It’s not unusual for us to find a mini throng forming randomly in front of wheels towers, ogling the odd million-dirham-plus supercar that we discreetly park bang in front of the gate. Unpretentious as we are, it’s also not uncommon for us to modestly walk past the crowd, swing the door open and look for a mobile phone or wallet that isn’t there. However, these spectators were not enough to prepare me for the unexpected level of attention that I got last week, pulling up in a family saloon that I had just taken delivery of. Even before I could park near the gate, three guys walking on the other side of the road stopped, crossed over, walked around the car and gave me a thumbs up before walking away.
Yes, the 2013 Mazda 6 is not your regular D-segment saloon. Far from it, it’s unarguably the most gorgeous looking car on the market today that is produced by a non-premium carmaker. Since the massive design overhaul in 2009, the 6 saloon has been one of the best-looking cars in the segment and the most enjoyable to drive too. In the latest iteration, Mazda has taken things a few notches up, at least in the exterior design. The Shinari concept-inspired corporate grille, aggressive fascia, the muscular front fenders, the slinky roofline, and the flowing side profile together make the 6 look like a wildcat that’s ready to pounce. The new headlights, which bear an uncanny resemblance to those in the new BMW 3 Series, incorporate LEDs and halo rings, imparting a decidedly upmarket look to the saloon. These are well complemented by the sophisticated rear design dominated by the stylish taillights.
Things are a lot more subdued inside, with Mazda choosing to keep the interior simple. But that’s not to say it’s bad. Soft-touch plastics abound, with the dashboard featuring a clean, uncluttered layout, making the cabin feel more German than Japanese. The front seats are comfortable, supportive and even climate controlled in the top-end models. Although head- and legroom up front are on a par with the segment average, the same cannot be said of the rear, which could get uncomfortably cosy with three adults seated. Tall passengers could find the sloping roofline eating into their headroom.
The big question though is whether the Mazda lives up to the expectations worked up by its feline good looks. Does the magnetism and allure of the design translate into great driving dynamics?
The powertrain, body and chassis benefit from Mazda’s Skyactiv technology. The 2.5-litre four-cylinder engine with a high 13:1 compression ratio puts out 185bhp and 250Nm of torque — that is plenty to lug the saloon, which now weighs a little over 1,400kg. In fact, mated to the brilliant new six-speed auto ’box, the four-pot feels a lot livelier than the figures suggest.
The car feels fairly stable around bends thanks to the lighter, stiffer front strut and rear multi-link suspension which Mazda says is optimised for dexterity at lower speeds and stability at highway speed. That said, the Mazda 6’s handling still falls slightly short of rivals like the Honda Accord or the Volkswagen Passat and the electric power steering, which is light and easy for city errands, feels a bit too detached to inspire confidence at higher speeds.
Another factor that I found disappointing was the average fuel-economy figures in my test car, which I could not bring below 9.1 litres-per-100km, despite my best attempts over five days, as against Mazda’s claimed average of 6.3 litres-per-100km.
But where Mazda really trumps its segment rivals is the number of features packed into this model which, until now, were available only in cars a segment above. Apart from the usual dual-front airbags, side and curtain airbags, anti-lock brakes with EBD and Dynamic Stability Control are standard features on all trim levels.
Then there are optional extras like lane departure warning, blind sport monitoring and Forward Obstruction Warning, which make the Mazda 6 one of the safest cars in the segment.
Mazda is also offering a smaller 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine that’s good for 155bhp and 200Nm of torque, which combined with the same six-speed auto promises fuel economy of 5.9 litres-per-100km.
An estate version of the new Mazda 6 will also be on sale here, available with the smaller powerhouse only.
With its stunning good looks, Skyactiv technology and class-leading features, the 2014 Mazda 6 is a proposition that’s hard to overlook. And with prices starting at just Dh75,000 for the base 2.0-litre and the fully loaded top-end 2.5-litre variant retailing for Dh105,000, it is probably your best shot at being Mr Popular without breaking the bank.