2017 Mazda MX-5 Miata GT Review

Wednesday May 31st, 2017 at 11:55 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

2017 Mazda MX-5 Miata GT

By David Colman

Hypes: The Only Formula Racecar with a Trunk
Gripes: Relocate Infotainment Dial

25 years ago, here’s what I had to say about the 1992 Mazda MX-5 Miata in my Edmund’s book 20 Best 1992 Cars: “Miata makes blissfully few concessions to practicality because it is designed to do one thing better than anything else. That one thing is to give you a thrill a mile when you drive it.” Over the intervening quarter century, the MX-5 has changed substantively. With its current SKYACTIV 4 cylinder engine, horsepower has climbed from 116 to 155hp. Weight has also climbed by 10 percent from 2,189lbs. to 2,335lbs. Despite the gain in girth, the horsepower-to-weight ratio of the original Miata (18.87lb/hp) is significantly better in the current version (15.06lb/hp) That improvement insures that the basic tenet of Miata motoring hasn’t changed one iota from 1992. The smile per mile quota is better than ever.

2017 Mazda MX-5 Miata GT

Mazda has introduced a swath of new colors for 2017, including three whiter shades of pale called Ceramic Metallic, Crystal White Pearl and Arctic White. Our test Miata sported an intriguing off white finish (Ceramic Metallic) that brought to mind the Hot Wheels “Color Changers” which respond to different light levels by changing color. In the case of this Mazda, Ceramic Metallic morphed from silver through gray to bright white depending on the light and time of day.

2017 Mazda MX-5 Miata GT

The big news in Miata Land for 2017 is the introduction of the retractable fastback (RF) model. This disappearing hardtop makes the Miata look like an Italian show car from the 1950s when the top is up. With top retracted, its looks mirror the conventional MX-5 roadster we drove. Frankly, I can’t see why you’d want to saddle the lightweight MX-5 with a complex, electrically operated top mechanism when the fabric top of the standard Miata is such a pleasure to operate. While seated in the driver’s seat, you can detach the top from the header in one second, flip the top back in another second and slam it home into its storage well in a third second. The Miata even facilitates the process by dropping both side windows half way. Top erection is the reverse of this sequence, featuring an easy catch header latch of brilliant design.

2017 Mazda MX-5 Miata GT

The placement of the Miata’s dial control for the infotainment system – just aft of the stick shift on the transmission tunnel – is not quite so brilliant. This dial, which among other chores selects radio stations, constantly fell afoul of my right elbow as I changed gears. I lost count of the number of times I inadvertently swapped bands from XM Satellite to FM or AM. But that concludes my very short complaint list, because the MX-5 is otherwise just as perfect as can be. Its handling, for example, is beyond reproach. Twitch the stubby steering wheel and the Miata instantly twitches in the same direction. No other car responds with the immediacy of the Miata. This immediacy is due largely to the ultra responsive tire patches provided by Bridgestone. The S001 radials (205/45R17) provide enough lateral grip for track duty.
Standard front and rear stabilizer bars, stiff spring rates and well snubbed shock absorbers all conspire to provide a resiliently precise ride that will have you carving apexes with glee. Simply put, this Mazda outdoes a legion of much more expensive offerings from Porsche and Corvette, all the way up to Ferrari, and Lamborghini. None of them can match the MX-5 for unalloyed driving pleasure.

2017 Mazda MX-5 Miata GT

An important part of the Mazda magic formula derives from unimpeded sightlines from the cockpit. Although Miata now offers Blind Spot Monitoring with Rear Cross Traffic Alert and a Lane Departure Warning System, you don’t really need them in a car where you can see everything all the time from the driver’s seat.

2017 Mazda MX-5 Miata GT

Over the past quarter century, the Miata has matured into a comfortable little grand tourer. Our sample boasted a wonderful sound system with 9 Bose speakers spread through the cockpit, including inside each headrest. Despite its diminutive 5 cubic foot size, the Miata’s trunk will swallow an amazing amount of stuff so long as you keep the contents in soft shell bags. You would be hard pressed to find a better sports car today – at any price – than this $31,000 steal of a deal.

2017 Mazda MX-5 Miata GT

  • Engine: 2.0 liter SKYACTIC in-line 4
  • Horsepower: 155hp
  • Torque: 148lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 27MPG City/36 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $31,325
  • Star Rating: 10 out of 10 Stars

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2017 Mazda CX-9 GT FWD Review

Tuesday May 16th, 2017 at 2:55 PM
Posted by: D.Colman

2017 Mazda CX-9 GT FWD

By David Colman

Hypes: Japanese Balance of Utility and Beauty
Gripes: Redo the HVAC Controls

Introduced in 2016 as a completely new model, Mazda’s CX-9 moves into its second year of production in Hiroshima, Japan virtually unchanged. In the multinational automotive world, it has become increasingly difficult to detect where your vehicle is produced. But those who value traditional Japanese craftsmanship can rest assured that the body, engine and transmission of the CX-9 are all constructed in Japan. This heritage shows in the vehicle’s neat overall design, attention to interior surface detail, and lively turbocharged engine. Although the CX-9 weighs in at more than two tons (4,280lbs.), Mazda’s first ever use of a turbo on their Skyactive engine line boosts output of the 2.5 liter straight four to a gratifying new level: 250hp and 310lb.-ft. of torque. Couple this punch to a 6-speed automatic capable of manual gear selection and you’ve got yourself a potent straight-line performance package.

2017 Mazda CX-9 GT FWD

Nor does Mazda drop the ball when it comes to suspension layout. Fully independent design front and rear endows the CX-9 with the ability to soak up bumps and road imperfections with aplomb. Ride comfort is uniformly excellent. Standard front and rear sway bars inhibit lean in corners. Generous 20 inch alloy rims plant grippy Falken Ziex C750 radials (225/50R20) at each corner. The Tread Wear 300 rating of these tires prioritizes handling, so it’s fair to say that Mazda infuses even this 7 passenger bus of an SUV with the sports car responsiveness of the company’s milestone MX-5 Miata.

The CX-9 includes three rows of seating for 7 passengers. Front row occupants enjoy exceptionally comfortable and well tailored lounge chairs complete with 3-stage heaters. Mazda has fitted the driver’s seat with a 2 position memory setting. The second row consists of a 40/60 split bench good for 2 or 3 passengers, while the knee-room restricted tail bench is best suited to small fry. Both back rows can be instantly converted to semi flat floor configuration good for 34 cubic feet of storage.

2017 Mazda CX-9 GT FWD

I found that dropping the third row bench flat, along with just one of the second row chairs, created enough room to stow an adult bike inside the CX-9. However, the upper cab taper of this SUV makes the handlebars a tight fit through the electrically activated tailgate. While rearranging the interior seats, I discovered a large flat storage bin thoughtfully hidden behind the third row seats. Under that bin lies a deep well housing a temporary spare tire (bonus points to Mazda) and the tools to deal with it. However, the spare wheel houses a huge Bose subwoofer which is bolted in place. You might want to rehearse the drill of removing the subwoofer before you need to do so on some dark and stormy night.

2017 Mazda CX-9 GT FWD

If the CX-9 has a shortcoming, it lies in the layout of the controls for the HVAC system, and to a lesser extent, the infotainment logic of the “Mazda Connect” interface. The HVAC controls (Mazda calls them “Automatic Climate Controls”) are inconveniently situated on a small panel located out of your line of sight, just above the center console. Commands for fan speed and air flow position are scattered along the bottom of this panel, with pictographs so minute that their operation diverts your attention from driving. Likewise, the system used to install “favorite” channels from SiriusXM is unnecessarily complicated. Each time you are prepared to install a favorite channel, the system presents you with a dialogue box inquiring whether you want to relocate the existing channel to another position. We finally gave up on this nonsense after about 10 minutes and stuck with just one channel (’50s on 5′) for our whole week with the CX-9.

2017 Mazda CX-9 GT FWD

This Mazda is well suited to towing moderate (3,500lbs.) trailer loads. Most importantly, it has the engine strength to get the job done, even over the Sierras. Mazda has provided standard trailer stability assist, plus an 8 inch full color dash top display for the view out the back. This will ease your anxiety when backing the CX-9′s optional hitch onto a tiny trailer ball. In fact, this spacious and comfortable Mazda is just about perfect for towing your ski boat, sail boat, formula race car or tiny camper. It provides all the comfort and convenience features you could possibly desire, and does so with an efficiency rating of 24MPG (overall) that rivals much smaller but less useful sedans.

2017 Mazda CX-9 GT FWD

  • Engine: 2.5 liter inline 4, turbocharged
  • Horsepower: 250hp
  • Torque: 310lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 22MPG City/28 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $41,810
  • Star Rating: 9 out of 10 Stars

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2017 Mazda CX-3 GT FWD Review

Wednesday March 29th, 2017 at 11:33 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

2017 Mazda CX-3 GT FWD

By David Colman

Hypes: Miata-infused SUV
Gripes: ADD screen, Busy Center Console

There’s a lot of Miata in this CX-3. Anyone who’s spent quality time beyond the wheel of Mazda’s classic MX-5 (Miata) two seat sports car will immediately appreciate the detail spillover to the CX-3. Mazda products are really all about feedback. You give a command and the vehicle responds to that directive instantaneously. Like the Miata, the CX-3 – despite its SUV design and elevated ride height – reacts instantly when you turn the wheel, bang a downshift or hammer the throttle. The CX-3 consistently displays such lightning quick reflexes that its operation becomes instinctual rather than forced. Like the Miata, the MX-3 is so underpowered (just 146hp) that it depends on its ultra precise handling and suspension composure to compensate for its lack of brute strength under the hood. And like the Miata, the CX-3′s overall balance tips the fun-to-drive scale heavily in favor of this diminutive SUV.

2017 Mazda CX-3 GT FWD

If you’re looking for a utilitarian family hauler, look elsewhere. The CX-3′s 100 inch wheelbase is about 10 inches short of a full family six pack. And you most assuredly won’t be able to slide your bike into the rear hatch. However, you will be able to accommodate a four pack of adults inside the CX-3. There’s enough front and rear legroom to allow four six footers sprawl room. Those who have spent time in a Miata cockpit will feel right at home driving the CX-3. The manually adjustable steering wheel is perfectly situated for grip and precision control. Even the fingertip shift paddles fall exactly where you need them when you decide to assume gear control from the 6-speed “Sport Mode” automatic transmission.

2017 Mazda CX-3 GT FWD

And like the MX-5 sports car, the center tunnel houses the joystick for all Mazda Connect features such as sound settings, device settings, vehicle settings, system settings, active driving display settings and safety settings. Mazda terms this large rotary dial the “Commander Switch,” and due to its partially hidden location, it will take you some time to acclimatize yourself to its operation. Most commands can be issued verbally. We were disappointed to find no menu choice available for door lock protocol. Every time we walked away from the CX-3, the doors automatically locked. When we returned, however, they did not automatically unlock. This necessitated a jab on the appropriate keyfob button, a procedure that got old real fast.

2017 Mazda CX-3 GT FWD

What didn’t get tiresome was the CX-3′s desire to attack back roads with sports car aplomb. Mazda does not stint in equipping this mini-SUV with optimal wheels and tires. Our “Dynamic Blue Mica” tester sported handsome 18 inch alloy rims fitted with very sticky all season Yokohama Avid S34 radials (215/50R18). A couple of challenging backroad runs failed to dislodge the CX-3 from the line chosen by its operator. Despite its 61 inch height, this 2,945 pound mini truck carries out your placement orders with dispatch and precision. This behavior proved especially impressive during wet weather operation. Even during the worst storms, nary a skid was detected. Mazda touts their belief that “Driving Matters” and in the case of the CX-3, that claim is clearly accurate.

2017 Mazda CX-3 GT FWD

Which is not to say that some ergonomic details don’t intrude on the overall bliss. The hatchback release button, located under the edge of the rear lid, is too small and too difficult to locate. The trunk area at the rear needs a light for night loading. The Active Driving Display is a disconcerting addition to the dashboard. This ADD unit consists of a clear plastic screen which automatically pops up from the top of the instrument binnacle to provide speed, navigation and cruise control information. It’s a sort of poor man’s head up system, and I couldn’t find a way to shut it off or retract the screen. In fact, Mazda specifically warns, “Do not try to adjust the angle or open/close the display by hand.” The ADD unit is standard on CX-3s fitted with Grand Touring (GT) level trim.

2017 Mazda CX-3 GT FWD

Really, these are but minor quibbles that pale into insignificance when considering this Mazda’s overall worth. There are very few SUVs on the market that will match the CX-3 for joy of operation or for value pricing.

2017 Mazda CX-3 GT FWD

  • Engine: 2.0 liter “Skyactive” inline 4 cylinder
  • Horsepower: 146hp
  • Torque: 146lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 29 MPG City/34 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $27,260
  • Star Rating: 9 out of 10 Stars

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2016 Mazda CX-9 Signature All Wheel Drive Review

Tuesday January 24th, 2017 at 1:11 PM
Posted by: D.Colman

2016 Mazda CX-9 Signature All Wheel Drive

By David Colman

Hypes: Great Platform, Feature Laden Signature package
Gripes: Dump the Hood Prop-rod

Unlike so many of its competitors, Mazda never loses sight of the simple fact that the pleasure of driving matters. Whether they’re building an MX-5 sports car or a CX-9 family mover, Mazda aims to foster a positive driving experience. What’s uncanny is the way they’ve managed to transfer the sporting genes of the Miata into the genetic makeup of the CX-9 sports utility crossover. It’s a trick that much larger Japanese outfits like Toyota and Nissan have been unable to master. You won’t, for example, find much of the sporty Toyota FR 86 in anything else the company builds, nor will you detect much trace of the 370Z in Nissan sedans or sports utilities. But with a smaller outfit like Mazda, the Miata message comes through loud and clear in the CX-9.

2016 Mazda CX-9 Signature All Wheel Drive

Its electric power-assisted steering, for example, is uncannily precise. You can give partial credit for this breakthrough to the unusual choice of grippy Falcon Ziex tires (255/50R20) mounted on standard 20 inch alloy rims. But sticky rubber is only as good as the suspension that controls it, and here Mazda excels, with fully independent front and rear systems augmented by stout anti-roll bars fore and aft. Considering its ample heft, the CX-9 stays glued to twisty roads.

Mazda advertising seems reluctant to divulge the fact that a four cylinder engine powers the CX-9 Signature All-Wheel-Drive. Factory literature only describes the engine as a “Skyactive 2.5T Turbo Engine.” But make no mistake, this engine has nothing to be ashamed of when it comes to performance. It packs 310 lb.-ft. of torque at just 2000rpm, so acceleration is gratifyingly instantaneous. The Skyactive 227hp motor powers all four wheels through a 6-speed automatic transmission. Though it lacks paddle controls, it does offer Sport Mode which allows manual shifts. Just bump the console lever forward for downshifts or backwards for upshifts.

2016 Mazda CX-9 Signature All Wheel Drive

This sizeable sports utility offers seating for 7, with three rows arranged front to rear in a 2/3/2 pattern. The rearmost bench, which folds 50/50, accommodates only short legged occupants. Passengers in rows 1 and 2 (60/40 fold) are very well looked after. In fact, the main cabin of the CX-9 is an unexpectedly elegant proposition in Signature trim level, with swaths of real matte rosewood and real aluminum bisecting expanses of auburn tinted, glove soft Nappa Leather. Mazda stylists have really outdone themselves with the seat detailing: black piping and red stitching combine with inset bands of black leather to convey a sense of richness quite unexpected in this price range.

2016 Mazda CX-9 Signature All Wheel Drive

So the CX-9 will hustle down a crooked road with real aplomb, conveying its occupants with unruffled equanimity thanks to standard Roll Stability Control (RSC). The CX-9 is also tow rated for 3500lbs. worth of trailer, and the onboard electronics afford Trailer Stability Assist (TSA) to help manage the sway of your load. Visibility from the driver’s seat is excellent in all directions. The view through the large back window is especially welcome, since most SUVs in this mid-size range obscure direct rear vision with a sea of headrests obscuring an undersized rear pane. Mazda has also equipped the back glass with its own wiper and defroster. If those aids don’t clear the way for reversing, then utilize the rear back up sensor and image projected on the 8 inch color multi-function display screen atop the dash.

2016 Mazda CX-9 Signature All Wheel Drive

A vehicle in this price range should have a counterbalanced hood, but even the Signature CX-9 makes do with a manual prop rod. Also, the front console cup holders lack a sliding door cover, so they attract and retain every particle of errant dirt. The lower section of the chrome grill features an awkward surface joint that cheapens the look of nose, despite the fact that the Signature grill boats LED lighting accents. Finally, the extreme swept back roofline requires front seat passengers to duck their heads before climbing aboard, an unexpected annoyance in a vehicle that stands 68 inches tall. But these quibbles pale into insignificance given the overwhelming number of positives on offer here. If you want an affordable family hauler with the DNA of a lithesome sports car, the CX-9 should be your first choice.

2016 Mazda CX-9 Signature All Wheel Drive

  • Engine: 2.5 liter inline 4, turbocharged
  • Horsepower: 227@5000rpm
  • Torque: 310lb.-ft.@2000rpm
  • Fuel Consumption: 21 MPG City/27 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $45,215
  • Star Rating: 9 out of 10 Stars

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2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata Review

Thursday December 15th, 2016 at 8:1212 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata

By David Colman

Hypes: Consummate Affordable Sports Car
Gripes: Head Scratching Interior Shortcomings

In the current press-generated blather for self-driving cars, it would seem that Mazda’s rallying cry – “Driving Matters” – is singularly out of step with the times. But the fact of the matter is that driving does matter, and for the foreseeable future at least, you- the driver – will still be held responsible for the conduct of your vehicle. Given that unavoidable fact, wouldn’t you rather chose a sharp tool for the job than a blunt one? The MX-5 Miata is still without question the sharpest scalpel in any driver’s kit bag. Learn to drive a Miata well, and you will instantly become a better driver than you were before. Because this diminutive sports car requires concentration, coordination, and adept manipulation of all control interfaces. If you plan on texting or talking while driving, forget about the MX-5, because it demands a level of involvement that rules out such foolish behavior. In return, it will pay your finesse off in dividends of delight unmatched by anything else you can buy today, regardless of price. The fact that such rich reward is available for just $30,065 makes the MX-5 the best cheap date you can buy period.

2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata

Everything about the Miata is straightforward. Its front engine/rear wheel drive layout was once considered the prime solution to the sports car equation. Famous marques like Triumph, MG, and Lotus all built vibrant sports cars to this formula. Although that classic era has long since passed, Mazda alone soldiers on with its affordable, reasonably powerful take on the legendary British design that worked so well back in the 50s and 60s. The MX-5 proves that it continues to excel today. You quickly discover that this Mazda is blissfully devoid of the over-complication plaguing so many vehicles today. There’s a 2 liter straight 4 up front making 155hp. Its twin cam motor boasts 16 valves and performs best in the lower rev ranges, where 148lb.-ft. of torque is instantly on call. The spry four-banger connects to a 6-speed manual gearbox offering micrometer precise shifts. You can buy an MX-5 with an optional automatic gearbox with 6 speeds, but why would you want to do that? An immense chunk of Miata joy is attributable to that stubby wand between the seats that distributes power to the rear wheels. Chose the automatic and you’re ceding half the fun to a unit that renders you partially useless. If driving matters, go for the stick.

2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata

Because this two seater weighs only 2,335lbs. great handling does not require steam roller size wheels and tires. Mazda has supplied even the base model we drove with primo rubber: Bridgestone Potenza S001 tires measuring 205/45R17 mounted on smoked chrome alloys. The precise, fully independent suspension of the MX-5 allows the Bridgestones to develop sustained cornering grip that will have you squealing with glee every time you clip an apex on a back road. Have just one such experience and you will instantly understand why Miata is the most raced car on the planet. Every weekend, hundreds of contests take place with various classes of Miatas. These range from box-stock street cars to heavily modified track stars. No other single make series comes close to duplicating the racing world’s allegiance to the Miata.

2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata

In the 2017, Mazda will be introducing a retractable fastback hardtop version of the MX-5 that promises to look sleeker than our test model soft top, but also weigh considerably more. When the hardtop is erect, that extra weight will be situated high up in the chassis, resulting in an elevated center of gravity compared to our ragtop. The lightweight fabric roof is so easy to drop and erect with one hand from the driver’s seat that there’s really no need for a complicated push-button electric powered hardtop. We spent 90% of our week driving the Soul Red ($300 optional color)) rocket with its top dropped.

2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata

If there’s a bug on the windshield of the Miata, it’s the poor ergonomic design of the interior. For example, although Mazda has added a 7 inch color touch screen display to the dash top, such chores as selecting and installing XM radio favorites is unduly complicated and annoying. Likewise, the rotary selector knob for accessing the touchscreen is inexplicably located atop the transmission tunnel, so that every time your right elbow inadvertently touches the selector knob during a shift, the radio changes stations. Finally, there is virtually no cabin storage either in the dash or the doors, so you’re faced with an awkward reach to a small cubby located behind and between the two seats. Thus, Mazda seems to have resurrected the niggling quirkiness of the British sports cars in ways best left forgotten.

2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata

2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata

  • Engine: 2.0 liter inline 4, DOHC
  • Horsepower: 155hp
  • Torque: 148lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 27MPG City/34 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $31,330
  • Star Rating: 9.5 out of 10 Stars

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2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata Review

Monday January 11th, 2016 at 8:11 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata

By David Colman

Hypes: Race Car for the Street
Gripes: Relocate Command Control

The all new 2016 Mazda Miata provided the highlight of my test driving year. In the Bay Area, one of the most challenging back roads traverses the foothills between Sunol and Fremont. This narrow, tortuous stretch of pavement includes hundreds of sharp turns, most of them blind on entrance or exit. I’ve done this road in a Porsche 911 Turbo, which proved way too much car for this poorly paved passage. You wouldn’t want a Corvette here or a BMW M3, let alone a fat tired Ferrari or Maserati. They’re all too heavy and reluctant to change direction. What you do want is Mazda’s new Miata MX-5, re-engineered from the ground up to be lighter and nimbler than ever before. On this stretch of pavement, the latest MX-5 proved absolutely magical. It changed direction faster than ‘Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride’ at Disneyland. The Miata enjoys perfect balance thanks to its 52/48% front/rear weight distribution. And speaking of weight, new aluminum hood and trunk lids help pare the Miata to just 2,313 lb., a number unheard of in today’s safety festooned behemoths.

2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata

The Miata remains mercifully unfettered by all the expensive, optional lane change alert systems now plaguing the auto industry. If you need rear cross traffic alert while backing up the Miata, just drop the convertible top and turn your head around. Ever so much better than peering at a dimly lit screen on your dash. In so many ways, this car is a delightful throwback to the sports cars from Italy and Great Britain like Alfa Romeo’s Duetto and British Leyland’s Triumph TR 4. The Miata shares the enduring simplicity of these forerunners, with a 4 cylinder, non-turbo engine up front, sophisticated all- independent suspension, and excellent 4 wheel disc brakes. In the case of our test Miata, those brakes received a substantial upgrade over stock, with Brembo front brake calipers clamping 11 inch Brembo made discs. You must order the $3,400 “1BB” package which also provides German forged alloy BBS wheels finished in dark grey. As part of a no extra charge group, you’ll also want the “2AP” package, which transforms the appearance of the MX-5 from benevolent to snarky. The aero accoutrements of the 2AP group include piano black tail spoiler, flared side skirts, and front airdam.

2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata

The 17 inch BBS wheels provide support for first class Bridgestone Potenza S001 radials which are modest in dimension (205/45R17) but tenacious in grip. On the foothill twister, the Potenzas never once lost their grip, tackled every turn without so much as a chirp of protest. Of course, the fact that Mazda includes a sport tuned suspension with Bilstein shock absorbers and a limited slip differential as standard fitment does wonders for the handling of the MX-5. On sharp turns, it responds like a go-kart thanks to its ultra-tight turning circle of 30. 8 feet, and its super quick steering wheel travel of just 2.7 turns, lock-to-lock. When you’re not tackling a snaky back road, the Miata is still a lot of fun to drive. It can zip into traffic holes or parking places that would make a cumbersome SUV envious of its agility. Since we had the top down for most of our test week, visibility was unimpeded in all directions. Even with the top up, Mazda has thoughtfully provided a heated glass rear window element to help clear the dew and the view. The top is manually actuated, with no weight-adding electric motors necessary. While still seated you can fold the top or raise it with just one hand. When down, it clicks into its own receptacle and forms its own tonneau-like cover. With the top dropped and the side windows raised, the cockpit is draft free.

2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata

The latest Miata has also inherited a few of the less endearing traits of vintage British sports cars. For example, the layout of the passenger compartment resembles something an MG designer would have fudged together back in 1970. There’s no glove box in the dash, almost no storage in the doors, and the cup holders are so far behind you on the center tunnel as to be all but useless. The “Multi-Function Commander Control” is mounted on the transmission tunnel just aft of the 6-speed manual gearbox stick. This control enables you to trigger selection by depressing its center button. In actual practice every time you change gears and rest your forearm on the tunnel you inadvertently trigger a selection change on the commander control. I lost count of the number of times I unintentionally shifted channel choice from XM Satellite to FM radio thanks to this idiosyncrasy. But in the big picture it’s quite insignificant. Because this a sports car you buy because you love driving, not because you love listening to tunes.

2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata

  • Engine: 2.0 liter inline 4 with DOHC
  • Horsepower: 155hp@6000rpm
  • Torque: 148lb.-ft.@4600rpm
  • Fuel Consumption: 27MPG City/34MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $32,820
  • Star Rating: 10 out of 10 Stars

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Review: 2016 Mazda CX-5 Grand Touring FWD

Wednesday December 16th, 2015 at 10:1212 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

2016 Mazda CX-5 Grand Touring FWD

By David Colman

Hypes: Fine Handling, Spunky Motor, Solid Build Quality
Gripes: No Proximity Sensor for Automatic Door Unlocking

Mazda has been touting their “Skyactive” technology for several years now in an advertising campaign that suggests the company has somehow reinvented the internal combustion engine. What they have in fact done is utilize extremely high compression ratios in both 4 cylinder engine variants that power the CX-5 sports utility. We spent a week driving the more powerful of the two, the Grand Touring front wheel drive (FWD) model, equipped with the 2.5 liter, 184hp in-line 4. Mazda also offers a smaller 2.0 liter in-line 4 good for 155hp. Both engines, the Skyactive G-2.0 and Skyactive G 2.5, compress the fuel air mixture to an astronomical ratio of 13:1, an application that would have been unthinkable for a mass production engine just a few years ago. Because Mazda manages to thus squeeze every last bit of energy out of every firing cycle, gas mileage benefits as well as horsepower. The 2.5 liter CX-5 posts an excellent overall EPA rating of 29MPG. When you consider that this 3,435 pound four door will comfortably seat 5 adults while providing cargo volume of 33 cubic feet, it’s evident Mazda has done their packaging homework here. The G-2.5 engine’s quick response proves that Skyactive Technology is more than just a catchy phrase.

2016 Mazda CX-5 Grand Touring FWD

The CX-5 also confirms the theory that every Mazda’s DNA coding contains Zoom-Zoom genes. This is one of the best handling compact SUVs on the market, thanks to its stiff springing, anti-roll suspension design and sticky 225/55R19 Toyo A23 radials, mounted on 10 spoke, 19 inch alloy wheels (standard on the Grand Touring model). Base CX-5′s make do with 17 inch rims and 225/55R17 rubber. If the devil is in the details, Mazda has paid close attention to the hidden attributes that differentiate a great handling platform from a mediocre one. In this case, all the important elements are present: 4 wheel disc brakes, independent front and rear suspension, and front and rear anti roll bars. The upside of the athletic suspension calibration is a level ride platform, excellent steering response, and a complete lack of slop during cornering maneuvers. The downside is a stiff, sometimes jarring ride quality that will never remind you of sinking into your favorite armchair.

From a maneuverability standpoint, the CX-5 proves to be the ideal tool for scooting through traffic clogged freeways or attacking back roads with confidence. In the long run, a stiffly sprung ride is dynamically superior in performance, and the calibration of the CX-5 proves that point over and over. The fact that the healthy 2.5 liter engine administers satisfying spurts of acceleration when needed provides the cherry on top. Mazda refuses to succumb to the current craze for noisy and ineffectual CVT transmissions. This SUV offers you a proper 6-speed automatic gearbox. Although it lacks the finesse of paddle shifts, it does offer Active Adaptive Shift (AAS) which intelligently selects optimum gear ratios when the selector lever is placed in “Drive.” The transaxle also allows manual override of shift points if you slide the console mounted stick from the “D” to the “M” quadrant. In practice, the AAS program works so well at figuring out gear needs that you never need to select the manual option, unless you’re towing a trailer. The CX-5 is rated for a 2,000 pound tow load.

2016 Mazda CX-5 Grand Touring FWD

Interior furnishings of the latest CX-5 are surprisingly refined, especially if you order the nifty looking two-tone Parchment interior. This choice brings you well sculpted seats front and rear, with bolsters done in black and seating surfaces in perforated off-white vinyl. The list of standard accoutrements is surprisingly long for a vehicle of this class. Making your life simpler will be rain sensing wipers, power automatic door locks, 8 way power driver’s seat with power lumbar adjustment, and heated front seats. None of these luxury touches are expected on an entry-level SUV carrying a base price of $28,220. For a surcharge of $1,505, your Mazda can be equipped with a grouping of improvements such as Lane Departure Warning, LED fog lights and tail lights, and an auto-dimming interior rear view mirror. A $200 retractable rubber cargo cover is a sensible investment if you plan to carry messy goods or pets in the cargo area. With virtually all available bells and whistles on board, our test CX-5 still totaled just $32,860.

2016 Mazda CX-5 Grand Touring FWD

If you need an economical, reasonably sized sports utility that emphasizes sports as much as utility, then the 2.5 liter version of the CX-5 is well worth consideration. Consumer Reports thought so too, giving it their Recommended Check as a best buy product.

2016 Mazda CX-5 Grand Touring FWD

  • Engine: Skyactive 2.5 liter inline 4
  • Horsepower: 184hp
  • Torque: 185 lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 26MPG City/33MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $32,860
  • Star Rating: 9 out of 10 Stars

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Review: 2015 Mazda MX-5 Miata Grand Touring

Thursday March 12th, 2015 at 3:33 PM
Posted by: D.Colman

2015 Mazda MX-5 Miata Grand Touring

By David Colman

Hypes: Handles Like an Open Wheel Race Car
Gripes: Slippery Steering Wheel

25 Years ago, Mazda introduced their Miata sports car, a concept so radically right that it has hardly changed over the intervening two and a half decades. Miata means “little pearl” in Japanese, and the oyster that nurtured this gem of a car could not have been more perfect. In an automotive world increasingly concerned with devising mnemonics to help you avoid accidents, the Miata takes care of safety business the old fashioned way: through agility. In this diminutive two seat dervish, you won’t need buzzers to alert you to side or cross traffic because you can simply see everything you need from the driver’s seat. Lots of cars used to offer such impeccable, decision-making vision in all directions, but lithe road toys like the MG and Triumph are long gone from our marketplace. However, they’ve bequeathed the mantle of true sports car to the sole survivor of the breed, today’s Mazda’s Miata.

I just completed a joyous 50 minute drive from Petaluma to Stinson Beach along Coast Route 1 in the latest Miata. Thanks to the storm induced closure of Route 1 south of Stinson, there was almost no traffic on the Coast Route. With a clear road empty of cars, the trip unfolded like a television commercial’s dream car sequence. Mazda has the foresight to equip the Miata with the best high performance street tires available today – Bridgestone Potenza RE 050A radials (205/45R17). These premium grabbers adhere to post storm wet pavement with leech like security. Of course, the Miata’s inherent balance is responsible for its accurate handling. This car’s configuration is based on the front engine/rear drive platform of the classic British sports car. Our test MX-5 gained further improvement from its $850 optional 1SP Suspension Package” which includes sport tuned suspension, Bilstein shock absorbers, and a limited slip differential (LSD). Stiffer springs and more resistant dampers flatten ride through corners, while the LSD improves propulsion on corner exit. A Miata with the 1SP refinement is your ticket to slot car handling.

2015 Mazda MX-5 Miata Grand Touring

The Miata is still a tiny package. At a curb weight of just 2,610 lb., the MX-5 is one of the lightest cars on the market, a bonus that helps account for its nimble maneuverability. But the downside of downsize is a cramped interior. Inside the cockpit, there’s absolutely no room behind the seats to store any gear. A small cubby between the seats, a double beverage holder between the seats, and a couple of bottle holders in the doors constitute the limit of storage Mazda gives you. Anything else either fits in the 5 cubic foot trunk or else stays home. Although the Miata is available with a manually operated cloth roof, our test sample was equipped with a power-retractable hard top (PRHT) that behaves like a fixed roof when up. A simple latching procedure on the windshield header is required for operation. If safety, security and cockpit quiet are important, than opt for this PRHT.

2015 Mazda MX-5 Miata Grand Touring

Powering the Miata is a 2 liter engine good for 167hp and 140lb.-ft. of torque. This double overhead camshaft, 16 valve engine features variable valve timing (VVT) and drives through an excellent 6-speed manual gearbox. The transmission ratios are so closely spaced that the engine hardly ever loses momentum on up shifts. The stick’s throws are close and tight, and the sheer pleasure of shifting becomes a major attraction of driving a Miata. During passing maneuvers, however, you become aware that the 167hp motor quickly runs out of zip. An extra 20 hp would be a welcome addition to the Miata equation.

2015 Mazda MX-5 Miata Grand Touring

Early in 2015, Mazda will introduce the successor to the current model. While it will undoubtedly be bigger and faster than today’s MX-5, it will just as surely lose some of the charm and finesse of the original package. Since its introduction in 1990, this petit sports car has become the perpetual performance yardstick for the sports car fraternity. Currently, more Miatas race each other in club racing than any other single make of car. When the last of the current crop is sold in 2015, the first Zoom-Zoom era of unforgettable motoring will draw to a close.

2015 Mazda MX-5 Miata Grand Touring

  • Engine: 2.0 liter DOHC, 16 valve inline 4 with VVT
  • Horsepower: 167hp
  • Torque: 140lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 21 MPG City/28 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $32,935
  • Star Rating: 9 out of 10 Stars

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Review: 2014 Mazda3 5 Door GT

Wednesday December 11th, 2013 at 8:1212 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

By David Colman

Hypes: Responsive and Planted Handling, Loads of Standard Attributes
Gripes: Minuscule Tachometer Face

Those who lament the recent passing of Mazda’s sterling sports car, the RX8, will be thrilled to know that its sporting DNA lives on in the all new, third generation, 2014 Mazda3. No, this affordable sedan (Base price: $23,245) is not powered by the RX8′s iconic rotary engine. You’ll know that the second you check the fuel consumption figures for the Mazda3: 33 MPG overall — a figure the thirsty rotary could never dream of matching. Yet the “SKYACTIV-G” 2 liter engine in the sedan winds to its impressive redline of 6000 rpm with such alacrity that you’d swear a rotary power plant was lurking somewhere under the hood.

Likewise, this fully functional 5 passenger sedan manages to mimic the nimble handling of the departed RX8. In GT form, the 3′s attributes include such corner carving essentials as independent front and rear suspension, four wheel disc brakes, electric power assisted rack and pinion steering, and 16 inch alloy wheels shod with sticky Yokohama Avid 834 tires (205/60R16). Of course, the 3 is so innocuous looking that you’ll never have to share your Mazda’s secret sports car inclinations with anyone else. Except for the fully integrated and well disguised roof spoiler, you’ll find none of the clues typical of a high performance package: no low profile tires, no bulging fender wells, and most certainly, no stripes, or taping. Only dual chromed exhaust pipes make a slight concession to showiness. Otherwise, the long list of eliminations renders the new 3 perfect for fast motoring without drawing undue attention to itself. In view of the fact that Mazda bills itself as the Zoom-Zoom car company, the new 3 upholds the expectations of long time marque loyalists in every way.

The reason Mazda has sold more than 3.5 million versions of the 3 since it was introduced in 2004 is value. Even at this economic price point, our test car contained the following impressive list of standard features: keyless entry, moonroof, heated front seats, 7 inch color touchscreen display, navigation system, halogen headlights, and HD Radio as well as SIRIUSXM radio. The list of standard driving aids is equally lengthy, and includes dynamic stability control, traction control and hill launch assist. this last feature was particularly appreciated when starting our 6-speed manual transmission Mazda3 on inclines. Since the sleek profile of the 3 impedes rear 3/4 vision, the standard rear view camera and cross traffic alert serve as welcome safety inclusions. You don’t even have to check your tire pressures regularly because this Mazda does it for you every day thanks to its standard tire pressure monitoring system.

The 3′s level of fit and finish belies its low price. The leatherette trimmed front sports seats are supportive enough to cope with the considerable side loadings developed by the suspension. The driver’s seat is 6-way power adjustable, with manual lumbar control. The rear bench seat folds in a 60/40 pattern, and includes a drink-holder center armrest. The rear door design is so sleekly integrated into the car’s flowing lines that the 5-door 3 looks more like a coupe than a utilitarian hatchback. If you enjoy driving a responsive vehicle but need to keep your purchase practical, the new Mazda3 is an ideal choice.

2014 Mazda3 5 Door GT

  • Engine: 2.0 liter DOHC inline 4
  • Horsepower: 150hp @ 6000rpm
  • Torque: 150 lb.-ft. @ 4000rpm
  • Fuel Consumption: 29 MPG City/40 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $24,335
  • Star Rating: 9.5 out of 10 Stars

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Review: 2014 Mazda6 Grand Touring

Sunday October 27th, 2013 at 8:1010 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

By David Colman

Hypes: Wealth of Included Niceties
Gripes: Underwhelming Grunt Below 3,000 rpm

Styling concepts pioneered by Mazda’s Shinari and Takeri show cars have reached fruition in the all new Mazda6. After taking it for a spin over challenging back roads, I can attest to the fact that this voluptuous looking reincarnation of the formerly prosaic Mazda6 is more than just a pretty new face. The revamped Mazda6 proved its mettle with refined handling, precise balance and high grip levels. It should come as no surprise that Mazda has been fielding a team of Mazda6 sedans in the GTX category of the American Le Mans Series (ALMS) this year. What should come as a surprise, however, is that these race-prepped Mazda sedans are currently vying with a Porsche Cayman S for the series title with just a few races left to run. Although the ALMS Mazda6s are Diesel-powered, our test vehicle’s 2.5 liter 4 cylinder engine ran on gasoline — so efficiently that we couldn’t use even a half tank of it after a whole week of running. The EPA rates the gasoline version of the Mazda6 at 32 MPG overall, and the turbo Diesel version, coming later this fall, will even improve on that skinflint economy.

The Mazda6 is a lot of sedan for the money. Its base price of $29,695 includes 4 door seating for 5, leather trimmed, heated sports seats up front, and a 60/40 fold down arrangement for the rear seats. Given the reasonable price, it was a surprise to find Mazda has included in the base car’s specifications a Bose 11 speaker audio system, SIRIUSXM and HD radio, and a 5.8 inch color touch screen display for the navigation system. The 185hp motor feeds its power to the front wheels via a new 6-speed automatic gearbox featuring manual gear selection via small paddles on the steering wheel spokes, or tap shifting from the floor-mounted stick. The steering wheel face also provides audio and phone controls on the left hand spoke and cruise controls on the right hand spoke. The standard issue, adaptive Bi-Xenon headlights deserve special praise not only for their brilliant illumination but also their magical ability to turn in the direction the sedan turns.

Nor did the Zoom-Zoom company default on suspension equipment. Standard 19 inch alloy rims provide secure mounts for Dunlop SP Sport radials (225/45R19) at all 4 corners. These all-season tires provide reassuring grip when you’re tackling switchback turns, or building speed on long, arcing freeway on-ramps. Handling of the Mazda6 is predictable and precise, despite the fact that 59% of its 3,185 pound curb weight rests on the front axle. Torque-steer is absent because the engine produces just 185 lb.-ft. of torque, which is never enough to cause the front wheels to slip while turning. In fact, the downside to the Mazda6 lurks under the hood, where the 4 cylinder engine’s lack of horsepower and torque is especially evident at low rpm in second gear. Just when you most need passing punch, the “Skyactiv” motor is loathe to deliver the required zest. Once you spool the engine past 3,000 rpm, however, the sedan becomes a serviceable performer.

A $2,080 “GT Technology Package” brought our test Mazda’s final price to more than $32,000. The package adds radar cruise control, regenerative braking, forward obstruction warning (FOW) and lane departure warning (LDW). Although the radar cruise control makes long distance running effortless, the benefit conferred by the other inclusions are less helpful. In fact, the LDW light on the instrument cluster flashed errantly for most of the week we spent with the car.

In view of the 2.5 liter four’s proclivity for sloth, we’d be inclined to hold out until the turbo Diesel makes its debut in a few months. After all, the Mazda6 platform is otherwise so good that it would be a shame to handicap its handling potential with a sub-par power plant.

2014 Mazda6 Grand Touring

  • Engine: 2.5 liter DOHC Inline 4
  • Horsepower: 184hp
  • Torque: 185lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 28 MPG City/40 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $32,845
  • Star Rating: 7.5 out of 10 Stars

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