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  • 2016 Mazda CX-9 AWD

    Three-row crossover for active families

    By Nina Russin

    2016 Mazda CX-9

    2016 Mazda CX-9

    The newest CX-9 is the second iteration of Mazda’s three-row crossover vehicle, available with either front or all-wheel drive: both powered by a turbocharged 2.5-liter engine. Mazda’s goal was to create an interior spacious enough for a growing family in a vehicle that’s also fun to drive.

    This presented quite a challenge, since driver-focused cars are typically small, light vehicles that focus more on front-to-rear weight balance and power-to-weight ratios than how many soccer team members can fit in back.

    Pricing for the all-wheel drive Signature grade tested begins at $44,015 excluding the $800 destination charge. Being the top of the line model, the Signature comes fully loaded with convenience features buyers in this segment demand including keyless entry and start, three-zone climate control, leather trim, power moonroof, rain-sensing wipers, satellite radio and more.

    It’s also heavy on active safety technology including blind spot monitoring, rearview camera with cross traffic alert, adaptive cruise control, lane keep assist and trailer stability assist. While Mazda, unlike its Japanese competitors, doesn’t have a luxury brand, the upscale CX-9 is for all intents and purposes a luxury car.

    Final MSRP for the test car is $45,215. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2016 Mazda MX-5

    Fourth-generation sports car is an instant classic

    By Nina Russin

    2016 Mazda MX-5

    2016 Mazda MX-5

    There are a lot of reasons to buy a Mazda MX-5: style, performance and affordability among them. Fans of the two-seat roadster, now in its 26th year of production can now add ‘instant classic.’

    Hagerty Insurance CEO, McKeel Hagerty, considers the MX-5 Miata to be one of the best investments in the classic car market. He bought one himself. With its timeless styling inspired by British roadsters of the 1960s, a powertrain that functions as well on city streets as it does on the track and modern amenities such as keyless start, Bluetooth interface and automatic climate control, the Miata might just be the sexiest, most practical new car enthusiasts can buy for less than $30,000.

    Is the MX-5 a car for everyone? Probably not. It has close to zero cargo space and for larger individuals, access and egress can be a challenge. But it is easily one of the most perfect executions of a niche vehicle on the market.

    The test car is the upscale Grand Touring model priced from $30,065. Standard convenience features include a Bose premium audio system, keyless start, LED daytime running lamps and tail lamps, automatic climate control, leather wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, power side mirrors, rain-sensing windshield wipers, navigation and heated front seats. Adding two options- a rear spoiler and keyless start plus the destination charge brings the final MSRP to $31,365. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2016 Mazda CX-3 Grand Touring

    Right-size crossover perfect for active urbanites

    By Nina Russin


    2016 Mazda CX-3

    2016 Mazda CX-3

    Mazda doesn’t know how to make a mistake: every new model is walk-off home run. Such is the case for the newest family member: the compact CX-3 crossover with available all-wheel drive. Small on the outside but big on the inside, the CX-3 has enough ground clearance for covering unimproved roads, without impacting low lift-over height for easy access to the cargo area.

    A two-liter Skyactiv engine averages 32 mpg on the highway but is by no means short on power. A six-speed automatic transmission likes to downshift and launch hard. Base MSRP is below $20,000.

    The Grand Touring model that starts at $26,240 comes standard with a bunch of luxury car features including keyless entry and start, leather upholstery, heated front seats, navigation, power moonroof and satellite radio. Standard safety features include adaptive front headlamps with daytime running lamps, rearview camera, heads-up display and blind spot monitoring.

    The test car comes with a safety option package that adds adaptive cruise control, rain sensing wipers, lane departure warning and automatic on/off headlamps with high beam control, bringing the final MSRP to $29,590 including destination. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2016 Mazda CX-5 Grand Touring

    Compact crossover for driving enthusiasts

    By Nina Russin

    2016 Mazda CX-5

    2016 Mazda CX-5

    The ambient temperature indicator on the Mazda CX-5 I’m driving says that it’s 104 degrees out. Unfortunately, this is not a mistake. Denizens of southern Arizona know that June is brutally hot.

    On this particular morning the mercury reached the century mark at about nine. An hour later, it’s climbed another four degrees.

    If there’s a good news side to the story, it’s that the heat has driven the few remaining snowbirds back north, reducing traffic.

    The CX-5 used to be the smaller of Mazda’s two crossovers. With the addition of the CX-3, it now occupies the middle ground between the new subcompact model and the mid-size CX-9.

    I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for the CX-5 because it can hold its own against German luxury brands at a much more affordable price. The base front-wheel drive model that starts at $21,795 is a bargain by anyone’s standards.

    The test car is the upscale Grand Touring model priced from $28,220 excluding the $820 destination charge. Standard convenience features include keyless entry and start, heated leather front seats, power driver’s seat, 19-inch alloy rims, heated power side mirrors, power moonroof, Bluetooth interface, halogen headlamps, dual-zone climate control, a seven-inch touchscreen display, 40/20/40 split folding rear seat and a rearview camera.

    Option packages add navigation, satellite radio, LED headlamps and daytime running lamps, adaptive headlamps, adaptive cruise control and metallic red exterior paint. Final MSRP is $32,890. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2016 Mazda6 Grand Touring

    Flagship model raises the bar for midsize sedans

    By Nina Russin

    2016 Mazda6

    2016 Mazda6

    Mazda has a talent for making what others would deem impossible look easy. While competitive automakers shrink the greenhouses on their vehicles in the name of styling, Mazda creates award-winning designs with ample glass areas. Whereas some would argue that the only way to improve fuel economy is with alternative fuels, Mazda does it with a conventional gas-powered engine.

    The Mazda6 is the automaker’s flagship sedan and as such, is the embodiment of everything that makes Mazda wonderful. The sedan exterior with its wing-shaped grille, muscular wheel arches, and graceful beltline is both contemporary and timeless. LED headlamps replace bi-xenon lenses on the Grand Touring model. In addition to offering excellent nighttime visibility, the LED lenses have less of a drain on the car’s charging system.

    Inside, designers improved fit and finish while adding useful details such as an electric parking brake to save space in the center console, larger center console screen and premium upholstery materials.

    The Grand Touring model is the most upscale of three available grades, with pricing starting at $30,195 excluding the $820 destination charge. Power comes from a 184-horsepower automatic transmission and six-speed automatic transmission with manual gear selection.

    The sedan comes fully loaded with convenience features including keyless entry and start, 19-inch alloy wheels, leather trim, dual-zone climate control, Bluetooth interface, satellite and HD radio, Bose audio system, heads-up display, power driver and front passenger seats, rearview camera, power moonroof, blind spot monitoring, and a 60/40 split folding rear seat.

    A technology package adds adaptive cruise control, active grille shutters, regenerative braking and lane departure warning bringing the final MSRP to $33,395. Read the rest of this entry »

  • Heels and Wheels 2015

    Women’s automotive conference charts changes in the industry

    By Nina Russin

    Heels and Wheels 2015

    Heels and Wheels 2015

    It’s been a long time coming, but the automotive industry has finally realized that women think about cars differently. Since female buyers account for 50 percent of all new car purchases, understanding how their preferences impact purchase decisions significantly impacts automakers’ bottom lines.

    For the past five years, my colleague Christine Overstreet has assembled a group of female journalists, product specialists, market analysts and engineers for Heels and Wheels, a conference focused on the growing impact women have on car design, engineering, media coverage and automotive sales. This year’s conference that took place in Southern California included market analysts from Kelly Blue Book, engineers from General Motors and FCA, products specialists from GMC, Buick, Dodge, Jaguar, Land Rover, Lexus, Mitsubishi, Kia, Nissan, Infiniti, Mazda and Volkswagen.

    Two-dozen journalists covered the gamut from traditional outlets such as and Autobytel to electronic media, travel writers and mommy bloggers. While earlier Heels and Wheels programs focused primarily on the dealership experience, the 2015 event had a broader base, looking at recent trends and giving journalists a chance to spend time with women who work for the automakers on product development teams. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2015 Mazda3 Grand Touring

    Value without compromise

    By Nina Russin

    2015 Mazda3 Grand Touring

    2015 Mazda3 Grand Touring

    Great cars in this technologically advanced era aren’t especially hard to find, but great cars priced below $20,000 are. The Mazda3 compact sedan, priced from $16,945, is one of those rare uncompromised values. Mazda makes the process seem so easy that one has to wonder why competitors find the challenge insurmountable.

    The Mazda3 comes as either a sedan or five-door hatchback with a choice of two engines: the base two-liter block or the upscale 2.5-liter four cylinder rated at 184-horsepower. An automatic transmission is available but buyers who know how to drive a manual should opt for that gearbox: a delight to drive with its sporty short-throw shift lever.

    The 2015 car is basically carryover from the previous model year when the third-generation design debuted. Mazda’s Skyactiv is the OEM’s proprietary fuel-saving technology. The term is an umbrella for improvements throughout the car, including the engine, transmission and aerodynamics. Fuel economy for the base two-liter model is 41 miles-per-gallon highway, while the larger 2.5-liter engine averages 37 on the highway and 25 around town.

    The test car is the fully loaded Grand Touring model priced from $25,045 excluding the $785 delivery charge. Standard comfort and convenience features include leather upholstery, a six-way power driver’s seat, heated front seats, dual-zone climate control, keyless entry and start, satellite radio, navigation, heads-up display and a color center stack screen. There are two options on the test car: the metallic red exterior paint and a cargo mat, bringing the final MSRP to $26,335. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2014 Mazda MX-5 Miata Grand Touring

    Sports car for the real world

    By Nina Russin

    2014 Mazda MX-5 Miata

    2014 Mazda MX-5 Miata

    The Mazda Miata is not a particularly practical car for buyers with active lifestyles. It’s very small, even for a two-seater and has a cargo area that on a good day will hold a dachshund. Visibility in dense traffic is atrocious, not because of the car itself but rather the fact that every other vehicle on the road is taller. Although fuel economy is quite good, the fuel tank is rather small so driving range isn’t great.

    Despite that, I doubt any athlete who gets behind the wheel of a Miata will have a bad word to say about it. Why? Because the Miata is one of the most athletic cars on the market, and also one of the most affordable true sports cars. With its peppy two-liter engine and close-ratio six-speed manual gearbox, the Miata is stupidly fun to drive. It is the Paul Tergat of the automotive world.

    When Mazda chief designer, Tom Matano, and his team developed the original MX-5 a quarter century ago, their inspiration was the classic British sports cars of the 1960s. The Miata was to capture the spirit of those cars but in a more affordable and dare I say more reliable package. They nailed it.

    Although the audience for MGBs and Triumph Spitfires has waned a bit in the ensuing years, enthusiasm for the Miata has not. As long as there are people who love to drive, there will be those who have a passion for the Miata. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2014 Mazda3 Grand Touring

    Redesigned compact sedan with Skyactiv technology

    By Nina Russin

    2014 Mazda3

    2014 Mazda3

    Every time I drive a new version of the Mazda3, I think that the car can’t get any better, but it does, and in every respect. The 2014 model exceeds the 2012 car’s 40 mile-per-gallon fuel economy, with evolved styling, safety and infotainment features to boot.

    Best of all, it’s a hoot to drive, with ride and handling so good that it’s hard to believe base MSRP is less than $17,000. Buyers can opt for either four or five-door configurations. There is also a choice of engines, including the base two-liter four-cylinder block rated at 155 horsepower and a 2.5-liter 184-horsepower powerplant. Both are available with six-speed automatic or six-speed manual transmissions.

    The test car is the upscale Grand Touring model with the two-liter engine and automatic transmission, priced from $23,795. With the exception of a $70 cargo mat, the car is fully loaded, including 16-inch alloy rims, power driver’s seat, keyless entry and start, dual-zone climate control, satellite radio, touch screen display with navigation, Bluetooth phone and audio, Bose sound system and high-definition radio. Final MSRP including the $795 destination charge is $24,785. Read the rest of this entry »

  • Heels and Wheels 2013

    Annual conference puts women in the driver’s seat

    By Nina Russin

    Aston Martin DB9

    I feel like the Queen: not the one with the Queen wave and frumpy clothes, but rather a Pussy Galore queen with Sean Connery by my side, oozing sex appeal and confidence. I don’t typically have Pussy Galore hallucinations, but I don’t usually get behind the wheel of an Aston Martin DB9 either. The experience was the highlight of my trip to the third annual Heels and Wheels women’s automotive conference in Bend, Oregon

    Of course, there was a more serious aspect to the event, its primary focus being the buying power of women, which currently accounts for at least 50 percent of all new car purchases and up to 80 percent of car buying decisions.

    According to Kelley Blue Book research Toyota, Honda, Ford, Chevrolet, Nissan, Hyundai, Kia, Subaru, Mazda and Volkswagen are the most popular brands among female buyers. Women tend to favor crossover vehicles and SUVs over sports cars and pickup trucks, with models such as the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4 topping the popularity charts.

    The internet has become the most popular source of information among women shopping for a new car, due partly to the unease with which many women approach dealerships. KBB visitors typically research a vehicle for two months, take about three more months for the purchasing process and keep their cars between 8 and 10 years.

    Connectivity features are playing a larger role in purchase decisions, with Bluetooth and GPS both included among must-haves. Read the rest of this entry »