Category Archives: Mazda

2000 Mazda Miata MX-5 (310)

Overview:

This weeks driving fun was provided by the Mazda Miata MX-5. I really liked the color combo with mahogany paint and beige top and interior. Real pretty. But it wasn’t all good news. I tested the 1999 model year about two years ago and it is evident that either Mazda doesn’t read my column or they don’t care what drivers might complain about.

Example: two years ago I commented on the terrible placement of the remote controls for the trunk and gas lid releases. They are still poorly placed in the rear part of the console storage compartment. And to add insult to injury, they make you reach awkwardly to the rear of the lid to open it in the first place. Hello! Anyone home. However on the plus side they made the car more rigid and I didn’t notice that tinny sound when the doors or trunk are closed.

This special edition includes wood trim including the steering wheel. Sorry but although I like wood sweaty hands cause the wheel to be slippery. I don’t know about you but I don’t wear leather gloves when I drive. A leather wrapped wheel is much better or wood on only about 25% of the wheel like that of Cadillac’s design. I also didn’t care for the design of the air conditioning ducts, as they were hard to adjust. I found myself fiddling with then constantly.

There wasn’t a lot of high tech stuff, but this like most cars today have radio controls that are digital when a simple knob for station selection or tone and balance would be better. It reminds me of a recent telephone conversation where I told the person on the other end of the satellite connection to write down a phone number. He said, “wait I have to boot my Palm Pilot.” Say what, have you ever heard of paper and pencil? I’m in a hurry. We need to balance technology with practicality.

Other concerns include – who will drive this Pea popper, tiny car where the speedometer goes up to 150 mph? I don’t think I want my kid driving this 2300 lb. car at those speeds.

On a positive note, I appreciated the tiny trunk for our trek to Tahoe since “She” couldn’t take too much stuff she didn’t need anyway. But “She” managed to fill the space behind the seat, where the top stows, so we couldn’t put the top down. I also loved driving this sports car in the mountains because I love that “G-force” feeling around the curves…. in the road, that is. It has lots of power and even passing slower traffic was no problem. I found the 6-speed shifter passable but it could be better.

If you’re thinking this will bring out the kid in you, it will, only if you are a kid. Older drivers will experience back pain getting in and out, which is similar to getting into a “Go Cart” or a Kayak for you water sports folks. So if you’re claustrophobic you’re likely to have an instant attack. And if you intend to drive long distances, your tousch will tire long before you have to stop for gas.

Handling & Performance:

Great! But, what do you expect from a car built so low to the ground snakes can crawl in easier than people.

Styling:

I like it. It has progressed nicely since its introduction over 10 years ago.

Fit and Finish:

Much improved even over last years model.

Conveniences:

Pretty basic but enough.

Cost:

More than the price tag should be for this sports car, especially when compared with the Mitsubishi Eclipse.

Recommendation:

Look at the Mitsubishi Eclipse. For the same money you’ll get a back seat without losing the sports car feel, and a one-button power top feature. Personally, with the possible exception of the Honda S2000, I don’t think it fits in the class and performance of the competition listed below from either a performance or price position. However they are all two seater sports cars. But then, so is a Ferrari.

The Competition:

BMW Z3 $31,300-36,900, Honda S2000 $32,000, Mercedes SLK $38,900-43,900, Mitsubishi Eclipse $25,237, Porsche Boxster $41,430-49,930, Toyota MR2 Spyder $23,098.

Good News:

Good gas mileage, fun to drive, adequate performance, top is easy to put up and down.

Bad News:

Marginal comfort from the seats on long trips, too much money for the car, small trunk, some controls poorly placed, difficult shifter and poor air conditioning ducts.

Standard Equipment:

1.8 liter 4-cylinder 140 horsepower engine, 6-speed manual transmission, rear wheel drive, power 4-wheel disc brakes, leather seats, stereo with clock and CD, power windows, door locks and mirrors, cruise control, 15” polished alloy wheels, halogen headlights, dual air bags, wood steering wheel and shift knob and parking brake handle and wood center panel, power antenna.

Gas Stats:

24 City and 29 Highway MPG.

Pricing:

MSRP $25,055.

2000 Mazda MPV ES (290)

Overview:

Well, well, well, something new, innovative and different. The Mazda MPV is the first Minivan to provide roll down windows on their sliding doors. On this model they are power as well. Don’t you just wonder why others haven’t done this before now. Nice touch guys.

Observation – have you noticed that the Sport Utility Vehicle (SUV) and the Minivan have evolved over time to blend together in design? The SUV has more road clearance and 4-wheel drive for all the off roading they will never do. The Minivan retains the sliding doors and low to the ground profile so well suited for little people and granny’s in the family. SUV’s are still more popular but lose my vote in a playoff as to which is a better family car. And with the price of gas sure to go higher, the Minivan is destined to capture sales from the SUV market.

Handling & Performance:

Being built low to the ground with a wide stance gives this Mazda MPV nice handling characteristics. I also felt it was very responsive with plenty of power out of the 2.5 liter V6. The short nose and front wheel drive makes it very maneuverable.

Styling:

I like the new look for 2000 for this MPV. But as minivans go they’re all very similar in design. Every time I drive one of these versatile vehicles I like them even more. Mazda has paid attention to design details like hiding the sliding door mechanism under the rear window. That’s real smart and another “wonder why it didn’t happen sooner”. I don’t particularly like the third row seat setup. The seatback folds forward but not up and out of the way to provide more luggage storage. The Moonroof option has the largest opening I\’ve seen.

Fit and Finish:

Luxurious, says one visitor to my van. Well, that’s because they’ve done a nice job in putting the thing together. Another job well done. I’m beginning to be impressed.

Conveniences:

Minivans have a way of including lots of cup holders, storage places and nooks and cranny’s to make these great travel vehicles. The sound system in the rear is another great assist in keeping the kids occupied. Some manufacturers even have entertainment centers including VCRs and game ports. Great for making long trips easier to take for everyone. Questions like “are we there yet?” and comments like “I have to go to the bathroom” are sure to become remnants of the past. Such conveniences quickly become necessities. I also like the captains chairs in the front and center positions.

Cost:

Well priced. I have to admit this is the first time I\’ve tested the MPV and although I haven’t been a fan, it has been due more to ignorance. I simply haven’t taken the time to drive one. Thanks Mazda for asking me to look at it.

Recommendation:

I particularly liked the Toyota Sienna – overall feel, Honda Odyssey – great power sliding doors and the Oldsmobile Silhouette – great entertainment center, but have to include this Mazda MPV in my recommendation. Very impressive.

The Competition:

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:

Roll down windows on the sliding doors, comfortable ride, handles well, elegant clean lines, seating for up to seven.

Bad News:

Poor visibility and small cargo area.

Standard Equipment:

2.5 liter 170 hp engine, front wheel drive, 4-speed auto trans, power steering, power front disc ABS brakes, alarm system, remote keyless entry, dual front and side air bags, 7-passenger seating, leather, power windows and door locks, stereo, air conditioning, tilt steering wheel, power heated mirrors, front and rear intermittent wipers, tinted glass, dual sliding doors with power down windows.

Gas Stats:

18 City and 23 Highway MPG.

Pricing:

MSRP $25,550.

1999 Mazda Miata MX-5 (215)

Overview:

This 1999 Mazda MX-5 Miata is available in a single trim so it simplifies your decision making. And if you simply must have a sports car that’s basic, with simple everything, you can find it here. It is truly a fun car to drive and has adequate power.

The top is easy to put down when the mood moves you, but you’ll have to wait until you stop and get out to put it back up since there’s no way for the average \”non-jock\” to do it while sitting in the car.

History: The Miata was introduced in the summer of 1989 and it captured the hearts of driving enthusiasts longing for the days of the classic British roadster. Remember the MGB, Austin Healey etc.? They were so popular dealers routinely charged, and people willingly paid, thousands over the suggested retail price for this little roadster. The 1998 model year was skipped completely, with the new 1999 model went on sale in March.

Many years ago I owned an MG and loved the way you can zip around and I thoroughly enjoy the handling capabilities of sports cars. Some of the shortcomings of the older roadsters have been eliminated in cars like this Miata, but there are some complaints that can’t go unmentioned. I want to know why they put the power outlet/ lighter right smack in front of the gear shifter? Doesn’t anyone test-drive these things for such obvious irritations? If they do it is certain they haven’t plugged in a cell phone. Is that possible? Another bitch is the placement of the latch on the center console storage compartment. It is poorly placed at the rear, which makes it hard to open. There is also a lot of road noise that I feel should have improved with the increase in cost.

When you review what is considered competition for the Miata I think you’ll find too great a difference in all except perhaps the Cavalier and the VW. I believe the Eclipse is a step up even though the price doesn’t reflect that fact. The Porsche Boxster and the Mercedes SLK are light years ahead and if the extra money isn’t too painful to part a test drive will help you open your wallet a little wider. The BMW Z3 is over priced, as is the Miata.

I’ve driven them all and suggest you do the same before you make your decision.

The Competition:

BMW Z3 $29,425 – $35,900, Chevrolet Cavalier $11,871 – $19,571, Mercedes-Benz SLK $40,000, Mitsubishi Eclipse $15,740 – $26,660, Porsche Boxster $41,000, Volkswagen Cabrio $17,975 – $22,290.

Good News:

Top is easy to put down. Fun to drive.

Bad News:

Tinny sounding doors. Trunk is also a clanging cymbal. Poor placement of power outlet & console access release. A lot of road noise. Pricey.

Standard Equipment:

1.8 liter 4 cylinder, 140 HP engine, 5-speed manual trans with overdrive, rack & pinion steering, cloth bucket seats, AM/Fm CD stereo, independent suspension, dual air bags, glass rear window in convertible top, remote fuel & trunk releases, 4- wheel power disc brakes & dual mirrors. Note: A 4-speed automatic transmission is available.

Gas Stats:

25 City 29 Highway MPG.

Pricing:

MSRP is $19,770 but if you want Air, leather, alloy wheels, cruise control, upgraded premium Bose stereo system with cassette, power – steering, mirrors, windows, antenna & door locks – you’ll have to up the ante to $25K.

1998 Mazda 626 (212)

Overview:

Let’s face it, this Mazda 626 has everything you need and presents it like it were a luxury class car. And although it is the best selling of the Mazda line, the Miata enjoys greater recognition and popularity. Mazda has likely done a poor job marketing the 626 relative to rivals such as Toyota, Ford and Honda. It will have to do better in its uphill battle with the competition that is not only abundant but also very capable in this class.

I\’ve tested all noted below. The first two that came to mind were the Buick Regal and the Olds Intrigue. They are a bit larger and thus roomier with more cargo space. They don’t however offer a sunroof or CD player as standard equipment as does the 626. As expected, both of these American contenders have much more muscle from larger displacement / horsepower engines. The Buick is supercharged and develops 240 HP compared to 170 for the 626, and although impressive it is not a major advantage in my view. The Intrigue is a 195 HP V-6 and both larger engine cars give up nothing in fuel economy, as they are equal or better than the 626.

The 1990‘s have proven to me to be a milestone in marketing for U.S. carmakers that resoundingly state that they are \”back\”. You can no longer ignore them and compare only import to import because you’d miss out on good old Americana as an option. Before the 1960’s there was little option. You bought U.S. made cars or nothing. From that time through the 1980’s, however, you could almost discount American cars completely because of what I call \”Detroit Backlash\”. Buyers left in droves to support foreign imports that were cheaper and more economical to drive. They were also fun to drive as they were smaller and offered lots of extras for less money. The 1990’s do indeed mark the return of the American automaker in a big way. They may have been finessed and out flanked by aggressive Japanese producers but have, in good old Yankee style shown their colors and come back with a vengeance. In the meantime all of the competitors are strong contenders and command your attention if you’re in the market for a compact sedan.

Mazda\’s 626 sedan is designed exclusively for North America and will be produced only in Flat Rock, Michigan, as a joint venture between Mazda and Ford Motor Company. The 626 has more than 75% domestic content, thus it is classified as a domestic car.

The 1998 Mazda 626 is available in four trims: DX, LX, LX V6 and ES V6 4-door sedans. The ES that I tested is smooth and comfortable. It handles well and the 170 HP V6 provides more than enough power. Styling is commonplace but \”in-the-swim\” with today’s look for sleek, clean lines. The shifting of the manual trans allows for a smooth transition between gears, albeit a little long on the travel distance required between gears. In this case you may want to consider the optional 4-speed automatic transmission. Overall I liked the car a lot and found the redesigned 1998 a noticeable improvement over prior versions of the 626.

The Competition:

Buick Regal $21,045 – $23,790, Chevrolet Lumina $17,395 – $19,745, Dodge Stratus $14,965 – $17,790, Ford Contour $14,460 – $22,665, Honda Accord $15,100 – $24,150, Mitsubishi Galant $16,990 – $24,350, Nissan Altima $14,990 – $19,990, Oldsmobile Intrigue $20,890 – $24,110, Pontiac Grand Prix $18,795 – $20,665, Subaru Legacy $19,195 – $25,595, Volkswagen Jetta $14,595 – $20,955.

Good News:

Everything’s standard for the price, well detailed, well priced, nice ride.

Bad News:

Long travel shifter, cookie cutter styling.

Standard Equipment:

2.5 liter V-6 170 HP engine, 5-speed manual trans., front wheel drive, electronic traction control, 4-wheel power anti-locking disc braking system, power rack and pinion steering with tilt wheel, 4-wheel independent suspension, dual power mirrors, dual airbags, power glass sunroof, power windows & door locks, air conditioning, AM/FM stereo with CD player, leather, cruise control, 6-way power driver seat, keyless entry, remote trunk and anti-theft system.

Gas Stats:

21 City/ 27 Highway MPG.

Pricing:

MSRP is $23,995

1998 Mazda Millenia S (184)

Overview:

This week I got practical in the Mazda Millenia S, 4-door sedan. After a series of racy sports cars like the BMW Z3 and the Porsche Boxster, it’s important to get my feet back on the ground and then into a car for more than two people. Too much excitement is not healthy. In any case, you really have to buy the car that fits your present need and mother would approve of this 5 passenger car.

In the sports cars it was, \”Sorry mom, I have this real little car and can’t take you with us to Tahoe. Maybe next time\”. If you have a family and the kids have to bring a friend, there are some tradeoffs you have to adjust to. Trade in the Boxster and get real. Then you can tell your mother-in-law the car is big enough but there are too many people going. Maybe next time.

Last year I tested the 5 passenger, 4-door Mazda Protégé and was impressed with it especially for a car that only costs fifteen grand. Sure it was basic, but for a young family with the need for reliable day to day transportation and with a limited budget, it was great. Ilona thought it was noisy but you can buy ear plugs, or for another $20K you can upgrade to the Millenia.

Good news: I

t’s practical, reliable, smooth ride, quiet and I couldn’t find anything to bitch about.

Bad News:

Plain, unexciting.

Some of the competition

Acura TL ($33K), Audi A4 ($30K), Buick Park Avenue ($35K), Cadillac Catera ($30K), Infiniti I30 ($31K), Lexus ES 300 ($30K), Mercedes-Benz C-Class ($35K), Saab 900 ($42K), Toyota Avalon ($28K), Mitsubishi Diamante ($32K), and the Volvo S70 ($34K).

Standard Equipment:

2.3 liter 210 horsepower V6 engine, 4-speed automatic transmission, power rack & pinion steering, power 4-wheel anti-lock disc brakes, cruise control, dual airbags, keyless entry with anti-theft system, traction control, leather, power front seats, climate control, stereo with CD player, tilt steering column, power windows and door locks, power moonroof and power side mirrors.

Gas Stats:

EPA numbers are 20 City and 28 Highway MPG.

Pricing:

MSRP is $36,595.