In the beginning

* Tested for 12 months * Could it cope with family life? * Read our verdict, here...

In the beginning

I collected the 6 from MKG 3000 Mazda of Twickenham (020 8538 9377), where salesman William Maxfield handed over the keys.

Soon after I'd grasped them, I began to discover what a fabulous workhorse the 6 Estate would be. The rear seats fold completely at the pull of a lever, without any need to fiddle about with seat bases or head restraints, leaving a large, perfectly flat loadbay, and a low loading height.

The integrated loadbay cover, which lifts and falls with the tailgate, is also a clever feature, and was easy to remove and fit quickly, after a little practice.

With the seats down, the 6 Estate helped to significantly reduce the number of trips needed to take all of my green waste to the recycling point. My two rubbish bags are huge one bag is a cubic-metre when full of hedge trimmings, grass clippings and tree prunings but it slid into the back of the 6 with space to spare. There was enough extra room for my other 'small' garden bag, too.

I didn't find the 6 Estate's large size a problem on the road, but some may do. A colleague struggled to come to terms with its dimensions when they borrowed it: they drove it into a low wall and left me a repair bill of more than 1600.

Its size might also explain how three wheels became badly kerbed. Thankfully, mobile repairers Wheel Wizard (01675 471150) ground, buffed, filled and polished them back to perfection in just a couple of hours. Prices start at just 65 a wheel, too.

I thought it was important to keep my Mazda looking at its best, because it's a good-looking estate it's big and useful, yet not boxy and boring. Vauxhall's Vectra Estate, for instance, was supremely practical, but looked like the kind of car children might make by stacking a load of cardboard boxes on top of each other.