Sinuous Six

Predictable is how you'd probably describe the new second·generation Mazda6. It is predictable that the new car is more aerodynamically efficient, with its coupe-like silhouette, and lighter, as a gram-saving strategy means extra performance.

What we didn't expect was that the company would devise an even lengthier list of esoteric Japanese terms - Kizuna, Seichi, Yugen, Rin, Myoshi - to highlight the special local flavour of its latest creation. It's a car, guys, not a culinary delight.

Fortunately, that's about as silly as the 6 gets; the rest is just a smart implementation of Mazda's sports· oriented engineering bent - with the exception that the hackneyed ·Zoom·zoom' ditty plays each time you hit the ignition. Thankfully, you only need endure this once; there's a submenu to expunge it forever.

In essence, the new 6 gets a larger, swoopier, more aerodynamic body·shell, a more powerful and frugal engine and, with an obsessive approach to weight saving, a kerb weight that's supposedly 3Skg less than its predecessor.

Though this depends on the model, it seems. When we put the range·topping 2.5 litre Limited 5porthatch evaluation model on our corner scales, we were surprised to see this five-speed auto version weighed lS22kg. The odd thing is, we weighed the outgoing Limited Sporthatch model (manual variant) at 1424kg. Add around sokg for an auto transmission and you're looking at about 147Skg, which is still around sokg lighter than the new car. I guess the extra specification in the new Limited model must add a bit of weight.

To put things into better perspective, the top new Mondeo model, with its six-speed auto, tipped our four·corner scales at lS81kg. Which makes the new 6 around 60kg lighter. Given it has a 2.5 litre engine (12SkW/226Nm) to the Mondeo's 2.3 litre mill (118kW/208Nm), the power-to· weight figures (12.2 vs 13.4) would suggest a performance advantage to the Mazda6.

And yet, when we attached the VBOX data acquisition system to the Mazda, the first three 0-100km/h runs failed to dip below 10 seconds. Admittedly, the Ma2da had less than 1000km on the odo, but its quickest pass of 9.73S only bettered the Mondeo's best by 0.23S. And on the 80'120km/h front, the Ford was actually qUicker (6.93 vs 7.08s).

However, that's not how it feels on road. We would expect that a fully run-in Mazda6 would likely edge out the Mondeo. That said, there is no longer a sizeable performance disparity between these two adversaries. In fact, it really doesn't matter what parameter you address: these two arch rivals are going to be neck and neck in any future comparison, at least if the Limited we drove is any indication.

In what ways does the new 6 differ from its predecessor? Apart from the carryover 2.0 litre engine, pretty much everything else has changed. The body is dramatically new, penned by Sato·san, whose past portfolio of designs includes MX·S, RX'7 and an RX-8 concept. 50 the prominent front wheel· arches aren't unexpected nor the smooth-flowing outline. The 18-inch alloys help impart a solid stance and the appearance of the car was highlighted further with a stunning, blemish-free paint finish.

The coupe·like roofline highlights a move towards increased aerodynamic efficiency, even if it does mean slightly restricted front and rear headroom in the Limited model, which gets a standardfit powered sunroof. However, kneeroom apparently increases by 20mm. Attention to aerodynamics has resulted in a car with a Cd of 0.27-0.28, depending on body· style, and NZ is taking all three versions: sedan, hatch and wagon. The result is a quieter car through the air, and more fuel efficient by almost 10 per cent. Changing to an electric steering set-up helped in this regard, evidently improving fuel consumption by up to two per cent, and while the 6 has feisty turn-in, it is eclipsed for involvement at the wheel by its rival, Mondeo, which has a hydraulic system.

As in the development of the new 2, the 6's body structure makes greater use of lightweight high-tensile steels, up from 42 to 49 per cent, and torsional stiffness improves as a result by 14-40 per cent, depending on body-style. The dimensions also increase modestly - wheelbase and length are up by SO-7smm and width rises by lsmm - and yet the body-shell is evidently lighter by 4.3kg. On a quick drive evaluation, we felt the dynamics of the Sporthatch Ltd were very similar to those of Mondeo: lots of grip, plenty of cornering confidence and precise responses to line adjustment using either throttle lift or mild brake application in the turn.

Without question, refinement improves and is a step up on the outgoing car, which was itself better than the original. Attention to panel gaps, improved sound deadening and suspension tweaking have produced a notably quieter ride Mazda claims 2.SdB less at 60km/h - despite the top model being shod with 22S/4SR18 rubber. And also on the refinement front, there's a new electric hatch release and self-closing mechanism. Seats are better bolstered and the leather is said to be less prone to becoming slippery over time. Both headlights and wipers have auto-on functions. The instruments and centre console are redesigned and look classier than ever.

You're probably wondering at this point why we haven't mentioned the new 2.S litre motor. Saving the best till last, of course. Essentially, this is a bored but primarily stroked version of the 2.3 litre engine, offering around 10 per cent more torque in the low-to-midrange revs. Power is up by just three kilowatts but is produced soorpm earlier, while torque rises by 19Nm. In concert with a claimed weight loss, it was evident, even in a green example, that the Mazda had the edge over the Mondeo for midrange muscle. Where higher revs are the order of the day for brisk progress in the Ford, the Mazda has decent pull from 3soorpm, and upshifting at sooorpm brings you back into the meat of the torque. Despite the Mazda having a gear less in its automatic transmission than the Mondeo, it wasn't missed and the paddle shifters compensated. At urban speeds, the engine urge felt effortless. But at 11.4 metres, the new car has an even larger turning circle (originally 10.8m).

So which is likely to come up trumps? Both are modern in their design approach - each is a stunning effort visually, inside and out- and they share a similar system that oversees the control of minor functions, in the case of the Mazda, the CF-Net (cross-functional network). Broadly speaking, there's as much occupant and luggage space in each. With the present line-up, the Mazda, with its superior powertrain and slight weight advantage, may edge ahead over the Mondeo, presuming the pricing is little changed, as Mazda indicates will be the case. But Ford has a couple of aces up its sleeve in the form of a brace of engine options: a 2.0 litre turbodiesel and turbocharged XRS petrol variant are soon to arrive. Truly, it will be game on in so many ways.

BT-50 commercialcare disclaimer

** is also available to new BT-50 owners where every scheduled service completed by Mazda specialist technicians for a 3 year/100,000km term (whichever wherever occurs first) will cost no more than $200 (incl. GST) per service for models built after 1 November 2012. *** 3,350kg applies to earlier models.

* whichever occurs first