A mere 72 hours after I picked up my Mazda3 SKYACTIV hatchback with the 6-speed automatic transmission, Mazda informed me that they had a 6-speed manual transmission hatch available, and that I was welcome to return the automatic version in exchange for the stickshift. The next day, I dropped off the white automatic for a bright blue manual version. What a mistake.
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.
Here’s an open secret: the Mazda3 is the auto-journo’s cop-out. “Hey,” inquires the prospective punter, “I’m actually kinda/sorta in the market. What do you recommend?” Nine times out of ten, the sporty little ’3 is gonna get a plug. Tenth guy wants a truck.
Now around here, obviously that’s not the case. Ask the TTAC boys what you should buy and Jack Baruth is going to punch you in the face and sleep with your wife, Sajeev Mehta will get a far-away look in his eyes thinking of all the non-running personal-luxury-coupe crap-cans he could add to his stable for the price of a new car, Bertel Schmitt’s going to give you a fascinating but interminable lecture on the nuances of some improbable menage a trois between Nissan, Geely and Fisher-Price, and me? Well, I’m new around here. Again.
Which is why I’m going to extoll me a little Zoom-Zoom.
The regular Mazda3 is already one of the best-handling choices in the small car market and you can get it with either a revvy little two-litre engine or a torquier 2.5L mill with 167 horses. For a front-wheel-drive compact, 167 ponies should be plenty. I mean, what kind of a lunatic would you have to be to want more power than that?
Wait a minute. I’m a lunatic!
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The Sea-to-Sky highway in British Columbia, Canada, carves a winding route from the gorgeous – and occasionally riotous – city of Vancouver to the world-class ski resort of Whistler. Its looping curves were rebuilt to make it a high-speed corridor for tourists and athletes during the last Winter Olympics, and as a result, it’s probably one of the top five roads in this country. Mind you, it’s also a favourite hang-out for the local constabulary.
So here I am then, at the wheel of a priceless prototype, sitting on the wrong side of the car next to an emeritus journalist, on a blind on-ramp to one of the most highly-patrolled roads in Canada. What’s called for here is a little decorum, a careful merge, some light throttle application, a few gentle gear-changes and so on. Anything else would be at-worst dangerous and at-best unseemly.
By a curious co-incidence, “unseemly” is my middle name. So I floor it.
Once issued a challenge to write a novel in just six words, Ernest Hemingway famously produced, “For sale: baby shoes, never used.” Well that’s a bit depressing. No wonder he shot himself. It’s rumoured that Hemingway considered this snippet his best work. Get ready to eat your heart out Papa Bear, ’cause I can sum up the Mazda2 in one syllable: “Wheeee!”
Eh? Hmm, seems that’s not good enough for our Editor. But wait, there’s more!
In the United States, unlike elsewhere in the world, there aren’t many choices for those who need seating for more than five people but who don’t want to give up the maneuverability of a compact car. Kia gave the segment a go, but withdrew the Rondo from the U.S. market a couple of years ago. Chevrolet has opted to not even test the waters with the Orlando. So Mazda currently has the segment to itself. But the Ford C-Max arrives in less than a year. Does the revised 2012 Mazda5 have what it takes to fend off the challenger?
With the 2007 model year introduction of the CX-7, Mazda arrived late to the compact crossover party. And when you arrive late, you’d better bring something special. To this end, the CX-7 combined swoopy styling and a standard turbocharged engine, making it arguably the sportiest offering in the segment. After an initial burst, during which everyone who really wanted one bought one, sales have been modest. In a bid to broaden the CX-7s appeal, Mazda added a non-turbocharged four as part of a 2010 refresh. But if you take away one of the few things that made the CX-7 special, is there any reason to buy one?
As they say in Hebrew, im ta’am v’rai’ach ain l’hit’vakai’ach, with matters of taste you can’t argue, and in general I agree with Jack Baruth’s principle that folks who know nothing about design shouldn’t say much beyond “like it” or “don’t like it”. Still, it’s impossible to review current Mazdas without at least mentioning their, ahem, cheerful styling. And after spending a week with the Mazda 3 S Grand Touring five door (hereafter, the M3SGT), I’m afraid to say that styling was the major drawback. Of course, that also means that everything else about the MS3GT was pretty darn good.
My youngest child, of three, turns eight next month. A few years ago, when it became clear that regularly working until 3 AM and then dealing with the children in the morning was not good for anyone’s sanity, we added an au pair. So there are six people in the house. Anyone with sense would have gotten a three-row something-or-other at least eight years ago. And probably when the first child was still in utero. Fool that I am, a decade on I’m still waiting for one to sweep me off my feet. I tend to have a thing for Mazdas. Mazda makes the three-row CX-9. So, why not the CX-9? In test drives back in 2007 and 2008, we didn’t quite hit it off. Perhaps we just needed more time together? Ever hopeful, I spent a week with the 2010.
I’ve been known to complain every now and then that cars in general have grown too heavy and, partly as a consequence, boring to drive. Hardly any engage the driver like the 2003 Mazda Protege5 in my driveway does. Even the burgeoning crop of B-segment cars, including the much-lauded Honda Fit, has disappointed in this regard. And so we come to the latest contender, the Mazda2, at 2,306 pounds the lightest 2011 car you can buy with a back seat.
Most cars today avoid doing anything terribly well so as to avoid doing anything terribly badly. Then there are Mazdas. I love my Protege5. The agile chassis is a joy around town, BUT refinement and rust prevention were clearly not on the engineers’ to-do list. I love the RX-8 even more. Outstanding handling, surprising utility for a sports car, BUT the rotary is torque free and can drink a Corvette under the table. And then we have the MazdaSpeed3. You already know what I’m going to say about the MazdaSpeed3. But I’m going to say it anyway.
For a reviewer, getting handed a car with delivery miles on the odometer is an instant promotion to tribal shaman. You’re given a quick pat on the back before being shoved into a hut with the village’s prettiest virgin. Needless to say, this privilege comes with the sacred duty of keeping the virgin in tip-top shape, otherwise your term as high-muck-a-much will be pretty short-lived. Unfortunately for my political aspirations, the Mazda2 loves being ridden hard. It squeals through corners, snarling like a dog in heat. There’s a lot more fun to be had here than the tiny 185/55R15 Dunlop Sports suggest.
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The Mazda 6 is an enigma. It’s a fine automobile, at least the equal of any car in its segment, as close to a driver’s car as you’ll find in a midsize family sedan. Comfortable, not bad looking, nicely appointed, good fit and finish, great performance, decent economy. There is no question that the Mazda 6 stacks up well in phylum Camcordata yet it sits no higher than 10th place in the family sedan sales race, averaging about 2,400 units a month in the US since the all new 2010 model got up to speed last summer. The midsize segment in North America is the automotive big leagues. The 6 should be fighting for first place, not mired deep in the second division. Product may be everything, but sometimes it’s not enough.
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The Mazda3’s performance has always kept it a step ahead of the other economy cars on the market. However, as Mazda’s worked to differentiate their econobox from cookie-cutter Cobalts, Corollas and Civics visually, they’ve tweaked it from “different” to “borderline bizarre.” They say, “beauty is only skin deep, but ugly goes clean to the bones.” Has Mazda gone too far, or is the 2010 Mazda3s Sport still good enough underneath to make you overlook its sheet metal shortcomings?
Review: 2010 Mazda3s Sport Car Review Rating
Overall Rating: 4/5 Stars