Engine: 2.3 litre petrol
Performance: 0-62 mph in 6.6 seconds, 27.7 mpg
Worth considering: Ford Mondeo ST220, Subaru Legacy 3.0 R spec.B, Vauxhall Vectra VXR
This is the third Mazda we've subjected to The Verdict in the space of a few months. The previous two, the MX-5 and the 6 estate, were representatives of two distinct strains of the Mazda breed - the sporty Mazdas and the sensible Mazdas.
The sporty Mazdas gather rave reviews; respected by enthusiasts, they are objects of desire. Not much of this rubs off on the sensible Mazdas - saloons, estates and hatchbacks bought as alternatives to equally sensible Nissans and Toyotas - even if models like the standard 6 are actually fairly zippy to drive.
Mazda seems to have got fed up with this state of affairs, because it has decided to introduce a new, hot version of the 6, the MPS, and it is this model on which our readers pass judgement this week.
You may not think that a warmed-over Mazda 6 is worth getting excited about, but when you see the changes that Mazda has made, you have to sit up and take notice. There's the engine, for a start. It's only a 2.3 litre four but it produces 260 PS, so it's a member of the 100 horsepower per litre club. That still marks a motor out as something special.
Then there's the body. You can't buy a 6 MPS hatchback or estate because only the saloon has been given the required stiffening treatment. And the MPS has four-wheel drive to help it put all that power down, too. In fact, the MPS is not just a mildly tweaked version of the standard car - it's almost a full Monty extreme makeover of the Impreza/Evo sort.
These measures work. The 6 MPS's controls retain the characteristic accuracy that one has come to expect from Mazda - although not the lightness. The engine delivers excellent performance and sounds very agreeable as it goes about its work.
I think the snag, though, is that many of the people in the market for this sort of car won't want it merely to sound pleasant - they will want it to advertise its power in a more obvious manner to the car's occupants, to passers-by and to rival road racers. That goes not just for the way the 6 MPS sounds but the way it looks.
Mazda seems proud of its new "moist silver metallic" paint, but something like that shocking orange that is popular on the Focus ST would do a better job of getting the car noticed. Inside, too, you'd have a hard job distinguishing the MPS from the standard 6 version.
So there you have it. The Mazda 6 MPS: a considerable talent but one that may just be a bit too understated for its own good.
Mike Allibone, 44
Manager, Codicote, Hertfordshire
USUAL CARS: MAZDA MX5 AND PEUGEOT 307 ESTATE
Wow! A real wolf in sheep's clothing. The exterior styling is understated and gives little indication of the performance capabilities of this car. It accelerates eagerly in all gears, even when cruising in 6th. The clutch feels pretty heavy and could become
tiresome in traffic, the steering and gear change feel precise which gives you the confidence to push the car along. The handling is excellent although the ride is a bit hard and it suffers from quite a bit of wind noise. The interior is very smart with comfortable and good-fitting black leather seats, the red dials on a black background look great and provide a sporty look.
Peter Brown, 58, and Claudine Ellis
Surveyor and manager, Berkhamsted
USUAL CARS: MERCEDES-BENZ CLS AND VW GOLF
First impressions give the car the air of a souped-up saloon, with muscular bodylines, twin exhausts and alloy wheels, and driving it confirms that it is. I thought that it was just a bit too bulbous in appearance to be beautiful. It is fairly sophisticated technically, with four-wheel drive, a six-speed close ratio manual gearbox, and other refinements. Driving it confirms the external impression - it is fast, and the sports seats are useful in supporting the driver in what is very much a sports car internally, with good instrumentation. Claudine thought it was too macho internally, and the ride in the back a bit too firm.
Morten Hussmann, 38
Media relations manager, Wendover
USUAL CAR: AUDI A6 AVANT
This is Mazda's attempt to wrap up a sports car in a saloon. Although Mazda has made the front quite masculine, there's nothing sporty about the rest of the design, and the interior lacks that sporty feel. It's functional, however, and there's plenty of space both on the back and front seat. You immediately feel that you're driving a mean machine. It's fast, lively and has a hard suspension which could be unpleasant for back-seat passengers on longer journeys. The six-speed gearbox is smooth and provides lots of action. It would appeal to the family man who likes a lot of power, and who doesn't want to stand out.
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