David MottonSee other Blog articles filed in ‘Tow cars’ written by David Motton
Mazda's new 6 emphatically puts that right while building on the good looks and driver appeal of the old car. Thanks to a range of green technologies which Mazda calls Skyactiv, the 150PS (148bhp) 2.2-litre diesel saloon returns 67.3mpg on the combined cycle and emits just 108g/km of CO2. In terms of economy and emissions, the 6 has gone from sitting at the back in a dunce's hat to the top of the class.
Mean and green
Lacklustre performance is sometimes the price you pay for such impressive green credentials, but that doesn't apply here. There's 280lb.ft of torque, enough for punchy and confident overtaking. It's not so much the amount of twisting force which is impressive, as the way it's delivered. The engine will pull cleanly from just over 1000rpm, and acceleration builds with progressive determination.
The six-speed manual 'box is a good match for the 2.2 diesel, with crisp and precise gearchanges.
There's more power on offer from the 175PS (173bhp) version of the 2.2 diesel. With 310lb.ft of torque, it should make a good choice for towing on hilly roads. We tried this engine with a six-speed auto which shifted gear smoothly enough, although official fuel economy figures do suffer a bit. The automatic saloon achieves 58.9mpg, which is 3.9mpg less than the manual.
With either gearbox, we’d be inclined to stick with the less powerful of the two diesels. Not only is it more than quick enough for most tastes, but it's significantly cheaper since the higher powered engine is only available on top-spec models.
We also drove the 165PS (163bhp) 2.0-litre petrol. It's not the obvious choice for towing, but the exhaust note is pleasant and fuel economy isn't too far away from that of a ten-year-old diesel. There's also a 145PS engine to kick off the range, giving a starting price of £19,595.
Whatever engine you choose, the 6 is one of the best family cars to drive. The steering is well weighted and direct, and despite some awful weather during our Scottish test drives the Mazda always felt secure.
Such impressive control bodes well for towing, but it’s a shame that high-speed composure comes at the expense of an over-firm ride. It’s noticeable on 17-inch alloys, and even more pronounced on the 19-inch rims fitted to Sport model. There’s also more road noise than you’ll hear in the cabin of a Volkswagen Passat, for example.
In most other respects the Mazda is good enough to give the class-leading Volkswagen a hard time. The finish in the cabin has definitely taken a step forward, and there’s plenty of room up front for very tall drivers. Those in the rear have lots of room, too, although the saloon’s sloping roofline means adults may catch their heads getting in and out.
That’s not a problem with the Tourer (estate) model. It may not be the largest load-carrier, but it’s big enough for most needs and packed with clever features. There are luggage hooks on either side of the loadbay which can support a 3kg bag each, and levers which fold the back seats down from within the boot. Seats up there’s 506 litres to fill, rising to 1648 litres with the seats down.
All this suggests that the 6, and the 2.2 150PS Tourer in particular, has the makings of a cracking tow car. However, while the Mazda's low kerbweight contributes to its fuel efficiency it does little for the 85% match figure. Our favourite model weighs 1495kg with a manual gearbox, giving an 85% match of 1271kg. If you take a belts and braces approach to outfit matching, that rules out many mid-sized caravans.
However, both major caravanning clubs consider towing up to 100% of the kerbweight to be acceptable for an experienced tow car driver, and I’d be very surprised if the new 6 misbehaved when pulling a van of 1350kg or so.
We’ve already booked a saloon and a Tourer for the Tow Car Awards 2013, so we'll soon know how well the 6 tows.