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  • 2014 Mazda6 Grand Touring

    Third-generation sport sedan gains Skyactiv technology

    By Nina Russin

    2014 Mazda6

    First the coffee group has to like the car. While most members are IT engineers, all but one are dedicated gearheads, owning an Audi TT RS, Mercedes-Benz CLS 500 and Porsche Cayenne between them. So when I see their collective noses smashed against the front window as I slip the Mazda6 into its parking spot, I take that as a positive sign.

    Turning heads isn’t the only thing the newest version of Mazda’s midsized sedan does well. It is also fuel efficient, averaging 34 miles-per-gallon on my 200-mile test drive. The 2.5-liter direct injection engine is powerful off the line, and the six-speed automatic transmission crisp and responsive.

    The sedan is also affordable, with a base sticker price of $20,880, excluding the $795 destination charge. The upscale Grand Touring model tested starts at $29,495. It comes loaded with comfort and safety features so there are very few options. Those on the test car include adaptive cruise control and smart city brake support, raising the final MSRP to $31,490. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2014 Mazda CX-5 Grand Touring FWD

    Five-passenger crossover with fuel-saving technology

    By Nina Russin

    2014 Mazda CX-5

    The newest version of Mazda’s CX-5 compact crossover is the first to come with Skyactiv: the automaker’s proprietary fuel-saving technology. The theory behind Skyactiv is simple: build a better mousetrap. Internal combustion engines are inherently inefficient. About 40 percent of what goes into the gas tank goes to waste, due to incomplete combustion and internal pumping losses.

    The execution is a lot more complicated, since the relatively simple measures to improve efficiency took place with the advent of on-board engine computers. So the Mazda engineers dug deeper, making changes to the engine compression ratio, increasing the amount of time the automatic transmission uses a friction rather than fluid coupling, shaving weight off the chassis, etc.

    The result is impressive. The CX-5 Grand Touring model, that uses the larger of two available four-cylinder engines, averaged 29 miles-per-gallon on my 130-mile test drive.

    Being Mazda, it’s implied that none of this detracts from the car’s performance. The CX-5 is a hoot to drive, with plenty of power off the line, responsive steering and a crisp transmission.

    It’s also affordable. Base price for the test car is $27,620. A technology option package adds keyless entry and start, satellite radio, navigation, high-intensity discharge headlamps, smart city braking support and adaptive front lighting ($1625). The $795 delivery charge brings the final MSRP to $30,340. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2013 Mazda CX-5 Grand Touring

    Skyactiv technology stretches gas mileage for five-passenger crossover

    By Nina Russin

    2013 Mazda CX-5

    Two years ago, Mazda introduced new fuel-economizing technology called Skyactiv. The idea was to improve efficiency for a traditional gasoline engine enough to be competitive with hybrids and diesels. Skyactiv, which first appeared on the Mazda3 compact hatchback and sedan, now comes to the 2013 CX-5 crossover.

    During my 200-mile test drive I averaged 31 miles-per-gallon: two better than the 29 mpg EPA estimate. With average temperatures well over 100 degrees, I ran the air conditioner throughout the week. On a road trip down to Tucson, I also fought 30 mile-per-hour crosswinds at speeds of 75 miles-per-hour. The elevation gain between Phoenix and Tucson is 1000 feet.

    Pricing for the base grade starts at $20,695. MSRP for the front-wheel drive Grand Touring model tested is $27,045 excluding the $705 delivery charge.

    The upscale model comes loaded with comfort and convenience features, including leather upholstery, keyless start, power driver’s seat, a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel with redundant controls, TomTom navigation system, satellite radio and more. It also includes some advanced safety features such as blind spot monitoring and a rearview camera. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2012 Mazda3 Grand Touring Sedan

    Skyactiv technology boosts gas mileage to 40 mpg

    By Nina Russin

    2012 Mazda3 Sedan

    A refreshed exterior on the 2012 Mazda3 is just the appetizer: bigger changes under the hood include a brand new engine and transmission which give the compact sedan fuel economy comparable to some gasoline/electric hybrids. Engineers redesigned fuel nozzle jets and gave the new two-liter engine a compression ratio comparable to a race car: 12:1.

    The compression ratio indicates how much pistons compress the air-fuel mixture in the engine cylinders before the spark plugs light it up. A higher compression ratio makes the engine burn fuel more completely but can also lead to detonation. By changing the shape of the piston heads and shortening combustion times, engineers minimized the possibility of preignition, so the engine can run on regular gasoline as opposed to high-octane premium.

    The new engine, which is also 4.4 pounds lighter than the block it replaces, achieves 28 mpg in the city and 40 on the highway, according to EPA estimates, with a range of over 500 miles between fill-ups.

    In addition to its large overdrive gears, the new six-speed automatic utilizes a lockup torque converter with friction couplings to boost gas mileage. Engineers redesigned the manual transmission as well, making it lighter than the gearbox it replaces for similar fuel economy gains.

    But being Mazda, extending gas mileage wasn’t enough. The new powertrain had to satisfy the needs of the automaker’s core audience of driving enthusiasts. Having put 200 miles on the Mazda3 sedan, this writer believes that Mazda has fulfilled its mission. The newest version of its compact sedan maintains the responsive handling and peppy acceleration of its predecessors, at a price which won’t break the bank.

    MSRP for the upscale Grand Touring model is $22,300, excluding the $795 destination charge. A $1400 technology package adds blind spot monitoring, perimeter alarm, bi-xenon adaptive headlamps, satellite radio and rain-sensing wipers, bringing the price as tested to $24,495. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2012 Mazda5 Sport

    Mazda’s mini-minivan is big on versatility

    By Nina Russin

    2012 Mazda5

    Mazda’s new compact minivan epitomizes what active lifestyle vehicles are all about. It’s small enough to park on the street, fuel efficient and affordable. A versatile interior holds up to six passengers, as well as bicycles, camping equipment, skis, snowboards and wetsuits.

    Best of all, the Mazda5 is a hoot to drive, with a peppy 2.5-liter engine and six-speed manual transmission. The smiling grille says it all.

    While the front-wheel drive car doesn’t have the traction in rain and snow that an all-wheel drive crossover would, it’s a package that will fit the squares for a lot of readers, and their budgets as well.

    The minivan comes in three grades: Sport, Touring and Grand Touring. Base price on the Sport model tested is $19,195, not including the $795 delivery charge. The upscale Grand Touring model starts at $23,875.

    Standard comfort and convenience features on the Sport include remote keyless entry, dual-zone climate control, an AM/FM/CD audio system with satellite radio compatibility, steering wheel audio and cruise controls, and an auxiliary outlet for MP3 players. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2011 Mazda RX-8 Grand Touring

    Iconic Sports Car is Forever Young

    By Nina Russin

    2011 Mazda RX-8

    The Mazda RX-8 is as much a product of the 1960s as it is the twenty-first century. It is the only mass-produced car which uses a rotary engine, based on the design Felix Wankel developed in 1957. The engine uses a triangular-shaped rotor rather than reciprocating pistons to compress and ignite gasoline. The engine, which is shaped like a cocoon, is a fraction of the size of a traditional block; yet it can develop exceptional power.

    When I was a kid growing up in the 1960s, the Wankel engine was big news. I remember seeing one on display at the 1964 World Fair in Flushing Meadows, New York, and I also remember seeing its first production application, in the Mazda Cosmo 110S. I was amazed that such a small engine could produce so much power. Frankly, I still am.

    Even after the advent of computer controls, the rotary engine continues to outperform other engines of its size in terms of horsepower and torque. For example, the 1.5 liter engine is the Mazda2 develops 100 horsepower, as opposed to 232 horsepower from the 1.3-liter rotary Mazda RX-8 engine.

    There is a downside to the engine: that being fuel economy. In order to produce adequate power for a 3100 pound car, the rotary engine revs very high: about 3500-4000 rpm under normal driving conditions. Fuel economy for the test car is about 18 miles-per-gallon on average, and the high-revving engine requires premium gasoline. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2011 Mazda2 Touring

    Sporty subcompact hatchback for active urbanites

    By Nina Russin

    2011 Mazda2

    I have a big soft spot in my heart for little cars. Perhaps it’s because I’m a small person, or that I am, according to a colleague, a ‘raging greenie.’

    Being small in a big car world comes with sizeable challenges. Small cars need to keep up, in terms of both comfort and performance. They must be safe. And while they don’t offer the passenger or cargo capability of their bigger siblings, small cars need to have efficient interiors with enough versatility to meet their owners’ lifestyles.

    The 2011 Mazda2, a subcompact five-door hatchback, does all of the above surprisingly well. Power comes from a 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine rated at 100 horsepower, and choice of five-speed manual or four-speed automatic transmissions.

    Despite the small engine size, power is ample, thanks to variable valve timing and the right software. Engineers smartly let the transmission hold onto gears and shift at higher engine speeds. The result is more linear acceleration and better torque. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2010 Mazda MX-5 Grand Touring

    Two-seat roadster makes sport of the daily commute

    By Nina Russin

    2010 Mazda MX-5

    Webster’s dictionary defines a sports car as “a small, high-powered automobile with long, low lines, usually seating two persons.” The dictionary is wrong. A car’s design and the size of its engine don’t necessarily qualify it as a sports car.

    I mean no offense here to Noah Webster. But to be honest, Webster lived in the mid-1800s, when there were very few automobiles: none of which could be construed as sports cars.

    Very simply, a sports car makes a sport of driving. While the Mazda MX-5 may not be the most expensive or most powerful sports car on the market, it is as pure an embodiment of the breed as anything on the road today. For over twenty years, Mazda has celebrated the pure joy of getting behind the wheel with a two-seat roadster that offers exceptional handling for an affordable price.

    Last year, designers introduced a new-generation MX-5 Miata with fresh styling and enhanced performance. Power comes from a two-liter four-cylinder engine, mated to a five or six-speed manual transmission. A composite intake manifold is tuned to produce sound akin to classic British roadsters: the original inspiration for the car.

    Base price for the Grand Touring model is $28,400, not including the $750 delivery charge. A premium package on the test car adds keyless entry and start, Bluetooth interface, xenon headlamps, electronic stability control and satellite radio ($1650). A limited-slip differential costs $500, bringing the price as tested to $31,300. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2010 Mazda CX-9

    Seven-passenger crossover vehicle gets refreshed styling

    By Nina Russin

    2010 Mazda CX-9

    2010 Mazda CX-9

    Let’s face it: in the real world, everyone has to carry stuff. Rich people can afford to own a family car for everyday use, and a sports car to use on the weekend. But in the current economy, most of us are happy to own one car in good working order.

    Since a new car is typically the second biggest purchase an individual makes in his or her lifetime, it’s nice if that car makes its owner happy. That’s where the Mazda CX-9 comes in.

    Mazda’s seven-passenger crossover vehicle is a stylish and fun to drive. With pricing starting under $30,000 for the base model, it’s also affordable.

    This year, designers refreshed the CX-9 exterior with a new grille and front lamps, and new trim in back. The interior gets new chrome accents, different fabric, and a more versatile center console.

    Power comes from a 3.7-liter V6 engine and six-speed automatic transmission. The Mazda CX-9 comes in three grades: sport, touring and grand touring. Buyers in four-season climates can add all-wheel drive, giving the CX-9 better traction as compared to the front-wheel drive model. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2010 Mazda6 Touring Plus

    Five-passenger sport sedan is an ALV best value

    2010 Mazda6

    2010 Mazda6

    Considering all it has to offer, it’s surprising that there isn’t more of a buzz about the Mazda6. The mid-sized sport sedan combines outstanding ride and handling, seating for up to five passengers, a high level of comfort, convenience and safety features, with pricing that starts under $20,000.

    Mazda introduced the current iteration of the Mazda6 for the 2009 model year. This year, the automaker combines some popular comfort and convenient features such as Bluetooth interface, blind spot monitoring, and a power moonroof in a Touring Plus model.

    Buyers can choose from two engines: an inline four-cylinder block in the Mazda6i, or a V-6 in the Mazda6s. The test car comes with the 170-horsepower four-cylinder engine and a five-speed automatic transmission. Base price for the Touring Plus model is $23,750, not including a $750 destination fee. Read the rest of this entry »