Every now and again, a car comes along that you’d consider buying purely for the engine under the bonnet. Usually that’s something like a fire-breathing BMW M5, or a high-revving Honda S2000 – but oddly in this case, it’s a diesel SUV.
You’ll have to bear with me here, but I haven’t taken leave of my senses. The 3.3-litre straight-six engine under the bonnet of our Mazda CX-60 really is that good – and in this day and age, it’s also something of a dying breed.
As car makers come under more stringent emissions regulations, most of them are abandoning the smooth, tuneful six-cylinder engines that we’ve been used to seeing. Mercedes is rapidly removing them completely from its line-up. For Audi, too, they’re gradually disappearing.
Even BMW isn’t safe: you can still buy a BMW X3 powered by one of its famous straight-sixes, but you’ll need to hand over nearly £57,000 for the privilege. So if you want a sonorous six-cylinder under the bonnet of your new car, but don’t want to spend a fortune in the process, where do you go?
Enter the Mazda CX-60: you simply cannot get a new car with a six-cylinder engine for less money than this one. It is, dare I say it, a bit of a bargain – and probably reason enough to pick the CX-60 over something like an Audi Q5 or BMW X3.
Surprisingly too, you’re not throwing fuel economy out of the window for the sake of it. Our CX-60 – the more powerful of the two diesel options – hits 54.3mpg on the combined cycle. An entry-level Audi Q5 with a smaller 2.0-litre diesel manages 44.1mpg.
After 7,000 miles behind the wheel of our car, I can back up those figures: if you’re gentle, it’s easy to coax the CX-60 above a baffling 50mpg in the real world. Quite honestly, I don’t know how Mazda has done it, but I’m glad they have.
So where’s the catch? Well, you might only get a lowly four-cylinder Audi or BMW for the price of the Mazda, but you’re getting roughly the same performance for the money and a posher badge.
What’s more, with either of those German rivals you’re getting a properly premium product. The materials and fit and finish are a match for the Audi, but its infotainment system just isn’t as snazzy or feature-rich as the BMW’s.
When you’re driving the CX-60, too, there are some causes for raised eyebrows. The engine might sound fabulous, but the Mazda’s drivetrain doesn’t half make some peculiar noises – particularly when crawling along in slow-moving traffic. Similarly noisy in our car is the suspension, which during low-speed manoeuvres – such as turning onto a sloped driveway – creaks and groans like a staircase in an old house.
Being kind for a minute, these things feel a bit like teething problems. Almost everything about the CX-60 is new from the ground up: it sits on a brand new platform, has a brand new engine, a brand new automatic gearbox and a brand new 48-volt mild hybrid system. All that will inevitably come with a few quirks to iron out – but if you’re about to trade in your Mercedes GLC for a CX-60, it’s the sort of thing you might notice.
So after our first six months with the Mazda, would we swap it for a more modestly-powered German rival? Personally I wouldn’t, despite the CX-60’s occasional foibles. Engine aside, there’s lots of things I prefer about the Mazda.
I suspect the engineers in Hiroshima won’t thank me for saying this, but I like the sheer heft of the CX-60. It’s not actually much bigger than an Audi Q5, but to drive, it almost feels like a car of the next size up. When the Mazda first arrived I reckoned it felt like an Audi Q7 that had been shrunk in the wash. The Q5, by comparison, feels more like a big hatchback.
I like the way the Mazda looks, too. Its long bonnet was designed with this particular engine in mind and – while it does add to the length of the car without increasing the interior space – it gives the CX-60 a more aesthetically pleasing silhouette than some other SUVs I could mention.
If I’m totally honest though, it’s all about that engine for me. It’s so effortlessly torquey that you rarely find yourself more than tickling the accelerator pedal – and when you do, you’re rewarded with instantaneous acceleration and a warm, pleasing growl to accompany it.
It’s so enjoyable that I wouldn’t mind if it drank fuel like a 747, but lead-footed as I am, I’ve never managed to get below 40mpg – and believe me I’ve tried.
So there you have it – six months in and the Mazda and I are still getting on like a house on fire. Let’s hope it stays that way.ac