Our cars: Mazda 6 joins What Car? fleet
* Mazda 6 SE-L Nav 2.2d 150PS on test * List price 22,595, Target price 22,595 * Price with options 23,715 (Metallic paint, sat-nav)...
The new Mazda 6 is one of the most eagerly awaited cars of 2013 - particularly among company car choosers, for whom it's a novel, stylish alternative to the latest BMW 3 Series and the ageing Ford Mondeo.
Mazda's approach to the 6 was novel enough to win it the Ultra-Low-Carbon gong in our Car of the Year Awards earlier this year. Instead of resorting to expensive hybrid technology, Mazda's engineers have come up with Skyactiv, which basically marries a ground-up rethink on construction and lightweight materials to some of the most sophisticated petrol and diesel engines out there.
Not convinced? Consider this: the 6 is every bit a Mondeo rival in terms of size, yet its cleanest model manages to have a 2.2-litre, 148bhp turbodiesel engine and emit just 108g/km of CO2. That's a boon for company car users, and a whole band cheaper than the greenest Mondeo.
The 6 won't be available as a hatchback in this incarnation - Mazda says the Tourer estate model should cater for those after greater practicality - and the saloon is the model to go for if you want the lowest CO2 emissions, so our choice of body style, engine and transmission was relatively simple; it had to be a 148bhp diesel four-door with a six-speed manual gearbox.
Things get a little more complicated when it comes down to trim levels. The more generous ones in the line-up are Sport and SE-L; however, as its name may suggest, the first of those two switches you onto racier 19-inch wheels that don't do much for either the ride quality or the levels of road noise.
In our view it's worth avoiding the larger wheels altogether, so we opted for an SE-L. This brings bags of toys as standard - daytime running lights, rain-sensing wipers, front and rear parking sensors, cruise control, dual-zone climate control, keyless start, Bluetooth and USB connectivity - but sits on 17-inch wheels.
In our haste, we pushed Mazda UK to see what was in stock, but the only SE-L available was in Blue Reflex Mica paint (520); it's pretty enough, though we'd have to admit that the (more expensive) Soul Red looks even better. The only other option on our car is the satellite-navigation system, which technically changes the model name to SE-L Nav and adds a further 600 to the cost. The end result is a 6 with a price of 23,715 - which seems pretty decent by private buyer standards, let alone as a company car option.
Early impressions? The diesel engine is strong and reasonably smooth, and the cabin feels nicely built - but even with the smaller wheels, there's still a bit more road noise than we'd like.
Let's see if familiarity makes that less of an issue as the miles pile on.