I have been spending the past week in north Germany with a Mazda 6 as my hire car. Since these cars compete very closely in the market, I thought it might be interesting to share my impressions of the Mazda 6 - a 150 PS 2.2 diesel saloon - and compare them with the Accord Type-S diesel I have run for the past 15,000 miles at home in France. I have done about 500 miles in the Mazda, a mix of motorway trips to and from the airport, main roads and country back roads, so enough to get a decent impression of the car. I actually looked closely at the previous generation of the Mazda but decided against it because it was about to be replaced and felt less “premium” than the Honda. Mazda were also going through some well-publicized DPF issues with the previous version of their 2.2-litre diesel engine. The first thing that strikes you with the latest Mazda is its sheer size: at nearly 4.9m (16 feet) long, it's a big car. That translates into more rear seat legroom and a bigger (and more evenly shaped) boot than in the Accord, although those aren’t top considerations for me. But its size also makes it a very tight fit in some hotel and multi-storey car parks and this might put me off buying one. Inside, I still find the Accord to be better finished and my Type-S is better equipped than the version of the Mazda (a CenterLine spec in Germany) I had on hire. But I did like the Mazda’s improved Bluetooth integration over the 8th gen Accord, including the ability to stream music from my iPod Touch, with the Gracenote music information even being picked up for Spotify offline playlists. I haven’t tested the latest equipment in the Civic or the CR-V though, so Honda may well have caught up here already. On the road though, I have to say I was very impressed with the Mazda. The Skyactiv-D engine is really good and for my money a better unit than the i-DEC unit on the Accord. It has a wider usable rev range, picking up strongly with no perceptible lag from under 1,500 RPM and pulling through to 5,000 revs. The Honda engine is excellent when cruising but much noisier and thrashier when accelerating hard than the Mazda engine, which feels closer to a petrol unit. The 6 was also noticeably more economical than the Accord Type-S, in which I have averaged just over 50 MPG. In the Mazda I got close to 58 MPG, even with some 90+ mph cruising on the autobahn. In terms of handling and ride comfort, it’s probably unfair to compare the two cars directly: the Type-S has firmer sports suspension and 18” wheels whereas the Mazda model I drove was on 17” rims and had standard suspension. Unsurprisingly therefore the Mazda felt a bit softer with more roll in corners, but was still pretty impressive as a package, it just didn’t have the crispness of my Honda. If I was buying now, it would be a much tougher choice than it was in the spring of 2012 when I ordered my Accord. The size of the 6 would still concern me, but if Mazda put the 175PS/420Nm version of the diesel (as offered on the 6 and the CX-5) into the new version of the 3 which is coming at the end of this year that could make a cracking car. It will in any case be very interesting to see how the Accord story plays out in Europe and how the 9th gen – if we get it in France with a diesel engine – moves Honda’s game on. Julian.