Back when I reviewed the Scion FR-S, I wrapped up by saying I’d want to check out the latest Miata before I passed judgment on the bang-per-buck value of the Subuyopet. So, I called up the PR flacks at Mazda: “Hey, remember how I didn’t totally trash the CX-5 I wrote about in July? Yeah, so now the entire Toyo Cork Kogyo organization owes me, which means I need a Daimyo Class ticket on the next flight to Tokyo, a BLACK TUNED MX-5 waiting for me, and an honor guard of eight dekatoras to escort me as I cruise around looking for an Autozam AZ-1 to ship back to Denver.” Disappointingly, what I got was a US-market MX-5 Club Sport dropped off at a shuttle lot at George Bush International in Houston, to which I’d flown Misery Class in order to judge at the fifth annual Gator-O-Rama 24 Hours of LeMons. I spent three days with a True Red ’13 Miata, mostly shuttling between my hotel in Angleton, Texas, and the race at MSR Houston.
Deciding what to do with a 662 hp muscle car was hard enough. Deciding what to do with the last pristine nearly new RX-7 in the country is even harder — because you can’t do anything with it, really. You certainly can’t street park it. I left it in an open lot the first night, only to discover that someone had put out their cigarette on the decklid. That was it. I ended up paying prices that would make a Manhattanite blush just so I could leave it in a covered multi-story garage visible from the bedroom window of my condo. Night after night I would stare at the slippery yellow shape under the glow of the cheap halogen lights, like a father staring at his premature baby in the neo-natal unit, checking and re-checking despite the near zero probability of anything bad actually happening.
“I wouldn’t ask too much of her,” I ventured. “You can’t repeat the past.” “Can’t repeat the past?” he cried incredulously. “Why of course you can!” He looked around him wildly, as if the past were lurking here in the shadow of his house, just out of reach of his hand. “I’m going to fix everything just the way it was before,” he said, nodding determinedly. “She’ll see.”
F. Scott Fitzgerald – The Great Gatsby
In search of the compact crossover that best impersonates a hot hatch, we first examined the Volkswagen Tiguan. The Tig proved quick and composed, but expensive and softer than the typical Teuton. For a lower price and sharper handling, no brand holds more promise than Mazda. But focusing intently on driving enthusiasts with limited budgets hasn’t proved profitable. So with its latest products Mazda has been putting eggs in a second basket by also making fuel economy a top priority. The Mazda CX-5 is the first all-new product to emerge from Hiroshima’s new “SKYACTIV” dual focus.
Bribery! While TTAC has a Get Behind Me Satan approach to the buffet-table and the press junket, we’re still mostly susceptible to the kryptonite lure of interesting cars.
So when Mazda called me up and asked if I’d like to sample a little of their driving heritage in a blatant PR move, I huffily told them that I could not in good conscience be complicit in helping further burnish their brand image as a manufacturer of sporting products. I reminded them that I thought the Mazda2 too slow, the Mazda3 too ugly, the Mazdaspeed3 possessed of worse torque steer than a one-legged unicyclist, the cabin of the MX-5 designed for people with short legs and prehensile elbows, and that they didn’t even build a rotary engine any more, so what was the point?
Naturally, I said all these things in my internal voice during the 3.7 nanosecond pause before, “OohyespleaseWhencanIpickitupHowaboutnow?”
Who’s ready for some yellow journalism?
The conventions of auto writing require that we come up with at least one labored metaphor for every comparison test, so here goes: You guys remember that movie It Might Get Loud? Obviously, the Scion FR-S is Jack White: deliberately stripped-down and retro, perhaps too self-consciously context-sensitive, adored without reservation by a bunch of people who have never signed a mortgage. The Genesis 2.0t R-Spec is the Edge: a lot of sharp edges and technical brilliance intended to cover up a fundamental deficit of talent.
The Miata? Well…
After I reviewed a Mazda that’s no longer being made, I decided that perhaps my next Mazda review ought to involve a vehicle that’s actually available for purchase. We’ve experienced Jack Baruth’s impressions of throwing the CX-5 around Laguna Seca and Brendan McAleer’s extensive review of the optioned-up CX-5 Grand Touring, and now I’m going to share my experience of putting the base CX-5 Sport through the meat-grinder of a weekend enforcing discipline at a far-from-civilization 24 Hours of LeMons race.
Way back in December, I flew out into LAX to meet up with fellow 24 Hours of LeMons Supreme Court Justice Jonny Lieberman, so that we could jump into a Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG and drive it to the Skankaway Anti-Toe-Fungal 500 race 450 miles to the north. I’d been hearing all about the magical basement full of crazy Japanese-market cars beneath Mazda USA headquarters in Irvine, so I talked Mazda engineer and superstar LeMons racer Dave Coleman into giving me the tour. But how to get from LAX to my destination many miles behind the Orange Curtain? “Coleman!” I barked, “Get me an RX-8 press car, pronto!” So, he did. Now, six months later, here comes your Better Late Than Never Review of a car that, regrettably, is no longer being built.
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?
LAGUNA SECA – It’s called the Corkscrew, and for good reason. Perhaps the single most famous piece of racetrack topography in North America, this left-right two-punch combo can unsettle an unsorted chassis just as fast as the steep 18% gradient can unsettle a novice driver’s stomach. Jack Baruth was here in the same car. I’ll try not to embarrass, nor soil myself.
As I enter the throwaway left-hander, I’m mentally muttering under my breath, “Aim for the third tree, the third tree.” Bris-ing the apex of Turn 8, it’s blue sky time, and I’m hard on the throttle, fully committed. Perfect. Both right wheels just kiss the curb with a faint rumble, and it’s through the right-hand sweeper fast and- wait. Too fast.
Rookie move: lift.
It happens fast. Off track. Rotating left. Into the dirt. Sliding. The tire wall rushing closer. I have time for just one thought…
Driving my old 993 to work at 5:30 this morning, listening to the blat of the Billy Boat exhaust competing with Corinne Bailey Rae’s sublime second album for my attention, I had a pair of random thoughts. First thought: I will never own a Ferrari, and that’s okay. This represents a sort of satori for me, because I’d always planned on buying a nice 575 or, resale and sense of aesthetics permitting, one of those awkward 612 Scags, after my all Porsches were paid off. The titles for said Porkers have been in my file cabinet for years now, but there’s no Memorandum Title for a long-nosed Italian next to them.
Second thought: I really, really, liked that CX-5 I drove two weeks ago.
I wonder if those two thoughts are related?
Regardless, something about the way I value and enjoy automobiles has changed. My desire to own the flashiest and sexiest whip I can (not quite) afford has been cauterized by endless exposure to “Cars and Coffee”, YouTube videos, and braying-donkey print-journos Facebook-bragging about selling their souls in exchange for temporary access to the transportation enjoyed daily by their betters. My notions of “fast” have been shattered by cars like Switzer’s thousand-horsepower GT-Rs and 997 Turbos. Fatherhood and occasional forays into performing music have given me new respect for something which can be parked on the street without concern. Racing in spec classes has led me to respect the rider, not the mount. The seemingly irrevocable decline of the American economy makes me wonder if it isn’t possible to consume a bit less and enjoy a bit more.
If the Ferrari 575 was the embodiment of my thirty-something philosophy — fast, brash, pedigreed, aggressive to a fault — then the Mazda CX-5 might just be my fortysomething philosophy embodied. It’s one of the few truly great cars I’ve driven since entering this business. How can a “cute-ute” with modest power and zero curb appeal be great?
Don’t worry, I’ll explain.
A mere 72 hours after I picked up my Mazda3 SKYACTIV hatchback with the 6-speed automatic transmission, Mazda informed me that they had a 6-speed manual transmission hatch available, and that I was welcome to return the automatic version in exchange for the stickshift. The next day, I dropped off the white automatic for a bright blue manual version. What a mistake.
Picture courtesy media.mazda.ca
One of the constant dangers for your humble TTAC correspondent is drifting away from gimlet-eyed and ruthless objectivity towards developing a soft spot for a particular manufacturer. Lord forbid you should ever start becoming an “ advocate”.
Should such tendencies emerge, one of our larger and hairier Senior Editors will show up on the front stoop bearing a large boat oar emblazoned with “Integrity” and begin beating you about the ears in the manner of the berserker school-master from Flann O’Brien’s An Beal Bocht. Leaving aside semi-obscure references to mid-century Irish literary satire for the moment, there’s one company for which I’d cheerfully risk the aforementioned major head trauma: Mazda.
Here’s an open secret: the Mazda3 is the auto-journo’s cop-out. “Hey,” inquires the prospective punter, “I’m actually kinda/sorta in the market. What do you recommend?” Nine times out of ten, the sporty little ‘3 is gonna get a plug. Tenth guy wants a truck.
Now around here, obviously that’s not the case. Ask the TTAC boys what you should buy and Jack Baruth is going to punch you in the face and sleep with your wife, Sajeev Mehta will get a far-away look in his eyes thinking of all the non-running personal-luxury-coupe crap-cans he could add to his stable for the price of a new car, Bertel Schmitt’s going to give you a fascinating but interminable lecture on the nuances of some improbable menage a trois between Nissan, Geely and Fisher-Price, and me? Well, I’m new around here. Again.
Which is why I’m going to extoll me a little Zoom-Zoom.
The regular Mazda3 is already one of the best-handling choices in the small car market and you can get it with either a revvy little two-litre engine or a torquier 2.5L mill with 167 horses. For a front-wheel-drive compact, 167 ponies should be plenty. I mean, what kind of a lunatic would you have to be to want more power than that?
Wait a minute. I’m a lunatic!
The Sea-to-Sky highway in British Columbia, Canada, carves a winding route from the gorgeous – and occasionally riotous – city of Vancouver to the world-class ski resort of Whistler. Its looping curves were rebuilt to make it a high-speed corridor for tourists and athletes during the last Winter Olympics, and as a result, it’s probably one of the top five roads in this country. Mind you, it’s also a favourite hang-out for the local constabulary.
So here I am then, at the wheel of a priceless prototype, sitting on the wrong side of the car next to an emeritus journalist, on a blind on-ramp to one of the most highly-patrolled roads in Canada. What’s called for here is a little decorum, a careful merge, some light throttle application, a few gentle gear-changes and so on. Anything else would be at-worst dangerous and at-best unseemly.
By a curious co-incidence, “unseemly” is my middle name. So I floor it.
Once issued a challenge to write a novel in just six words, Ernest Hemingway famously produced, “For sale: baby shoes, never used.” Well that’s a bit depressing. No wonder he shot himself. It’s rumoured that Hemingway considered this snippet his best work. Get ready to eat your heart out Papa Bear, ’cause I can sum up the Mazda2 in one syllable: “Wheeee!”
Eh? Hmm, seems that’s not good enough for our Editor. But wait, there’s more!
In the United States, unlike elsewhere in the world, there aren’t many choices for those who need seating for more than five people but who don’t want to give up the maneuverability of a compact car. Kia gave the segment a go, but withdrew the Rondo from the U.S. market a couple of years ago. Chevrolet has opted to not even test the waters with the Orlando. So Mazda currently has the segment to itself. But the Ford C-Max arrives in less than a year. Does the revised 2012 Mazda5 have what it takes to fend off the challenger?
With the 2007 model year introduction of the CX-7, Mazda arrived late to the compact crossover party. And when you arrive late, you’d better bring something special. To this end, the CX-7 combined swoopy styling and a standard turbocharged engine, making it arguably the sportiest offering in the segment. After an initial burst, during which everyone who really wanted one bought one, sales have been modest. In a bid to broaden the CX-7s appeal, Mazda added a non-turbocharged four as part of a 2010 refresh. But if you take away one of the few things that made the CX-7 special, is there any reason to buy one?
As they say in Hebrew, im ta’am v’rai’ach ain l’hit’vakai’ach, with matters of taste you can’t argue, and in general I agree with Jack Baruth’s principle that folks who know nothing about design shouldn’t say much beyond “like it” or “don’t like it”. Still, it’s impossible to review current Mazdas without at least mentioning their, ahem, cheerful styling. And after spending a week with the Mazda 3 S Grand Touring five door (hereafter, the M3SGT), I’m afraid to say that styling was the major drawback. Of course, that also means that everything else about the MS3GT was pretty darn good.
My youngest child, of three, turns eight next month. A few years ago, when it became clear that regularly working until 3 AM and then dealing with the children in the morning was not good for anyone’s sanity, we added an au pair. So there are six people in the house. Anyone with sense would have gotten a three-row something-or-other at least eight years ago. And probably when the first child was still in utero. Fool that I am, a decade on I’m still waiting for one to sweep me off my feet. I tend to have a thing for Mazdas. Mazda makes the three-row CX-9. So, why not the CX-9? In test drives back in 2007 and 2008, we didn’t quite hit it off. Perhaps we just needed more time together? Ever hopeful, I spent a week with the 2010.
I’ve been known to complain every now and then that cars in general have grown too heavy and, partly as a consequence, boring to drive. Hardly any engage the driver like the 2003 Mazda Protege5 in my driveway does. Even the burgeoning crop of B-segment cars, including the much-lauded Honda Fit, has disappointed in this regard. And so we come to the latest contender, the Mazda2, at 2,306 pounds the lightest 2011 car you can buy with a back seat.
Most cars today avoid doing anything terribly well so as to avoid doing anything terribly badly. Then there are Mazdas. I love my Protege5. The agile chassis is a joy around town, BUT refinement and rust prevention were clearly not on the engineers’ to-do list. I love the RX-8 even more. Outstanding handling, surprising utility for a sports car, BUT the rotary is torque free and can drink a Corvette under the table. And then we have the MazdaSpeed3. You already know what I’m going to say about the MazdaSpeed3. But I’m going to say it anyway.
For a reviewer, getting handed a car with delivery miles on the odometer is an instant promotion to tribal shaman. You’re given a quick pat on the back before being shoved into a hut with the village’s prettiest virgin. Needless to say, this privilege comes with the sacred duty of keeping the virgin in tip-top shape, otherwise your term as high-muck-a-much will be pretty short-lived. Unfortunately for my political aspirations, the Mazda2 loves being ridden hard. It squeals through corners, snarling like a dog in heat. There’s a lot more fun to be had here than the tiny 185/55R15 Dunlop Sports suggest.
The Mazda 6 is an enigma. It’s a fine automobile, at least the equal of any car in its segment, as close to a driver’s car as you’ll find in a midsize family sedan. Comfortable, not bad looking, nicely appointed, good fit and finish, great performance, decent economy. There is no question that the Mazda 6 stacks up well in phylum Camcordata yet it sits no higher than 10th place in the family sedan sales race, averaging about 2,400 units a month in the US since the all new 2010 model got up to speed last summer. The midsize segment in North America is the automotive big leagues. The 6 should be fighting for first place, not mired deep in the second division. Product may be everything, but sometimes it’s not enough.
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- TheEndlessEnigma GM, Ford and Stellantis have significant oversupply of product sitting on dealer lots and banked up in holding yards across the country. Big 3 management is taking advantage of UAW's action to bring their inventories inline to what they deem reasonable. When you have models pushing 6 months of supply having your productions lines shut down by a strike is not something that's going to worry you. UAW does not have any advantages here, but they are directly impacting the financial well being of their membership. Who will be the first to blink? Those UAW members waving the signs around and receiving "strike pay" that is, what, 20% of their wages? UAW is screwing up this time around.
- CEastwood Seven mil nitrile gloves from Harbor Freight for oil changes and such and the thicker heavy duty gripper gloves from Wally World for most everything else . Hell we used to use no gloves for any of that and when we did it was usually the white cloth gloves bought by the dozen or the gray striped cuff ones for heavy duty use . Old man rant over , but I laugh when I see these types of gloves in a bargain bin at Home Cheapo for 15 bucks a pair !
- Not Previous Used Car of the Day entries that spent decades in the weeds would still be a better purchase than this car. The sucker who takes on this depreciated machine will learn the hard way that a cheap German car is actually a very expensive way to drive around.
- Bullnuke Well, production cuts may be due to transport-to-market issues. The MV Fremantle Highway is in a Rotterdam shipyard undergoing repairs from the last shipment of VW products (along with BMW and others) and to adequately fireproof it. The word in the shipping community is that insurance necessary for ships moving EVs is under serious review.
- Frank Wait until the gov't subsidies end, you aint seen nothing yet. Ive been "on the floor" when they pulled them for fuel efficient vehicles back during/after the recession and the sales of those cars stopped dead in their tracks