Has Mazda redefined the grand tourer?

“It’s a driver’s car, aimed at the 30 to 50 age group, for people with high expectation jobs who need four seats. We believe that we have redefined the expression Grand Tourer.”

Mazda’s words, delivered during the February launch of the new MX-6 coupé in Miami. True or, as they used to say in the celebrated legal case Carlill v Carbolic Smoke Ball, ‘mere puff’?

We cannot fairly say. Not at this stage, not without having conducted a full road test. Why? Well if you drove a car with a claimed 0-62mph figure of 8.5s and top speed of 136 mph, on roads where the local police enforced the 35 and 55mph speed limits with devastating vigour, you would barely have scratched its surface, either. Worse, the track on which we were allowed to run the cars at reasonable speeds did little but highlight an inherent understeer trait that was as embarrassing to Mazda as it was irritating to the driver. Trying to get the car to turn in to 180 degree corners at higher speeds was like trying to persuade granny to do the can-can.

So what conclusions can be drawn from our all too brief first impressions? The MX-6’s MX-3-derived 2.5-litre injected twin cam V6 boasts 165bhp at 5600rpm, and 163 lb ft of torque at 4800. It’s a quiet, smooth engine, even if the power curve feels a little holey in places, and that’s allied to the sort of slick gearshift and light controls that one has come to expect from the Japanese manufacturer. It is not so much in outright performance that the MX-6 makes its mark, more in its relaxed manner and cruising gait. It’s an attractive car that makes few demands on the driver, while ensuring that he or she is well cossetted. The seats are comfortable, and there is reasonably sound accommodation in the back for those under six feet tall. Those over that will find head and neck room at a premium. Also on the comfort score, Mazda again offers an automatic option to the standard five-speed gearbox, in this instance a four-speed electronically controlled unit that saves weight over that offered (and proving surprisingly popular) in the MX-3.

After the success of its MX-5 and MX-3 models, niche marketed in the two-seat sportscar and two plus two sports coupé sectors respectively, the MX-6 moves in on territory currently occupied by Vauxhall’s Calibra, and below its range-leading RX-7 sibling. It is an undeniably attractive car, with striking looks and comfortable cabin, and should prove popular at £18,199 for the manual and £18,999 for the auto. On first acquaintance it feels like the sort of package that will satisfy those to whom aesthetics are more important than dynamics, but we cannot help but feel that most sporting drivers will echo our sentiment: that the MX-6 is really a car crying out for rear-wheel drive rather than its fashionable front-drive layout. That could truly have made it a driver’s car.

At the same time, Mazda also unveiled its new 626 range, which by its own admission attempts “to prove that the family car needn’t be dull and uninspiring”. I was always quite a fan of the old 626. I liked its looks and it was the ideal runabout, a car with good accommodation, manners and reliability and an ability to do all things with unobtrusive efficiency and complete lack of pretension.

As usual, the range offers saloon and hatchback versions with three all-new engine options a brace of four cylinder cars with 1.8i and 2.0i capacities, and the top-of-the-range model with the same 2.5 V6 as the MX-6. In fact the last named, available only in hatchback form, shares much with the MX-6, effectively giving the V6 buyer a two-car range to choose from even though Mazda would rather have it that the two types are totally different. The 626 hatchback actually has a marginally better Cd (0.29 to the MX-6’s 0.31) and though it weighs more (1280 kg to 1195) it’s claimed performance is identical.

The 626 is the more important car to Mazda, in terms of sales forecasts, since it is planned to sell six to every single MX-6 and the business user-chooser is expected to show keen interest. It carries on the tradition of its predecessor, both of the four-cylinder cars revealing a keenness to slog away from low revs, and better balance on the track than the V6 cars with their heavier power units. The V6 is also marginally stiffer in roll, thanks to a thicker front bar than the fours and the MX-6. ABS is standard on all models above the 1.8i, and though the performance differences between the two fours are minimal, the superior braking potential of the 2.0i model makes the extra cost justifiable. Prices start at £12,699 for the 1.8i 4-Door GLX saloon and top out at £18,799 for the 2,5i five-door GT hatchback, modest increases over the superseded models that represent good value for money. DJT