WAGONS have always been praised as a reliable family transporter, that no-nonsense middle-of-the-roader that puts its head down and gets the job done.
It has little use for the high revs and glamour of hot hatches or the pretensions of some SUVs. It tut-tuts at the precociousness of those cutesy small cars and frowns easily at luxury German offerings with upturned noses.
They have to be cajoled into being nice to twin cab utes, talked down from sneering at 4WDs and those lazy sedans well,… not even in the same league.
Wagons have spent a lifetime driving underneath the radar using their schoolmarmish looks and practical comforts to complete deliveries from A to B. They have long spurned the advances of eager designers looking to pretty them up - they are after all no one's floozy.
Well the team at Mazda must know a few more pretty words than the rest because their third generation Mazda6 wagon is anything but a shrinking violet. With a bold new design, powerful engine and an inclusions list to brag about Mazda has pushed the wagon front and centre and we have a feeling it is going to develop a liking for the limelight.
Mazda has raised its game when it comes to quality, outfitting the wagon with soft-touch plastics, trendy accents and nifty space solutions. Instruments are simple but effective - more practical than wow - but the overall feel is one of class and comfort.
The leather seats are stylish and nicely cushioned although they do fail to meld into the small of the back.
This new load lugger, now using the wheelbase of the CX-5, has slightly less space in the second row but can still easily accommodate passengers in excess of 180cm.
The boot, too, at 451 litres is smaller than you would expect but will happily deal with the trappings of a growing family.
On the road
The Mazda6 range is sporting two new engines, a new chassis and gearbox and new safety technology.
It certainly feels like a new car to drive but one with the same efficiency, power and pleasure that made the outgoing model such a runaway success.
The steering feels a bit light but the wagon still manages to negotiate tricky corners with determination while a suspension tuned more for comfort than sport helps ensure a seamless ride. The turning circle is excellent and it is both nimble around town and welcoming of a leadfoot on open stretches.
There is a bit of turbo-lag in the diesel and the 19-inch wheels on our top spec model created some road noise but all in all driving this Mazda6 wagon was a pleasantly effortless experience.
What do you get?
The Japanese giant seems to have finally taken a hit from its European counterparts equipping the '6 with all the gizmos and gadgetry we have come to expect in a car. Sat-nav,
push-button start, heated wing-mirrors, rain-sensing wipers, cruise control, shift paddles, a reversing camera and Bluetooth connectivity are standard across the range.
Our top-of-the-range Atenza also featured 19-inch alloys, front and rear parking sensors, LED daytime running lights, Bi-xenon headlamps, sunroof, keyless entry, heated seats and a list of active safety features including adaptive cruise control, blind-spot monitor, auto-dipping high beam, lane departure warning and collision detection system.
Estate cars are growing in popularity once more lapping up buyers who want a bit more space than a sedan but are not too keen on a SUV.
There are a host of respectable competitors vying for a bite of the market including the Ford Mondeo Wagon (from $41,240), Volkswagen Passat (from $43,990), Skoda Octavia (from $35,990) and Hyundai i40 Tourer (from $34,490).
Despite the smaller cabin and boot space, the Mazda6 wagon still deals efficiently with the paraphernalia of family travel. Mazda's designers have moved the A-pillars and repositioned the side mirrors to improve vision while an enviable list of safety features help with peace of mind. The Mazda6 is also equipped with a brake energy recovery system (i-eloop) which stores the charge recovered in a capacitor and uses it to run ancillaries - which was the subject of a recall last week.
Mazda says its SkyActiv Technology, which sees the diesel engine using a lower compression ratio than conventional engines, and a two-stage turbocharger, has optimised efficiency and economy. Official figures stand at a remarkable 5.4 litres/100km.
We hovered closer to 6.2 litres/100km which remains a figure to be proud of. Insurance costs are middle of the range while Mazda offers a three years/unlimited kilometre warranty. Service intervals are at 10,000km/six months.
This wagon is a leaner, meaner machine with more sculpted rear and sides and a long low front that adds to the overall appeal. The trademark grille has been spruced up, the lighting updated and the new cutting edge style is sure to find favour.
This latest addition is likely to ruffle the feathers of the competition. The wagon drives well, looks good and is packed with features well in excess of the price-tag. Mazda has tipped it to be a class leader and it certainly has the get up and go to do just that.
What matters most
What we liked: The wagon is such a pleasant surprise with its all-round performance, good looks and excellent inclusions.
What we'd like to see: A navigation system which doesn't lock up when details are being entered on the move.
Warranty: Mazda offers a three years/unlimited kilometre warranty. Service intervals are at 10,000km/six months.
Model: Mazda6 Atenza Wagon.
Details: Four-door, front-wheel drive medium-size wagon.
Transmission: Six-speed auto
Engine: 2.2 litre in-line four-cylinder 16-valve DOHC intercooled turbo diesel generating maximum power of 129kW @ 4500rpm and peak torque of 420Nm @ 2000rpm.
Consumption: 5.4 litres/100km (combined average ).
Bottom line: From $41,650 ($50,960 for Atenza as tested).