Britain, as the old saying goes, is a nation of shop-keepers.

Whether that’s still true or not is perhaps open to debate, but it’s certainly true that we Brits still like a good estate car.

Mazda’s offering in the estate car market arrives in the handsome form of the Mazda 6 Tourer, styled with the company’s ‘Kodo’ design ethos and bristling with a multitude of fuel efficiency technologies under the ‘SkyActiv’ banner.

More a collection of principles rather than a focus on any one particular technology, SkyActiv starts with the creation of a strong yet light-weight chassis and body structure, and continues with the introduction of various systems to help optimise overall efficiency and performance.

For instance, i-stop, Mazda’s stop/start system, keeps track of the position of the pistons and switches off the engine at the precise moment that makes for a smooth and rapid restart – in just 0.35 of a second for the petrol engines, in fact, and 0.40 for the diesels.

Meanwhile, i-Eloop, a brake-energy recuperation system, uses the car’s momentum to charge a capacitor (more durable than a set of batteries) whenever the driver’s foot is taken off the accelerator.  It can be fully charged in around 10 seconds, and this power is then used to drive the car’s electrical systems, reducing the load on the alternator and therefore improving fuel efficiency.

Mazda say these two systems combined can yield economy improvements of up to 10%.  Clever.

The Mazda 6 is offered with a choice of two petrol engines, both with 2.0-litres but with power outputs of 145PS or 165PS, plus two 2.2-litre diesel units in either 150PS or 175PS guises.

We chose the 175PS 2.2D for one simple reason: it’s an absolute cracker of an engine.

It features an unusually low compression ratio of just 14:1 and this results not only in more efficient combustion but also exceptional refinement.  Indeed, so smooth is it that, even at the red-line, what little noise enters the cabin could easily be mistaken for that from a six-cylinder petrol unit.

It’s punchy, too, its twin-turbo layout (one small turbo, one large) imbuing it with the sensation of being permanently on-song.  Mash the pedal into the carpet from rest and 62mph will arrive in just 8.0 seconds.

But it’s the Tourer’s in-gear performance that really impresses.  Not just because slower-moving traffic is despatched quickly, but more because the 2.2’s willing delivery and refined nature means overtakes are executed smoothly and calmly.

The same can be said of the six-speed manual gearbox.  Bestowed with a satisfyingly stubby gear lever and a beautifully balanced short throw, rifling your way through the ratios is a real joy.

This subtle sporting theme makes itself felt through the handling, too.  The Tourer’s light weight allows it to respond with finesse to changes of direction, aided and abetted by the quick steering with just 2.57 turns lock-to-lock, quicker even than an MX-5.

At parking speeds, it’s effortlessly manoeuvrable with an exceptionally tight turning circle, while the reversing camera and front and rear parking sensors of the Sport model make slotting into a multi-story car park a cinch.

On the road, surface imperfections are quietly filtered out, and even larger bumps and pot-holes are quickly supressed without spoiling the atmosphere of quiet calm in the cabin, although we will say the larger 19-inch wheels of the Sport model do produce a touch more tyre roar than we’d like.

From inside, the high waistline creates a cocooning sensation of security, while the wide range of adjustment for both seats and steering wheel makes it easy to settle yourself in for a long journey.

The instruments are elegant and appealingly illuminated, and the controls for the ventilation system are well placed and operate with a satisfying movement.

The rest of the Mazda’s functions are relegated to the colour touch-screen, and this is presided over by an iDrive-style twisty-turny controller mounted just behind the gear lever.  We’re not fans of these systems as they require Krypton Factor levels of hand/eye co-ordination that, on the move, can make them a little scary, frankly.

Luckily with Mazda’s system you can revert to jabbing at the screen or, if you’re feeling particularly brave, you can venture into the realms of the voice command system.

To be fair, Mazda’s part of this system works well, responding with a natural-sounding voice and allowing control over functions such as the ‘phone or stereo easily enough, if rather long-windedly.

However, the TomTom satnav’s voice command system is less successful: dictating addresses is painful, and even issuing simple instructions such as “drive to the nearest hospital” will often result in the system plotting a course for the nearest zoo instead.  There are plenty of confusing pronunciation oddities to amuse and frustrate, too: asking for directions to the nearest petrol station will trigger a response of “navigate to the nearest petal station, is that correct?”

If you are planning on collecting a load of petals, dropping the rear seats requires nothing more than a quick tug of a lever mounted in the boot to reveal 1,648 litres of cargo space.  It’s well thought out back here, too: the cargo cover raises with the tailgate so it’s automatically out of the way for easy loading, and has a dedicated niche in the underfloor compartment for when not in use, while a pair of hooks for hanging shopping bags double-up as supports for the load floor so retrieving the puncture repair kit doesn’t require three hands.

It’s touches like these that make you realise someone dedicated their time to thinking about how you might use the car, and then set about engineering a way to make it better.

All of this engineering needn’t cost the earth, though, and with prices for the Mazda6 Tourer starting at £21,315 it undercuts competition such as the Honda Accord Tourer and VW Passat, and is significantly cheaper than a similarly-spec’d BMW 3 Series Touring.

All models in the range feature alloy wheels, air conditioning, cruise control, Bluetooth and other goodies, while the SE-L grade adds climate control, privacy glass, folding mirrors, automatic headlights and wipers, and Mazda’s Smart City Brake Support that can automatically apply the brakes at speeds of up to 20mph if it detects a collision is imminent.

The top-spec Sport model goes on to add 19-inch alloy wheels, bi-xenon active headlights, reversing camera, leather trim, power seats with memory, keyless entry and a Bose surround sound system.

Running costs are equally modest, with the 150PS 2.2-litre diesel recording 67.3mpg on the combined cycle with CO2 emissions of 110 g/km placing it in VED Band B – just £20 pa.  Even the 175PS Tourer emits just 121 g/km, nudging it into VED Band D (£105 pa), with an official economy figure of 61.4mpg.  While we didn’t achieve these figures during our testing, we easily maintained a 45mpg average even with spirited driving, with a long journey likely to achieve a figure usefully into the 50s.

The Mazda 6 Tourer, then, is efficient, well-engineered, comfortable and refined.  For most estate cars, that ought to be enough.  But Mazda’s engineers have gone further: it’s also engaging to drive and incredibly easy to live with.

This isn’t just a good estate car.  It’s a great one.

Base Price £21,315 Price as tested £27,095
Engine 4-cylinder, twin-turbo, 2191cc Transmission Six-speed manual
Power 175ps @ 4,500rpm Torque 420Nm @ 2,000rpm
0-62 8.0 secs Top speed 137 mph
Economy 61.4 mpg CO2 121 g/km
Dimensions 4805 x 1840 x 1475 (LWH) Kerb Weight 1578 kg