The Independent Road Test: It's the quiet one they have to watch: Roger Bell salutes the new Mazda, silently stalking its luxury rivals

What price the next best thing to silence? In Mazda's case, pounds 24,399. Unless Rolls-Royce has better muted its rumbly engines since I last drove one, the Xedos 9, new flagship of Mazda's expanding range of niche models and a hot contender in the prestige sector, challenges the pounds 105,000 Silver Spirit for quietness.

Even the pounds 42,000 Lexus LS400, scourge of Europe's luxury cars, is not much quieter. Whisper the word: refinement is the forte of the latest Japanese contender to throw a silk gauntlet at Europe's grandees in the prestige sector.

The 2.5-litre Xedos 9, shaped by Mazda's German-based design studio (to make it European in flavour, according to the blurb), is a bigger, portlier version of the 2.0-litre Xedos 6, which provides all the styling cues, including the slinky visage. Being a size larger - more 5-series BMW than 3-series - the Xedos 9 is also roomier than its prettier sibling. But, though the boot is huge, legroom in the back is less generous than it is in, say, a Ford Granada or Citroen XM.

What impresses rather more than the Xedos 9's accommodation, which is nothing special by class standards, is the car's visual and tactile quality, underlined by doors that shut with a satisfying clunk, switches that work with snappy precision, and mirror-finish paintwork. Efficient sealing and lashings of sound insulation help to quell wind whoosh and tyre roar.

Without leather-and-walnut trim (expensive options), the cloth-and- plastic cabin is sombre and smart rather than richly opulent. The fit and finish of the furnishings, however, are impeccable. Mazda backs its quality promise with a three-year warranty (compared with the 12 months, unlimited mileage offered by Mercedes). Paintwork is covered for eight years.

Standard equipment will also impress Mercedes buyers accustomed to paying extra for what they might regard as essentials. The price includes two airbags, pre-tensioned seat belts, air-conditioning, cruise control, an alarm/immobiliser and excellent hi-fi, besides all the usual gadgets - powered windows, mirrors, and sunroof. Mazda also emphasises the car's rigidity and crash-hardiness.

Although adequately powered by a 2.5-litre V6 engine, similar to that in Mazda's MX-6 coupe (and Ford's upcoming American-built Probe), performance is not especially strong. Even when the engine is raced, with barely a murmur to disturb the peace, acceleration is no better than brisk. It is, however, effortlessly smooth. Because the engine and transmission are electronically linked, the automatic gearbox (there is no manual alternative) shifts between ratios imperceptibly, even with the accelerator hard down. 'Sport' or 'economy' modes are selected automatically, according to how you drive. On wet or slippery roads, a traction control system prevents the driven front wheels from spinning, just as anti-lock brakes avert skidding.

The dignified, smooth-riding Xedos 9 is not an exciting car - leisurely performance and soft handling deny it charisma - but it is a pleasant, relaxing, long-distance mile-eater. It is also competitively priced against comparable BMWs and Mercs, though several six-cylinder rivals of humbler stock - from Ford, Renault, Rover and Vauxhall, for instance - are cheaper. Mazda's 145 dealers will be relying heavily on perceived quality to sell 600 Xedos 9s this year.

Comparisons

Alfa Romeo 164 3.0 V6, pounds 25,400. Charismatic Italian thoroughbred with cracking looks, fine performance from vocal V6 engine, and sharp handling. Not as quiet or refined as Mazda but more entertaining to drive. Despite reputation for high-mileage reliability, depreciation is heavy. Add pounds 1,400 for automatic transmission, but expect discount on total price.

BMW 525 SE auto, pounds 26,950. Widely regarded as the benchmark at this level - but watch out for price-increasing extras. Faster and more rewarding to drive than the Mazda, but not so quiet or refined. Fine handling. A wide range of 5-series models, from slow 518i to super-quick M5, costing over pounds 50,000.

Ford Granada EFi Ghia, pounds 20,070. (Same price for four-door saloon and five-door hatchback.) Ford's largest car, to be revamped soon, is roomy and well equipped. Dated, humdrum engine lacks punch and smoothness. More powerful 24-valve option costs thousands more. Nothing special to drive.

Renault Safrane 3.0 RXE, pounds 26,000. Renault's lacklustre flagship is a comfortable, roomy, well-equipped five-door hatchback. Air-conditioning and heated seats are standard. Modest performance similar to Mazda's, handling too soft to excite. 3.0 RT better value for money at pounds 21,000.

Volvo 850 T5 Turbo, pounds 23,995. Square-cut styling belies cracking performance from 225 horsepower five-cylinder engine. The snag? Poor economy. Aimed at press-on enthusiasts who won't mind shifting their own gears (no auto option).

Specifications

Mazda Xedos 9, pounds 24,399. Engine: 2497cc 24-valve V6 developing 168bhp at 6,000rpm. Transmission: four-speed automatic, front-wheel drive. Performance: 0-60mph in 10.8 seconds, top speed 130mph, fuel consumption 24-30mpg unleaded.

(Photograph omitted)

Arts and Entertainment
TVShow's twee, safe facade smashed by ice cream melting scandal
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Lisa Kudrow, Courtney Cox and Jennifer Anniston reunite for a mini Friends sketch on Jimmy Kimmel Live
tv
Life and Style
tech
PROMOTED VIDEO
Sport
Alexis Sanchez celebrates after scoring his first goal for Arsenal in the Champions League qualifier against Besiktas
sportChilean's first goal for the club secures place in draw for Champions League group stages
News
i100
News
Down time: an employee of Google uses the slide to get to the canteen
scienceBosses are inventing surprising ways of making us work harder
Arts and Entertainment
Amis: 'The racial situation in the US is as bad as it’s been since the Civil War'
booksAuthor says he might come back across Atlantic after all
Extras
indybest
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Project Manager (infrastructure, upgrades, rollouts)

    £38000 - £45000 Per Annum + excellent benefits package: Clearwater People Solu...

    MI Analyst and SQL Developer (SQL, SSAS, SSRS)

    £28000 - £32500 Per Annum + 28 days holiday, pension, discounts and more: Clea...

    Creative Content Executive (writer, social media, website)

    £30000 - £35000 Per Annum + 25 days holiday and bonus: Clearwater People Solut...

    Reception Teachers needed for September 2014

    £110 - £130 per day + Competitive rates of pay: Randstad Education Reading: Re...

    Day In a Page

    Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

    Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

    Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
    Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

    Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

    The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
    America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

    America’s new apartheid

    Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone
    Amazon is buying Twitch for £600m - but why do people want to watch others playing Xbox?

    What is the appeal of Twitch?

    Amazon is buying the video-game-themed online streaming site for £600m - but why do people want to watch others playing Xbox?
    Tip-tapping typewriters, ripe pongs and slides in the office: Bosses are inventing surprising ways of making us work harder

    How bosses are making us work harder

    As it is revealed that one newspaper office pumps out the sound of typewriters to increase productivity, Gillian Orr explores the other devices designed to motivate staff
    Manufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl records

    Hard pressed: Resurgence in vinyl records

    As the resurgence in vinyl records continues, manufacturers and their outdated machinery are struggling to keep up with the demand
    Tony Jordan: 'I turned down the chance to research Charles Dickens for a TV series nine times ... then I found a kindred spirit'

    A tale of two writers

    Offered the chance to research Charles Dickens for a TV series, Tony Jordan turned it down. Nine times. The man behind EastEnders and Life on Mars didn’t feel right for the job. Finally, he gave in - and found an unexpected kindred spirit
    Could a later start to the school day be the most useful educational reform of all?

    Should pupils get a lie in?

    Doctors want a later start to the school day so that pupils can sleep later. Not because teenagers are lazy, explains Simon Usborne - it's all down to their circadian rhythms
    Prepare for Jewish jokes – as Jewish comedians get their own festival

    Prepare for Jewish jokes...

    ... as Jewish comedians get their own festival
    SJ Watson: 'I still can't quite believe that Before I Go to Sleep started in my head'

    A dream come true for SJ Watson

    Watson was working part time in the NHS when his debut novel, Before I Go to Sleep, became a bestseller. Now it's a Hollywood movie, too. Here he recalls the whirlwind journey from children’s ward to A-list film set
    10 best cycling bags for commuters

    10 best cycling bags for commuters

    Gear up for next week’s National Cycle to Work day with one of these practical backpacks and messenger bags
    Paul Scholes: Three at the back isn’t working yet but given time I’m hopeful Louis van Gaal can rebuild Manchester United

    Paul Scholes column

    Three at the back isn’t working yet but given time I’m hopeful Louis van Gaal can rebuild Manchester United
    Kate Bush, Hammersmith Apollo music review: A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it

    Kate Bush shows a voice untroubled by time

    A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it
    Robot sheepdog technology could be used to save people from burning buildings

    The science of herding is cracked

    Mathematical model would allow robots to be programmed to control crowds and save people from burning buildings
    Tyrant: Is the world ready for a Middle Eastern 'Dallas'?

    This tyrant doesn’t rule

    It’s billed as a Middle Eastern ‘Dallas’, so why does Fox’s new drama have a white British star?