Category Archives: Mazda

2008 Mazda Tribute HEV 2-Wheel Drive SUV. (699)

Overview:

This week we’re looking at the 2008 Mazda Tribute HEV (Hybrid Electric Vehicle) 2-Wheel Drive SUV. I guess if you have to own a Sport Utility Vehicle it is at least responsible to make it a Hybrid like this Mazda.

I’ve always liked to drive the little Miata MX-5 and although it appeared to me to be a “Chick” car, demographically it sells equally to both male and female. Ilona and I took one to Lake Tahoe for a week with family and we actually were able to close the trunk lid – but we left the hair dryer behind. Space is not a problem for this SUV however and you get even better fuel economy than the Miata. As with most hybrid’s the around town driving is better on fuel than open road driving, so the California Freeway parking lot system – compliments of CalTrans – will be more bearable. They really have this traffic thing figured out, don’t you think?

By the way – Big TIP – watch the movie (now on DVD) “The End of Suburbia” before you buy your next car or your next house. That movie will change your entire way of thinking about the auto, world oil, and where you want to live and what you want to be driving in the VERY near future.

I know Ford has a hand in the Mazda group but how much I don’t know. But I have found only good things come out of such influences, like the Daimler / Chrysler alliance for some time which has improved both brands.

The production of this Tribute Hybrid will be only 350 vehicles and sold in select areas of California.

General Info:

Parts – US/Canadian 75%, Japan 30%

Assembly – Kansas City, MO, USA

Class:  – Special Purpose

Cars: – CX-7, CX-9, Mazda 3,5 &6, Mazdaspeed3 &6, MX-5 Miata, RX-8, Tribute & Truck.

2008 Ford Escape Hybrid They say “The Most Fuel-Efficient SUV on the Planet”

Observation:

Hey, CHP, isn’t it time you began to cite slow drivers on the freeway who insist on traveling in the wrong lane? It’s only fair, don’t you think?

Handling & Performance:

Switching from electric to gas is very seamless in operation. At low speed and low demand for power you are in silent running on battery up to 25 miles per hour. Very cool. So around town you will sense the reduced demand and drain on the gas tank. But you won’t notice a marked decrease in performance and power when you need it.

With a 15 gallon tank you’d get 450 miles or better. I like that.

Styling:

Rather plain and simple but for $8,000 more and lots more gas you can look at the very pretty CX-9 SUV from Mazda. Look out Lexus, BMW and Mercedes to name just a few. Those luxury SUVs are way more money and … that’s it, way more money. Well done Mazda, and congratulations for the awards this CX-9 has earned.

The Tribute and CX-9 have the same parents but with a different goal. The Tribute isn’t designed to be pretty, but rather to be economical and efficient. It has accomplished its goal. Kinda like the girl next door which I’ve always found to be the better option.

Fit and Finish:

Good.

Cost:

These days the cost of fuel has to be factored into your buying equation. Hybrid economy will play an increasing role in overall cost to own.

Features and Conveniences:

The nice thing about electric vehicles is they usually have 110 volt outlets. Cool. Now you can dry your hair while you put on your make up in the morning on the way to work. And they think cell phones are a distraction?!

Consumer Recommendation:

Resource – www.safercar.gov

Recognized Competition:

Mazda Tribute $19-27,000, Chevrolet Equinox $23-29,000, Mercury Montego $24-29,000, Ford Escape $19-28,000, Saturn Vue $21-29,000, Pontiac Torrent $23-29,000, Mercury Mariner $21-26,000, Subaru Forester $21-28,000, Hyundai Tucson $17-25,000, Mitsubishi Outlander $20-25,000, Toyota RAV4 $21-27,000, Jeep Liberty $20-26,000, Honda CR-V $21-28,000, Kia Sportage $16-23,000.

Good News:

Well priced, great improvement in fuel economy for SUV class, roomy, handles well and comfy.

Bad News:

None worth noting.

Standard Equipment:

2.5 liter Inline 4-cylinder engine coupled with a magnet AC synchronous electric motor, electronic continuously variable transmission, front wheel drive, independent suspension, front stabilizer bars, power mirrors, intermittent wipers, rear wiper, 5-passenger seating, cloth seating surfaces, 60/40 split fold down rear seats, tilt steering column, dual zone auto temp control air conditioning, 110 volt electrical outlet, 36 mo, 36,000 mile bumper to bumper warranty, dual front and side airbags with side air curtains, power assisted rack and pinion steering, 4-wheel ABS disc brakes, tire pressure monitor, flip up liftgate window, halogen fog lights, roof rack, power windows and locks, audio with 4 speakers, digital clock, map lights, cruise control, leather wrapped wheel, child safety features, remote keyless illuminated entry and anti-theft engine immobilizer.

Gas Stats:

$3.74/ Gal avg. April 21, ‘08

www.fueleconomy.gov

for more information.

34 City and 30 Highway MPG     www.safercar.gov  or    888-327-4236

Pricing:

MSRP $25,310.

2008 Mazda Speed 3, 5 passenger sedan (670)

Overview:

This week we’re looking at the 2008 Mazda Speed 3. By any measure or opinion you can’t argue with the fact that this is a high performance car. You need only test drive the car to be instantly impressed. It is truly a rocket and no matter what cars I have driven and on the highway or racetrack this is among the best handling of what’s available for everyday drivers.

General Info:

Parts – Japan 95%

Assembly – Japan

Class:  – Compact

Cars: – CX-7, CX-9, Mazda 3,5,6 & Mazda 6 Sport Wagon, Speed3, Speed6, MX-5 Miata, RX8, Tribute and Truck.

Handling & Performance:

The real test is always on the mountain curves of Angeles Crest where this Speed3 was right at home. The turbocharged 2.3 liter 4-cylinder 263 hp engine acted like it had a ‘jet assist’ take off module on the sides and literally it will pull the steering wheel (front wheel drive) hard to the right as it slips from your grasp… so watch that when you test it. It reminded me of taking off in a Cessna 150 just as you lift off the end of the runway and you must apply a hard right rudder to compensate for engine torque that causes a pull to the left.

Looking at the high tech steering, brake distribution and stability controls along with the front and rear stability bars it is easy to see why it handles so well. Ok, so this stuff costs money and will help to explain why the price is so high and seemingly more money than you’d initially expect from a compact car where you’d also expect better fuel economy and more economical pricing. If you want performance, however, you’ll overlook the downside effect of purchase price and operating costs. And of course it is a sedan so it doubles as a transporter of up to 5 passengers plus you get a high performance car like one of my all time favorites – the Nissan Z.

Styling:

Non-descript design which is common of today’s cars that are designed on computers that eliminates human emotion almost completely. Yes, gone are the days of wild flairs of design extremes of the 1950s and 1960s when we didn’t have computers and CAD (computer aided design software) systems.

Fit and Finish:

Very good.

Cost:

The purchase price was more than I expected, even after getting past the initial feeling it was a kids car. But it is impressive and comes close to being worth the money. If you’re into high performance cars you’ll love it but if you aren’t don’t waste your time looking at this one unless you are simply curious. The cost is high because it is so capable and you’ll pay for all the high tech stuff – so if you expect an inexpensive transportation or commuter look elsewhere.

Conveniences and comfort:

What you see is what you get… everything is included in the MSRP.

Consumer Recommendation:

If you are into high performance cars and still want the convenience of a 5-passenger sedan this is the hot “E” ticket ride. Road racers will love this car.

Recognized Competition:

Mazda Speed 3 $22-24,000, Saturn Ion $12-20,000, Pontiac G6 $18-29,000, Mitsubishi Eclipse $20-29,000, Audi A3 $26-35,000, Dodge Caliber $14-20,000, Subaru Impreza Wagon $17-25,000, Nissan Sentra $15-20,000, Volkswagen GTI $23,000, Scion tC $17,000, Mazda 3 $14-20,000, Chevrolet Cobalt $14-19,000, Honda Civic $15-25,000, Hyundai Tiburon $17-22,000, MINI Cooper $18-25,000.

Good News:

Fun to drive sporty sedan, more than a kids car, very comfy seats and zippy performance.

Bad News:

Fair fuel economy at best especially when you drive to performance potential, 6-speed trans takes a little getting used to.

Standard Equipment:

2.3 liter 4-cylinder turbocharged all aluminum engine, 6-speed manual transmission, front wheel drive, torque sensing limited slip differential, 18 inch allow wheels with high performance tires, automatic on/off headlights, fog lights, rain sensing wipers, leather and fabric seats, 60/40 split fold down rear seat backs, Bose audio system with 7 speakers and 6 disc CD player and SIRIUS satellite radio, steering wheel audio controls, tilt and telescopic steering column, cruise control, power windows and locks, dual front air bags, tire pressure monitoring system, front and rear independent suspension with front and rear stabilizer bars, variable assist power steering, and 4-wheel ABS power assist disc brakes with electronic brake distribution, dynamic stability control and traction control, climate control, center console, adjustable driver seat with lumbar support, leather wrapped steering wheel, aluminum foot pedals and foot rest, trip computer, anti-whiplash front seat design, child anchor system, anti-theft immobilizer and theft deterrent security system and remote keyless entry.

Gas Stats:

$2.85/ Gal avg. October 2, ‘07

www.fueleconomy.gov

for more information.

20 City and 28 Highway MPG

Pricing:

MSRP $24,055.

2006 Mazda 6 S Grand Sport Wagon (584)

Overview:

This week we’re looking at the 2006 Mazda 6 S Grand Sport Wagon. Even this utility wagon comes with 18-inch wheels. Remember when 14” and 15” were the standard? This wagon is where practical comes home and although Corvette and other flashy cars are fun they just don’t fit enough of our needs. That need for speed is replaced with family comfort and convenience.

This wagon is one of a series I’m looking at and as I reflect on my test of this Mazda I am driving the more expensive Audi A3. I’m less impressed with the Audi quite frankly. I have for example been annoyed with Audi’s brakes and throttle action. Remember centrifugal clutch Cushman motor scooters? That’s what the Audi transmission reminds me of. You press the accelerator and after a brief delay your head is snapped back. No matter how gentle you are you can’t totally eliminate the problem. Why? Because it is engineered in the form of a thing called Direct Shift Gearbox (DSG). Ok, so there’s a reason for the stupid feeling shifting but I don’t have to like it.

And I don’t. Public service: Reminder – Your driving experience can be more enjoyable if more of us move to slower lanes if we’re not passing traffic in those lanes. It is also common courtesy, reduces road rage and improves traffic flow. Second – if you have and use cruise control it helps to smooth out the flow. Since so many cars these days are equipped with Cruise it is possible for us to make travel safer and smoother. Jackrabbit drivers will likely always be with us but you can do your part by not being one of them. Erratic starts and stops and rapid acceleration make for a ripple effect that causes accidents.

General Info:

Parts – US/Canadian 55%, Japan 25%.

Assembly – United States

Class: – Midsize

Cars: – Mazda 3, 5, 6, 6 Sport Wagon, Speed 6, MPV, MX-5, RX-8, Tribute and Truck.

Handling & Performance:

Because of the lower center of gravity this scaled down Sport Utility looking vehicle handles like a sports car. Thus it is fun to drive. One negative is its wide turning radius, which can make parking and such maneuvers tedious. The V6 is very adequate and I couldn’t fault it on that score. It is reported the 4-cylinder engine is “Unresponsive” so that is a consideration when and if Mazda is your next buying choice.

Styling:

Mazda has improved over the years and although not my favorite for styling this 2006 model is stylish and is competitive with more expensive cars. There aren’t a lot of wagons these days but I see them as merely a lower and smaller version of the more popular SUVs. SUV styling is popular because of the perception of what it can do rather that what it will ever be called upon to do.

Fit and Finish:

Very good.

Cost:

Not bad I guess. It’s all relative and if Mazda is a reliable product that justifies the added cost up front. I have had no report from readers to the contrary.

Conveniences:

The audio is Sirius satellite radio compatible. My favorite however is XM and not because Howard Stern is on Sirius. Anyway they couldn’t be “Serious” about bringing that weird-O to Sirius radio. I simply like XM better.

Consumer Recommendation:

Consumer Reports recommends Dodge Magnum, Nissan Maxima, Honda Accord and Subaru Legacy as alternates, which add to the competition noted here. My pick is the Jetta.

Recognized Competition:

Mazda 6 Wagon $24-28,000, VW Jetta Wagon $19-22,000, VW Passat Wagon $23-31,000, Mercedes C-Class Wagon $34,000, Chevrolet Malibu Maxx $20-23,000, BMW 3 Series Sports Wagon $35,000, Subaru Outback $19-36,000, Subaru Legacy Wagon $23-31,000.

Good News:

Roomy, nice handling, good power.

Bad News:

Wide turning radius can be troublesome, only fair fuel economy.

Standard Equipment:

3.0 V6 215 hp engine, 5-speed manual transmission, 18 inch allow wheels, variable intermittent wipers, fog lights, rear wiper with washer, leather (heated front) seats, air conditioning, 60/40 split fold down rear seat, tilt and telescopic steering wheel, power windows and locks, Bose audio with 7 speakers and in-dash 6 CD changer,

Gas Stats:

19 City and 27 Highway MPG

Pricing:

MSRP $27,910.

2006 Mazda MPV 2-WD (580)

Overview:

This week we’re looking at the 2006 Mazda MPV 2-WD (SUV / Mini Van?) Mazda says:

Body of a Minivan, soul of a sports car. I have a friend that fits that description. If you’ve read my column for very long you’ll know that for a very long time I have been a proponent of the MiniVan primarily for the family as a better alternative to the SUV. But folks continue to buy the more gas hungry SUVs because of the image of being more road worthy. In other words they picture themselves waltzing around trouble on the road coupled with the off road capability of the SUV.

If we’re honest with ourselves we know that is just a perception when we live in the big city. Granted you may run into off road conditions if you live on a farm or ranch as I do.

We ARE off road. But since I drive many exotics I have to tell you unless I have to go

chasing cows or even lions and tigers and bears – oh my… most cars are very capable on those dirt roads I must travel to get home. It is generally rare for me to need 4-WD even on the range. You wouldn’t even need it on “ Brokeback Mountain ” kind of range.

General Info:

Parts – Japan 85% US/Canadian 15% (Engine – USA)

Assembly – Hiroshima, Japan

Class: – Special Purpose (SPV 2-WD)

Cars: Mazda 3, 5, 6, 6 Sport Wagon, Speed 6, MPV, MX-5, RX-8, Tribute and Truck.

Handling & Performance:

These are great vehicles and I always look forward to testing the various models of mini vans. I have grand kids, and I have golfing buddies and when you pack up the gang and all the gear you can pull it all just fine thanks, in the mini van, and I’ve never had the need for a 4-WD SUV. The ride is softer than the SUV counterpart but I found the lower center of gravity of the Mini Van gives it a safer feeling ride in the mountains where I test most all the cars I drive.

Styling:

Nissan Quest is about the only Mini Van to depart from the “Cookie Cutter” design tool. But then it is functionality that is most important and the MPV is classic Mini Van and has clean lines and simply nice looking.

Fit and Finish:

Very good. You will notice some cars and particularly trucks out there where the gaps between body parts are wide and thus very noticeable. The Japanese are particularly good in this department and the MPV is no exception to that rule. You shouldn’t even notice where everything comes together or they haven’t done a very good job.

Cost:

You get more bang for your buck in a Mini Van as opposed to the SUV and in general the SUVs cost more. Was it Pocahontas who also used that line?

Conveniences:

The most convenient features for me are the power sliding side doors, remote entry and fold away seats in the rear. I suspect that is the case for you too.

Consumer Recommendation:

Be mindful of the utility of the Mini Van and I doubt there are many “Soccer Moms” who would prefer and SUV over the Mini Van. I believe it is the perception dads have about the macho image of the SUV. Save the money, cut your expenses, burn less fuel and dump the SUV as an option. You’ll be glad you did.

Recognized Competition:

Mazda MPV $22-29,000, Kia Sedona $21-23,000, Ford Freestar $20-30,000, Saturn Relay $23-29,000, Pontiac Montana SV6 $24-28,000, Buick Terraza $27-33,000, Chevrolet Uplander $19-33,000, Mercury Monterey $29,000, Honda Odyssey $25-39,000, Toyota Sienna $24-38,000, Dodge Caravan $18-27,000, Nissan Quest $24-34,000.

Good News:

7 passenger seating, good fuel economy, easy entry and exit and comfortable ride.

Bad News:

None.

Standard Equipment:

3.0 liter 200 hp V6 engine, 5-speed auto trans front wheel drive w/overdrive, traction control, 7 passenger seating, 9 speaker sound system w/ 6 disc CD changer, leather seating and wrapped steering wheel, 2nd row side by side seats, 3rd row tumble under seat, front and rear air conditioning, keyless entry, bumper to bumper warranty with 24 hr road assist and loaner car program, 4-wheel antilock brake system with force distribution, variable wipers front and rear with washers, 8-way power driver seat, power windows and door locks and mirrors, cruise control, steering wheel mounted audio controls, map lights and sunglass holder, seat side table and seatback pockets, power side sliding doors and dual front and side airbags.

Gas Stats:

18 City and 25 Highway MPG

Pricing:

MSRP $28,515.

2006 Mazda Miata MX-5 (572)

Overview:

This week I tested the “pea popper” Mazda Miata MX-5 and as that description came to mind I considered that it really communicates something less than a serious sport car driving experience.

That is not entirely true and Merkel is quick to tell me how much better and capable this car is compared, for example, to the new Pontiac Solstice. I have driven both and I’m not buying it. Both are small cars and closely priced and in this class I might lean to the Solstice that is very well priced on its roll out as a new car for 2006.

What I think I miss in little cars in this price range is the weight that gives them the solid feeling that you get with a Cadillac XLR for example. Even the Porsche Boxster has that light feeling that can be a little unsettling in even a moderate wind.

At the end of the day however for the money this Miata and the Solstice are the closest in performance, feel and style. Both are very nice.

Public Service: I find most drivers are thoughtful and considerate drivers. But if you are one of those who seem oblivious to your surroundings let this be a reminder to be aware. Allow others to pass without getting angry. Mountain driving is a classic example of the need to be courteous. There is nothing to be ashamed of not being in the lead. And it is commendable when you pull over and let others pass – safely I might add. And what’s more, not only the other drivers will appreciate the courtesy, you too will enjoy the drive much more.

General Info:

Parts – Japan 95%

Assembly – Hiroshima, Japan

Class: Sport Car

Cars: Mazda 3, 5, 6, 6 Sport Wagon, Speed 6, MPV, MX-5, RX-8, Tribute and Truck.

Handling & Performance:

Although it is low to the ground I didn’t feel as “in control” as I did with the Nissan 350Z for example that I recently tested over the same road. Well, you get what you pay for and the “Z” is quite a bit more money and most of that is in the engine, drive train and suspension.

Styling:

Not much change has been made over the years. But if it ain’t broke why fix it. Indeed, why change a design that is so well received and popular?

Fit and Finish:

Quite good.

Cost:

Very good, but the new Pontiac Solstice should prove huge competition for this little sports car since it is priced even better. I believe the price will go up on the Solstice in the next model year.

Conveniences:

The list below describes a decent compliment of standard features. The manual operated soft top tucks away easily and still leaves room for a trunk. This is not true of most of the competition, and in particular with the Solstice. The top there folds into the trunk area, smaller already from a protruding fuel tank. With the top down you are left with a very teensy weensy area that may accommodate a regular set of golf clubs. In the Miata there is a distinct trunk with room for small bags but no golf clubs.

Consumer Recommendation:

You will surely want to look at the hot new Pontiac Solstice if in the market for this class car. I’m wondering which way you would sway. If you have time email me on your decision.

The Competition:

Mazda Miata MX-5 $20-27,000, Mercedes SLK $46-61,000, Honda S2000 $33,150, Volkswagen New Beetle $17-25,000, BMW Z4 $35-42,000, Nissan 350Z $27-37,000, Pontiac Solstice $19,420, Audi TT $34-44,000.

Good News:

Sport Car driving fun, small and powerful, provides a trunk even though it is a convertible.

Bad News:

So low to the ground it is uncomfortable to enter and exit, two seat limitation, not as solid sounding as I like, you’ll be looking up everyone’s tailpipe since about 50% of all vehicles on the road these days is a truck, SUV or Van.

Standard Equipment:

2.0 liter Inline 4-cylinder 170 horsepower engine, 6-speed manual transmission, rear wheel drive, 4-wheel ABS disc brakes, manual vinyl soft top, power mirrors, fog lights, air conditioning, leather tilt steering wheel, leather shift knob, AM/FM audio with CD player, front and rear stabilizer bars, front dbl wishbone suspension, rear multi-link suspension, glass rear window defogger, Aluminum hood, trunk and engine compartment framing, dual exhaust, steering wheel mounted cruise and audio controls, power windows and locks, dual front and side air bags and antitheft engine immobilizer.

Gas Stats:

24 City and 30 Highway MPG

Pricing:

MSRP $22,935.

2005 Mazda 3 Sedan 4-door (567)

Overview:

Here we are again with yet another of hundreds of models to choose from. The 2005 Mazda 3 4-Door Sedan made the week to the Pacific Northwest a cost comfortable trip. I put on about 700 miles and that translates to about 2 tanks of gas and I got about 30 MPG. Rack ‘em up guys.

At about $3.00 per gallon for regular it cost me about $80 for the week and all that driving. If that doesn’t make you want to dump that SUV that would empty your wallet of about $240 on the same trip, I don’t know what will. Literally you can watch the needle move on the gas gauge in those gas-guzzling hunks of steel and plastic.

Don’t get me wrong everyone who drives a fuel-efficient car appreciates your contribution to the huge windfall, gouging profits of the oil companies. I knew I should have taken that job with Occidental Petroleum out of college. I could have retired by now.

Driving Tip: Ever notice your turns are a little jerky driving the curves, most noticeable in mountain driving. The way to avoid that is to pick a point on the curve as far ahead as you can see and steer to that point as a reference. Conversely, the closer you are looking at the road the jerkier are your moves. Simple but effective to becoming a better driver.

General Info:

Parts – Japan 95%.

Assembly –Hiroshima Japan.

Class: – Compact

Cars: Mazda 3, 5, 6, 6 sport wagon, MPV, MX-5 Miata, RX-8, Tribute and Truck.

Handling & Performance:

Even more power than last year, this Mazda 3 is real peppy and precise in handling. You can’t help but appreciate the mechanics of this car.

Styling:

On the other hand a lot of folks will not be as impressed with the design. It reminds me of the Toyota Prius that has an even more redeeming quality … that would be 50 miles per gallon of gas that is fast approaching the cost of a small bottle of water.

Fit and Finish:

Quite good actually. Not enough to fall in love but it has a nice personality.

Cost:

“Now that’s what I’m talking about” as Richard always says. This is chump change to more of us car buyers.

Conveniences:

Just fine thanks. Can’t think of much else I would expect for the money, can you?

Consumer Recommendation:

This is a thoughtful and responsible purchase that will make a great family car for all the right reasons. It is surely one of the great buys for transportation that is fuel efficient, roomy inside and in the trunk. (Your mother-in-law can ride back there). This is simply a great family car for the times.

The Competition:

Mazda 3 $14-19,000, Suzuki Reno Mitsubishi Lancer $14-35,000, Nissan Sentra $13-18,000, Ford Focus $13-17,000, Toyota Corolla $14-18,000, Honda Civic $14-21,000, VW Golf $16-20,000, Hyundai Elantra $13-15,000, Dodge Neon $14-21,000, Subaru Impreza $18-32,000, Chevrolet Cavalier $10-18,000.

Good News:

Priced very well for the car, nice ride with excellent handling, zippy performance from a fuel efficient 4-cyl engine, comfy seats and yes mom it has a roomy trunk.

Bad News:

Higher road noise level than I like, no sun visor extension that really ticks me off and cruise control is a little jerky.

Standard Equipment:

2.3 liter 4-cylinder engine, 5-speen manual trans, front wheel drive, halogen headlights and fog lights, cloth seats, 60/40 split fold down rear seat, AM/FM with CD audio system, tilt and telescopic steering column with leather wrapped wheel and audio controls, cruise control, center armrest and storage, air conditioning, dual front air bags, front and rear stabilizer bars, power assist rack and pinion steering, 4-wheel disc brakes, power windows and locks, rear seat child safety seat anchors, anti theft immobilizer and remote keyless illuminated entry.

Gas Stats:

25 City and 32 Highway MPG

Pricing:

MSRP $16,615.

2005 Mazda RX 8 (522)

Overview:

This week I tested the 2005 Mazda RX8 dual rotor rotary engine. Ok, so why aren’t all engines rotary? In theory they make the most sense. Or do they?

Technical Guru Merkel Weiss gives us a little insight into why Rotary engines are not used more. Poor fuel economy for a 1.3-liter engine.

Bad emissions – that requires larger and more expensive catalytic converter.

If the engine breaks it can’t be rebuilt and must be replaced.

On the other hand, Rotary engines are smooth, quite and very capable at high RPM. One must wonder why Mazda didn’t make a mid-engine version for better handling characteristics, especially since it is such a quiet engine.

Well, I’m not terribly crazy about red cars because they attract so much attention on the highway. Police. Know what I mean? In spite of that I gotta admit the color combination is very nice and I really liked the black and red interior and all the aluminum accents on the foot rest and pedals, shifter knob etc. Very nicely done.

General Info:

Parts – Japan 85%. Engine and transmission – Japan.

Assembly – Hiroshima, Japan

Class: – Subcompact

Cars: – Mazda 3, 6 and 6 sport wagon, MPV, MX-5 Miata, RX-8, Tribute and truck.

Handling & Performance:

This is one very capable sports car. It is nimble and quick, Jack, and the short travel shifter helps by making shifts up and down quicker. Many sports cars don’t hold a candle to this fun-to-drive car. It is 238 horsepower fast and the rotary engine is smooth and it just keeps pulling, all the way up to 8500-9000 rpm.

Styling:

I rather like the way they provided a back seat that you can actually get into. The suicide doors on each side make rear entry relatively easy. My 86-year-old mother-in-law could never have gotten into the back seat without them. Only one negative I experienced was that I used it a lot to stow my computer bag, etc., and it would be better if the driver seatback were easier to pull forward.

Fit and Finish:

Very good, which is typical and expected of Japanese cars. But technology and time has made huge improvements across the board. American cars are no exception these days and the only exception I would take on this point, where American cars are concerned, is component parts are not engineered as strong as Japanese parts.

Cost:

Affordable for a well put-together sports car. It is near the top of the order in its class. If the standard equipment noted below is not good enough and you wish to upgrade the audio system, add 8-way power driver seat with lumbar support and heated seats, moon roof, heated mirrors and Xenon headlights, stability control and fog lights you can add $4,250 to the price tag.

Conveniences:

Good. Adequate. And that is ok because you are not paying for the fluff that is so often unnecessary anyway.

Consumer Recommendation:

For the money this has to be in the top few contenders noted below. Interesting that only one American car is represented. Boy, have things changed in this country. In fact it is the only macho offering of the bunch. Somehow I just can’t see Steve McQueen driving any of the others to replace the “Bullet”.

The Competition:

Mazda RX8 $25-27,000, Acura RSX $20-24,000, Toyota Celica $18-22,000, Honda S2000 $32,950, Ford Mustang $19-26,000, Scion tC $15,950, VW GTI $19-22,000, Audi TT $33-43,000, Nissan 350Z $26-36,000, BMW Z4 $34-41,000, Hyundai Tiburon $17-20,000, Infiniti G35 $28-33,000.

Good News:

Comparatively decent fuel economy, well priced, four seats you can actually use.

Bad News:

None worth mentioning.

Standard Equipment:

1.3 liter 238 hp Engine, 6-speed manual trans, rear wheel drive, 4-wheel ABS disc brake system, leather wrapped tilt wheel with cruise and audio controls, console, stereo with 6 speakers, power mirrors, remote keyless entry, front and side air bags, outside temp gauge, power windows and door locks, air conditioning, cruise control, tire pressure monitoring system and theft alarm and engine immobilizer.

Gas Stats:

14 City and 24 Highway MPG.

Pricing:

MSRP $26,875.

2004 Mazda MPV (504)

Overview:

This week I revisited the Mazda MPV that I had reviewed for 2003. The 2004 is not so different but it is well priced and worth another look. If there were any doubt that free market economics works, one need only look at the way carmakers have meshed the SUV and the Mini Van into one vehicle because that’s what folks want. Evolution does work, Charles Darwin, even if not with humans.

God made man and man makes trains and planes and automobiles. Man makes them evolve according to the demands of consumers with $$$ money to spend on things they “Want” and or “Need”. I guess you could call that Evolutionary Economics.

Mazda has included power windows on the sliding doors, which is rare indeed. The fold-flat third seat is more common today in other vehicles but Mazda helped to lead the way. The hole left when the seat is up provides more storage area. Reasonable fuel economy plays an even greater role in convincing you to go with this crossover SU-Van. It continues to be a great family vehicle.

The only downside of having a vehicle that carries 7 people is that you will become the designated driver all too often. Ok, dear we can go to the beach today! And before you know it you have a gang. This past weekend I felt like a bus driver for a senior citizen’s home. Only one of the group was quiet and simply enjoyed the ride, which, by the way is super.

General Info:

Parts – 78% Japan

Assembly – Hiroshima, Japan

Class: – Special Purpose 2 WD

Cars: – Mazda3, 6 and sport wagon, MPV, MX 5, RX 8, Tribute and Truck.

Handling & Performance:

Yes, MPV continues to deliver a super smooth ride. But I hadn’t noticed before that it is a little sluggish in second gear. It really could use at least 240 horsepower to pull the load a little better. The 2003 model was at 183 and they must have had a lot of complaints and boosted it to 200 hp, but it is still not enough. You notice the need when you have all seats occupied or going into a turn in second gear where you have to down shift or it lugs. Braking is improved with the addition of disc brakes all around. 2003 included disc only on the front.

Styling:

This Mazda sits on a Ford platform and in a field of many you can always pick it out from the line up.

Fit and Finish:

Outstanding. And that continues to hold true for all Japanese auto products.

Cost:

Actually it is well priced. An indispensable option at $800 is the dual power sliding doors. Add that to the MSRP of $23,260 and the price is still very good.

Consumer Recommendation:

Comparable pricing, so the deciding factor on which to buy will likely be your preference in styling and your perception of value. Japanese cars have a good reputation but Detroit shouldn’t be counted out. Not only have they fought back valiantly and earned our renewed respect, Americans need to consider the need to support American made products. When the US auto industry was cocky we rightfully turned away from them and bought from off shore competitors. And in a sense it was our duty to encourage competition then and although that remains true today, we don’t have the luxury to continue to buy foreign as much as we have. The pendulum has indeed swung back.

The Competition:

Mazda MPV $23-28,000, Chevrolet Venture $21-34,000, Chrysler Town & Country $20-35,000, Dodge Caravan $18-26,000, Ford Freestar $22-33,000, Honda Odyssey $24-30,000, Kia Sedona $20-22,000, Mercury Monterey $29-35,000, Nissan Quest $24-32,000, Oldsmobile Silhouette $28-37,000, Pontiac Montana $23-31,000, Toyota Sienna $24-28,000.

Good News:

Smooth ride and great family utility vehicle.

Bad News:

None.

Standard Equipment:

3.0 liter 200 hp V6 engine, 5-speed automatic trans, front wheel drive, power steering, 7 passenger seating, velour cloth seats, 2nd row captain seats, 3rd row tumble under seat, air conditioning front and rear, audio with CD player, power windows, door locks and mirrors, power ABS disc brakes with electronic brake force distribution system, dual front air bags, remote keyless entry, cruise control, seat side table in front (no console, but lots of storage and cup holders), variable intermittent wipers front and rear.

Gas Stats:

18 City and 25 Highway MPG.

Pricing:

MSRP $23,260.

2003 Mazda MPV ES Wagon (Minivan) (427)

Overview:

This week I drove the 2003 Mazda MPV ES Wagon (Minivan). I didn’t like it in years past but didn’t drive one until the 2000 year model. Interesting pricing comparison below.

I have to tell you I’ve warmed up to this van a lot. I think Mazda was smart to make the two sliding doors power operated as standard equipment on the ES. Plus, they are smart to allow for power windows on the sliders. They go down more than half way and that’s cool.

Another plus is the fold-flat third seat into a hole in the rear that is a great storage area when the seat is up. All things considered this is a very nice alternative to the mass of special purpose vehicles that are so versatile. So in summary, you get the benefits of the very popular SUV with improved fuel economy, a better family vehicle built lower to the ground, equally as good cargo area with the benefit of a lower entry level at the rear and all you give up is the 4 Wheel Drive that 9 out of 10 people will never use anyway.

General Info:

Parts – Japan

Assembly – Hiroshima, Japan

Class: – Special Purpose 2 WD

Cars: – 626, Millennia, MPV, MX5, Protégé, Tribute and Truck.

Handling & Performance:

Very nice. Boy is this one smooooth and so easy to drive. It doesn’t wander around the lane as it tracks true down the highway.

Styling:

Most cars, trucks and SUV’s are very similar in appearance, have great coefficient of friction numbers that simply means they are very aerodynamic in design that sits on a Ford platform.

Fit and Finish:

Outstanding.

Cost:

The two top choices in my opinion are this Mazda and the newest entry into this market from South Korea, the Kia Sedona.

Consumer Recommendation:

Price and overall feel I think you should look first at this Mazda and then the Kia Sedona and a third is the Chrysler Voyager. After that you will have a basis for comparison when you look at the more expensive alternatives. Happy hunting.

The Competition: (alphabetically)

Mazda MPV $23-26,000, Chevrolet Venture $21-34,000, Chrysler Voyager $21-24,000, Dodge Caravan $20-35,000, Ford Windstar $21-35,000, Honda Odyssey $24-28,000, Kia Sedona $19-22,000, Nissan Quest $23-27,000, Oldsmobile Silhouette $28-36,000, Pontiac Montana $24-34,000, Toyota Sienna $24-28,000.

Year 2000 model Pricing.

Mazda MPV $25,550, Chevrolet Venture $20,650 – $29,190, Dodge Caravan $18,850 – $32,175, Ford Windstar $19,815 – $33,360, Honda Odyssey $23,400 – $26,000, Oldsmobile Silhouette $25,195 – $31,790, Plymouth Voyager $18,685 – $24,080, Toyota Sienna $22,368 – $27,334.

Good News:

Nice styling, smooth ride and simply a great family vehicle.

Bad News:

Only fair gas performance and some will say the spare is inconveniently located and the seats aren’t as comfortable as they should be. (I didn’t change a tire and with AAA I suspect I never would anyway and I thought the seats were fine).

Standard Equipment:

3.0 liter 200 hp V6 engine, 5-speed automatic trans, front wheel drive, power steering, power front disc with rear drum ABS brakes, traction control, dual front and side air bags, remote keyless entry, power windows, door locks, mirrors and dual sliding doors with power roll down windows, cruise control, seat side table in front (no console, but lots of storage and cup holders), power driver seat, sound system with cassette, variable intermittent wipers and rear wiper washer, tinted glass, 7 passenger seating, antitheft alarm system with immobilizer, leather upholstery and leather wrapped steering wheel with audio controls, captain chairs front and 2nd row with 3rd row bench seat.

Gas Stats:

18 City and 24 Highway MPG.

Pricing:

MSRP $27,192.

2002 Mazda Protégé 5 (388)

Overview:

This week I had a chance to drive the New to the US Market, Mazda Protégé 5. Ok, not something I’d run out to buy, but it does appeal to the younger set. Low rider comes to mind. Not to be confused with “Easy Rider”. Anyway, it is an interesting compact economy car that has that modified look.

The low slung feel reminds me of the very popular Chevy Xtreme pickup truck. You know, the S10 Yuppie truck that had a makeover in East L.A.

In my youth I spent a reasonable amount of time in the “Hood” as it is referred to these days. Where “Homies” experience the same adolescent fears young people do everywhere in the world. The media is always telling us about those drive by’s, so it’s apparent you don’t have to go to the middle east to get shot at. Surely this past year has shown us we’re not so different from any third world country in too many ways. People will be people and kids will be kids and politicians will continue to be fools.

But on a serious note, the fact of the matter is that “Boom Boxes” probably kill more people than gangs or other terrorists. And even more sobering is that more people really do die in auto accidents than all those other forms of man made disasters combined. On a heavily traveled holiday weekend it isn’t uncommon for 500 or more to die on the highway and we seldom hear much about that.

Of course that speaks volumes about the need for better driver education in America. Surely Europeans are far better drivers, for example, where it is serious business who will be awarded the right to drive on the highways there. Europeans do believe it is a privilege as much as we in America believe it is our constitutional right to own and operate a car. We grew up knowing it was as we were convinced driving was better than mass transit. But when you follow the “Green” (money) US drivers have been lead down the primrose path by the folks who gain from tire, rubber and gasoline sales. Folks who were around in the Southern California area know there were many miles of tracks for public transportation that were torn up in favor of more cars and more roads. Now that we\’ve totally saturated the freeways the tracks are going back in. Don\’t you just hate to be manipulated!

Now that we depend on cars as our only means of \”realistic\” transportation gas companies raise prices you are helpless to do anything about. And to add insult to injury the public sector jumps in to rip off the public as well. When cities and states need to offset spending excesses they simply instruct our Men in Blue, (the Gestapo) to hit the streets to remind us that, “Driving is a Privilege” and not a right. Speed limits are maintained artificially low for today\’s advanced high tech cars to make it easier to shear the sheep. They even make it easy on you by allowing you to pay this (obscene hidden tax) by mail. Don\’t get me started, I\’m angry.

Well there is one way to fight back, and that is to buy less expensive cars that are also easier on gas consumption. This Mazda Protégé 5 is one of those cars.

General Info:

Parts – 93% Japan, 2% US/Canada; engine & trans / Japan

Assembly – Hiroshima, Japan

Class: Compact Mazda

Cars: 626, Millennia, MPV, MX-5 Miata, Protégé, Tribute, Truck.

Handling & Performance:

Racing type suspension and that stiff ride signals better handling. 130 horsepower is a bit underpowered but adequate in most situations. Load it with 5 average sized people and a little luggage and you’ll be dragging a bit as that little 4-cylinder tugs noisily along.

Styling:

The “5” in Protégé 5 stands for 5 doors. Hatchback is another variation on the same theme but this is more like a Wagon, which to me seems incongruous with the young market this car seeks to attract.

Fit and Finish:

Mazda is typically Japanese in quality workmanship. The Japs continue to lead since defeating the Yanks in Detroit where Cadillac once defined what the “Best” was. Oddly enough the term still remains as a definition for excellence.

Conveniences:

Sparse.

Cost:

Top of the range for this car.

Consumer Recommendation:

More conventional buyers will want to look at the competition noted below, all of which I’ve tested and I like better than this Protégé 5.

Manufacturer Recommendations:

Waiting until other small wagons were introduced in the US market was a good plan. But the sporty attempt may be too radical. The low rider thing doesn’t work for me. It will be interesting to see how it sells here in America.

The Competition:

Ford Focus $17-18,000, Saturn SW $14,290, Subaru Impreza Wagon $17-23,000, Suzuki Esteem Wagon $14-17,000, Volkswagen Jetta Wagon $18-27,000.

Good News:

Affordably priced, sporty, utility wagon features, good gas stats.

Bad News:

Radical styling.

Standard Equipment:

2.0 liter 130 horsepower inline 4-cylinder engine, 5-speen manual trans, dual air bags, 5 passenger seating, fog lamps, front wheel drive, remote keyless entry, power windows and door locks, leather wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, tilt wheel, dual power mirrors, 4-wheel disc brakes, power steering.

Gas Stats:

25 City and 31 Highway MPG.

Pricing:

MSRP $18,500.