The Truth About Cars » Grand Touring The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Tue, 06 Oct 2015 17:00:53 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars » Grand Touring 2016 Mazda CX-3 Review – Nomenclature, Be Damned Thu, 13 Aug 2015 19:28:09 +0000 2016 Mazda CX-3 Grand Touring AWD (U.S.)/GT AWD (Canada) 2.0-liter SKYACTIV DOHC I-4, direct injection, dual S-VT (146 horsepower @ 6,000 rpm; 146 lbs-ft of torque @ 2,800 rpm) 6-speed SKYACTIV-Drive automatic w/ Sport mode and paddle shifters 27 city/32 highway/29 combined (EPA Rating, MPG) 30 mpg on the camping-gear-laden test cycle, 80 percent highway […]

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2016 Mazda CX-3 GT (1 of 25)

2016 Mazda CX-3 Grand Touring AWD (U.S.)/GT AWD (Canada)

2.0-liter SKYACTIV DOHC I-4, direct injection, dual S-VT (146 horsepower @ 6,000 rpm; 146 lbs-ft of torque @ 2,800 rpm)

6-speed SKYACTIV-Drive automatic w/ Sport mode and paddle shifters

27 city/32 highway/29 combined (EPA Rating, MPG)

30 mpg on the camping-gear-laden test cycle, 80 percent highway (Observed, MPG)

Tested Options: i-ACTIVSENSE Safety Package (U.S.)/Technology Package (Canada), i-ACTIV all-wheel drive (U.S., AWD is standard on GT trim in Canada)

Base Price:
$20,840* (U.S.)/$22,680* (Canada)
As Tested Price:
$29,040* (U.S.)/$32,490* (Canada)

* All prices include $880 destination fee (U.S.) or $1,995 destination fee, PDI and A/C tax (Canada).

For as long as I can remember, my parents always had two vehicles while I was growing up. The first one I can vividly remember was the precursor to GM’s dreaded Cavalier and Cobalt, a 1987 Chevrolet Chevette, with an interior as roomy as any compact you can buy today. The second conveyance in our driveway was a 1992 Suzuki Sidekick, Jay Green in color, and rugged as my father needed for his job traversing Cape Breton Island’s vast spaghetti network of logging roads.

In the early 1990s, the Chevette ended with a bang. As I laid on a bed at my grandmother’s apartment, attempting as much as a young child would to get to sleep (translation: not trying at all), I was startled by tire squealing, a loud bang, silence, then more tire squealing. The Chevette had been dispatched by a freshly licensed 16-year-old driving a Hyundai Pony and fueled by Vitamin O. Write-off total: approximately $500 — for both cars.

The Chevette, now off to the scrapyard, was replaced by a Pontiac Firefly five-door, known for its economical three-cylinder engine outputting double-digit horsepower whilst solidly achieving double-digit miles per gallon halfway to the centripulcate. As a daily runabout, it was solid, economical, and — with its wagon-esque virtues — incredibly versatile.

Back then, my parents were about the same age I am now. They were the last of the Baby Boomers and in the 1990s faced what many Millennials face today. My parents were done with school and working on budding careers and a growing family inside their newly acquired home. There are some key differences between them and me however: I have one extra dog (for a total of two), lack children and I don’t own a home.

It’s in this context that my girlfriend and I headed out on one of my family’s favorite pastimes from when I was a child — a weekend camping trip — in the millennial-focused 2016 Mazda CX-3.

Before we get to the driving, let’s talk about what actually is a CX-3 because the nomenclature is, I think, incredibly confusing to consumers. Also, I think it’s one of the reasons why Mazda is having a hard time making inroads in the U.S. market despite fostering some of the best products in the industry.

The CX-3 is a Mazda2 in drag and not a jacked up Mazda3. A jacked up Mazda3 is called a CX-5, which is kind of related to the Mazda5 so few people bought in the U.S. that Mazda killed it off. The Mazda6 is built on its own G platform derivative, dubbed GJ, and is fairly unrelated to everything else. The CX-9 is a Ford.

With that out of the way …

2016 Mazda CX-3 GT (2 of 25)

Shapely lines and a flowing beltline make the CX-3 one of the most stylish options in the sub-compact car segment. I say this because whenever we stopped along our journey to and from the campsite, there was always at least one person — if not multiple — checking out the car. And I mean really staring at it. The CX-3 turns heads without voyeurs wearing a horrified but quizzical “what the hell is that thing?” facial expression usually reserved for the Aztek and Nissan Juke.

2016 Mazda CX-3 GT (19 of 25)

Up front, the CX-3 wears the same updated design language as the refreshed Mazda6 and CX-5, which is a slightly angrier yet more refined version of Mazda’s KODO design DNA. The large grille has presence, even if it’s slightly ruined by its license plate soul patch. The chrome grille surrounding meets elegantly with the squinting headlights much like its brethren, and thank you Mazda for making use of LED technology without turning your headlamps into Audi knock-offs.

At its side, the CX-3 welcomes you with the aforementioned high, flowing beltline and lots of dark plastic cladding to support its rough-and-tumble marketing message. At this trim, there’s even a nice chrome runner to give the CX-3 a more upmarket appearance. All in all, the plastic and chrome say, “Yes, I can do some light off-roading … ” while its pregnant-mouse grown clearance qualify the statement with, ” … but I’d rather not today.” Wheels on this Grand Touring model measure in at 18 inches and fill the wheel wells gracefully. Base model CX-3s come fitted with 16-inch shoes that are much more restrained in their design but are a bit more sophisticated and less trendy.

Much like the Mazda3, there is more metal than glass at the rear of the CX-3. Thankfully, the car comes with a standard backup camera to compensate for the lack of rearward visibility.

As a package, the CX-3 is the sharpest of numbers in an increasingly crowded, increasingly competitive segment.

2016 Mazda CX-3 GT (7 of 25)

2016 Mazda CX-3 GT (4 of 25)At first, the CX-3’s interior looks like standard Mazda fare, which is good. However, you will notice one omission when you try to use the stereo … that doesn’t exist; instead of a head unit, you are presented a CD slot on the dash (why did they even bother?) along with knobs in the center console for audio operation through Mazda’s infotainment system (more on that later). The only physical tracking buttons are on the steering wheel. There are no controls on the dash at all save the CD slot’s eject button. The arrangement is definitely something you’ll need to get used to; I found myself reaching toward the dash all week long to either change a track to adjust the volume, only to realize I’m an idiot again and again before performing the task at hand through the steering wheel controls or center console knobs.

Other gripes: there is no center console cubby or armrest — console- or seat-mounted — in the CX-3. On long drives, that’s irritating when wanting to steer from the bottom of the wheel, but space is a premium in a millennial mobile.

On the other end of the spectrum, the seats are some of the nicest I’ve seen, touched and sat in in any car less than $30,000. They are beautiful to look at, hug well, and despite there firmness are still comfortable for weekend-long journeying.

2016 Mazda CX-3 GT (11 of 25)

Just like the Mazda3, the iPad-on-dash display is present in the CX-3. Love it or hate it, it’s there — and it’s standard equipment. The 7-inch Mazda Connect display is clear and crisp to the eye and still manages to arrange information and functions in a way that’s logically sound when driving. However, the way the HMI Commander Switch interacts with the screen sometimes feels backwards. You navigate options usually by turning the knob, and when you do the highlighted option is sometimes the opposite of what you meant to pick. Maybe this is my issue.

2016 Mazda CX-3 GT (12 of 25)While you may decry my lack of audio-specific impressions on new cars, the fact is I am fairly tone deaf, so my impressions won’t matter. The stereo sounded clear to me. Your musical mileage may vary.

The navigation, on the other hand, is something I feel fully qualified to, well, qualify. It’s dead simple to use and the visual presentation is excellent. Digging into the menus can be slightly confusing, but once you do it once or twice you’re good to go.

Yet, I still don’t understand Mazda’s aversion to letting someone use the touchscreen in motion. Yes, I understand the safety argument, but what about passengers? Why should they be locked out of using the touchscreen functionality? Also, if you are in motion 99 percent of the time you’re in the car, why even bother with having a touchscreen at all? Either unlock the screen and let me use it or get rid of it altogether. Please.

2016 Mazda CX-3 GT (3 of 25)

Here’s another item that further confuses consumers into thinking the CX-3 is based on the Mazda3. Underhood is the same exact SKYACTIV-G 2-liter engine as its sedan and hatchback stablemates. Yet, unlike the Mazda3, the CX-3 is not available with the optional 2.5-liter SKYACTIV mill.

The 146 horsepower and 146 pounds-feet of torque doesn’t make the CX-3 slow by any stretch, and down low the 2-liter is great for the stoplight drag race. On the highway, the SKYACTIV four does show its one flaw, though, and that’s its lack of passing power. When you are traveling on two-lane secondary roads and need to pass an RV piloted by 78-year-old tourists from Connecticut, you really need to pick your moment. Compounding the pain: The issue could be remedied with a manual gearbox, which isn’t an option in North America. Instead, we are saddled with a six-speed automatic as the only transmission offered, unlike other parts of the world.

Now, there’s nothing especially wrong with that six-speed auto. Actually, for an automatic, it’s quite good. Shifts are smooth, as is getting away from a stop. Shifting with the paddles is (gasp!) fun! Sport mode, which holds back shifts just a tad bit longer, won’t get you going any quicker at full trot. However, it isn’t as aggressive as some other sport transmission tuning I’ve experienced in the past, and it actually makes the experience more than bearable.

On our mostly highway-limited trip, the Mazda CX-3 clocked in just above its combined EPA rating of 29 mpg.

Let’s quickly get a few things out of the way so we can talk about what’s truly important about the CX-3.

  • The ride is good, though has typical Mazda firmness built in for that “sporty” feeling.
  • The seating position is great, a good mix of slightly raised without feeling you’re driving a truck or more conventional SUV.
  • Overall, it’s a great car.

Yet, as a non-car loving consumer, you might think the CX-3 is a jacked up Mazda3, and I am sure Mazda is banking on it.

“Why would I spend $18,945 on a Mazda3 when I can spend $1,000 more and get a crossover based on the same car?” those millennials might ponder to themselves.

Meanwhile, buyers are unknowingly spending $4,000-5,000 over that mythical Mazda2 that doesn’t exist in the U.S. market, taking their new CX-3 home assuming it has the same interior space as the Mazda3, then wondering why Rover keeps hitting his cone-shaped golden retriever head repeatedly on the dome light. It’s at this point the Mazda CX-3 buyer realizes they’ve been had and it’s too damn late.

It’s a good thing we decided to leave the dogs at home.

Let me be crystal clear here: The CX-3 costs more than the Mazda3, and for that extra $1,000 you get 1) less utility, 2) less choice (no manual), and 3) optional all-wheel drive that isn’t meant for off-roading.

My parents, those millennials of yesteryear, had it right. Two vehicles served as solutions to two different problems. The Firefly was a stellar little runabout. The Sidekick was great for my dad’s work and also provided a spacious enough interior to go camping with three meatbags and an additional furry meatbag. The CX-3 tries to solve both while being completely successful at neither.

Fortunately it isn’t a matter of the car itself being bad and Mazda can fix it all by just calling it what it is. Rename the CX-3 the CX-2 or Mazda2 CrossVenza or whatever. But CX-3? Truth in advertising — or in nomenclature — this Mazda is not.

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Piston Slap: A Scion’s Ideal All Season Tire? Mon, 27 Oct 2014 12:10:05 +0000 TTAC Commentator Sam Hell Jr. writes: Hi, Sanjeev! The first car I bought for myself was a 2011 Scion tC. Compared with some other decisions I made three years ago (cough, cough, career in human resources, cough), this one’s turned out okay — to date, I’ve put 40k on the odo with no repair costs […]

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TTAC Commentator Sam Hell Jr. writes:

Hi, Sanjeev!

The first car I bought for myself was a 2011 Scion tC. Compared with some other decisions I made three years ago (cough, cough, career in human resources, cough), this one’s turned out okay — to date, I’ve put 40k on the odo with no repair costs but regular maintenance, and the hatchback utility and decent fuel economy have both matched up well with my needs. I’ll probably have the tC paid off this year, and I’m looking forward to debt-free living, so the car and I are stuck with each other for some time to come.

My biggest complaint is with the car’s interstate manners. I take a handful of significant road trips every year, and at freeway speeds on anything but pristine pavement (of the kind one does not often traverse on I-80), the ride gets jittery, and the tire noise is, well, tiresome.

I’m still running the stock 225/45R18 high-performance Toyos; based on the treadwear, I’ll be shopping for tires sometime in the next 12 months. I’m willing to trade some responsiveness for a little more comfort and quiet.

Would moving over to a grand touring tire like a Michelin Primacy be a reasonable option for me? Or would I just turn my noisy econohatch into a noisy econohatch with less-capable handling? (All-seasons are my only option — I live in northwest Ohio, and I don’t have anywhere to store a second set of tires.)

Follow-up question — are there some other reasonable steps I’m overlooking which might make this car a little less Celica and a little more Solara?

Thanks so much for your time — I’m a big fan of your columns!

Sajeev writes:

You don’t like being in command of people’s careers as An Almighty HR Professional?  I enjoy blackmailing certain super-cheaty racers as a judge in The 24 Hours of LeMons. You can do that too!

Just get the dirt on key executives, or middle managers hot-to-trot up the corporate ladder. Think about it: you could be bribing your way to a 2-car garage with ultra-plush Mercury Grand Marquis levels of comfort in a matter of months. After a year, LSX-FTW swap on both vehicles! Problem solved!

Sanjeev writes:

Oh that’s just lovely advice, you are such a wise man.  No wonder everyone wants ME to answer their letters, even with YOUR mindless rantings in tow. My friends: listen to Sanjeev.  Sanjeev knows Toyotas.

Sanjeev knows that your tires are old enough to need replacement, no matter their tread life.  Their noise level is tiresome, quite common for worn-out high performance rubber.  You can probably downsize to a Scion/Corolla 16 or 17″ wheel for maximum effect, maybe you’ll regret the lack of coolness in your cool Scion-branded Toyota. Why is Sanjeev right about this?  Because he did a mere tire change after Sajeev failed in his choice for his mother’s Lexus GS430.

Sajeev put a “high performance” all season tire, they drove everyone nuts after 3 years.  So Sanjeev wisely installed a less aggressive “touring” all season tire. Now everyone is happy. Because now it’s a proper V8-powered Lexus, with tires that will last longer, ride better (probably) and stay quieter. So, with Sanjeev’s blessings, switch to a more conservative all season tire!


Send your queries to Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry…but be realistic, and use your make/model specific forums instead of TTAC for more timely advice.

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Review: Mazda 6 S Grand Touring Mon, 22 Feb 2010 17:28:32 +0000 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 […]

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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.
As part of Bridgestone’s corporate sponsorship of the Chicago Auto Show, Mazda made a Blizzak equipped Mazda 6 S Grand Touring available to me for travel to and from the show. Conditions were a 6-10 inch snowstorm on the way to Chicago and 95% dry on the way home. After I got back I had the car for a few days in suburban Detroit, where roads were intermittently snow covered.

The S Grand Touring trim package is the top of the Mazda 6 lineup and this one came equipped with the only available options, the technology and navigation packages. That makes it as fully kitted as a 6 can get with an MSRP right around $33,000. The car had Mazda’s 3.7 liter 272 HP DOHC 24 valve V6 with variable valve timing mated to a 6 speed automatic with available tap shifting. Equipment included power and heated leather seats, dual zone automatic climate control, glass sunroof, high end Bose audio system with six-disc changer, 10 speakers, sat radio, a nav system, auto dimming mirrors, rain and snow sensing wipers, stability control, blind spot warning, xenon headlamps with leveling controls (more on that later), smart key fob system, sills that light up with the Mazda 6 logo and more. Personal settings for you and your significant other are stored in memory. On the outside were 18″ aluminum rims with wide 235/45 tires.

I’m not partial to the Mazda grin (though it’s not as bad as the menacing face on Acuras). The rest of the car is handsome, with an attractive wedge profile and an aggressive stance, partially due to the flared fenders and fat 45 series tires. It’s got a high rear deck like most sedans these days, and I’m only 5’6″, but rear visibility wasn’t a problem. The front end does drop away quickly but I didn’t find positioning the front end on the road to be a problem. One nice thing about the high rear deck is a spacious trunk, which Mazda claims to be a class leading 16.6 cubic feet. All in all I’d say it’s about the best looking car in the class. The Malibu is inoffensive but narrow, the Camry has a proboscis and a Bangle butt, and the Accord is bloated. Though I like some of what’s come out of Nissan under Shiro Nakamura the Nissan sedans don’t do it for me. The Sonata’s not bad, and represents what the Accord probably should have been. I don’t think anyone would be embarrassed by the looks of the 6. If anything, it stands out in a nondescript segment.

Fit and finish was good. Paint quality on the dark blue car was first rate as was panel fit. Interior quality was nice as well. The interior is gray and black, with black wood (or fake wood, if it’s a fake, it’s a good fake – one reviewer has called it Mazda6ium) [ED: it is fake] trim on the dash and the console, an elegant and original touch. The only thing that looked cheap was the storage bin / cup holder in the door, which had some visible molding lines in the hard plastic. Textures looked and felt good and the switchwork, particularly the steering column stalks, had great tactile feel. There’s a 12v outlet on the center stack, with an additional power tap in the console bin, where the jack and cable for connecting an mp3 player is also located – a nice idea that keeps clutter off the console.

As I said, the 6 GT comes with all the latest high tech features one could find in a family sedan. With concerns over drive-by-wire arising from the Toyota situation I wonder, though, if we’re reaching the point of diminishing returns with technology on cars. I can remember that the only thing you needed to learn was that Saab’s had the ignition key on the floor between the seats and Porsches’ were over on the left side of the dashboard. Now, you can unlock and start your car without ever handling something that looks like a key and you really have to read the manual before you drive a car that’s new to you.

Not that I have anything against reading the manual. I’m the original RTFM guy. Before getting behind the wheel I took the time to read the quick start guide to learn how to start (and stop) the car, operate the basic controls, figure how to get sounds on the stereo, and in general drive the car safely. On the road to Chicago, though, I discovered that I had not RTFM’d carefully enough.

I left at mid-afternoon and between the weather and the traffic, I don’t think that I exceeded 50 mph until I was approaching Indiana on I-94. Though the road was not snow covered, it was just barely so. Between the snow tires, the stability control and the 6’s road handling abilities I had plenty of confidence and when things finally cleared up during a lull in the storm I tried to make up some time. By then it was fully dark out and I realized that I was seriously overdriving my headlights. The low beams were very bright but there was a visible cutoff about a semi tractor trailer’s length in front of my car. When I got to the show and spoke to the Mazda rep, he asked me if there were xenon headlamps and I said, yeah, I think so. Then he showed me the headlamp leveling control over on the auxiliary IP.

Ahah! So that’s what that cryptic icon means. On the way back to Detroit, once in their high position, the headlamps worked fine, though I think that headlamp leveling is a case of selling a bug fix as a feature. The new high intensity lamps are indeed very bright and very precisely aimed. The light pattern is very, very directional, with sharp cutoffs between the dark and illuminated areas. The beam is also narrow vertically to keep it out of the eyes of opposing traffic. When aimed on the road they work great, but the end result is that the headlamps are sensitive to the car’s pitch. When the back seat and trunk are full the leveling control is needed to lower the lights and keep them aimed on the road, instead of pointing into the sky. More expensive cars make the systems automatic. Mazda gives you a thumbwheel with an icon that looks like a Volvo fog lamp switch (the actual fog lamps are actuated by a band on the headlamp/turn signal stalk. Even with the lamps in the highest position, the road’s grade could pitch the lamps down well below the horizon. Old fashioned sealed beam units may not have been as bright, but they were not nearly so pitch sensitive. Still, headlamp leveling is kind of cool. When I showed it to my friends, they all went, “wow”, but as I said, I think it’s more of fix than a feature.

Other than my brain fade with the lights, all the gizmos worked well. The smart key system quickly stops being a novelty and starts being a convenience, particularly in operating the door and trunk locks. The blind spot warning indicators were unobtrusive, the automatic wipers worked about 95% as well as I would have done myself – I think I only used the washers about a half a dozen times in about 7 hours – in a snow storm with plenty of salt on the road.

As an audiophile I guess I’m supposed to dismiss Bose, but the audio system sounded good, with tight bass and accurate highs. Sat radio is nice but I discovered that I can actually get bored of the Grateful Dead, though they did play some deep Pigpen cuts I’d never heard before. The self-dimming mirrors were nice to have since most of the driving was at night on the interstates. In addition to the dimming feature and power adjustment, the side mirrors were also heated and light the ground when you open the door. The self-dimming works nicely but there’s a band about 1/4″ around the perimeter of the mirror that doesn’t dim. As headlamps move from the dimmed area across that undimmed 1/4″ it can be distracting as they suddenly get brighter in your peripheral vision. More important is the fact that the mirror units are huge. I guess all that adjusting and dimming and lighting and heating takes up space because the housings are very large, and with the mirrors set off from the body, at least on the driver’s side the mirror obscures a good deal of your vision out of the side window.

The climate control works perfectly. The ACC has a nice feature where the fan blows hard for a few seconds after you get back into the car and start it after a short stop. That quickly gets things to temperature and is welcome in cold weather. After cold starts, while you’re waiting for the engine to warm up and the ACC to kick in, the seats have two heat settings that quickly make your tush and thighs toasty.

Those seats deserve special mention. I have a bad back. Scratch that, I have a terrible back. Breakfast is three aspirin and so is my bedtime snack. I first hurt my back as a teen, and have messed it up a few times since including falling down a 35-foot river bed in the Upper Peninsula. Most recently I had a bad head-on bicycle to bicycle wreck on a blind curve a couple of years ago. It hurts to roll over in bed. Though I love long distance driving, I haven’t been able to drive more than 150-200 miles at a stretch without my back starting to ache in a long, long time. The eight way power seats (w/ memory) in the Mazda 6 Grand Touring are damn near perfect, at least for my back.

The lumbar adjustment was ideal and I didn’t have to even rub my back, squirm or stretch once in over 600 miles of driving. Ergonomics were superb in terms of driving position and working the wheel and pedals. The gear shift, too, falls readily to hand (I always wanted to write that). Beyond the driving position, ergonomics were only okay. Controls on the steering wheel are nice but when they end up making the wheel too thick to grip, it doesn’t thrill me. Also not thrilling are symmetrical center stack controls, a problem not restricted to Mazda. The buttons and knob on the passenger side of the touch screen are a reach for the driver or at least this driver who has a long torso and arms. I understand the appeal of symmetry in design, since my day job involves some design work, but function should come first. There are attractive center stack designs that put all controls within reach of the driver.

Dynamics were great and the car is quiet. The car handled nicely both in the snow and on dry pavement. I didn’t do many full throttle accelerations but I didn’t notice any significant torque steer. Like all front wheel drive cars, the Mazda 6 is ultimately understeer-prone, but the car had a lot of grip, the steering was precise and the understeer was minor enough that I bet if you really pushed it you might be able to hang out the rear end. The car did feel very balanced.

The toll road through Gary is a two lane highway with virtually no shoulders and concrete barriers on both sides. Under the best of conditions it makes me nervous. It’s currently undergoing construction and there are a number of lane shifts that made it an even more nervous experience, particularly in snow, at night, in a borrowed $33,000 car. While not quite the Nordschleife at the Nürburgring, it required some attention and it was nice to have a car that felt competent. The power steering unit is hydraulically assisted, without being overassisted, but considering the level of grip and steering precision it could have had a bit more feel for my tastes. The first car that I bought was a Lotus so I may have unusual standards in that regard. As I said, the car was equipped with snow tires, and that might have compromised steering feel. The suspension in the Grand Touring package is tuned for firmness and control, but the ride on Michigan’s heaved and potholed roads was still comfortable.

The V6 had more than adequate power. Passing on the interstate was effortless, driving around town was fun, and it’s too bad that spot on the Southfield freeway north of the city and south of where the Southfield cops and MSP troopers patrol is barely a mile long. The six-speed transmission, an Aisin design, rather than a Ford unit as some believe, was very smooth, with almost imperceptible shifts and no apparent hunting. One quibble about the transmission is probably due to shift patterns programmed for fuel mileage.  I averaged 21.9 mpg over 750 miles of less than ideal conditions, which isn’t bad, but the 1-2 and 2-3 shifts come a bit too early for me in light throttle driving. The car doesn’t quite bog down, but it’s out of character with what is generally a car with a sporting nature. Of course if you don’t like the way the automatic is programmed, you can use the tap shifter and row your own, or just keep your foot down.

So if the Mazda 6 is such a good car, why doesn’t it do better in its segment? Part of the problem is the car’s name. If you asked people what a Camry, Accord or Malibu is, they’ll tell you a Toyota, Honda or Chevy. If you asked people what a 6 is, they’ll say it’s a number. Alphanumerics might work with luxury cars, but every other car in the 6’s segment has a name. The Accord and Civic brands help the overall Honda brand. Do 2 (late 2010 in the USA), 3, 5, and 6 help Mazda? If you surveyed 100 people, the only Mazda most people could identify has a name, the Miata (yeah, I know about Eunos in the JDM and the whole MX-5 thing but I’m talking about the domestic US market).

Remember how product may not be enough? Good products, Sony Betamax comes to mind, from good companies, are sometimes not marketed as well as they could be and may never achieve the success they could have had. Mazda’s “zoom-zoom” marketing campaign has been very successful in establishing a brand identity. The Spec Miata class is the most popular racing class in the United States.

Ironically, maybe that sporting image, and Mazda’s “zoom-zoom” ad campaign is why the Mazda 6 is not considered by more families. This sounds like heresy from an enthusiast, but lets face it, the average car buyer is not an enthusiast. Toyota has made a virtue out of being boring and everyone else is trying to compete with Toyota because they think that’s what consumers want. Obviously many millions of consumers do want exactly that, a boring reliable appliance, or Toyota wouldn’t have sold so many Camrys. So zoom-zoom may accurately characterize the brand and Mazda’s cars but it may also scare off some folks looking for an automotive Maytag. That’s unfortunate because if more people shopped the Mazda 6, they’d realize that it’s a very nice car and competitive pressures might make the Camcordatas more fun to drive.

Note: I was loaned the car by the Chicago Auto Show’s Drive-In program. The media preview at Chicago is sponsored by Bridgestone. I believe that the car and insurance  was made available by Mazda and my lodging was paid for by Bridgestone. I’m not sure exactly who paid for the gasoline but it wasn’t me. I paid for the tolls, a 3/4 baked deep dish kosher pizza to bring home to my daughter from A Slice Of Life, and a Burger Buddy from Ken’s down the street in Skokie since I’d hardly eaten anything both days at the show’s media preview. I keep asking the show organizers to try to get at least one car company to hire a kosher caterer so I’m not reduced to scrounging for chips that have an OU symbol. Of course the first thing I was offered at the media party in Buddy Guy’s club was a barbecued pork sandwich.  In the meantime if you stop at Ken’s or Slice of Life, tell them that I gave them a plug and maybe I’ll get a deal next February.

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