By on December 28, 2011

Picture courtesy media.mazda.ca

One of the constant dangers for your humble TTAC correspondent is drifting away from gimlet-eyed and ruthless objectivity towards developing a soft spot for a particular manufacturer. Lord forbid you should ever start becoming an “advocate”.

Should such tendencies emerge, one of our larger and hairier Senior Editors will show up on the front stoop bearing a large boat oar emblazoned with “Integrity” and begin beating you about the ears in the manner of the berserker school-master from Flann O’Brien’s An Beal Bocht. Leaving aside semi-obscure references to mid-century Irish literary satire for the moment, there’s one company for which I’d cheerfully risk the aforementioned major head trauma: Mazda.

How could you not? The homologation-special 323 GTX, the curvaceous FD RX-7, the gutsy MX-6 GT, the sharp-yet-practical Protege5, the apex-predator Mazdaspeed3, the Brit-that-don’t-break Miata; over the years, Mazda has produced a veritable pantheon of great cars, all relatively affordable, all moderately practical.

Picture courtesy media.mazda.ca

Well, the MX-6 GT was a bit crap, if I’m honest. I had one, and it was really fast and ran forever, but it also torque-steered like a helicopter with the tail-rotor shot off.

And, lest you think that I’ve entirely become Mazda’s – ahem – protégé, it’s worth noting that Mazdas appear to be plagued with rust issues that don’t seem to affect other Japanese competitors (we’re rarely afflicted with this problem in the Pacific Northwest, but it’s a common complaint among Easterners). Also the early ‘speed3 ate motor mounts like milk-duds and the RX-7′s twin-turbocharged engine couldn’t have been less stable if it was made out of nitroglycerine, anti-matter and bits of the Middle East.

So, there are occasional flaws. And with the current Mazda3, two warts immediately hove into view, and beg to be looked past.

Picture courtesy media.mazda.ca

First, the styling, about which they’ve done little with this new car. A tweaked front fascia makes the grin a little less idiotic, they’ve added blue mascara ’round the headlights, and there’s a “Skyactiv” badge out back. That’s about it.

In fact, the reason you’re looking at press shots here rather than my own ham-handed photography is that so little is changed, I plumb forgot to take pictures of the car. But everybody knows what the Mazda3 looks like already: lots of curvy styling, big goofy smile.

Who. Cares. While – based on the conservative-but-interesting looks of the CX-5 – I look forward to seeing a new, KODO-ized Mazda3, the current ’3 now blends right in to modern traffic alongside bulbous Hyundai Velosters, basking-shark Ford Focii, and bug-eyed Nissan Jukes. If the smirk really bothers you, just buy a black one.

Picture courtesy media.mazda.ca

We can also take any interior criticisms “as read”. Exactly the same, but the lighting is now light blue, the official other colour of efficiency.

Which brings us to the other wart, perhaps the larger and hairier of the two. While the ’3 has a certain verve with the 2.5L engine, it’s not particularly competitive in the economy department. Opting for the base 2.0L improves the fuel-consumption somewhat, but the power deficit is quite noticeable. What Mazda needs to stay competitive is more zoom-zoom from less fuel.

There isn’t the space here for me to fully explain the science of Skyactiv (click here to read my somewhat bumbling attempt to do so), but let me lay out the Cole’s Notes. First, it’s not a hybrid. I’ve lost count of how many people have come up to me and asked what I thought of “Mazda’s new hybrid”.

Skyactiv is not a specialty trim level, it’s the tagline for the mindset of the engineer who’s currently designing your – they hope – next Mazda: a full suite of technologies designed to improve economy and enhance driver involvement. In the case of the Mazda3, you get partial Skyactiv tech in the mid-range models free-gratis-for-nothing.

Picture courtesy media.mazda.ca

Second, if we simplify things down to a level that would have Dave Coleman gnawing on his graphing calculator, Skyactiv-G engine tech is about the controlled burn. The high-octane, premium fuel normally required in high-pressure engines (including turbo’d and supercharged applications) is less prone to spontaneously combusting than regular. Mazda gets around this requirement for high-grade gas with precise multi-point injector technology and specially dished pistons that ensure regular flame-front propagation out from the spark.

Advantage? A clean, even burn that runs leaner and gives you a bump in power. Theoretically great, but what about real-world application?

Picture courtesy media.mazda.ca

Here it is then, finally, the meat n’ potatoes of this review. Assuming you’ve read this far, you don’t care about styling commentary, you don’t care that they’ve swapped all the red interior lights for blue ones, you don’t care about high-flown hyperbole, or even how Skyactiv tech actually works. You want to know: is this ’3 any good?

Well, first the bad news. The first Skyactiv ’3 is a bit of a mongrel. It’s the same old Mazda3 chassis with an engine and transmission swap, and part of the Skyactiv-G gasoline tech has been watered down. There isn’t room underhood to fit the 4-2-1 header that allows the CX-5 to attain that sky-high 13:1 compression ratio with tuned exhaust pulses. The mill in the ’3 is therefore restricted to 12:1.

However, the six-speed automatic gearbox in this tester is fully Skyactiv (conventional but lightened with improved shift control and a greater lock-up range), and while the chassis is roughly the same as last year’s – with a slight enhancement to rigidity – there was nothing wrong with the old one. In fact, there was everything right with the old one.

And here comes the good news. This heart-transplanted ’3 is better than ever.

Picture courtesy media.mazda.ca

I was invited to the launch of the Skyactiv-equipped Mazda3 in sunny Los Angeles, but elected to wait for a locally-available tester instead. I’m glad I did, and not for some imaginary independent-can’t-be-bought-hipster-journo street-cred: I knew the ’3 would be great to drive on a Mazda-planned canyon route; I’m pleased to report that it’s also great to drive in rain-soaked, volume-snarled, suicidal-pedestrian, militant-cyclist, turn-signal-absent everyday horrible traffic. It is such a hoot.

The new automatic transmission delivers crisp, rapid shifts, and is actually fun to operate in manu-matic mode. No paddle-shifters (yet), but it’s an engaging transmission that makes a mockery of weaksauce dual-clutch systems like that found in the Focus.

The engine, while lacking the outright grunt of the 2.5L, provides considerably more poke than the somewhat dowdy 2.0L, splitting the difference between the two engines at 155hp and 148lb/ft of torque. Mazda claims the power of a 2.5L from a 2.0L, but that’s pushing it a little: there is still plenty of room for more down-low power.

Picture courtesy media.mazda.ca

Expect the full-fat, 91-octane burning 14:1 Euro-versions to have a little more panache, but if I’m going to express jealousy of the cheese-eating surrender monkeys, it’ll be for their upcoming Skyactiv-D diesel with its 300lb/ft of torque and 5300rpm redline.

But I digress, back to what we actually get. In my normal driving style, which is to careen everywhere as though pursued by a brown 450SEL with a rocket-launcher-wielding Robert DeNiro hanging out of its sunroof, the Skyactiv-G Mazda3 returned a very respectable 33mpg.

Granted, that’s about 15% off the promised 40mpg highway, but seriously, we’re talking depleted uranium Dr. Scholl’s inserts here. I beat that thing like a concrete piňata and not only did it feel like it loved every minute of it, but there was also little penalty at the pump.

Picture courtesy media.mazda.ca

Currently, this kind of fuel-economy puts the ’3 right up there amongst other – alleged – fuel sippers. Should the little Mazda fall mid-pack for operating costs in the future as others catch up, its fun-to-drive quotient should do the rest of the selling.

Of course, there’s a worry. Any time words like “high-compression” start getting tossed around, the image that immediately pops into mind is of some brightly coloured Italian exotic on the shoulder and en flambé. And while most Mazdas have a reasonably good track-record for reliability, there’s still the long shadow cast by that FD RX-7 and its, um, explosive performance.

But I’m bullish on Mazda’s new tech, and can’t wait to see it range-wide and try it in full effect in the CX-5. It’s all well and good to have interesting niche enthusiast cars like the GT 86 and the EVO-X but we need a car company that champions driving pleasure as a core value for all its models.

It’s nice to have a company like Mazda around, and I’m happy to report that their SKYACTIV technologies seem to indicate that they’ll be able to compete on both fronts: not only as the enthusiast choice, but also as a manufacturer of economically efficient daily drivers. This new Mazda3 is certainly a car I’ll be recommending next time somebody asks.

*ding-dong*

Oh hang on, someone’s at the door.

Mazda provided the vehicle tested and insurance.

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124 Comments on “Review: 2012 Mazda3 Sedan SKYACTIV-G...”


  • avatar
    Mark

    “…torque-steered like a helicopter with the tail-rotor shot off.”

    Best description of toque steer ever!

    I like Mazda’s approach here, taking a holistic approach to maximizing fuel economy by looking for ways to improve efficienty across all areas (chassis weight, high compression engines, transmission efficiency) while still retaining the character that makes Mazdas so appealing to those who enjoy a little fun in their daily commute.

  • avatar
    Tomifobia

    “But the lighting is now light blue, the official other colour of efficiency.”

    I’m entirely sick of blue. I’d be so happy if automakers brought back red interior lighting, the official color of hot-blooded lust.

    • 0 avatar
      shaker

      But once you start going “Over The Hill”, those lusty red dash lights are impossible to focus on; so in my case, “Gimme Da Blues” :-)

      • 0 avatar
        dejal1

        Thank you. My eyes turned “Bad” about 2 years ago. Even when they were good I never could really see red lit dash gauges all that well. The color was one of the reasons Mazda was never on my list and that was years ago.

        If they were making them since that time period in blue, green, whatever, I never bothered to look as red had permanently crossed Mazda off my list.

        I’m surprised Mazda did/does red especially in Japan with their aging population.

    • 0 avatar
      Astigmatism

      Blue night lighting is one of my pet automotive peeves. Dim red lighting is best for preserving night vision after looking at illuminated surfaces, and you can make a red light brighter before harming night vision than you can make any other color. Sailors tend to use red lighting to illuminate decks at night for that reason. By choosing blue, they’re sacrificing safety and utility to make a fashion statement.

      • 0 avatar
        JMII

        True, red is technically the best color to use at night. However if everyone used red that would be boring. Also it is hard to make things (idiot lights, rev limit, warning levels) standout in a sea of red. Blue seems to be the “in” color right now, especially for hybrids as its used to represent any and all future “digital” tech. Call me old school but I actually dig the 90s green dash like my ’02 Dakota has. Now my 350Z has Nissan’s trademark yellow/orange which some people hate as its a bit too bright. The worst color must be the high contrast white some of the luxury makers seem to be fond of. Thankfully every vehicle I’ve owned has a dimmer control so you can drop things down a level.

      • 0 avatar
        shaker

        I’m with dejal1 – I simply can’t focus on red-lit dash gauges, and the white-blue lighting of my Hyundai Elantra’s dash comes with a handy feature; a little knob for dimming them. I set them for about half of full brightness.

        I figured that a person with the handle “Astigmatism” would share my problem, but I guess we’re all different :-)

        I actually crossed the 2008 Mazda 3 off my list because of the gauge lighting, and Kias as well.

        Someday, all cars will have adjustable color dash lights (like some Fords), which will remove such a “polarizing” choice factor.

      • 0 avatar
        MattPete

        Being a vision researcher and scientist, red lit dashboards are one of my pet peeves. There is absolutely no reason for it other than marketing. The preservation of night vision (rod vision) makes no sense in the case of the automobile (unlike a WW2 night fighter): you should be driving with your headlights on, and that right there will desensitize your rod vision (as will street lights).

        All red does is to make the dash harder to read at night.

        First BMW adopted it. Then, because BMW adopted, Pontiac adopted it. The rest is history. Red lit dashboards trade safety for a fashion statement.

      • 0 avatar
        Mekarooch

        Dashboard lights that are closer to the lights you already see when you look outside are easier for your eyes to focus on.
        If you’re driving a car you will not have night vision. Every headlight out there (oncoming and your own) will destroy night vision.

      • 0 avatar
        Mrb00st

        I’m a fan of the simple orange in my BMW. My previous car (7thgen Accord) had white lighting with white needles. HAD to dim it at night, especially on highway slogs, it was distracting and hard to focus on.

        I like Saab’s gauges best for night travel. Green is easy on the eyes.

    • 0 avatar
      Felis Concolor

      I’ve never liked long-focus red lighting in the dashboard: give me greens, blues, and – in the case of a gelcap-cleared Datsun dashboard – white light.

  • avatar
    flatout05

    Nice going, McAleer, sneaking this one in when all the editors were on Christmas break. No fresh pix, plus it needs to be trimmed by about 40%.

    • 0 avatar
      harshciygar

      I dunno, I read the whole thing and found it more entertaining than the average car review.

      Then again, TTAC is pretty much the only place I go for car reviews any more. Ya, it was a little wordy, but enjoyable too.

      So +1 McAleer.

      • 0 avatar
        Les

        McAleer writes like he should be writing for Top Gear, which alone must have Darth Baruth itching to personally send the Oar of Integrity up McAleer’s [Redacted] but it’s things like that which got me interested in ‘automotive enthusiasm’ in the first place.

      • 0 avatar
        Ben

        +1 for McAleer, that was a good read.

      • 0 avatar
        DC Bruce

        I’m with ya’. There are some over-written reviews on this site, but I would not put this one in that cubby.

        The description of the RX-7 engine’s . . .um . . . volatility got me!

        Nice review, McAleer.

      • 0 avatar
        MusicMachine

        This is not a long article–nor too wordy. Well written articles are allowed to be long and get “wordy”. Plus McAleer highlights the car. It really makes me consider getting one.

    • 0 avatar
      mitchw

      Meanwhile, over here on the right coast, I like to read Brendan’s reviews mostly for his style and perspective. How kooky is that?

    • 0 avatar
      slow kills

      I constantly reminisce over the days of Farago’s strict 800 word limit when I start reading these meandering first drafts. Concision!

      • 0 avatar
        campocaceres

        No issues with this review, here. It kept my attention from start to finish, and I’ve noticed all of McAleer’s recent reviews have managed to do that for me consistently. Heck, he even toned this review down a notch. Keep up the good work, Brendan.

        Sometimes I do tend to agree with you about the word limit, though, slow kills. There are times when I am looking for a “snack” sized review, rather than the main course, though I didn’t get that feeling with this one.

      • 0 avatar
        Bob12

        I agree that the review is a bit too long (1400+ word count), but IMO Farago’s 800-word limit always left me wanting more. I think somewhere in the middle would be best…1000, or 1200 words at most.

      • 0 avatar
        Mrb00st

        if you think Brendan’s reviews are long winded, you’d HATE mine over at CarThrottle. I go quite in-depth with stuff.

        My last one (for the Kia Optima Turbo) was near 2800 words.

        Some of it were in charts and the spec sheet in the bottom though.

        http://www.carthrottle.com/2012-kia-optima-sx-2-0t-test-drive-the-korean-audi/

        Some of mine are shorter, but I’m a long-winded writer who likes every detail, so Brendan’s reviews seem a good length. I like his writing style.

    • 0 avatar
      skotastic

      Seriously flatout05…

      Are you his editor? Are you an accomplished author or journalist in your own right? What give you the right to talk down to Mr.McAleer like you own the site?

    • 0 avatar

      Tough room.

    • 0 avatar
      Russycle

      Wordy yes, but a fun read. Don’t go changin’, Mac.

    • 0 avatar
      Jim H

      Best article I’ve read from here in a long, long time :) Well done!

    • 0 avatar
      Elusivellama

      I disagree, I thought it had just the right length, pace of delivery and witty remarks. The hard facts were not detailed (as stated early in the review) but I still get a sense of his enthusiasm and excitement nonetheless. I liked it and I would recommend that this style of review continue in the future.

      Now, another thing to consider…if the 2012 SkyActiv Mazda 3 can pull off exemplary fuel economy numbers, what will the 3rd gen Mazda 3 accomplish with the new Kodo styling and new chassis + 4-2-1 header? Never mind all that, what about the promised SkyActiv-D diesel that is almost certainly going to come with the CX-5?

  • avatar
    daveainchina

    I would humbly suggest wearing a Helmet and football pads or some such when you answer the door for the next 2 weeks.

  • avatar
    VelocityRed3

    Great review. Almost makes me want to test drive a new one with the auto. I had my 06 3i in for service a year or so ago, & they gave me a new auto for the day. I was unimpressed then as I was in lage ’05 when I bought my 2L 5-speed. I will say that I disagree about the mileage of the smaller engine. On the highway I can get about 36 & once when it was less than 6 months old I got a honest 40mpg going uphill (Atlanta to Dayton, Oh). My normal bat-out-of-hell driving gets me 31mpg or so in daily life. What about torque steer & over all reliability? I have had the motor mounts & struts replaced, recently, & this car eats bearings (front & rear) for lunch). Also, this past Sunday evening, I had the original compressor belt break on me (@ about 162,000 miles so no complaints) & last year on Thanksgiving day the factory installed battery gave out as well.

    Frankly for 16,600 bucks this has been just about the best investment in my life. I will be on the short side to 50 by the time I’m ready for another car, so it won’t be a 3, but it may be a Mazda :)

    • 0 avatar
      Jim H

      I’m nearly 45…I hope to get a Mazda 3 or Mazda Speed 6…but my 2006 Subaru Legacy Spec-B is going to be very difficult to give up. It’s raised the bar so high for me!

      Thanks for the comment…I agree that $17K is an amazing expense for such a great little car!

  • avatar
    shaker

    There’s a lot of new tech here (though I’ll bet it’s been on Mazda’s shelf for a while) – the high-compression GDI, the auto trans with the aggressive lock-up converter, and (soon, I believe) start-stop tech.
    Anyway, it’ll be a gamble to be an early adopter of a car that has all of this “new stuff”; I’ll be watching with interest from the sidelines for a while.

  • avatar
    boxelder

    “the official other color of efficiency.” Love it! Thanks for the fun review. I had a 1985 Mazda GLC which I purchased at about 100K for $550. Everyone told me the head gasket was going to blow on it at 150K. I scoffed at the time, but sure as heck, at 155K it happened. Still, it was a fun little runabout – and to this day it has been my least expensive motoring on a cost per mile basis. Someday I’ll own another Mazda. Maybe that little Diesel they’re bringing over here. They could call it the GLD. ;)

  • avatar
    henkdevries

    Nice to hear that the engine is fine. All that poohaa from Mazda about this Skyactiv technology in their engine. Seeing is believing. It would be a shame if it performed poorly for a company with such an exciting design and fascinating engines.

    Btw Brendan: “but we need a car company that champions driving pleasure as a core value for all its models”
    That holds for a limited number of consumers and a lot for people on car websites. From what i’ve read BMW is actually setting their suspension setup softer on all new sedans here in Europe. Even Norbert Reithofer (BMW CEO) stated that 80% of all 1-series owners don’t know they have a RWD car. I don’t knot if that’s true, but it points at a certain direction and that’s less Freude am Fahren in the traditional sense.

    Zooming in some more: Here in the Netherlands around 30% of all sales are in the Aygo/C1/107 (for US citizens: dangerously small cars) category due to tax incentives. That’s driving pleasure in a whole different meaning.

    That’s why I was eager to see how Mazda’s new engines are performing. Their line-up is certainly not performing in the Netherlands (don’t have time to see for the rest of Europe and don’t know their tax regime) because they lack the “right” CO2 emission numbers and are in the expensive tax bracket. Lets see how their engines perform in NEDC tests!

  • avatar
    segfault

    Nice Ronin reference… I need to watch that movie again!

  • avatar
    duffman13

    As an owner of a ’10 3 hatch (wife’s car), this is exciting but also giving me some buyers remorse since we only bought 18 months ago and it wasn’t an absolute necessity.

    I never had a problem with the mileage, we’ve get 32-33 on highway road trips and average 25.5ish with 9% city driving, but to see an improvement that big, while only giving up 10hp from the new engine is amazing. I am a little turned off by the move to blue interior lighting though, My last few cars have all had red and I’m partial to it, especially in that i feel like it affects my night vision less than blues, greens, etc.

    Hopefully this whole 86/FR-S/BRZ thing fuels the idea fairy for some sort of new mazda sport coupe, like I hear it is at Nissan for the return of the silvia if it does well. A tossable RWD 2+2 with the skyactiv tech would be a formidable little beast in the marketplace I would imagine.

  • avatar
    jenkins190

    “cheese-eating surrender monkeys”

    love it.

  • avatar
    VanillaDude

    Japan has fallen off the rails. Over the past couple of decades, Japan has been exporting crap that prefers looking cute and adorable, to looking like quality or refinement. Perhaps a culture that forgot how to screw and birth would end up seeing adults dressing like teen pop stars and acting talking like babies around one another. Perhaps Japan exported all of it’s testosterone since WWII. Is this what happens when a society strives to become a Nanny State? It turns into a giant infant nursery? This culture has lost it’s nads. It has a problem and it is showing up in their cars.

    The problem with Mazda is Kawaii.

    In this digital age, Kawaii is playing a significant role in product design. Mazda has been playing with Kawaii for about a decade. Mazdas have become sexless anime car characters.

    Kawaii is Hello Kitty!, Pikachu, Manga and basically Japanese cuteaholism. From their comics, to this car, we are seeing Japanese products look like prepubescent humans with asexual characteristics. See the big grin? See how damn cute this brand of cars has become? This car doesn’t want you to drive it – Mazdas want you to love them like you are 13 years old virgins. Pure love, perfect romances, and blemish-free adolescent styling.

    Zoom-Zoom? What the hell does that mean? I stopped zoom-zooming before my first pube.

    Yeah – we don’t want throaty hairy chested beasts that challenge you, Mazdas want to you re-experience a Razor scooter. While these cars can be as edgy as the best of them on the track, Mazda wants you to see them as Kawaii escape pods in a virtual DS environment. I wonder what percentage of Mazda drivers are gamers? I have a hunch it is higher than the F-150 crowd. Mazda may be the first car company that forgets reality.

    Mazda is Pikachu in car form. What is wrong with that? Well, if you want to drive around in a car that says you are a perpetual digital dweeb, go right ahead. But Mazdas are about as sexy as a Sailor Moon girl-like thingys.

    Big grin! Blue eyes! Happy smiles! Hello Kitty! Who wants a car when you can have a virtual orgasm with a gender performance Totoro?

    The problem with Mazda is that it thinks we manscape, wear our hair in bangs, secretly long to be Humbert Humbert, and return to preadolescent play. Mazda has gotten confused. Americans liked being young adults, not pre-schoolers.

    The Beetle. The Neon. The Prius. The Smart car. And almost a parade of Japanese cars since 2000. We are seeing a ridiculous attempt to turn cars into Fisher Price toys. Mazda is a leader in making driving completely unsexy. From Japan, the land of the cuteaholics.

    • 0 avatar
      slow kills

      Huzzah! A Razor scooter has no such extraneous styling, though. The damned Prius has some science behind the styling. I never thought I’d look back with fondness on the indistinguishable rounded boxes of the ’90s but now I really do. I really want my transportation to look more robust, timeless, simple.

    • 0 avatar
      Astigmatism

      If your timeframe is the couple of decades since Japan discovered Hello Kitty, I’d argue that they’ve done pretty damn well all-in. Maybe it’s not your thing, but with the amount of purchasing power held by American teens and tweens, they’ve made a mint out of selling anime styles to the rest of the world. And not everyone feels like they need to drive automotive chest hair like an F-150, particularly if they live in the city, don’t haul lawn equipment for a living, mind dropping $70 at a gas pump, and/or actually enjoy a car that handles worth a damn.

      That said, if you want to drive something that self-consciously evokes a man’s man-parts, your Nissan dealer will be happy to accommodate you; certainly a Maxima or Altima will do more in that department than a Fusion, Malibu or 200.

      • 0 avatar
        VanillaDude

        Your virtual girlfriend is angry with me, isn’t she?

      • 0 avatar
        Astigmatism

        No, but my main complaint about Detroit recently has been this sort of BS butched-up styling at the expense of utility, visibility, etc. The Neon was a much, much better car than the Caliber, the Challenger and to a lesser extent the Camaro look like cartoons and are twice the size of their forbears, the Hummer H2 and Jeep Commander are massive and aggressive on the outside but tiny on the inside, and you can’t see out of pretty much any of them because someone decided that window glass was for sissies.

        And my wife does want a Prius.

      • 0 avatar
        VanillaDude

        After WWII, cars were to resemble a future filled with jet engines, airplanes, and space travel. Drivers were jet and space pilots.

        Perhaps today, cars are to resemble what gamers find attractive. Drivers are bloated virgin nerds.

        I prefer alpha to beta male role models in my cars. That, to me, connotates action, responsibilities, power and success.

        Zoom-zoom is for little boys with freckles that look like the little kid in Mazda’s advertisements. Zoom-zoom is whispered. What kind of statement is that regarding a man’s vehicle?

        The future belongs to those who take action, not passively idle about worrying over it.

        Retro machines are just as cartoonish. Camaros look like plastic Transformers. Challengers look like muscle cars for the Hoveraround crowd. Their styling is a cartoon of real cars made over 40 years ago. These cars try too hard.

        This Mazda doesn’t even try.

      • 0 avatar
        FuzzyPlushroom

        I’m no real fan of twee, effete runabouts, but overtly macho – and equally compromised – compensation rigs are no better. A Fiat 500 is entirely different in character from a Camaro, but both retromobiles send the same message to one’s fellow motorists: “Look at me! I’m sacrificing practicality for attention!” Masculinity, to me, doesn’t mean buying a ludicrous car to show off to your mates (in the Commonwealth or American sense), it means purchasing something that fits your needs and makes you happy – and then being able to work on it and, should you choose, make it your own.

        A car, for many, is a personality extension, but that’s not by any means universal. A car chosen carefully on its merits can be ‘manly’, whatever it may be. I identify with the majority of Sinistermisterman’s self-description – I work hard, many (but not all) of my preferred recreational activities could be considered ‘manly’, and I drive – and regularly wrench on – a stereotypically dull car. Sure, I’ve made it my own, but by and large, the message I believe it portrays is that I carry bulky items, am a bit of a cheapskate, and would be driven mad by the handling and limited engine-compartment access of an old minivan. (All true, for what that’s worth, and I’m quite secure in that image.)

        I understand, and somewhat agree with, your point with regard to design. In the real world, though, I believe that getting to work every day, and supporting myself in the process through skill and hard work, means more than the car in which I commute. Perhaps we disagree.

        If it makes you feel better, I can all but guarantee that at some point this week, I’ll pop Van Halen’s 1984 into the garage stereo, tighten down the seeping banjo fittings on my turbocharger oil lines, and relax afterward with a glass of bourbon.

    • 0 avatar
      friedclams

      I agree with you in general — about cars looking like too much like toys — but you can go too far the other way (Detroit retro muscle). Furthermore the trend is not just Japanese. I would volunteer the Mini as the apotheosis of car-as-toy, and its fanciful interior design in particular as an expression of contempt towards functionality in driving.

      Another problem is that cars are increasingly becoming similar because of aerodynamics. I noticed a new Cadillac SRX today and was amazed by its Kammback profile. “Cuteness” is one styling language that addresses that limitation whereas “masculinity” has a harder time.

      Re: Japan. It’s easy to be disgusted by the Japanese cult of cuteness but let’s take a look at the Barbie doll and all the perversity that entails, shall we?

      • 0 avatar
        VanillaDude

        Barbie?
        That’s nothing on what Japan has been doing in every aspect of their design culture. It is as though they want Toyko to look like an anime version of Disneyland. But without kids because they forgot how to make them.

    • 0 avatar
      bryanska

      When you’re not Honda or Toyota, you need differentiation. Mazda needs a compelling reason-to-believe if someone’s going to buy their cars. America’s #1 export is culture, why shouldn’t Mazda be proud of its origin and do the same? Japanese feel the romance of speed in a very different way than we do. The Europeans feel yet another way. God forbid the driver actually feels like they’re having fun! It’s better than being so damn aggressive about it. Every Camaro, Charger and Mustang comes with a heaping helping of wet blanket.

    • 0 avatar
      JustinM

      I’m having a hard time seeing anything other than, “You kids get off my lawn!” and I’m almost to the age and extent of curmudgeonliness where I might say that sort of thing myself.

      How does the car drive? Why does whether it’s cute or not matter?

      • 0 avatar
        sacrat

        I’m having a hard time seeing anything other than, “You kids get off my lawn!” and I’m almost to the age and extent of curmudgeonliness where I might say that sort of thing myself.

        This should help

    • 0 avatar
      bryanska

      VanillaDude, you come from a generation where the car WAS a statement about manhood. It’s not anymore. “Fitting in” to others’ definition of a man is out the window. In this constantly changing world of opportunity and information, it’s a waste of time to prove your manhood. There is always someone more macho. Time is better spent on your confidence, which doesn’t come from how you dress or what you drive.

      Manhood is ill-defined these days. Some say it’s under attack. The truest ideal of an American man in 2012 lies somewhere in the vicinity of confidence, security, a singular vision, authenticity, humility and adaptability.

      Why should anyone spend $25,000 to prove their manhood to you? What will you give them for it? Will you help me pay for the extra gas? Will you help me buy snow tires for RWD? Will you help me wrestle my infant into the back seat past the coupe door? And where does the arms race end? Whose car is ultimately best: Cadillac, Ford, Chevy?

      • 0 avatar
        VanillaDude

        Well, this is a blog about cars, right?

        Cars are statements.

        Nothing says “I’m sorry for living, boo hoo!”, like a Prius.
        Nothing says “I am a fertile hairdresser”, like a Caravan.
        Nothing says “I am a Red Lobster manager”, like a Camry.
        Nothing says “I have my GED”, like a Mitsubishi.
        Nothing says “I have low T”, like a Challenger.

        This Mazda says, “I’m a little boy!”.

        Cars are statements of manhood. They are typically your second most expensive purchase, if you don’t own a business. Often they are your first big expense. A car is a statement of how you fit into your community as a man. Claiming that a car is not a statement of manhood is perfectly fine, if you are not a man.

        Evolution clearly defines perfect manhood. It has for eons. Societies have arose understanding the importance of it, and societies have failed misunderstanding the importance of it. A culture with a -0.2 birth rate is a failure. That would be Japan.

        A culture that supposes that manhood is debateable is a dying one floundering for excuses why it’s men are not growing up, moving out of their parent’s house, or making families. The Kawaii culture that has developed in Japan over the past 30 years challenges that culture’s survival.

        The apocolyse isn’t a fiery horseman with a sword – it is a 40 year old overweight single man dressed in Winnie-the-Pooh jammies gaming in his mother’s basement, shunning traditional manhood. Manhood ain’t for sissies. That’s why there are bars!

        We need to celebrate our manhood by taking up the manly responsibilities our forefathers proudly gave us. Fitting into traditional roles has kept our society strong. Waffling and whining with excuses about changing times fails to address our biological destinies as men.

        Our rides should reflect those basic needs.

        If you value your car as you would your home air conditioner, Consumer Reports would be more of your cup of tea, not TTAC.

      • 0 avatar
        JustinM

        A car is not a statement of manhood.

        –Man who has no manhood issues, thank you

      • 0 avatar
        marjanmm

        VD, why so black and white? One can state/prove his manhood in so many ways these days – cars and babies are getting less popular compared to say number of sexual relationships initiated over the social networks for which you don’t need cars.

      • 0 avatar
        Astigmatism

        The irony, Vanilla, is that your entire post is basically the written equivalent of the Challenger.

      • 0 avatar
        Sinistermisterman

        Proof of masculinity is not all chest hair and burn outs. Although I do sympathize with the viewpoint that ‘manhood’ is being eroded in many cultures, I’m not sure that pigeonholing people by the cars they drive really works, neither does picking on Japanese anime, considering vast chunks of anime is all about action/guns/violence/politics – not namby-pamby subject matter.
        Take me for example. Late 20′s, married, children in the pipeline, full time employment with chance of promotion, yearly bonus, I enjoy wrenching on cars, shooting, hiking, rock music, playing video games, watching anime (not the cute crap), reading, and yes – that ultimate non-manly pursuit – going to the theater. I drive a terminally dull Chevy Cobalt.
        A stereotype only lasts as long as the illusion that people can be grouped together into easy to define blocks. I think you’ll find that the ‘manly man’ stereotype is just another of those imaginary groups. I bet even Chuck Norris once owned a cuddly toy.

      • 0 avatar
        Tifighter

        If we really want to fire up VD, we need him to comment on a Mazda minivan.

      • 0 avatar
        Jim H

        Agreed, cars are NOT a statement of manhood unless you aren’t happy with what type of man you are. You are more than welcome to have a huge F150 with brass balls hanging from the trailer hitch…but that’s not expressing a healthy self-image of manhood. Rather, it’s screaming that you are a man and everyone needs to know it! Little boys do that same exact thing. Psychology goes both ways.

      • 0 avatar

        “Your car is a statement of how you fit into your community as a man.”

        That is the saddest thing I’ve ever read.

    • 0 avatar
      dimitris


      We need to celebrate our manhood by taking up the manly responsibilities our forefathers proudly gave us.

      The manly responsibilities of our forefathers were not what the marketing departments would have you think they were. Resource-wasting was not, in fact, celebrated in any culture, including the American Heartland version. Waste-not-want-not was more like it, including in the iconic Old West that is so often used by the propaga- I mean, marketers to promote their “lifestyle products”.

      I believe the old-timers’ terms for such resource-wasting show-offs would translate in modern American as “asshole”. And their word for the Prius would loosely translate to “macho”.

    • 0 avatar
      carguy

      VanillaDude: I think you maybe over thinking this and creating stereotypes where there are none to be found. The type of car someone drives says a lot less about them than you think – it is more a statement of needs and means than it is of personality. I for one have never felt that my masculinity was diminished by driving a Miata or a Mazda3 or a 335 coupe of Cayman. If you feel that you are less of a man driving a cute city car then maybe that says more about you than it does about the car?

      • 0 avatar
        Volt 230

        So what does a Corolla say? “I just want to go from point A to point B without breaking down or breaking the bank”

      • 0 avatar
        bryanska

        The more he talks, the more his vision is outlined. Which is actually growing on me, because I’ll respect his contribution as long as he respect others. His is one brand in a sea of brands. It’s becoming OK to pick the brand that resonates best. Mazda is about fun. Vintage Mustangs (VD’s at least) are about power.

        Lots of times, “man” activites (like grilling) start out fun until there becomes a “man way” and a “not man way” (charcoal versus gas, rare versus well done). As soon as someone asserts there’s a right way to do something, all the fun gets sucked out. That’s why I strongly feel that if I spend five years in debt on a new car, it better be MY kind of car, not necessarily Dad’s.

      • 0 avatar
        JustinM

        “… I’ll respect his contribution as long as he respect others.”

        He’s not, though. He’s just not. He’s basically accusing anyone who likes a particular car of being responsible for the supposed impending downfall of Western civilization. It’s a very short trip from there to saying that we ought to be removed from society so that we no longer pose a threat.

        His ideas are ludicrous, and not every viewpoint is worthy of respect simply for existing.

      • 0 avatar
        carguy

        Volt 230 – Corolla may very well mean “I have 3 kids to support and needed an economical commuter to get to work. You know, so I can still pay my mortgage”. It does not mean that the person driving it is somehow dull or unimaginative. Quite the reverse – those that resort to consumption as a means of self expression are usually the predictable ones.

      • 0 avatar
        DC Bruce

        Aw, cut VD some slack, will ya? Thanks to his viewpoint, delivered with style and panache, I might add, this has turned into a pretty good thread.

        Not that I’m buying every piece of what he is selling, but I don’t think he’s totally off base. And I’m not going to wail on Japan … about which I know nothing (and, I would add, not the only developed country with a negative birthrate), but perhaps what VD is complaining about is that, unlike in the 1950s and 1960s, when cars were marketed pretty much at men’s taste, now they’re not.

        Certainly the MINI is a great example of a car that’s all about style. By any measure — practicality, fuel economy, performance, reliability — it’s overpriced. Yet somehow it always wins the depreciation contest. When I was seriously considering replacing my Z3 with a small vehicle with 4 seats, my wife kept insisting that I put the MINI Clubman on the list for consideration. My complaints that it’s just a slightly less expensive BMW (with equivalent repair costs and inferior reliability) and that, if she rode in it, she wouldn’t like it (versions I have ridden in ride about like my Z3) fell on deaf ears.

        Turning back to the Mazda 3, the “problem” with all cars of that size (MINI, Mazda 3, etc.) is that their size precludes them from having the “presence” of a larger car, no matter how styled. So, the choices seem to be between the . . . um . . . vanilla styling of, say, the Civic or the Corolla, or the Golf and the more fanciful Fiesta, Mazda 3, MINI, Fiat 500, Beetle etc.

        Somehow, though, I fail to see their appearance as evidence as evidence of The Decline of the West. I would agree that, as a general matter, the Japanese automotive establishment has struggled to find an appropriate vernacular for the styling of their cars, which, for the most part, have appeared to be derivative of US and European cars. The most recent examples of Japan auto Inc.’s efforts to escape that — the Acura and some of the recent products from Nissan and Mazda — have not been too successful.

        And really, VD, if you’re all about manliness being defined as taking responsibility, procreating and so on — then your car really is a minivan, which is the best family-carrying vehicle around, given that the EPA standards killed big station wagons like those that were in vogue through the 1960s. (I owned two minivans, in succession, during the days of the peak size of my family -5-)

    • 0 avatar
      Byron Hurd

      So where does the GT-R fit into your theory, Vanilla?

      I already know the answer, but feel free to humor me.

      (And remember, you started your rant with “Japan,” not with “Mazda.”)

    • 0 avatar
      Zoom

      All I can say to your ridiculous rant is, Women buy cars too. I think Japan simply figured that out before anyone else.

      • 0 avatar
        bill h.

        And while I don’t have the stats to show it, I’d say that they’re not only making the buying decisions in greater proportions (perhaps a majority?), they’re doing so with an ever larger share of the financial means as well. If you got the green, you can call the shots.

    • 0 avatar
      seoultrain

      Woah, man. I’ll be the first to ridicule the level of femininity in Asian cultures (though unlike you, I’m correctly placed to make such an observation), but you are way too threatened and emotional by things that don’t involve you.

      I’m going to go out on a limb and say you have issues with either anger or your masculinity. Or you just need to go ahead and come out of the closet.

  • avatar
    Terry

    The Skyactive engine is rated at 13:1 compression for the US market, not 12:1 as posted. Other markets get 14:1, but this is because few in this country will use high-octane fuel in this segment .

  • avatar
    acura9927

    I drive a 2011 Hatch 2.5L in automatic. I think this will be the last year Mazda offers the 2.5 in the 3. I feel too few people will opt for it since the gas savings in this new engine is too much to pass up. And I agree with them. I myself LOVE my 2.5L in this car. Its very torquey and you hardly have to rev it up to get it going and its omits a very pleasing sound. Given what I know now if I had to do it all over again in a 2012 Mazda3 I probably would still choose the 2.5. Its the closet thing to GTI perfomance that I can for around 20k new before tax. And some of us are willing to pay for the extra grunt and feel of a big motor.

    • 0 avatar
      duffman13

      My wife has one as well, and I have to admit that we’ve done the stoplight grand prix once when we were in our separate cars. I have an RSX-S, and through first gear until i was really winding the motor out, she was dead even with me. Then second gear VTEC changed all that.

      That said, it’s a great fun little car, and I love driving it.

      • 0 avatar

        I bought a 2011 Mazda 3 2.5 hatch back in May and have absolutely no regrets. The gas mileage is certainly worst than my Corolla, but at 26mpg combined its a worthy sacrifice. I knew about the Skyactiv technology coming out after my purchase, but decided on the 2.5 due to two things:

        1. The low-end torque, which in any car with relatively low HP, makes a slow car seem faster (look at diesel for example.)

        2. A proven-reliable engine on a three-year old platform.

        Regardless, a few years ago 30mpg was the set goal for most cars, this 40mpg is a very new goal for compact cars that are neither hybrid or diesel.

      • 0 avatar
        rpn453

        The platform has been used by Mazda since ’04. The current version is really just a refresh of the first-gen Mazda3.

  • avatar
    70Cougar

    If one were to buy a Mazda in the mid-Atlantic region, would rustproofing be a good idea? I don’t even know if hey still sell rustproofing and I don’t know if it ever worked.

    • 0 avatar

      I don’t know whether or not rustproofing would help. I can report based on my personal experience (with a 2003 Protege5) and many Car Reliability Survey responses that most Mazda models (including the 3) start to rust around the rear wheel openings at about 5.5 years of age (6 months after the rust warranty ends).

      For the 2004s (view other model years using breadcrumb menu):

      http://www.truedelta.com/repair_histories.php?brand=22&model=170&year=2004&problem_area=8

    • 0 avatar
      bumpy ii

      Depends on one’s definition of mid-Atlantic. If you have to use more than one hand to count the number of snowplow days, you should give the Mazda dealer a miss.

    • 0 avatar
      rpn453

      Coating the underside, especially the rear fender lips, with oil every fall is a good idea. Krown seems to get good reviews if you want to pay someone to do the whole thing. I just do the fenders of my ’04 Mazda3 every spring and fall during tire change-overs with the green can Rust Check, and the insides of my doors with the thinner red can stuff. Even after a few months, I can still see evidence of the oil creeping out onto the visible edges near where it was applied, which is good. As long as it’s oily, it won’t rust. No evidence of rust yet, but I’m in Saskatchewan so there isn’t much humidity and we don’t use an absurd amount of salt. Still far more than I’d like though.

    • 0 avatar
      Elusivellama

      I use Krown on my MS3 and have done so two days after I picked it up. The stuff isn’t just sprayed under the car, they will also spray it inside the empty spaces in the body panels from front to back. It is a very thorough application and usually takes about 30mins with 2 guys doing it. I was at first leery about them drilling holes to spray inside, but I eventually came to understand that it is impossible to fully protect the car without that necessary step. Besides they coat the holes with a special sealant and install a plastic plug over them (which is fully replaced each application). The whole car was dripping Krown T40 fluid for 3 days afterwards.

  • avatar
    jerseydevil

    drive like ur hair’s on fire AND 33mpg! thats awesome. Have your cake and eat it too. Whatever that means.

  • avatar
    drylbrg

    Can we stop referring to the Pacific Northwest like it only consists of Seattle, Portland and the corridor between them? There is a large percentage of the PNW that gets snow on a consistent basis. While it is true that they liquid de-icer instead of salt in my particular area they also use gravel which causes paint chips which allows the rust to get a foothold particularly behind the drive wheels.

  • avatar
    tallnikita

    In the golden days of yore, things like Skyactiv were called “design optimization for better performance”. None of these ‘activ things are new individually, and probably in toto. It’s just that, Mazda got around to trying them, finally.

    Next up, Rustactiv – a comprehensive array of rust-preventative measures designed to enhance your Mazda and elevate it to a life almost as long as any Korean auto.

    Don’t let the marketing speak overwhelm your journalistic abilities.

    Zzzzzooom!

  • avatar
    MZ3AUTOXR

    “The engine, …at 155hp and 148lb/ft of torque. ”

    Pretty darn close to what my 2.3 has (not sure about the difference in torque curves), almost the same curb weight, but a crap load better mileage.

    I get 33 MPG in mine as well, but unlike Brendan, I pretty much keep my foot off of the throttle to do it. Would love to know what someone who tries to stay off the throttle would get.

    If mine weren’t already paid off, I’d be looking at a new sedan.

    • 0 avatar
      Brendan McAleer

      You get 33mpg out of a 2.3? Well done, mate! Stick-shift, right?

      • 0 avatar
        MZ3AUTOXR

        Yes,stick. I really have to keep my foot out of it (work at staying below 3000 rpm) and even do a fair amount of coasting on the backroad commute that I have when it won’t annoy others.

        ‘Normal’ driving on the same commute nets me about 29 or so.

        Autocrossing nets me about 3. :-)

    • 0 avatar

      33 MPG? you must be driving down hill!
      I had the 2.3 hatch for 5 years, the best I got was 31 MPG and that was highway only! the usual MPG was 23 to 25 at best.
      I now have the 2.5 liter hatch and it’s pretty much the same.
      I don’t complain because I knew that Mazda cars eat a lot of gas before I got them.

      • 0 avatar
        dvp cars

        ……I wonder if Brendan, writing from Canada, may inadvertently be misrepresenting his actual mileage figures. He doesn’t mention how he came up with the 33mpg figure during full throttle driving. I know some Canadian cars with instant metric/English dashboard monitors use IMPERIAL gallons in their calculations. Thus, a car making 33mpg Canadian is only getting about 27.5 US mpg, which seems a more likely result with such spirited driving. 1 IMP gallon= 1.2 US gallon. It’s worth noting that official mileage quotations in Canada use neither method, having employed the liters/100 kilometer figure for about 20 years now.

      • 0 avatar

        @dvp nope, I converted correctly from beaver pelts per furlong. Hand-measured, I never use the on-board comps.

      • 0 avatar
        Elusivellama

        @Brendan But did you apply the Poutine Principle when you did your conversion?

    • 0 avatar
      carguy

      Sounds familiar. I had an 08 2.3 auto and was struggling to get 22 in town and hardly ever got 30 on the highway. The gearing simply revved the engine too high at any sped above 70. But it was a fun car.

      • 0 avatar
        MZ3AUTOXR

        Responding to dror and carguy-

        I work hard for 33. 20 mile commute with one traffic light. Usually the morning traffic is just busy enough to keep everyone at 65. The rest is backroads where I keep it in the highest gear the car will take. Also, because I am going up and down a hill for the last five miles, I can do a fair amount of coasting (if no one is around to be annoyed.)

        Another key is not slowing for on and exit ramps if possible, trying keep having to accelerate to a minimum. My goal is to be as close to my target cruise speed as possible at the end of the ramp.

        As a test, I once did half hour trip on a fresh tank of gas at a mind-numbingly slow 55 MPH on cruise on a reletivively flat stretch of highway. Trip computer came in at 37 MPG, but no way it was worth the torture.

        Carguy is right about the gearing. When I am at 70 or higher I am always checking to see if I am in 4th instead of 5th. the 2.3 could have used another cog.

    • 0 avatar
      rpn453

      29.6 USMPG (7.9L/100km) average on my ’04 2.3L 5-speed over 64k miles. Probably 75% highway. Bipolar driving style. Best tank: 37.9 (6.2), 60 mph average into the Rockies and back on a couple of pleasant spring days, having lots of fun with engine braking during 2 hours of 55 mph mountain roads between Banff and Radium. Worst tank: 22.2 (10.6), all January city driving at -20C to -40C.

      I have no complaints. I’d give this new stuff a few years to make sure it doesn’t have any teething issues.

  • avatar
    akitadog

    Brendan,

    Any idea on if we’ll get a 2.5 Skyactiv engine? Or if NA will be seeing the Skyactiv-D?

    Our family are anticipating the day that the Mazda5 Skyactiv-D shows up in the US, but we’re “cautiously optimistic.”

    • 0 avatar
      Brendan McAleer

      There is a Skyactiv-D coming to NA, at least to Canada, and it’s looking more and more like in the new ’6.

      You’d probably see a diesel CX-5 before the Mazda5. I’m not entirely sure the 2.0L Skyactiv has enough gusto to haul around a loaded-up Mazda5.

  • avatar
    nearprairie

    Our recent two test drives of Mazda3 SkyActivs provided the following impressions:

    1. During the first 10-15 seconds of start-up the engine sounds like someone shaking an old Folgers coffee can filled with nuts and washers. The first time I heard it I asked the salesman if there was any oil in the engine. Once the compression builds the noise abates but the sound was disconcerting.

    2. The interior appointments are a mix of pretty good and “chupper chickin.” The dash and center console are nicely appointed with easy to read graphics, almost ergonomic button layouts, and good surface textures. From the front doors back the car looked and felt cheap offering lots of hard, shiny plastics, crappy carpet, and an uncomfortable lumbar lump on the limited adjustment cloth drivers seat.

    3. The rear seats are roomy enough for a compact, though the butt drop down to the seat cushion during entry was a bit of a surprise, and knee room will be compromised for anyone over 6′.

    4. The SkyActiv engine was surprisingly robust and peppy. Drivetrain noise on an asphalt four-lane at 70MPH was subdued, a rolling antithesis of any of the 7 Hondas we’ve owned. Slalom handling in a vacant school parking lot proved to be quick, nimble, and with a tight turning radius.

    5. The base/standard audio speakers are a joke forcing a muffled mid-range, lifeless treble, and bloated, undefined bass into the cabin. To get the better stereo you have to also buy the sunroof — $1500.

    After two test drives we decided to pass because of the uneven interior appointments, uncomfortable drivers seat, and price increase necessary to get the SkyActiv drivetrain.

  • avatar
    nearprairie

    Good question. This is the first time we have no specific vehicular agenda model-wise.

    After two CR-Vs (and a couple of Troopers and pick-ups) my Chief Spousal Unit (CSU) remains biased toward a ride that provides either lateral ingress/egress, or a little more altitude. She’s a tall babe and doesn’t like dropping into and climbing out of a car. As for me, now that I’m starting to own up to middle age, the desire to overcompensate and repress on all 8-cylinders is strong, so I’m focused on sporty whips.

    To date we’ve tested:
    Nissan XTerra, Juke
    Scion Xb, Xd
    Honda Ridgeline, Civic, SI, Accord, S2000, Element
    Mazda3, 5, 2, CX-7
    Caddy CTS
    VW CC, Tiguan, Golf, GTI, Beetle, Jetta SportWagen
    Toyota Rav4, Camry, Corolla, Venza, Tacoma
    Ford F-150
    Suzuki Kizashi
    Mini Cooper
    Audi 3
    Volvo S30
    Infiniti G35 Coupe
    Chevy Cruze
    Subaru Outback

    The two we’ve been most enthusiastic about are the Ridgeline — yes, the ugliest thing on the road, and very thirsty, but also damn near perfect for all its tasks — and the CTS, though over 75 GM service bulletins and that disappointing timing chain/cam shaft issue were pretty cold splashes of water on our warm enthusiasm.

    This weekend we plan to test an ’08 Mercedes C300 and the Kizashi (I’ve driven it, loved it, and like Pilate judging Christ could “find no fault” with it, but only have 49% of the vote).

    We’re open to suggestions.

    • 0 avatar

      Wow, that’s quite the list. Outback, perhaps? TL? Maxima?

    • 0 avatar
      ajla

      If you liked the Kizashi, you’ll like the Regal.

      …And don’t forget about the G8 and TSX.

      • 0 avatar
        nearprairie

        Ah, the G8. I keep forgetting about that one. Good call. And the Regal is a definite maybe. We just sold an ’08 TSX — sweet, sweet ride — for the aforementioned CSU issues regarding having to drop down into, and climb up out of, a seat.

    • 0 avatar
      darex

      Somewhat odd list. I note that you have not included a single Hyundai or Kia product. Is there a reason why?

      I’m with you on the Kizashi. It is a very impressive interior, but for me, anything with a trunk is “out”.

      After having read this review, I am glad to have not waited for the Mazda 3 SkyActiv and truth be told, I’m rather delighted with my Hyundai Veloster.

      I really do get 40 mpg on the highway (or more at times), and it’s comfortable, well-appointed and has very good ergonomics, great telematics, a fantastic stereo and other creature comforts I like, and the price for what you get cannot be beaten.

      I don’t dislike Mazdas, and I know they’re a solid choice for just about anyone, but they invariably seem to fall off my list for one reason or another. I’m really starting to think that for all the hype, “SkyActiv” is just a badge and painted engine cover for all PRACTICAL purposes, mated to the same plasticky interior and not-so-pretty exterior. I mean, let’s face it, if anything, in this example, it’s merely brought Mazda3 more in line with its competition (not even matching it) in the fuel-economy department. Is that really something to cheer about?

      • 0 avatar
        nearprairie

        darex,

        Yes, it is an odd list, a result of not having much of a game plan and being under zero pressure to buy. CSU wants comfort without loss of altitude, I want something that at least leans toward sporty, and we’d prefer a roller that gets decent MPG — potentially three disparate requirements. As for your question about Hyundai/Kia, we’re not fans of Hyundai sheet metal feeling just about every model looks overcooked and would fail to hold their visual interest after a couple of months. As for Kia, we may check out an Optima this weekend, as well. Thanks for the suggestion.

  • avatar
    foojoo

    I recently purchased the 2012 Mazda3 2.0 liter. After test driving the 2.0 and the Skyactiv, both with manual transmissions, I opted for the 2.0. With a manual transmission the 2.0 is plenty peppy enough for me. Maybe the 2.0 is lacking with an automatic transmission.

    I don’t do enough driving to make the improved fuel efficiency in the Skyactiv model worthwhile enough to offset the price difference between the models.

    Oh, and if you are in the market for a Mazda3 i Sport with a manual transmission now is a great time to buy. I picked mine up for 14900. It took a few days worth of bidding wars and haggling, but 14900 for a new car is dirt cheap.

    • 0 avatar
      nearprairie

      Foojoo: I was jonesing for the Mazda3 2.0 liter hatchback on the showroom floor during our last SkyActiv test. Pearlescent white paint, manual tranny, nicer interior, great audio. CSU saw the low entry and seats and headed for the 5. For car buying we use the Dr. Phil marital negotiation strategy: Two yeses and one no.

      BrendanMac: Thanks for the suggestions, especially the Maxima. Had overlooked that one.

  • avatar
    gslippy

    Am I the only one who thinks “SKYACTIV” should be a reference to an OnStar-like product, not an engine technology? This has to be one of the most mis-named products ever.

    Is this a 2.0 liter engine? I couldn’t exactly tell from the review, since ’2.0L’ was initially referred to as ‘dowdy’, then it was implied that this engine is achieving 2.5 power from a 2.0.

    Whatever it is, 155 HP from a 2.0 isn’t that great, unless it actually achieves 40 mpg, which it didn’t in this review. So I’m not so impressed.

    • 0 avatar
      MZ3AUTOXR

      “I beat that thing like a concrete piňata and not only did it feel like it loved every minute of it, but there was also little penalty at the pump.”

      As I mention above, I have to work VERY hard to get 33 MPG from my 2.3. If I did like Brendan did, I would expect to be in the lower 20′s for fuel mileage. Heck, I end up in the high 20′s if I even think about revving it above 3500 on a regular basis. So I am pretty impressed.

      Any of the supposed fuel sippers would struggle to get to their highway MPG rating if you beat the p1ss out of them. The difference is that the Mazda is actually fun to drive vs the other 40 MPG cars.

      • 0 avatar
        redav

        I test drove one and with casual driving the computer said 36 mpg. From the way it behaved, I can believe the 33 mpg figure so long as he wasn’t accelerating to every stop light. I was very impressed with the transmission and overall feel. I was not impressed with the very limited range of colors available (shades of gray or blue only).

        I’m one of those who hates the big-mouth clown fish look, so I’m waiting for the Kodo-styled redesign (should hit the streets in two years). I’d love the diesel version, but I don’t see any chance of the 2.2L making it into the 3. Other countries will likely get a SkyActiv 1.6L diesel, though.

    • 0 avatar
      Demetri

      It’s a 2.0L. This year, Mazda offers 3 engine choices; the old 2.0L and 2.5L, and the new 2.0L Skyactiv. Also, the engine will make more power once they can put the new header on it. With premium fuel and the header, it should be making ~170hp.

      • 0 avatar
        Brendan McAleer

        I don’t think we’ll get the full premium fuel engine here, and the higher-comp 13:1 engine will probably put out the same155hp. Check the specs on the CX-5; same hp, a little more torque. Still, it’s a pretty willing little motor, and should improve with tweaking.

    • 0 avatar
      Loser

      I was thinking the same thing about the “SKYACTIV” name, seems like a good name for satellite radio to me.

  • avatar
    Loser

    The wife wants one of these. I don’t care for the looks myself but our current Mazda has been great.

  • avatar
    50merc

    Mazda dropped the red interior lighting? Hooray, no longer an automatic veto! But I’ll never go back to buying a Mazda every few years. They’re aiming at buyers who think every drive is the Gran Prix de Redlineville. Even the CUV’s are shaped like scarab beetles.

  • avatar
    WheelMcCoy

    Brendan – A very enjoyable read over morning coffee. Thank you!
    VD – Mazdas are for serious drivers, not serious people.
    Astigmatism – Blue light is known to help cope with jet lag, so it might help prevent driving drowsy?
    Loser – SKYACTIV name — at least it’s better than “SKYNET”. :P
    Mazda – nice job!

  • avatar

    for god sake, its Mazda, great car and now with even great specs. definately down for this one. this will be the best
    New Car 2012 . i bet it will

  • avatar

    Brendan McAleer,
    “Also the early ‘speed3 ate motor mounts like milk-duds”
    Just as reminder, my 2006 hatch ate the #3 motor mount 4 times in 5 years, that is for only 66k miles and all under warranty, this looked like a bad joke, how is one part can not be made right?
    Also, about MPG, my 2011 2.5 hatch, at 60MPH, running at about 2100 RPM, the old 2.3 was more like 2300 RPM, there is not much difference in fuel consumption, a 2010 Ford Fusion I was driving, with the same 2.5 engine, was running at 1750RPM at 60MPH. I don’t know why Mazda can’t have the engine run a little slower.
    When I took the 2011 for my first oil change, they came up with a $120 bill, when I asked why so high? the representative said Mazda recommend synthetic oil and also gave me 2 pages from Mazda to read explaining what synthetic oil is and why it’s recommended, the main thing was fuel consumption.
    Immediately, I told him nicely that he got 2 options, one is to charge me for regular oil, the second is to take back the car and put regular oil, there is no way I’m paying for synthetic, it took him about 2 min to come back with a reduced bill, less than half.
    Mazda probably found a way to screw up their customers, I mean, customers who don’t ask questions.

    • 0 avatar
      rpn453

      Don’t blame Mazda for a shady dealership. If the manual doesn’t specify synthetic, then that info is not coming from Mazda. Notify Mazda if you feel they were trying to scam you. No need for synthetic in that car under factory recommended intervals unless you’re cold enough for a 0W, especially considering how good any modern (API SN/GF-5) oil is these days. I don’t know about the current Speed3, but the first few years didn’t even specify synthetic for their turbo engines. My local dealership was trying to push 2500 mile intervals when I bought my Mazda3.

      The transmission mount (#1, I believe) is a contributing factor in the frequent demise of the front liquid-filled mount. It’s so flimsy to reduce NVH levels that it causes excessive stress on the front mount. The engine flops around like a fish if you’re on and off the throttle hard in 1st gear and wheel hop is excessive with the stock setup. The Speed3 mount is a little stiffer and will improve the situation without adding any significant engine noise or vibration. The aftermarket CP-E mount will stiffen it up perfectly but increase NVH, though not nearly as much as any other solid mount I’ve tried or heard about. Roughness while idling with the A/C on is the only real problem with the CP-E. Not an issue for me because I never do that. I enjoy open windows when I’m driving around the city on a warm day, and I modified my HVAC control unit so the compressor never comes on automatically on any setting.

  • avatar
    Manny Calavera

    I do have a soft spot for Mazda too. Used to have one of the rare-ish 323 GT-R’s, after owning the cheap boxy 1.5l 323 sedan when I was a student.

    The Zoom Zoom marketing thing does have some merit. All Mazda’s I’ve driven have been smile inducing, and (apart from the GT-R eating through clutch pads like no tomorrow) surprisingly reliable.


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