The Truth About Cars » Mazda3 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Tue, 29 Jul 2014 21:42:50 +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 is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » Mazda3 2013 Tokyo Motor Show: Mazda Goes Forward With CNG, Hybrids, Diesels Wed, 20 Nov 2013 00:24:39 +0000 Mazda3 Skyactiv-CNG Concept

Mazda3 Skyactiv-CNG Concept

Last week,  Mazda CEO Masamichi Kogai said that the company had no plans for a production Wankel rotary anytime in the near future, though the company most identified with the engine that goes “hmmmm” will continue to do research on rotaries. Now, at the Tokyo Motor Show, Mazda is showing that its future powertrain plans include diesel, natural gas and hybrid drives.

The Mazda3 SKYACTIV-CNG Concept is a dual fuel vehicle that has tanks for both gasoline and compressed natural gas. It used a modified version of Mazda’s 2.0 liter four that’s currently available in the Mazda3. The Mazda3 is sold as the Axela in Japan and the company is also introducing the Axela SKYACTIV-HYBRID. The 2.0 L four cylinder hand has had the compression ration increased to a whopping 14.0:1 and it and a 84 HP electric motor drive the front wheels through an electronically controled CVT.

Like the Toyota Prius it used NiMH batteries and like the Prius it has a total of 134 HP. Fuel efficiency based on Japan’s JC08 standard is rated at 72.4 MPG. Finally, Mazda is announcing that the SKYACTIV-D 2.2 clean diesel engine, soon to be available in the U.S. in the Mazda, will be offered in Japanese domestic market versions of the CX-5 and the Mazda3. It will be interesting to see what kind of torque-steer the Mazda3 can develop with 310 lb-ft of twist.

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First Drive Review: 2014 Mazda3 (With Video) Sat, 19 Oct 2013 16:17:22 +0000 2014 Mazda3 Sedan Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

The mainstream compact car segment is the perfect example of the infamous “driving appliance.” The Corolla and Civic sell in enormous volume because they are the middle-of-the-road “white bread” option, not in-spite of the vanilla. Unlike many in the automotive press, I don’t find anything wrong with that. In fact, I love me some Wonder Bread. But sometimes you feel like a pumpernickel, and that’s where the 2014 Mazda3 comes in. Mazda was so excited about their new loaf that they invited me to spend the day with them in San Diego. Want to know if you should spend 5+ years with one? Click through the jump.

Click here to view the embedded video.

Accounting for 30% of Mazda’s worldwide volume, calling the Mazda3 their most important product would be putting things lightly. As a result 2014 brings a complete overhaul to every aspect of the 3 and the compact sedan now rides on a platform derived from the larger 6. The “Kodo” design language of the larger sedan has also been brought down to its smaller stablemate to astonishing effect. While the old Mazda3 was all smiles and bubbles, the new 3 is all grown up and aggressive with Mazda’s incredibly attractive grille. Before the 3′s release I was quite torn about who was the fairest of them all but now there is no contest.

2014 Mazda3 Sedan Exterior headlamps, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

The 2014 dimensions play a huge role in the way the 3 looks on the road. Mazda moved the A-pillar 3.5 inches to the rear making the hood longer, lengthened the wheelbase by 2.5 inches, dropped the height by 6/10ths and made the whole car 1.6 inches wider. So far so good, but somehow Mazda managed to slash the front overhang and increase the wheel-to-front-door distance to an almost RWD like proportion. That would probably have been enough in a segment dominated by slab sides, but Mazda puts two distinctive character lines to separate the 3 from the pack. Out back we have tail lamps that mimic the front styling and your choice of a hatch or a trunk. Opting for the hatch gives the Mazda3 a side profile reminiscent of BMW’s X1, not a bad thing to be reminded of.

The problem with pumpernickel is that people’s tastes are different. The same thing can be said of the new interior. Rather than scaling down the Mazda6′s dashboard, the engineers went for something slimmer without a “double bump” for the infotainment screen. Taking a page out of BMW’s playbook, Mazda sets the 7-inch touchscreen inside a thin housing perched on the dashboard. Think of an iPad mounted to the dash. The look turned off some but I find the style appealing because it maintains a high screen position while reducing dashboard bulk. Mazda’s new “fighter jet inspired” heads up display is similarly perched on the dash, however, instead of being fixed, it folds itself flat when you turn the feature off. The display is as functional as any other heads-up display I’ve seen but the pop-up trick stuck me as being more gimmick than feature. Mazda tells us the reason for not projecting on the windshield which makes sense if you check out how much HUD compatible windshields go for.

2014 Mazda3 5D interior, Picture Courtesy of Mazda

Mazda says they benchmarked the BMW 3-Series interior which, given that BMW’s 3 went downmarket in some ways makes the comparison valid in  a way that it would have been laughable in 2006. Except for a segment average headliner, the plastics and materials choices in the cabin are all top of the class. (A logical finding since it is the newest as well.) Seat comfort proved excellent with well positioned controls and more side bolstering than you would find in the competition’s non-performance models. Rear seat room was a problem for the last generation Mazda3 and, despite the stretch, this continues to be an area where it lags the competition. For the biggest back seats and the largest trunk, look to the Corolla. Toyota’s 2014 offering has more leg room than the mid-sized Mazda6.

Despite a long list of optional features and gadgets, real leather seating surfaces happen only in the sGrand Touring model with mid-range models sporting faux-cow and lower end 3s wearing fabric.  Some comment has been made in the press about the 3′s 1990s era headliner, but it failed to offend me and here’s why: This segment is all about value and value is about cutting corners. Want snazzy dash plastics and metal trim bits-and-bobs? That headliner is the toll you have to pay and it’s one I’m OK with.

MY2014 Mazda 3
Infotainment and gadgets
If you recall my review of the Mazda 6 a few months ago, you’ll know I reserved my harshest criticism for the infotainment and navigation system. Forget everything I said because Mazda has taken customer feedback to heart. The Mazda3 is the first vehicle to receive MazdaConnect. The system combines a bright 7-inch touchscreen with an iDrive/MMI-like controller knob and button array in the center console. Similar to Infiniti’s systems, you can navigate with either the controller, or the touchscreen, or both depending on what is easier at the moment.

The system is as intuitive and snappy as the Mazda6′s is slow and painful. High resolution graphics, a completely redesigned interface and vastly improved voice commands join to create a system that rivals uConnect, iDrive and MyFord Touch for best in the industry. In that comparison the only things MazdaConnect lacks is smartphone app integration and some form of crash-notifying telematics system. If you want to dive into the details, check out the video.

MY2014 Mazda 3

The minimum point of entry for Mazda Connect is $23,340 because you cab only get it in the iTouring model with a $1,600 option package. Ouch. All models that directly compete with the white-loaf get something that looks like a clock radio molded into the dashboard (see the picture above). The logic was to keep the controls high and in the line of sight for the driver to reduce distraction and it does work as intended even though it looks a little odd. If you’re a high roller Mazda offers a high level of tech for this segment with everything from blind spot monitoring and backup cams available to surround sound, radar cruise control, collision prevention systems that will stop the car below 19 MPH (just like Volvo’s City Safety system), parking sensors and automatic high beams.

2014 also brings Mazda’s new “it’s-so-mild-that’s-not-called-a-mild-hybrid” system to the 3. i-Eloop’s is a mild energy recovery system that uses a large capacitor, variable voltage alternator and a DC-DC converter to recover energy when decelerating. The goal of the system is to limit the parasitic loss of the alternator by charging the capacity when you’re braking so that the car can disengage the alternator and use that power while accelerating or cruising. The system can’t help drive the car, which is why Mazda doesn’t call it a hybrid system, but the claim is that it can give you around one extra MPG in certain city driving cycles. Why so little? Because the alternator consumes less engine power than your air conditioning. The system is only available as part of a technology package and only on the top-end sGrand Touring model.

2014 Mazda3 Drivetrain

Late in life, the old Mazda3 received a partial SkyActiv drivetrain. The reason it didn’t get fully implemented is obvious when you look at the Medusa below. That bundle of snakes is the Mazda “4-2-1″ exhaust manifold which is designed to prevent the start of cylinder 3′s exhaust stroke from interfering with the end of cylinder 1′s exhaust stroke. The convoluted pipes are there so that the catalytic converter, which is no longer “closely coupled” as is all the rage, heats quickly and less heat is lost on the way to the cat. This enormous contraption simply wouldn’t fit in the old 3 because of the shape of the engine bay and the firewall. To make the 4-2-1 manifold fit in the 2014 Mazda3, it was necessary to form an enormous bulge into the car’s firewall and chassis design, something only possible in a complete redesign process.

2014 Mazda3 exhaust manifold

With the final piece of the SkyActiv puzzle in place, Mazda cranked up the compression ratio on their new 2.0 and 2.5L engines to 13:1. Why not the 14:1 that Mazda advertises in Europe? Because in the USA all engines must operate “safely” on regular 87 octane gasoline by law. The boffins tell us that this results in a 5% loss of efficiency vs the higher compression EU engines that will grenade themselves on lower octane fuel.

The base engine for 2014 is a 2.0L 155 horse four-cylinder that’s good for 150 lb-ft of twist and 30/41/34 MPG (City/Highway/Combined) with the 6-speed automatic. If you have the cash you can upgrade to the 2.5L engine (shared with the CX-5 and Mazda6) which bumps these numbers up to 184 horses and 185 lb-ft while dropping fuel economy to 28/39/32.

The 2.0L engine comes standard with a slick shifting 6-speed transmission that is one of the best manuals in the ever shrinking compact segment. Engagement is precise, throws are moderate and the clutch engagement is linear and well-balanced in relation to the motion of the other two pedals. Sadly this transmission can’t be had with the more powerful 2.5L engine. Don’t shoot the messenger. Most Mazda3s rolling off the lot will use Mazda’s 6-speed automatic transaxle which chases efficiency and a direct feel by engaging the torque converter lockup clutch in every gear, as soon as possible, and as long as possible. While Mazda tells us this is unique to the compact segment, ZF’s 8-speed RWD transmission plays the same trick in the name of efficiency. Manual lovers and speed freaks should know that Mazda is cagey about a MazdaSpeed3 only saying that there would not be one “at launch.” Read between the lines if you like.

2014 Mazda3 Sedan Exterior-004


Being the mechanical geek that I am, one more thing caught my interest: the caster angle. That’s the angle that the steering mechanism acts upon the front wheel. Think of this like a clock with vertical being right at 12:00. Most cars out there have a slight caster angle of maybe 12:03 while the 2014 Mazda3 winds it up to 12:06. Why does it matter? Because we have electric power steering (EPAS). EPAS is the modern equalizer and has made all steering dull and lifeless. By dialing up the caster, you dial up the forces that come back up the steering column from the tires. This means that by the time EPAS dulls everything down there’s the hint of something left. I’d like to say it turns the Mazda3 into a Mazda Miata but I’d be lying. Instead what you get is a hint of feedback in corners and a tiny touch of road feel at other times. Because we’ve been living in a feedback-desert, the taste has overly excited some. No it isn’t your 2007 Mazdaspeed3, but it is livelier than the Focus or Civic.

Zoom-Zoom is more about handling than 0-60 times, made obvious by our 7.6 second run to 60 in a hatchback with the 2.5L engine. If you want more speed in the “non-hot hatch segment”, wait for Kia’s turbo Forte  I didn’t get a chance to test the 2.0L model during the event but my “butt-dyno” tells me it should be about 2 seconds slower and right in line with the competition. It’s when the road starts to curve that the difference is obvious. This 3 can dance. The Mazda is quite simply the best handling and best feeling compact car in stock form. Yes, the Civic Si is a hair more fun but it’s not a main stream car, doesn’t have an automatic and still doesn’t feel as connected as the Mazda. With road manners like these, I’m looking forward to a Mazdaspeed3 vs Focus ST shootout, I suspect the 3 might dethrone Ford’s hot hatch.

2014 Mazda3 Sedan Exterior-009

What about daily driving? It’s all well and good to be the best handling compact, but in order to be a sales success you have to be able to sway some white bread buyers. Sound levels at 50MPH rang in a 73db, below the Corolla but above the Civic. No worries there. The sedan’s ride is on the stiffer side of the segment but quite similar to the Focus, that might be a problem for the average Corolla shopper. The big selling point for most cross-shoppers will be the fuel economy. The sedan with the 2.0L engine and automatic is the volume model and snags 30/41/34 MPG (City/Highway/Combined). That’s one MPG better than Sentra, two better than Civic or Corolla and three better than Focus.  While that doesn’t translate into much cash saved on an annual basis, it is one of the largest purchase factors shoppers site in this segment. I should mention however that the last time we had the Sentra it scored better than it’s EPA rating while the Mazda3 was fairly close to the EPA score. My big take away from this is that Mazda managed to beat the CVT equipped competition’s fuel economy with a more traditional feeling automatic. White bread buyers won’t care about the feel, but the numbers might cause them to take a second look.

With pricing that ranges from $16,945 (sedan) to a hair under $30,000 (loaded hatch) if you check all the option boxes on a Mazda3 hatch, it’s obvious the Mazda spans the price spectrum from white bread in a bag to a paper-wrapped organic artisan cheesy sourdough. Like the Ford Focus, this large price span means the $19,495 iSport and $20,645 iTouring compete with the bulk of Corolla/Civic shoppers while the upper level trims compete with the Ford Focus, Acura ILX, Lexus CT200h, Buick Verano, and the few that shopped Volvo’s defunct C30.

Compared to the Civic and Corolla, the Mazda3 delivers superior dynamics and more premium dash materials in exchange for less tech and no touchscreen infotainment. This is a dangerous trade in a segment known for placing features before fun. On the flip side, the Mazda3 has everything it needs to compete with the Focus, ILX, Verano and CT200h. Mazda’s chassis tuning makes the Mazda the most fun to drive (even considering the ILX 2.4′s Civic Si roots), the infotainment system is entry-level luxury worthy and 2014 brings all full-speed range radar cruise control and ever gadget the Buick and Lexus shopper could want. So is the Mazda3 the perfect pumpernickel for Wonder Bread prices? As good as. Civirolla shoppers who can be convinced to cross-shop will be pleased with Mazda’s sexy exterior, comfortable seats and road manners, but those after large seats and large trunks will return to the white bread alternative. I suspect the near luxury shoppers are the ones that will miss out the most however thinking that nothing this tasty could come in a package with a Mazda logo on it. Their loss.

Mazda flew me to San Diego, put me up in a hotel and fed me stuffed mushrooms.

Specifications as tested

0-30: 4 Seconds

0-60: 7.6 Seconds

Interior sound level at 50 MPH: 73 db


2014 Mazda3 Sedan Exterior-007 2014 Mazda3 Sedan Exterior headlamps, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Mazda3 Sedan Exterior-009 2014 Mazda3 Sedan Exterior 2014 Mazda3 Sedan Exterior-010 2014 Mazda3 Sedan Exterior-001 MY2014 Mazda 3 2014 Mazda3 Sedan Exterior-002 2014 Mazda3 Sedan Exterior-003 2014 Mazda3 5D interior, Picture Courtesy of Mazda MY2014 Mazda 3 2014 Mazda3 Sedan Exterior-004 2014 Mazda3 Sedan Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes MY2014 Mazda 3 2014 Mazda3 Sedan Exterior-006 ]]> 191
Short Supply Issues Hamper Mazda Sales Growth Wed, 25 Sep 2013 14:46:49 +0000 Claim your Mazda Summer Sales

The new 2014 Mazda3 is getting rave reviews for its improved looks to go along with Mazda’s typical best-of-class driving dynamics. Last month, Mazda had its best August sales ever in the United States, with slightly over 28,000 units sold.


However, those August sales were up 6.8%, barely keeping up with overall growth of the U.S. market and for the year to date, Mazda sales were actually down 26.4% from 2012. According to Jeremy Barnes, director of marketing and communications for Mazda in North America, the reason is that the company is having trouble delivering enough product. The Mazda6, whose August sales were up an astounding 167% from 2012 on the strength of an all-new model, is said to be in short supply with 60% of inventory turning over every month. The CX-5 small crossover had its best month ever in August and Barnes said that supply is down to 40 days.

Mazda’s SkyActiv Technology, based on light weight and fuel efficient powertrains seems to be catching on. Models available with SkyActiv made up three quarters of all Mazda sales in August, prompting the company to increase production plans for the Skyactiv engines and transmissions. Introduction of the diesel powered Mazda6 in North America has been delayed for emissions calibration and testing, according to Mazda.

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Capsule Review: 2014 Mazda3 Tue, 24 Sep 2013 17:42:18 +0000 MY14 Mazda3 Sedan

For a car company that seems to have a perpetually precarious existence, things are going well at Mazda. Sales of their new range of products, like the CX-5 and the Mazda6, are relatively strong – I say relatively because the Mazda6’s volumes are about 10 percent of the Toyota Camry, and the whole brand sells fewer cars than Honda does Civics. But Mazda is banking on the new Mazda3 to help them get real traction in the market place. Not only is there a new car, but a new factory in Mexico as well, which will help insulate Mazda from then yen’s penchant for yo-yo’ing, as well as any future Fukushima-like disruptions.

MY14 Mazda3 Sedan

The old Mazda3’s biggest flaw was its looks. Its visage was hideously unattractive, wearing the “Nagare” design language that some executive must have signed off on after a long night in Roppongi. The car you see above has a whole new look, and the result is one of the best “ugly duckling to beautiful swan” transitions in recent memory. The sedan still retains the same basic horizontal teardrop shape that plagues all modern compacts in the name of fuel efficiency, but the details were done right. It reminds me of the Lexus IS, and even the smaller wheels make the car look good, a rarity today. The hatchback looks like a CX-5 crossed with a Mitsubishi Lancer Sportback, and while I have traditionally preferred this bodystyle on previous generations, I think I have to give the aesthetic nod to the sedan.

MY2014 Mazda 3

The interior has undergone a major improvement since the last generation, but in typical Mazda fashion, there is still some corner cutting evident here. There was no evidence of Cherokee-esque fit and finish issues, but some of the supplied parts were subpar. Namely, the headliner it the definition of nasty. It feels like it was made out of egg cartons, and crunches when pressed with one’s fingers. Your college drinking buddy may not notice, but it stood out to us as a notably cheap spot on an otherwise nicely finished interior. Higher trim models have a pseudo-heads up display that flips up from the top of the gauge cluster (above), capable of displaying one’s speed, navigation turns and other features. It seems redundant given the voice prompts from the navigation and the basic ability to glance at the speedometer, and to top it off, it looks like it was stolen from a Nerf gun and is prone to breaking off with even the slightest disturbance.

MY14 Mazda3 Sedan

Most functions related to the entertainment system are handled by the new MazdaConnect system, which replaces the Atari-esque system used in the new Mazda6 with a fresh, modern looking interface. Of course, it’s all displayed on a 7 inch screen that looks like an off-brand Made In China Android tablet that’s been glued to the top of the dashboard, which saps some of the premium feel out of the cabin.

MY14 Mazda3 Sedan

MazdaConnect is controlled by an iDrive-like knob and is relatively easy to use, but has some annoying quirks. Looking for a satellite radio station, for example, is highly frustrating, if not distracting. Once you’ve selected a station, you can’t change the station unless you manually go back through the menus and select a new one. Scrolling through is not an option, and the steering wheel controls only allow you to move through presets, rather than the entire band. It is more distracting than texting and drive. The volume knob has also been placed next to the MazdaConnect wheel on the center console – an intuitive location but highly unconventional and one that takes some getting used to, since every other car on earth has it placed  in its traditional spot on the center stack.

In return for these annoyances, the Mazda3 delivers one of the best driving experiences money can buy. Other compacts, like the Dodge Dart, the Ford Focus and Hyundai Elantra GT are “good” to drive, but the Mazda3 is in another class, closer to the BMWs of a past era than anything else in the segment. The dynamics of the car will be instantly familiar to anyone who has driven a Mazda6 or CX-5, but even sharper. The heaviest Mazda3 is about 170 lbs lighter than the lightest Mazda6 (3172 lbs), with base versions coming in at around 2800 lbs. In today’s car market, this is fairly svelte, and it translates into a rewarding drive. There is very little body roll, while the suspension is composed over rough pavement. The steering is sharp, direct and nicely weighted. Mazda engineer Dave Coleman told us that his target was his LeMons car, which uses a manual Miata steering rack. It’s tough to compare a contemporary electric power steering system with a 25 year old Miata unit, but certain things, like the high degree of caster dialed in to make it self-center quicker, will be familiar to anyone who ever owned a Miata and tinkered with the alignment settings. There is a level of engagement with the Mazda3 that is absent in every other car in this class. It’s not a merely A-B commuting tool, but a car that encourages you to drive as if you really cared about having fun behind the wheel. It’s a difficult quality to find in any car nowadays, let alone a C-segment economy car.

MY2014 Mazda 3

Two powerplants are offered, though only the base 2.0L Skyactiv engine will offer a 6-speed manual alongside a 6-speed automatic. The bigger 2.5L engine offers more horsepower (184 versus 155) and more torque (185 lb-ft versus 150 lb-ft), and feels a lot gutsier on the open road, though in true Mazda fashion, the engines aren’t particularly brimming with character like the better Honda twin-cams. Then again, a naturally aspirated motor is becoming a rarity in new cars, and fuel economy is the chief order of the day. In this aspect, Mazda does not disappoint. Our 2.5L hatchback, with Mazda’s capacitor-based i-Eloop regenerative braking system, is good for 29 mpg in town and 40 mpg highway. Neither motor is particularly stirring, emitting rather muted grunts and groans. Just like the pre-NC Miatas, the chassis is the jewel of the package here, but at least the Skyactiv motors are tuned for economy and efficiency, unlike the thristy boat anchor of a 1.8L engine fitted to most early Miatas.

Where the 2.0L feels just a bit strained (particularly when merging or passing on highways), the 2.5L is always ready with adequate grunt, and the 6-speed Skyactiv automatic is even better than the excellent manual. It feels more like a dual clutch gearbox than a conventional automatic, in part because the torque converter isn’t even used past 5 mph. In spirited driving, the automatic will hold gears until redline and match revs when the paddles are used to manually change gear. Mazda has been coy about whether the 2.5L will actually get a manual, stating that only the automatic will be available “at launch”. Perhaps this leaves the door open to the possibility of a manual in the future. The i-Eloop system is as transparent as its name is silly. The only way we knew it was working was when a display screen showed it re-capturing energy under braking. If only Mazda’s marketing department could come up with such clever monikers.

For all the complaints about the anesthetized nature of modern cars, here we have a vehicle that brings a truly engaging driving experience to the masses at a price-point accessible to most new car buyers. Despite a couple of cut corners here and there, the car’s big flaws, namely its exterior styling, spartan interior and poor fuel economy in the larger engine variants, have all been remedied beyond mere correction. It may not be the choice for your grandmother, or anyone looking for a simple, dead-nuts reliable appliance, but the new car is a significant leap forward, and the only choice in the segment for anyone interested in spirited driving. And finally a candidate for best in segment.

Mazda provided airfare, accommodations and meals for this press drive


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Review: 2013 Hyundai Elantra GT (Video) Fri, 02 Aug 2013 21:54:30 +0000 2013 Hyundai Elantra GT Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

By pure happenstance I ended up with an Elantra GT immediately after reviewing the 2014 Kia Forte sedan. As I said last week in the Forte review, the Elantra and Forte are related, but this isn’t a case of Korean badge engineering. It’s far more complicated. The Forte is the new kid on the block while the Elantra has been around for a few years. At this stage in life, Hyundai is trying to inject vitality into the Elantra name by adding new models. First we got the four-door sedan, then a two-door coupé followed by the Veloster which is just a four-door hatchback Elantra (yes, I know Hyundai calls it a three-door, but I know better). If you’re confused by door counts, the new Elantra GT is a five-door. Say what?

About “them doors.”  We all know a sedan is a four-door because a trunk isn’t a door. (Despite our exclusive Trunk Comfort Index testing.) Likewise we call the Elantra Coupe a two-door but toss a hatch into the mix and, hey-presto, your cargo portal is a door. How does the Veloster fit in? It has three regular doors (two on one side, one on the other) and a hatch. Thankfully Hyundai killed off the awkward looking Elantra Touring wagon leaving nothing to go head to head with the Mazda3 hatch, Focus hatch and Golf. That’s where the GT fits in.

Click here to view the embedded video.


Adding the GT to the lineup puts Hyundai in the unusual position of having more variants of their compact vehicle than any other brand in the USA, and that’s even if you don’t count the Veloster as an Elantra. Part of this is to give customers options the other brands don’t, but it is also to extend the life of the aging Elantra. In 2010 when the Elantra splashed on the scene it was new and exciting, but this is a fiercely competitive segment. In the past three years, the Civic, Forte, Golf and Mazda3 have all been redesigned bringing new and exciting shapes to choose from. In this light the Elantra’s front end is starting to look a old to my eyes, especially when you park it next to the aggressive new Forte. Speaking of that elephant in the room, that 2014 Forte 5-door looks all kinds of hot.

Park the GT next to an Elantra sedan and you’ll notice this isn’t a sedan with a hatch glued on. Instead, the GT rides on a 2-inch shorter wheelbase shared with the Veloster. Along with the reduced wheelbase, Hyundai sliced nearly 9-inches off this sausage slotting the GT between the Veloster and Elantra sedan in overall size. The shorter dimensions made parking the GT easy in tight urban settings even though the GT retains the Elantra’s 34.8-foot turning circle. Despite the platform nip/tuck the GT is the heaviest Elantra variant at a still svelte (well, relatively speaking) 2,745lbs with the manual transmission.

2013 Hyundai Elantra GT Interior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes


I took me a few moments to figure out what was going on with the GT’s interior. At first glance the dashboard and controls are familiar, yet this isn’t the same dashboard the Elantra coupé/sedan, or the Veloster. Gone is the “hourglass” center console in favor of a HVAC controls that are larger and easier to use. Our tester had the optional dual-zone climate control system which rearranges the buttons and adds a large blue-backlit display. Although the steering wheel has simply been tweaked with satin “metal” trim, the rest of the interior trappings are a notch above the Elantra sedan and coupe and, depending on where your fingers brush, a notch above the Veloster as well. This is fortunate because with even the Civic going up-market for 2013, the GT could have left the gates at a disadvantage. Thanks to the plastic upgrades, the GT is firmly “middle of the pack.”

Even though the GT is notably shorter and slightly taller than the sedan, folks up front won’t notice much difference. The seats are still supportive and comfortable, but not as easy on the back as the 2013 Civic. You might think the wheelbase reduction would play havoc with rear accommodations but the back seats have slightly more room than in the sedan. Some of that room is thanks to rear seats with a more upright and comfortable profile and some of it comes at the expense of the front seats which get a one inch reduction in travel for GT duty. Getting in and out of those rear seats is easy thanks to large and fairly square door openings. With 23 cubic feet of widget space behind the rear seats and 51 with the rear seats folded, the GT is the most practical Elantra since the dowdy Elantra Touring was mercy killed.

2013 Hyundai Elantra GT Interior, Infotainment, Navigation, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes


The GT may be new for 2013, but the technology is a few years old. Base shoppers may not mind the lack of progress because the standard 6-speaker audio system is one of the best standard audio systems in this segment. The 170 watt system comes with standard AM/FM/XM radio, a single-slot CD/MP3 player, Bluetooth speakerphone and USB/iPod integration. Sadly you won’t find SYNC-like voice command of your tunes or Pandora streaming, but the system has a natural sound and is easy to use.

High-rollers (like me) won’t be able to live without a touchscreen nav unit, but I was disappointed to find the GT doesn’t get the new 8-inch BlueLink system from the Santa Fe. Instead we find the 7-inch “last generation” system found in the regular Elantra. It’s not that the system is objectionable, it just lacks the snazzy new voice commands and smartphone integration ability you find in other Hyundai products. That new Kia Forte hatchback keeps popping in my mind because the 2014 Forte models get the latest Hyundai/Kia infotainment software with smartphone apps, 911 crash notification, vehicle diagnostics and full voice commands for your music library.

Hyundai Elantra GT 1.8L Engine, Picture Courtesy of Hyundai


Under the GT’s short hood beats the same 1.8L four-cylinder engine as the Elantra sedan. Unfortunately this mill doesn’t get Hyundai’s direct-injection sauce so power is rated at a middling 148 ponies and 131 lb-ft. In an interesting twist Hyundai allows you to select the 6-speed manual or the 6-speed automatic regardless of your trim level. This puts the Elantra a cog ahead of the Civic and a few other competitors. When you factor the additional weight of the GT model over the sedan it’s obvious performance is muted. When weight goes up, fuel economy goes down and so it is with the GT. The Elantra sedan scores a respectable 28/38/32 MPG (City/Highway/Combined) with the manual or automatic while the GT drops to 26/37/30 with the manual and 27/37/30 with the automatic. Our real world economy ended up a few steps lower at 28.2 MPG overall, notably lower than the Elantra sedan’s 32.1 MPG score last time I had one.

I spent most of the week inside the 6-speed automatic GT but I was able to hop in a manual equipped version for a few hours because I was intrigued by Hyundai’s decision to sell a row-your-own option on all trims. The automatic is obviously going to be the most popular option and will suit most drivers just fine. Hyundai has continually improved the feel of their slushbox and is now among the best in terms of shift feel and programming. While I like the feel of this 6-speed over Nissan’s CVT, 131 lb-ft would more easily motivate 2,800lbs if it was routed via a CVT. Just sayin… The 6-speed manual still lacks the refinement you’ll find in the VW Golf and the clutch feel is a notch below the Focus that’s a moot point if you want all the tech gadgets and a manual transmission in the same hatch. This is your only option.

2013 Hyundai Elantra GT Exterior, Picture COurtesy of Alex L. Dykes


The manual transmission is worth noting because the Elantra GT is much more of a driver’s car than any other Elantra, including the coupé. This is primarily because Hyundai significantly improved torsional rigidity when compared to its platform mates. Also tweaked were the springs and dampers for a tighter and more composed ride than its siblings. The changes are noticeable and make the sedan feel like a damp noodle in comparison. Hyundai seems to have found the right balance between sporty and soft when it comes to the ride with the GT feeling neither jarring nor marshmallowy soft. If road holding manners matter the most, the GT slots below certain Ford Focus models and VW’s Golf. On the rubber front we get 205/55R16 tires standard and an optional upgrade to 215/45R17s (as our tester was equipped) to improve grip. The larger rubber is part of the $950 “touch-and-go” package which nets you keyless-go, the larger wheels, aluminum pedals and a leather wrapped wheel and shift knob. Out on my favorite mountain highway the GT was a team player with more grip and composure than I expected. The steering? That’s another matter.

The Elantra GT gets Hyundai’s latest personalization option: adjustable steering assist. By pressing a button on the steering wheel you can select from three different steering effort settings on the fly. Yes, even mid-apex. Let’s get one thing clear: none of the modes will do anything to improve steering feel. In Comfort mode the GT is hopelessly over-boosted at speed but oddly doesn’t make give you feather-light steering in the parking lot. When in this mode it is all too easy to crank the wheel too far in a corner and end up constantly re-adjusting. Normal is a hair better. Sport is lifeless but firm. I spent my week in Sport.

2013 Hyundai Elantra GT Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

I notice most reviews of the GT bemoan the “unusually loud” backup camera that pops out of the Hyundai logo on the trunk lid. Bucking the trend I don’t see a problem with this given the GT’s price tag of $18,545-$25,440. Similarly equipped the Ford Focus 5-door lands $1,800 more expensive and the VW Golf is $3,000lbs dearer. If however you factor in the Focus and Golf’s more powerful engines and better road manners, I’d call that difference much smaller. The smaller the delta becomes, the harder it is for me to look past the small things about the Elantra GT that bothered me during the week like the older infotainment software. If you can look beyond all of that, the 9.05 second 0-60 score is something you have to keep in mind because the Elantra GT is among the slowest hatches we have tested in a while.

Still, the GT is a cheaper option and that speaks to my budget-minded nature. But there are still two problems: the 2014 Kia Forte hatchback and the 2014 Mazda3 hatchback. The Forte’s newer underpinnings, more powerful engine, sexier sheetmetal and snazzier infotainment options are likely to be priced neck-and-neck with the Elantra GT. In addition to all that the Forte is likely to be the more engaging ride on the road based on our time with the Forte sedan. Then there’s that new Mazda3 with a two-engine lineup, available iLoop “almost hybrid” system, class leading 30/40MPG rating and a Mazda reputation for excellent road manners. Yes, those cars are still a few months off, but that just means the Elantra GT in the unfortunate position of being a value leader for a limited time only. What could Hyundai do to fix it? If they could jam their 270HP 2.0L turbo under the hood at a reasonable price…


Hyundai provided the vehicle, insurance and one tank of gas for this review.

Specifications as tested

0-30: 3.06 Seconds

0-60: 9.05 Seconds

1/4 Mile: 16.84 Seconds @ 81.7 MPH

Average Observed Fuel Economy: 28.2 over 549 miles


2013 Hyundai Elantra GT Exterior 2013 Hyundai Elantra GT Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Hyundai Elantra GT Exterior, Picture COurtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Hyundai Elantra GT Exterior-003 2013 Hyundai Elantra GT Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Hyundai Elantra GT Exterior-005 2013 Hyundai Elantra GT Exterior-006 2013 Hyundai Elantra GT Exterior-007 2013 Hyundai Elantra GT Interior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Hyundai Elantra GT Interior-001 2013 Hyundai Elantra GT Interior-002 2013 Hyundai Elantra GT Interior-003 2013 Hyundai Elantra GT Interior-004 2013 Hyundai Elantra GT Interior-005 2013 Hyundai Elantra GT Interior-006 2013 Hyundai Elantra GT Interior, Infotainment, Navigation, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Hyundai Elantra GT Interior-008 2013 Hyundai Elantra GT Interior-009 2013 Hyundai Elantra GT Interior-010 ]]> 52
Mazda3 Sedan Leaked Via Russia Thu, 04 Jul 2013 06:56:42 +0000 2014-mazda3-003


A fourth of July present from our friends at Top Gear Russia, and it’s not Edward Snowden!

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2015 Mazda3 Revealed Wed, 26 Jun 2013 14:34:22 +0000 2014-mazda3-red


The spyshots were right all along. This is the hatch version of the 2015 Mazda3. We’ll get an official look at the car today at 2:30 PM EST, along with technical details. Europe will get 1.5L and 2.0L gasoline SKYACTIV motors making 99, 118 and 163 horsepower respectively. Expect the 2.0 to make it here, along with the 2.5L engine in the CX-5 and Mazda6. Europe will also get the 2.2L diesel used in the 6, which would be a real treat, and a nice rival to the Golf TDI. No weight figures have been announced, but the new 3 should be a good deal lighter than the current model. No word on a sedan model either.

EDIT: The North America spec 2.0L makes 155 horsepower. No word on a North American diesel. The i-ELOOP regen braking/capacitor system will power the car’s entire electronics, as well as an all new HUD system. Production will take place first in Japan, then in Mexico starting in Spring, 2014. Sales start in September. Sedan to debut in 2 weeks. Weight should be down by a couple hundred pounds, wheelbase is up 2.4 inches while overall length is down by 1.8 inches.

2014-mazda3-back 2014-mazda3-cabin 2014-mazda3-fast 2014-mazda3-main 2014-mazda3-rear-driving 2014-mazda3-red 2014-mazda3-side_001 2014-mazda3-side-driving_001 2014-mazda3-speed ]]> 101
2015 Mazda3 Presents Itself Thu, 20 Jun 2013 00:59:10 +0000 3b13a447


Every time we see images of the 2015 Mazda3, it looks better and better. This one, which appeared on a Russian site via Jalopnik, is the clearest image we have yet. It looks like a lower, more compact CX-5. Hopefully it’s not as slow. Mazda is apparently set to reveal the car in New York on June 26th with a streaming webcast via Xbox Live.

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Is This The Next Mazda3 Hatchback? Mon, 03 Jun 2013 14:26:48 +0000 Mazda-3-2014-cropped. Photo courtesy AutoGuide



The above photo making its way around the internet is supposedly the first uncovered photos of the 2015 Mazda3. Based on prior shots of camo-clad prototypes, it looks like this could be the final design.

In any event, we’re likely to see the new 3 sooner rather than later, as our friends at Mazda tell us that the car is slated to debut in Q4 of this year. While the current Mazda3 uses only the powertrain part of Mazda’s Skyactiv technology, this one gets the full treatment, which means it will be a fair bit lighter than the current car thanks to a new platform. Who knows, maybe we’ll even see a diesel engine as well? At least that awful front end is finally put to rest.


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Mazda Expanding Scalable Platform To B Segment; Does That Mean The Next Yaris Won’t Suck? Wed, 22 May 2013 12:00:16 +0000 2011_Mazda2_Touring_--_11-30-2010_2.jpg

A report from Just-Auto suggests that the next Mazda2 will “use [a] downsized CX-5 platform”. While this is technically true, the headline is a bit misleading.

The platform used by the Mazda CX-5 is the same platform that underpins the Mazda6 as well as the upcoming Mazda3. Not only will Mazda be using it to underpin the Mazda2, but it looks like all of their future transverse, front-drive cars will adopt it. This is great news for anyone who likes to drive, as every vehicle so far that uses it is a superb car to drive.

This is also good news for Toyota. The next iteration of their Yaris is supposed to be built by Mazda using the Mazda2 platform at the company’s new Mexican factory. The Yaris is a bit of a dull drive to say the least, but if it really is sharing Mazda’s new scalable architecture, that should change things quite dramatically. The ability to amortize the costs of one architecture across multiple product lines should also be a huge help to Mazda. As Japan’s last “independent” auto maker, keeping its costs under control is crucial in an era of consolidation and shaky economic fundamentals.

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Weak Yen, New Models, Has Mazda In Reach Of Profitability Fri, 05 Apr 2013 12:00:15 +0000

A weak yen and a slew of new models has Mazda within sight of profitability. With Mazda heavily dependent on exports, the yen’s 16 percent decrease in value relative to the U.S. dollar could not have come at a better time for Mazda, as it readies a whole slate of new products for sale.

According to Bloomberg, Mazda is on track to turn a profit for the first time in nearly 5 years. Aside from the yen, an onslaught of new product and increased demand has helped Mazda revive its fortunes. The new Mazda6 will be followed by the Mazda3, a critical car for the Japanese auto maker. The two models account for half of all Mazda’s sales. Following these two will be the next generation Mazda5, which will incorporate SkyActiv technology and be produced for Nissan as the Lafeasta minivan for the Japanese market. A new MX-5 jointly developed with Alfa Romeo may be derailed by a possible sale of Alfa Romeo, but a plan to build a new subcompact for Toyota is still underway. Mazda plans to introduce a total of 8 new models incorporating SkyActiv technology by 2016.

The Toyota deal resulted in Mazda expanding capacity at its new Mexican plant from 140,000 annual units to 230,000. Despite the favorable exchange rate, Mazda will remain greatly exposed to the yen’s fluctuations as long as the majority of its cars are built in Japan and subsequently exported. The Mexican plant is a positive step towards localizing production, and should insulate Mazda from currency shocks in the crucial North American market.

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Analysis: Mazda And The Perils Of Being Premium Thu, 31 Jan 2013 15:03:19 +0000

If you were to read certain outlets, you may have the mistaken impression that Mazda is making a move upmarket. More than one industry gadfly took Mazda CEO Takashi Yamanouchi’s assertion that he wants to see Mazda become a “premium” brand as evidence of managerial incompetence. How could the world’s last independent auto maker have the gall to gun for the Germans and upscale Japanese marques when they are currently a bit player in the global auto sector?

The first and most obvious answer is that Yamanouchi’s words were taken out of context. Nowhere did Yamanouchi say anything about a move upmarket. Mazda won’t even be positioning itself as such in their marketing campaigns.

If that isn’t explicit enough, here’s Yamanouchi’s own words on the “premium” shift, while speaking to Automotive News.

“That’s how we aim to be like a premium…Broadly speaking, it is not to rely on discounts but to have consumers appreciate the value of the product.”

What Yamanouchi did state is that he is aiming for sales of 400,000 units by the end of March, 2016 – a 43 percent boost for Mazda in its biggest market. Mazda is looking to do that by going in the direction that every “car guy” would appreciate – making their cars more involving to drive, with better interiors, distinctive styling and eschewing hybrid technology in favor of diesels and efficient gasoline engines.

That may sound elementary for most Monday Morning Auto Execs, but Mazda is in a unique position, as the last independent mainstream auto maker. Their global sales volume rests somewhere around 1.3 million units – Honda, another relatively small player, sold 1.4 million vehicles in the United States alone in 2012. If you believe Sergio Marchionne’s insistence that 6 million units annually is the minimum scale needed to survive in the current marketplace, then Mazda’s prospects look dim.

On the other hand, being small allows Mazda the kind of autonomy that’s not possible within the context of an auto conglomerate; previous Mazda products, as good as they were, were compromised due to having to share a platform with Ford vehicles. This manifested itself less in the overall quality of the car and more in certain engineering and manufacturing decisions, such as the design of the chassis to accommodate powertrains that were employed across the entire Ford Group. Added weight and a more complex and expensive manufacturing process were two negatives that resulted from this arrangement.

The current generation of Mazda shares nothing with any Ford product; the new Mazda6 rides on an all-new scalable platform made for C and D-segment cars as well as SUVs and crossovers in that size class. That means that the CX-5, the Mazda6, next-gen Mazda3 and whatever replaces the Ford-based CX-9 will all ride on the same architecture. And while driving impressions of the Mazda6 are embargoed until Monday, the CX-5′s excellent driving dynamics and up-to-date suite of both passive and active safety features are positive signs for Mazda as far as the viability of their future product is concerned.

In other segments, Mazda has been astute with forging alliances to help ease the burdens that come with being a smaller player; the next MX-5 will be built in association with Fiat, while their B-segment car will be built alongside Toyota at their new Mexican factory. Interestingly, the Toyota vehicle will be derived from the Mazda2, another Mazda vehicle that has garnered significant attention from the enthusiast media but sold poorly. Meanwhile, Toyota’s own Yaris has neither sold well nor been warmly received by the automotive press.

So far, Mazda’s key mis-step has been with the marketing of their Skyactv technologies; at the Mazda6 press briefing, engineers went on a labored and detailed explanation of what Skyactiv really is – a way of engineering cars to be lighter and more efficient without sacrificing driving dynamics. Unfortunately, the message is beyond muddled and the moniker is so dumb that it could have only been cooked up in a boardroom in Japan. If a cadre of die-hard car types needed a lengthy lecture on Skyactiv, one can only imagine how unpleasant it must be to explain to dealers or consumers.

As far as Mazda’s “premium” push is concerned, the CX-5 is a promising start, but the Mazda6, which serves as the brand’s flagship product, will be the real test, competing in what might be the most competitive segment in America’s auto market. But you’ll have to check back Monday for TTAC’s take.


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Mazda Tries To Move Up, Sans Amati Mon, 26 Nov 2012 15:37:50 +0000

The words “Mazda” and “premium” will be forever linked with the stillborn Amati brand in the mind of car enthusiasts. Cancelled at the 11th hour, Amati was supposed to be Mazda’s luxury brand that would go head to head with Infiniti, Lexus and Acura. All we got out of it was the Millenia.

With the launch of the 2014 Mazda6, the last independent Japanese auto maker will be attempting another move towards becoming a “premium” auto maker, though Mazda is not looking to compete with other luxury auto makers. According to Automotive News, company officials call their aspirations “Japan premium” (thankfully, this won’t join Skyactiv as their latest marketing moniker), but the motivation behind it seems simple; build cars more desirable than the other mainstream brands, but stay within that space.

The new Kodo design language, diesel engines, advanced active safety systems and strong build quality (Mazda ranked 4th in the latest Consumer Reports reliability study, behind Toyota, Scion and Lexus) will be the pillars of the new philosophy. The target is 400,000 units annually in the United States by 2016, up from 228,000 through October of this year.

As well regarded as Mazda’s cars may be by enthusiasts, they’ve never caught on with the wider public. The previous crop of cars may have been a joy to drive, but the gaping front ends and substandard interiors doomed them in a field filled with equally competitive Japanese and Korean entries. The CX-5 is a strong indicator that Mazda has figured things out, but the upcoming Mazda6 and Mazda3 have to be even stronger for consumers to even consider them over the usual Camry, Civic or Korean alternative.

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British Mag Gets 2014 Mazda3 Photos Thu, 18 Oct 2012 14:31:21 +0000

British magazine AutoExpress managed to get its hands on leaked pictures of the 2014 Mazda3.

According to the magazine

“Print-outs of these pictures were delivered to the Auto Express office in an unmarked envelope, and we’ve scanned them so you can take a look.

Mazda UK’s official line is that these are digital renderings, drawn up to show how the Kodo design language translates to new models, rather than a real car. Even so, they’ve been sketched by Mazda’s designers and give us a clear idea of how the next 3 will shape up.”

We couldn’t be happier to see the current Nagare styling language done away with. The gaping open mouth and flame surfacing on certain models was nothing short of an eyesore.

Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail mazda-3-front-static. Photo courtesy AutoExpress mazda-3-hatch-profile. Photo courtesy Auto Express. mazda-3-rear-static. Photo courtesy Auto Express. mazda-3-saloon-profile. Photo courtesy Auto Express. ]]> 33
Ominous Signs For Australia’s Large Rear-Drive Sedans Thu, 19 Jul 2012 19:12:39 +0000

As dismissive as I tend to be of the internet product-planning brigade, their constant cries of “Bring rear-drive, V8 full-size Aussie sedans to America” may have some credibility – the market for these cars in Australia seems to be going teats up, with SUVs and small cars taking their place.

The Holden Commodore and Ford Falcon are clearly suffering; while they once vied for either of the top two spots, the Commodore is the 5th best selling vehicle in 2012 so far, trailing the Mazda3 by about 6,000 units, while the Falcon doesn’t even merit a spot in the top 10.

Some observers have cited SUVs as a possibly culprit for the demise of the Australian family sedan, but a look at the sales table for both 2011 and 2012 shows that smaller, fuel-efficient cars are eating the lunch of the “Aussie Rules” cars. The Mazda3 bumped the Commodore off a 15-year winning streak in 2011, and the market hasn’t looked back since.

Nameplates like Corolla, Cruze, i30 and Yaris have crept up on the big sedans, and dominated the first half of 2012, along with the venerable Toyota Hilux pickup. The Falcon and its stablemate, the Ford Territory, are nowhere to be found in the Top 10, a bad sign for Ford’s Australian operations.

Australia’s auto industry has been having subsidies pumped into it for a number of years, but things only seem to be getting worse. A journal published by leading Australian industries astutely noted that the Australian market is “…too small for manufacturing; too prosperous to ignore.” The short-term future seems to hold a continued injection of government money into the auto industry – and quite possibly, the demise of the rear-drive Australian sedan.

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Mazda3 SKYACTIV: The Truth Behind The EPA Fuel Economy Numbers Mon, 09 Apr 2012 16:14:21 +0000

Mazda makes fun cars. Too few car buyers care. Mazda has been losing buckets of money. What to do? Mazda is betting that a focus on fuel economy without going hybrid will reverse their fortunes without costing them a fortune. To deliver big mpg gains, and further enhance the driving experience as well, the folks in Hiroshima have creatively re-engineered conventional engines, transmissions, suspensions, and body structures, with an emphasis on light weight and improved efficiency. But talk is cheap. Do Mazda’s “SKYACTIV” innovations actually deliver?

The suspension and body of the 2012 Mazda3, the first car to get SKYACTIV, haven’t changed. The former remains the best aspect of the car while the latter (along with the interior, Mr. Whipple-worthy dash pad notwithstanding) remains the worst. Refrigerator-white paint and undersized wheels don’t help.

The bits that have the largest impact on fuel economy—the engine and transmission—have been replaced. The old 148-horsepower, 135-pound-feet 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine managed EPA ratings of 24 miles-per-gallon city, 33 highway with a four-speed automatic transmission and 25/33 with a five-speed manual. The new 155-horsepower, 148-pound-feet 2.0 achieves a much more competitive 28/39 with a new six-speed automatic and 27/38 with a new six-speed manual. Not quite the magic “40″ achieved by others, but in the ballpark.

How did Mazda achieve these impressive gains? For starters, a much taller top gear with either transmission. Perhaps the oldest trick in the book, and one I’ve long wished for in my 2003 Protege5 (which struggles to top 30 mpg on the highway largely because its archaic 2.0 is spinning close to 4k).

Beyond this, the automatic transmission employs an energy-wasting torque converter (a fluid coupling) only for what these do best: smooth takeoffs. Once the car is moving the torque converter locks up and a computer-controlled multi-plate clutch manages shifts. Other automatic transmissions have either a torque converter (usually) or a multi-plate clutch (rare—only the Mercedes-Benz MCT used in some AMG models leaps to mind). Mazda’s innovation: both in the same transmission. The upsides are takeoffs as smooth as those of a conventional automatic and shifts with the direct feel and efficiency of a manual transmission. The downsides, of course, are cost, complexity, and curb weight, as you have two systems instead of one. Mazda has mitigated the weight gain by making the torque converter more compact than it would be if it had to handle all shifting. The quick shifts are an achievement in themselves. Single-clutch automated transmissions have been widely considered an evolutionary dead end, as they’re neither as smooth nor nearly as quick as a dual-clutch automated transmission. But, through extensive tweaking of the transmission’s electronic controls and mechanical bits, Mazda has gotten its box about as close to a dual-clutch system as a single-clutch system is likely to get.

As for the power part of the powertrain, the new direct-injected engine incorporates clever combustion chamber design, sophisticated fuel injectors, and lightweight parts to reduce internal friction and permit an ultra-high 12:1 compression ratio. This compression ratio is actually down from 14:1 in other applications and locations, because a “SKYACTIV” 4-2-1 exhaust header won’t fit in the Mazda3 and Americans prefer regular unleaded gas.

The pudding? Results in previous TTAC tests have been mixed. Brendan achieved 33 mpg. But Derek managed only 25 mpg in town in an automatic and 26 mpg with a healthy helping of highway miles in a manual.

What gives? Brendan drove his car as if it were a rental. Which it essentially was, only rent-free. Derek drove his pair in the Canadian winter with high rolling resistance Blizzaks. Also, his typical trip was only six miles. Engines are terribly inefficient when warming up from very cold temps. With the ambient temperature near freezing, the blue light that indicates a cold engine (in place of the absent temp gauge) stays on for about two miles. The Blizzaks likely knocked off another mpg, judging from Tire Rack tests. Then again, the trip computer likely added at least one mpg, as these devices are wont to do.

For my own tests, I had an automatic car briefly from a dealer and a manual for a week from Mazda. Driving the automatic after the engine had warmed up with a light foot, I observed a trip computer average of 34.6 in suburban driving. Pretty good. But returning on the highway with the engine spinning a leisurely 2,100 rpm at 70 mph (the posted limit), the car managed only 33.5.

I had more of an opportunity to experiment with the manual transmission car, which, like Derek’s, was shod with Blizzaks. Traversing the suburbs in my normal, semi-casual style, I observed about 27.5 on the trip computer—virtually identical to my old-tech Protege5 when handicapped by winter tires. Spot on the EPA number, yet somehow disappointing.

It turns out that the SKYACTIV Mazda3 is especially sensitive to driving style. Driving with a very light foot, shifting short of 2,000 rpm, and paying extreme attention to impending red lights (so as to get off the gas as soon as possible), I managed a high of 41.0 mpg on my standard drive from home to the kids’ school (with a trip computer reset after the engine had warmed up). Now this is more like it!

On the highway, though, the manual transmission car fared no better than the automatic. Speed is a big factor. First, air resistance rises at the cube of velocity. Second, engine speed increases in lock step with vehicle speed, and at a certain rpm efficiency begins to fall off dramatically. Driving at a steady 78 mpg, the trip computer reported 30.6 (again close to my nearly decade-old Protege5). Drop ten mph, and the number ticked up to 31.3. Drop down to 62, and it took a larger jump, to 33.6. Perhaps at the double nickel the promised 37 would materialize—but I just can’t drive 55! The implication is clear – the EPA highway figure is only going to happen at speeds much lower than most of us drive.

The new SKYACTIV powertrain also makes the Mazda3 more fun to drive compared to the former 2.0-liter engine. Though it delivers little in the way of visceral thrills, the SKYACTIV four revs very smoothly, and pulls well at high rpm. For me the automatic succeeds mostly by never calling attention to itself. Shifts are quick and smooth in the rush to get into top gear and when downshifting readily in response to a heavy right foot. For big grins, the manual remains the way to go. Throws have the tight, precise, well-oiled but direct feel of a rifle bolt. I can’t recall a better-feeling linkage in a front-wheel-drive car. Yet all is not perfect: the knob atop the shifter is far too tall, affecting both comfort and the perceived length of the shift throws. Not much of a problem—mods don’t come simpler than replacing a shift knob.

Bottom line: your satisfaction with the Mazda3 SKYACTIV will depend on your driving style and expectations. Expect good looks? Eye of the beholder. Fun to drive? It’ll deliver given sufficiently frequent curves and a willingness to live a grunt-free lifestyle (Texan torque junkies need not apply). Fuel efficiency? Highly dependent on driving style and conditions. Replicate the driving style and conditions of the EPA’s tests, and you’ll meet or exceed the EPA’s numbers. Intensively employ the pedals, drive short distances in cold weather, or exceed 55 on the highway, and those numbers aren’t happening.

Suburban Mazda of Farmington Hills, MI, provided the automatic-transmission car. They can be reached at 877-290-8110.

Mazda provided the manual-transmission car with insurance and a tank of gas.

Michael Karesh operates, an online provider of car reliability and real-world fuel economy information.

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Review: 2012 Mazda3 Sedan SKYACTIV-G Wed, 28 Dec 2011 09:10:58 +0000

Picture courtesy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.


Oh hang on, someone’s at the door.

Mazda provided the vehicle tested and insurance.

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Japan Gets New Mazda3 Mazda Axela. You Get The Pictures Tue, 27 Sep 2011 08:13:46 +0000 Japanese customers can now buy the facelifted Mazda3 with its fuel-efficient SkyActiv technology. Except that it’s called Axela in Japan and has the steering wheel on the wrong side. Pretty much everything that needs to be said about the car already has been. If you missed it, here is the English version of the Japanese press kit. (Now how is that for service?) Mother of all Mazda3 picture collections follows.

P1J05087s P1J05085s P1J05084s P1J05083s P1J05082s P1J05081s P1J05080s P1J05079s P1J05078s P1J05077s P1J05072s P1J05071s P1J05070s P1J05069s P1J05068s P1J05067s P1J05062s P1J05061s P1J05059s P1J05060s P1J05086s P1J05058s P1J05057s P1J05056s P1J05055s P1J05054s P1J05053s P1J05052s P1J05051s Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail ]]> 22
Review: 2011 Mazda3 Sport GT Take Two Wed, 07 Sep 2011 20:35:10 +0000

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.

Traditionally, the bit after the jump is where we TTAC scribes dissect the styling of whatever whip we’ve managed to con out of the press guys. Except for Jack who’d be playing a blues riff and eating a baby or something.

However, I can’t be bothered. Look, the Mazda3 has a big goofy smiley face. Who cares. Too much ink has been already shed — unnecessarily — over the “Hai Guyz!” look that Nagare bestowed upon the Mazda3′s once-handsome visage. I’ll say no more than, “I liked the old one better,” and, “But it grows on you.”

Why don’t you take a seat over there? That’s where you’ll find out that the leather-clad seats in the Mazda3 are nicely-bolstered and comfy. You’ll also note that the doors are nicely upholstered and that you can perfectly rest your arm on the armrest and still reach the well-placed shifter. Rough spots? The silver-painted plastic was already chipped on one of the inner door-handles, but that might be just from rough-handling: this ’3 has had five thousand miles of press fleet duty.

The price gap between the base model ’3 and my tester is over ten grand. Granted, that’s only in Canadian monopoly money, but you’d better believe that this particular ’3 is loaded to the gills with more bells than Blitzen and more whistles than the Anachronistic Police Constable Supply Depot.

Normally, gizmos and whatsits confound and annoy me to apoplexy: I could easily compete at a national level in Laptop Frisbee. Taking one look at the eighteen buttons festooning the ’3′s wheel, I snapped my mental suspenders, hitched up the ol’ beltline and braced myself to issue a barrage of cranky cantankerousness.

But none proved necessary. Mazda’s interpretation of “driver” seems to be, “somebody who doesn’t take their eyes off the road.” Not only is the visibility out of the ’3 excellent, once you tweak the eight-way power seat to just the right spot, but the interior layout is highly functional. Changing temperature settings or fiddling with the radio were easily accomplished with no more than a sideways glance even during the initial drive. After a week’s familiarity, it was a no-look play.

Those tasks you do need to sneak a peak for are aided and abetted by the twin binnacle layout of the dash, which prominently features a rectangular radio/HVAC display, a smallish navigation screen and, most importantly, an enormous flap where the navi’s memory card goes. That’s annoying, but can be overlooked given how nicely everything else is laid-out. While there’s a cant towards the driver, it’s still a cinch for micro-managing side passengers to use.

Another thing: setting up the bluetooth streaming audio and phone connectivity was easy. What’s more, it was easy to me, and I still haven’t figured how to tweet the kids to get off my dang lawn. Y-chromosome owners will be happy to hear that at no point were instructions needed.

If I had to pick a gee-whiz feature that I absolutely adored, it was the adaptive front lighting system. The AFS on the ’3 acts like the car is peeking around the corner for you; it’s one of those things you never knew you needed until you’ve had it. On a dark country road it makes an enormous difference, but even in light-polluted areas it’s a great feature to find on a small car.

Space-wise, the Mazda3 Sport’s hatch makes me happy. I like big sedans as much as the next Dr. Mehta, but when you’re picking a do-all small car, I can’t understand people who buy small four-doors with trunks. Coupes? Sure, that’s a fashion statement, but the ’3 actually looks better as a hatchback and you basically double the practicality quotient. If you’re interested, you can fit four unmounted 225/45/17s, a folding deckchair, a golf umbrella and a kite shaped like an osprey back there and still have room for a moderately-sized heffalump. As tested.

Pootling around town, four adults (well, three adults and me, anyway) had plenty of room. The most common comment was, “Hey, this is pretty nice!” Sounds like faint praise, but that was out of the mouth of a 5-series owner.

Speaking of which, “pootling” is a relative term. Like the bimmer, the Mazda3 is a practical car that’s built by a company that might make the odd styling misstep, but knows a thing or two about vim and zip and verve and oh fine I’ll just say it: zoom-zoom.

With a torquey four-pot providing 167 horsepowers though a six-speed transmission, the ’3 is all too happy to giddy-up in city traffic. You think its grin looks stupid? Check yourself out in the rearview.

The 2.5L mill might not offer the max output of a Civic Si or Scion tC’s similarly-sized engine offerings, but it has a nice grunty quality down low, particularly in second gear. It’s happy to rev, and the twin-pipes out the back provide a decent soundtrack, but it’s also very easy to access the power from low rpms, making the stop-and-go cut-and-thrust.

Show the 3 some proper corners, and sure there’s a hint of the usual Fail-Wheel-Drive understeer, but it only shows up on slick wet pavement. In which case, slow down, you friggin’ maniac! In the dry, it’s a delight. Let’s pretend they made the 3-series in a four-cylinder front-driver. Yep, that good.

Back on the highway, that grunt makes for decent economy. Stick the nicely-weighted – but perhaps a jot too long-throw – shifter into the highest gear you can manage and watch the average MPG recover from backroads shenanigans. The old 2.3L was always a bit of a pig; a friend’s ’07 returns fuel economy levels not dissimilar from my godawfully thirsty WRX. The 2.5L is much better, averaging out to be solidly in the mid-twenties.

So this is it, my recommendation to you, the semi-drunken personage who buttonholes me at parties and slurs out, “Sssso whatchathink I should get?” A taxi. And a breathmint.

After that, the Mazda3. It’s practical, it’s fun to drive, it’s comfortable, it can be got with plenty of bells and whistles for such a small car, and while it’s usually more expensive than the industry average, they absolutely hold their value better than big-sister ’6. Mazda usually has Ford-ish sales promotions on too, so hey, it’s even almost-sorta cheap. What more do you want?

On the other hand, if you’re after more than just an off-the-cuff answer, if you want me to give your query my full attention and bring all my (in)considerable mental acuity to bear on the sticky problem of what the best car is going to be for you? Well then, that’s easy. Just go talk to Michael Karesh and buy whatever he says is good.

Mazda provided the vehicle and insurance for this review.

mazda3sgt4 mazda3sgt2-thumb mazda3sgt2 mazda3sgt14 mazda3sgt11 (Photos courtesy: Ronnie Schreiber, reviewed car not pictured) ]]> 60
New or Used: Drive First…Then Wait Tue, 28 Jun 2011 14:20:43 +0000

Chris writes:

Hi, love the site. I want a play car, but my wife and I have to agree on the purchase.

First, the details on our current situation. My wife drives a 2001 Suburban with 120,000 miles on it. I’m driving a 96 Cherokee 4wd with a 5-speed and 90k on the meter. We’re both happy with our daily drivers.

What I’d like to have is a car with, say, 50-75k miles on it, maybe built in the mid-2000′s, that we could take on trips. Perhaps something less thirsty for $4/gallon gas than the other two vehicles. And I’d like to stay in the $7,000 to $12,000 range, with a preference for the lower end.

I’ve got it narrowed down to a few contenders:

Lincoln LS V8 – wish I could get it in a manual.
Honda Civic SI sedan – might be too pricey.
Mazda Miata – I’ve had one, loved it, miss it terribly. But wife would prefer a car that seats 4.

I don’t do my own work on cars, so reliability and cost of maintenance is a big issue. I prefer a manual, wife prefers auto, but that might not be a deal-breaker either way. The main thing is that I want a car that’s fun to drive. She likes ’05 Mustangs too, by the way.

I’m not saying I’ll get what you guys recommend…but I just might. Thanks!

Steve Answers:

All of those cars you mentioned should be perfectly fine. The LS is a great touring car and the powertrain with the V8 is definitely one of the nicer ones of the past decade. The Mazda’s are perfectly fine as is the Honda. Though that may ride a bit rougher than you may appreciate.

Are you ready for my advice? Wait it out. Used car prices are through the proverbial roof right now thanks to a confluence of factors. Low levels of retail sales over the last few years have been paired with fewer trade-in’s. Dealer consolidations have severely limited competition for late model vehicles. Buy here-pay-here lots are now dominant forces at the dealer auctions along with the price premiums they seek for the common ‘credit’ challenged customer.

All of this means that your money won’t go very far at the moment.

Let me show you a brief example of what I’m talking about.

Make/Model/April 2007/April 2011/Net Change

Toyota 4Runner $13,000 $20,500 $7,500
Ford Explorer $ 7,100 $14,200 $7,100
Toyota Prius $ 11,600 $ 17,300 $5,700
Honda Civic $ 8,700 $12,200 $4,500

* Data courtesy of Kelly Blue Book. Chart compares three year old vehicles from each period.

What this data doesn’t tell you is that prices of used cars are up nearly 20% since January. This is also the first time in history where values of cars have not gone down after tax season. In over a decade in this business I have never seen supply as dry and expensive as it is right now.

If it were me, I would wait until October and the first half of November and revisit the car buying decision. By then you will have dealers and individuals who will be off-loading their vehicles for far cheaper prices since there are no ‘spending’ holidays. No bonuses, and no tax money to inflate the price of your next ride. The quality of the offerings should be far better as well.

Anything you listed for your next ride should be fine. Make sure both of you drive it first… and then wait. Let the current bubble deflate a bit.

Sajeev Answers:

Your wife likes 2005+ Mustangs? I think you just found your answer. While I am far from a late model, overweight Mustang cheerleader (Fox Body ‘fo life, SON!) they certainly have the right hardware. It only needs a few cheap tweaks to hit the sweet spot. A Mustang GT with more aggressive rubber, uprated dampers + sway bars and an SCT tune is stupid fun. On the cheap. And they are fairly reliable, even if I see many with anywhere from 1-4 shorted out taillights. They are in your budget, just try to find one with the premium package and the stitched dash top: it makes Ford’s interior bean counting far less revolting.

Keep the wife happy this time, you won’t regret it. And if you do, getting a Miata and a divorce isn’t the worst thing to happen to a dude. Probably.

Need help with a car buying conundrum? Email your particulars to , and let TTAC’s collective wisdom make the decision easier… or possibly much, much harder.

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Review: 2010 MazdaSpeed3 Wed, 18 Aug 2010 17:53:15 +0000

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.

In addition to how it handles, I also love how my Protege5 looks. Though clearly not a 2010 design, the car’s clean, well-proportioned lines will never grow old for me. It’s not a design that grabs the eye, but it delights when studied. The first-generation Mazda3 that replaced it struck me as overly trendy. I liked some aspects of its exterior design, but not others, and the whole lacked coherence. When the time came to redesign the Mazda3, Mazda (gotta love the unavoidable redundancy) carried over the basic shape… but turned it up to 11. Every surface from the big smiley grille rearward aims to grab the eye. While initially off-putting, some of the exaggerated surfaces grew on me over the course of a week. Even the grille has to be admired for the sheer audacity it must have taken to put into production. At least it’s not boring or pointless.

The first-generation Mazda3’s interior was a big step up from the Protege5’s in both style and materials. Though generally clean and purposeful, red details and varied textures added just enough visual interest. The 2010 model’s banzai design philosophy continues inside the car. This is more of a problem than the exterior, because you must look at the interior the entire time you’re driving the car.

A hooded display pod arches across the top of the IP behind the instrument cluster. Though this pod usefully locates the displays near the driver’s line of sight, in other ways continually challenged my sense of logic. The entire left half is blank; the instrument nacelles would obscure anything located there, after all. A compartment for the nav’s memory card occupies the center—they couldn’t locate it somewhere less visible? And the displays for the nav and HVAC/audio are two unequally sized rectangular pegs squeezed into the ride side of the rounded hole. If you’re going to overstyle something, you should at least have someone with some design sense do the dirty deed.

Some materials are good, others are iffy. Upholstered armrests on the doors? Quite good. The red-dotted black fabric and plastic trim specific to the MazdaSpeed3? Iffy.

The interior works better functionally than it does aesthetically. The controls on the center stack are so easy to reach and operate that those for the audio on the steering wheel are truly redundant. Operating the nav exclusively via a cluster of controls on the overpopulated (18 buttons!) steering wheel could have been a usability nightmare, but isn’t. The nav screen is much smaller than most, but in the end I had little problem with it.

Not that all is perfect on the functionality front. The main instruments are so large that I could not position the wheel where I would have liked to without partly obscuring them. With instruments larger is generally better, but only up to a point. They don’t need to be legible from ten feet away. And why does the speedometer read to 180 MPH?

The swoopy exterior styling forces a distant driving position that’s become common in today’s cars. Locating a deeper instrument panel farther away does enhance an interior’s perceived roominess, but also visually distances the driver from both the car, which consequently feels larger, and the road.

The 2010 MazdaSpeed3’s front seats’ bolsters perform well considering their modest size, but in this instance larger would be better. The lumbar support is non-adjustable, and there is a single height adjustment, so cushion tilt cannot be adjusted independently of seat height. That said, front seat comfort is pretty good.

Like the rear bench found in the first-generation Mazda3, the 2010’s back seat is tighter than that in the Protege5. Adults will fit back there, but just barely. The MazdaSpeed3 continues to be offered only in hatchback form, so it’s considerably more practical than a conventional sports car.

With a name like MazdaSpeed3 and a big hood scoop (the better to feed the intercooler with?), enthusiasts are going to expect substantial horsepower. They won’t be disappointed. The turbocharged direct-injected 2.3-liter four is good for 263 horsepower at 5,500 rpm and 280 pound-feet of torque at 3,000. Just not always. In the first three gears and especially when the wheel is turned Mazda restricts the engine’s output to reduce the likelihood of throttle-steering the car into a ditch. It’s strong in those gears regardless, once the tach spins past 2,500, and there’s a thick sweet spot from 3,000 to 5,500. Unlike some turbos these days, this one feels boosted. Not because there’s much lag—there isn’t—but because of the rush as boost kicks in. One puzzle I’d like Mazda to solve: the clutch must be feathered a tad to avoid a momentary stumble right after starting off.

The engine’s sound is dominated by a deep, poppy exhaust that is nice to have when pushing the car hard on an empty road, but is too likely to attract attention otherwise. (No, I wasn’t speeding through the subdivision, it just sounded that way.) In Mazda’s defense, they’ve exercised more restraint with the exhaust than some others, and while always audible, the drone won’t drive you batty on the highway. In other ways, the engine might be too refined for its own good—I prefer a little more intake and valvetrain whir with my exhaust roar.

The shifter’s throws are light and moderate in length, but are a bit notchy and engaging third can be tricky. The oversized brakes feel strong, are easy to modulate, and readily handle any off-track challenges. Fuel economy ranges from mid-teens to mid-twenties, depending quite heavily on how the car is driven. Figure low twenties with a moderate right foot in suburban driving.

Handling has traditionally been a Mazda strength, and the MazdaSpeed3 easily lives up to the brand’s reputation. The electro-hydraulic (not fully electronic) steering provides good feedback through the small, thinly padded wheel. Though not as agile as the Protege5, the MazaSpeed3 has a delicate, lively feel and can be precisely placed in turns. Accelerate through the curve and the car hunkers down, only beginning to lapse into understeer as its high limits are approached. Lift off the throttle and the car quickly rotates into oversteer. While the loose tail end is easy to catch, and can be put to good use at times, a steady foot through turns is generally best. The stability control is effective, unobtrusive, and knows its proper place—you must be driving the car quite fast and hard—or quite stupidly—to trigger it on dry pavement. It’s much easier to trigger the traction control.

The biggest surprise with the MazdaSpeed3: a thoroughly livable ride. Some premium sedans with performance pretensions ride considerably worse than the Speed3. The Mazda’s spring rates are moderate, with good body control achieved through well-tuned damping. Some drivers will mind the slight amount of float and roll in the hardest driving, and will no doubt mod the suspension accordingly. For most enthusiasts though, the ride-handling compromise is nearly ideal.

But all is not perfect with the MS3, and I’ve saved the worst for last. Putting a torquey engine in a conventionally-suspended, front-wheel-drive compact is a recipe for torque steer. While Mazda has selectively reduced engine output to reduce torque steer, this does not eliminate it. I’ve experienced worse, even much worse. But I’ve also experienced none at all, and none at all is much better than some. One mitigating factor: getting on the gas while turning has the effect of steering the car deeper into the turn rather than towards the curb. The torque-sensing limited-slip differential might deserve credit.

Like the Protege5 and RX-8, the MazdaSpeed3 possesses a healthy number of strengths and weaknesses. It’s fairly practical, totally livable, and very fun to drive. But the styling is questionable and the torque steer regrettable. All-wheel-drive is the road not taken. But the Subaru WRX and Mitsubishi Lancer Ralliart with all-wheel-drive are more expensive and less fun. The Mitsubishi Evo is as fun, and then some, but it’s far more expensive, less economical, and not as practical. Among front-wheel-drive competitors, the Volkswagen GTI is more tastefully styled and furnished, but doesn’t accelerate or handle as well. So, while the MazdaSpeed3 is clearly not a perfect car, for an enthusiast with a family and modest budget it could well be the best available car. Just look past the silly grin and keep a firm hand on the wheel—there’s serious fun to be had here.

Mazda provided the vehicle, insurance and one tank of gas for this review

Michael Karesh owns and operates TrueDelta, an online source of automotive pricing and reliability data

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Piston Slap: Zoom Zoom, Mesh! Fri, 15 Jan 2010 16:17:45 +0000 Transmission complete? (

Anonymous writes:

I love this column, great advice every time. That’s why I decided to ask for your opinion on something that’s been bothering me for a while. I have a ’07 Mazda3 hatchback with a 5-speed manual. Currently I’ve crested 23,000 miles and the car is still under warranty.

Ever since I bought the car (brand new), the shifter has been a bit notchy going from 1st to 2nd. It could also be smoother from 3rd to 2nd. Another thing that bugs me is that during our cold Chicago winters, until the car/transmission warms up, the shifter is very mushy and stiff. Otherwise, the car is a blast to drive.

So I’ve read a bit about GM’s Synchromesh Fluid and from what I hear, it does wonders and it should fix my problems if I were to swap my transmission fluid. Now here are my questions regarding this:

1) In your opinion, do you think I would really feel the difference: much smoother shifts all around and easy shifting in cold weather? Or is it just a placebo effect?

2) My Mazda dealer wants almost $200 for the fluid swap with their own fluid. For various reasons I can’t do it on my own and I don’t feel like trusting a 3rd party mechanic. The dealer has been fairly trustworthy so far. Do you think it’s a fair price? Would it make more sense to bring my own fluid, such as the Pennzoil Synchromesh sold by Autozone?

3) Should I be concerned that the dealer might use regular fluid instead of Synchromesh? I believe they are honest but you never know and the customer is not allowed in the shop anyway…

I would really appreciate a good suggestion for this dilemma.

Sajeev Replies:

Question 1: to reiterate, I noticed a significant improvement in shift quality with a fluid change to GM synchromesh. Then I noticed a minor improvement with said fluid swap on another vehicle. Either way, I think it is a win. And you don’t have to buy the bottle with GM’s Mark of Excellence, but theirs seems like a good value. The last time I priced checked, of course.

Question 2: That is a somewhat-fair price, but now’s the time to trust a third party mechanic. Look for one with a clean shop, loyal customers to a veteran shop owner and a computer with access to on-line service information systems like ALLDATA.

Question 3: There’s a good chance the dealer will use your fluid, because you (a smart consumer) only pays for labor. Then again, they may flat-out refuse to use non-Mazda fluids in your car. If so, refer to my answer to the previous question.

(Send your queries to

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