards) for an upchange; OK once you are used to it.
  
   We like the way this box is prepared to let you go really slowly or really fast on engine speed before intervening with a “safety-change”. It also freewheels a lot – in Drive and in manual fifth gear, lifting the accelerator disconnects the drive, like dipping the clutch. This is a useful fuel and efficiency-saver, but on our car, the sensors that are supposed to engage the lower ratios in steeper hill descents didn’t cut in. We had to reset to manual shifting into the three lower ratios for engine braking.
  
AT A GLANCE
  considering size, price and rivals
Controls/displays
Handling/steering
Comfort
Space/practicality
LIKES ...
  • go-anywhere versatility
  • pleasant as a clutchless manual
  • unimpaired interior space
  • sunroof and climate control standard
and GRIPES
  • 4WD exacts a significant performance penalty
  • no manual or diesel options
  • higher fuel and insurance costs than diesel estate
VERDICT
Naturally, we expected the Sport4 to perform better on grass or mud, but we were surprised by how much better it went on tarmac, compared with ordinary Mazda 6s. It is a worthy addition to that select group of four-wheel drive estates that are designed to do the job, rather than strut their stuff.


BRIEF SPECIFICATION
engine 2261cc, 4-cylinder petrol; 162bhp at 6500rpm, 151 ft lb at 4000rpm; chain-driven double overhead camshaft, 16 valves
drive permanent four-wheel drive with variable front-to-rear split; 5-speed stepped automatic with manual sequential mode
suspension front: independent damper/struts, integral coil springs
rear: independent multi-link, coil springs and self-levelling struts
wheels/tyres 7J alloy with 215/45R17 tyres
brakes ventilated discs front, solid discs rear with ABS/brake assist standard
0-62mph* 12.3sec
official mpg§ 18.6/34.4/26.1
* maker's figures  § urban/extra urban/combined

VITAL STATISTICS (cm)
length x width (excl mirrors) 470x178
front
- legroom 83-112
- headroom (with sunroof) 90-97
rear
- typical legroom 102
- typical kneeroom 74
- headroom 96
- hiproom 134
load space (all seats in use)(litres/cu ft) 570/20.2
load length (seats up/folded) 98/180
load width 107-135
load sill height (inside/outside) 0/59
boot/load aperture height 47/77
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