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Richard Yarrow test drives the Mazda6 Tourer on a family weekend in the New Forest.

MazdaA6 Tourer

Best known for its MX-5 two-seater, Mazda has had a quiet few years. While rival brands have been finding new customers by developing innovative and desirable smaller vehicles, the Japanese company has chosen to stick with a more traditional line-up. That’s no bad thing, but the models it does haveneed to deliver. The Mazda6 is its best to date, and with genuinely innovative engine technology, it’s also extremely fuel-efficient, so cost-effective to own.

The hotel had bikes, helmets and even wellies for guests’ use – another example of Lime Wood’s attention to detail - and as we had plans to explore the New Forest, we bundled everything into the Mazda’s large boot. It proved a versatile vehicle with plenty of room for two kids and their stuff in the back.

What the motoring press says

‘The perfect large family car, with plenty of space and practicality in a package that’s affordable to run and great to drive.’ carbuyer.co.uk

‘Excellent cabin space and a generous boot, with masses of room in the front and rear.’ whatcar.com

‘An attractively styled estate car with a practical cabin of decent quality.’ autocar.co.uk

Buy

Model: 2.2-litre 175bhp diesel with six-speed manual gearbox.

Trim level: top-spec ‘Sport Nav’ grade.

Family-friendly features: fold-flat interior, Isofix child-seat fixings,

USB connectivity.

Euro NCAP safety rating: 5 stars.

Fuel economy: 61.4 mpg.

CO2 emissions: 121g/km.

Price: £21,315-£27,595.

More info: Visit mazda.co.uk/cars/mazda6-saloon

Driving to the new forest

With no castle walls to storm, no dramatic hills to climb, no spectacular views and no amusement parks, the New Forest is perhaps not top of your list of places to visit with the kids. Many families head west to the seaside attractions of Bournemouth and Weymouth, for Brighton or straight on to the Isle of Wight. But this beautiful and ancient forestland – it’s mentioned in the Domesday Book – has plenty to entertain adventurous families for a weekend or longer. We made the trip in the Mazda6 Tourer, a smartly styled estate car that’s new this year.

Chasing cars

Appropriately, our first port of call was to see more four-wheelers, at the National Motor Museum in Beaulieu, in the south-east corner of the forest. It has more than 250 vehicles on show, motoring from the earliest 19th-century models right up to those launched this year. Racing cars, motorbikes and world land speed record machinery are all there. I’m not sure who was more excited to see the original Chitty Chitty Bang Bang – the kids or my wife. The family-oriented Wheels exhibition, where you sit in pods that glide past tableaux, is a great way to explore how cars have changed our lives. Alsoworth a look is World of Top Gear, an exhibition of the crazy creations from the TV show.

Buckler's Head

We also drove the few miles to Buckler’s Hard, an 18th-century river village where ships for Nelson’s navy and the Battle of Trafalgar were built. The museum is packed with artefacts and information, and the children did a quiz as we went round.

Nature

One of the New Forest’s main attractions is the ponies, which have lived wild on the heathland for centuries. There are thousands of them, and if you’re in the area long enough you will see them. They’re calm enough for you to get up close.

There are plenty of other activities on offer locally. The flat landscape means it’s ideal for family cycling, and there are several bike-hire centres. Canoeing, archery, a steam railway, wildlife park and tree-top adventure centre are all within easy reach.

Watersports

Watersports such as sailing are available at Lymington and Milford. The good news is that because the whole New Forest is only 20 miles by 20 miles, nothing is ever too far away. It’s a great family destination.

 Where to eat

We finished off with a tasty if expensive lunch at The Master Builder’s Hotel on the waterfront, then a 30-minute narrated cruise on the river.

Where to stay

With the weather closing in, we headed for our accommodation at Lime Wood. This luxury hotel is on the outskirts of Lyndhurst, a pretty village in the centre of the New Forest, and hidden away up a long drive. We were staying away from the main building, in one of two newly built Forest Cottages down by the front gate.

They have been beautifully and tastefully created from wood, and ours had every conceivable bread for an arrival snack. There was kids’ crockery and cutlery, comfy sofas to lounge on and – treat of all treats for my two – a wall-mounted TV in the children’s bedroom. Upstairs, my wife and I discovered the large and elegant bedroom and luxurious bathroom.

Staff were friendly and helpful, and we immediately felt right at home.

An hour-long massage at the on-site Herb House spa was also very welcome after our day out.

I had reservations about how family-friendly the restaurant would be. Joint head chef is Angela Hartnett, one of the UK’s most high-profile cooks, and walking in it felt a long way from regular haunts such as Pizza Express. My fears proved unfounded; the kids’ menu had plenty of choice and my daughter proclaimed her burger the best ever.

Price

A Forest Hideaway suite at Lime Wood costs from £555 per night for a family of four; cottages cost from £650 per night. For more information go to newforestnpa.gov.uk