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Life by the sea isn't all plain sailing. There are drawbacks - such as a 140-mile round commute to work every day, for starters. The drive from Brighton to central London is as varied and demanding as they come: 45 miles of high-speed motorway cruising followed by 25 miles of stop-start traffic as you gradually spear your way into the heart of the capital. It's not the most exciting of road test routes, but it's certainly a good means of assessing a car's all-round abilities - which makes it the perfect proving ground for the sole family saloon on our fleet, the Mazda 6.



Since our first report back in October 2002, the metallic grey 2.0 TS2 model has lived up to its early promise by clocking up another 6,000 miles without complaint, bringing the total on the odometer up to a healthy 10,500 miles. In fact, if anything, the car feels even stronger and more eager to please than ever. The 2.0-litre engine has loosened up nicely, delivering enough low to mid-range punch and point-to-point pace to give many hot hatches a run for their money, while the chassis still sparkles in bends.

Although the slick-shifting gearbox is a joy to use, its closely spaced ratios are more suited to B-road blasts than trips along the motorway - at 70mph, the four-cylinder pulls a comparatively peaky 3,250rpm. This, combined with the fact that the powerplant is not the quietest of units, conspires to make the Mazda's cabin a little noisier than it ought to be, especially on less than smooth surfaces where tyre roar becomes a factor.

If you can put up with a slight lack of refinement, however, then the 6 makes fantastic family transport. Our TS2 model comes equipped with practically every labour-saving device a high-mileage commuter could ask for - from steering wheel-mounted stereo controls and a six-disc CD changer in the dash, to cruise control and electric seat adjustment. The cockpit's light controls and excellent visibility help ease the pain of heavy traffic, and the low-slung driving position and comfortable, leather-trimmed chairs leave you feeling refreshed after hours behind the wheel. For ease of use, few of the Mazda's class rivals come close.



There's little to criticise about the car's dashboard layout, either - although I'm not alone in thinking that the clear plastic washers surrounding the heater controls and unpleasant orange back-lighting spoil the overall effect. But these seem like minor gripes when you consider how practical the Japanese machine is overall. The boot is huge and features a handy remote lever mechanism that lowers the rear seats to create a wide, totally flat load floor that would shame an estate.

And even with a belly-full of Birmingham balti straining at our belt straps, there was more than enough room for myself and four friends to make the trip down from the Midlands back to Brighton for some New Year celebrations. Perhaps the most universally praised aspect of the 6's design, though, is its European-influenced styling. Family car drivers, owners of hot hatches and even coupé fans - it seems that none of you are immune from the sporty four-door's visual charms.

Unfortunately, those very same good looks have taken a bit of a bashing of late. Since reporting some damage to the rear bumper in Issue 724, the car's backside has been subjected to yet another scrape - this time while parked outside my flat just off the seafront. Hopefully, that will be the last such incident before we wave a fond farewell to the Mazda later this year. Euan Sey

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On fleet since: August 2002
Price when new: £16,496
Running costs: 57ppm
Mileage: 10,485/30.7mpg
Costs to date: None
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+ Strong, smooth engine, huge boot space, extremely clever flat folding rear seats, styling
- Comparatively noisy engine can be intrusive, dash lighting, surrounds on heater controls
 
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