A generation ago, the Mazda6 would be a large car and we'd load it to the gunwales with luggage and head out on motoring holidays. Now, it's a mid-size car mainly because you lot started eating fast foods and steroid-infused chicken and went up four dress sizes and needed another 1m in vehicle length.
In another 30 years the Ford F350 dual cab - electric, hydrogen or nuclear powered, of course - may be the general purpose family vehicle unless we seriously start laying off the carbs.
Live with the Mazda6 for a week and you'd wonder why the traditional six-cylinder large car is necessary. Supplied for test as a hatchback - a sedan and wagon are also sold - the biggest Mazda car comes across as a very capable, refined and flexible family mount.
Better, it's fun to drive and my father never said that about his HR Holden wagon in 1967. Even my mother never used the word "comfortable" in reference to the car that unintentionally provided one of the core values of our family life through the 1960s and 1970s.
Childhood memories are predominantly about holidays - what you did, who you met and where you went. People didn't much fly to Bali when I was growing up, but we did live out of and share holidays from the family car. The car was the family's Araldite.
Can the Mazda6 do the same with this generation of young parents?
The $41,415 price here is for the more salubrious Mazda6 Luxury Sports, but don't become glum. Prices start at $27,310 and the core features of the car remain. Pick the hatch - about $1000 more than the sedan - for excellent flexibility that adapts to your needs.
The big yawn of the open hatch swallows two mountain bikes or an assortment of ports equipment for the kids, stuff for the house, prams and cots ... you name it. Yes, the wagon (add about $3300 over the sedan) takes the same but I think there's something a bit special about an accommodating sedan-lookalike that fits a lot of cargo.
The test car is a manual and that's just pointless in Australia. It also rivals cars that come only as automatics, making direct comparisons difficult. It was, however, a great drive and the left leg has now been exercised so its's now the same size as my right leg, but please pay the extra $2000 for the automatic.
Spec for spec the Mazda6 here outclasses the Falcon and Commodore. It also looks classier inside. The main rivals are Camry, Mondeo and Liberty but it will stretch appeal into the Aurion, Commodore, Falcon and even Nissan Maxima set.
Features of the Mazda6 include the full suite of electronic safety aids, leather, big alloy wheels, premium sound, climate aircon and sat-nav. It's an impressive list enhanced thanks to Mazda's good name for build quality and style.
I've put this up against cars with bigger engines because though the Mazda6 gets only 2.5 litres and there's four cylinders, it does a commendable job of hauling four adults. No, not faster than the six-cylinder rivals but perfectly adequate.
The drivetrain is carried over from the previous model but has grown from 2.3 litres. Look at the specs and there's nothing mind-blowing in its technology. In its simplicity lies the prospect of reasonable service and repair costs. It gets 125kW/226Nm to the front wheels and is asked to haul 1597kg dry. It does it without fuss and quietly, and while you can crank it up to make more noise and make the wing mirrors whistle. it is no race car.
There was a chance to equip this car with stop-start technology but Mazda obviously didn't deem that necessary for Australia. Like the engine, the six-speed manual is no earth-shattering box of tricks and neither is the suspension that follows the double-wishbone front and multi-link rear practice.
Mazda has hones its mid-size cars over the years and it's getting better all the time, though clearly the company is steering away from dishing up a radical garage filler. And a lot of its appeal lies in the fact that it's not over the top, that it is functional, has a record of being durable and efficient to run and at the end of the time it sends with your family, will return a respectable trade-in value.
Just look at it... it is quite pretty, well proportioned and is not too big, not too small. Little wonder that with cars like the 6 - and the 3 and 2 - Mazda is solidly bringing up the monthly sales while some others get a roller-coaster ride.
The hatch doesn't look like a hatch and that's part of its appeal - some hatches look a bit ungainly and for proof, look at early Saabs that had a heavy tail at odds with the low-profile bonnet. Yet you really know the Mazda is a hatch when you open the long lid. The cabin, too, is very well done. The use of materials and plastics has stepped up another notch over the past five years and now is almost European in its subtly.
Soft-feel dash, soft leather with distinct pleats to reflect the liberal cushioning, gauges that spin and illuminate with a turn of the ignition and a similar "hello" message that runs across the audio screen are touches that impress.
This could be worth a lot more money than Mazda is charging.
Expect the maximum safety in any family car. The Mazda6 delivers with a five-star crash rating, six airbags, electronic stability control, four-wheel discs with ABS and brake distribution, brake assist and even a hill holder that will hold the car on a slope for a few seconds while your clutch leg gets its act together. The basic suite of safety extends down the Mazda6 range so if that's your prerequisite, then all the models become strong contenders.
First impressions centre on the fluidity of the driveline and the quietness of the car. Even though it's a manual, the clutch is perfectly cushioned as it mates the cogs so there's no driveline harshness to make the kids whinge about your driving.
The steering is similarly dampened and that's a good thing - it's light - and a bad thing - poor road feel. Clearly, though there is a reach out by Mazda to the driver who likes a bit of reaction from the chassis, there is also the glove that surrounds it - for the benefit of the less-inspired owner - that masks too much rawness.
For a front-drive biggish car, however, it steers really well and feels poised and confident. Abuse it and some flaws surface but, get real, this is not a car that needs to be given the stick. I also liked the suspension compliance and engine quietness of the car. The only downside was tyre noise on Australia's coarse-chip bitumen.
Tyre selection can be critical here - and in the Mazda3 - so if you live in an area with such road surfacing, try the car out first before you buy. In saying that, the low-profile tyres of this model may be the primary cause. Less-expensive Mazda6 models have a higher profile and may be less affected.
Difficult to fault and a better buy than its immediate rivals. But it's not cheap as tested here and lesser Mazda6 versions are likely to offer better value.
MAZDA6 HATCH LUXURY SPORTS
Engine: 2.5-litre, 4-cyl
Power: 125kW @ 6000rpm
Torque: 226Nm @ 4000rpm
Fuel: Standard unleaded
Fuel tank: 64 litres
Economy: 8.5 litres/100km (official), 9.2 litres/100km (tested)
Greenhouse: 204g/km (Corolla: 175g/km)
Transmission: 6-speed manual; front-drive
Brakes: 4-wheel discs, ESC, ABS, EBD, hill assist
Turning circle: 11.4m
Suspension: Front: double wishbones, coils; rear: multi-link, coils
Wheels: 18-inch alloy, 225/45R18 tyres; full-size spare
Dimensions: 4735mm (l) 1795mm (w) 1440mm (h)
Tow (max): 1500kg
Ford Mondeo Titanium auto - $42,740 (80/100)
Hyundai i45 auto - $37,990 (84/100)
Subaru Liberty Sports Prem auto - $43,490 (85/100)
Volkswagen Passat 118TSI - $38,990 (84/100)