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California road-trip review: 6 days and 656 miles with a 2017.5 Mazda6 Grand Touring

From Los Angeles to Angeles National Forest, my fiancé and I learn what Mazda’s midsize sedan is like to live with, road trip, and hoon. 

The weather forecast for New York’s JFK airport was ominous to say the least. Heavy snow, high winds, the usual of what we’d come to expect from a particularly brutal March; the fourth Nor’easter in three weeks was due to hit just as Jet Blue Flight #23 was scheduled to depart. But after a thorough de-icing and some help from the vacation gods the Airbus A321 bounced its way up through the storm-ridden sky, my fiancé and I repeating lines of surprise that we had actually made it out without cancellation. Soon after, nearby LaGuardia would cancel all flights, and thousands of others in the area would be called off just the same. Plane aimed westward, even the unusually cool and rainy California outlook couldn’t put us down as we headed away from Winter Storm Toby.

The trip that had just begun was a long time in the making, and in many ways felt somewhat like a consolation prize. In the winter of 2016-2017 my then-girlfriend and I were planning a getaway to the sunny expanse of California, an adventure sidelined by the ill-timed surgical repairing of my lower spine. A year later we found ourselves desperate to escape the cold, our hearts and souls still set on the SoCal coast. Tickets and hotels booked, ground transportation was the final piece to the puzzle. With another year’s worth of writing under my belt, the extra time afforded me the chance to jump into my first press car. Hoon-In-Chief Jeff Glucker stepped in and bridged the gap between myself and Mazda, lining up a 2017.5 Mazda6 Grand Touring loaner to serve as the chariot for our much-awaited Californian extravaganza.

After reading nonstop favorable reviews, I held high expectations from the Mazda6 we would have in regards to its ability to dance the line of fun and practical. Not only would living with one for a week allow me to examine the highly-revered car up-close-and-personal, but it would put to the test and allow me the chance to re-examine my own aversion to the front-wheel-drive, automatic-transmission sedan.

Our vacation would see us driving the car hundreds of miles, from ocean to mountains and everywhere in-between, using the Mazda6 as our home base out of which to operate for the duration of our trip. After six days, 656 miles, and innumerable Californian experiences, the verdict was in. How did the Mazda6 fare? Is there an enthusiast’s car hidden beneath the generic drive layout? Did Mazda’s midsizer live up to the hype? You’ll have to read on to find out.

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Perfecting Perfection: 2017 Mazda MX-5 RF

2017 Mazda MX-5 RF

The answer is always Miata (MX-5). At least that’s the stock answer when you ask an automotive enthusiast what car you should buy.

  • You have St Bernard you need to haul around? The answer is Miata and pull out the passenger seat.
  • You need to go to Home Depot or Lowes for lumber? The answer is Miata. Drop the top and bring some tie-downs.
  • Want a good winter beater? A Miata with winter tires and you’ll be fine.
  • Do you have a black tie formal event to attend with your special someone? Get them an Uber and take yourself in the Miata.

Having spent a week recently with the Olive Garden MX-5, otherwise known as the Fiat 124 Spider Abarth, I was swayed a bit in thinking the different styling and turbo motor may have had some advantage over the standard MX-5. A week in the MX-5 RF, however, had reminded me why you should stick with the original. Even if I’m still not the biggest fan of the styling with the RF, I concede that it may be the version to get over the standard soft top

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Review: 2017 Mazda CX-5 Grand Touring AWD

Two years ago my sister-in-law decided that it was time to replace her 4-cylinder 5-speed Honda Accord coupe with something new. Like everyone else in the world these days, she wanted a small cross-over. She wanted one for the same reasons that everyone else wants one for – higher ride, bigger trunk, ease of egress and ingress, and the availability of AWD. But she wanted something else – she wanted a car with some kind of a soul, not just an appliance. 

I advised her that soul is something that develops over time and promptly suggested a Jeepster Commando. When that was vetoed, I told her to test drive the RAV4 and the CR-V first. Then I sent her to MINI and Mazda dealerships. Like most would, she wrote the Toyota and Honda off right away despite the amazing deal she was offered on the RAV4. The MINI she wanted priced itself out rather quickly. The CX-5 emerged as a clear winner in terms of price, functionality, driving, and personality.

For 2017 Mazda has revealed the new CX-5. It is emphasizing the previous model’s zoom-zoominess and borrowing heavily from the handsome looks of its bigger sibling, the CX-9. Where other makers offer functional appliances, could Mazda win over more buyers like my sister-in-law who want a good-looking, fun to drive vehicle?

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2016 Mazda CX-3: Tiny CUV Packs Plenty Of Fun

Crossovers suck! …said the average enthusiast, who might be looking to eat their own words in the near future. Crossovers have gotten a lot better, and a whole lot more engaging to drive. Exhibit M: The Mazda CX-3.

It’s a sub-compact CUV packing in a whole lot of driving enjoyment.

Do we wish there were more wagon options out there? Yes, no question.
Are there finally crossovers we can actually enjoy driving? Yes, absolutely.

The Mazda CX-3 is near the top of that list too, as long as you don’t have serious cargo space needs.

[Disclaimer: Mazda tossed us the keys to the CX-3 for a week and included a tank of gas. We drove the car hard and didn’t put much of a dent into that fuel gauge.]

Quick Spin: 2015 Mazda3

2015 mazda 3 side front

I try to write a review of every car I drive, but this is not always possible. In 2015 I missed a few, so here are my abbreviated impressions of these cars.

Something funny has been happening lately. Every time someone asks me for a basic vehicle recommendation, I find myself suggesting a Mazda of some kind more and more. Last year my sister-in-law bought a CX-5 and now my other sister-in-law is getting ready to buy a Mazda3. Internet car heroes say that the “Miata is always the answer” but maybe it isn’t?

Maybe Mazda is always the answer?

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2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata
Rebirth Of The King?

It’s the common answer to most questions asked of the average automotive enthusiast. If you want affordable and fun, rear-wheel-drive, front-engine, sports car goodness, you go with the Miata. That’s what folks have been saying for years now. For 2016, we have a reborn new version of the slow car-fast poster child; the ND-generation 2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata is here to make your daily commute a bit more exciting.

Is it everything we’ve been waiting for though? Roll your mouse onto that play button and find out…

[Disclaimer: Mazda tossed us the keys to the MX-5, and included a full tank of gas. We rolled it on back to them after a delightful week spent with the car.]

Review: 2016 Mazda CX-5 Touring

Mazda CX-5 Touring

Some may look at the Mazda CX-5 as just another dot in a sea of crossovers but it offers so much more. The steering and suspension stand out and the fuel economy beat out the hybrid CUV that currently sits in my driveway.

While many enthusiasts may write off any crossover as just another appliance, the CX-5 deserves our attention. I had the chance to try out a front wheel drive model in Touring trim and enjoyed the experience. I previously had a chance to try out a 2014 CX-5 with the 155 horsepower 2.0-liter engine and found it to be adequate but slightly lacking in highway merging situations. The 2016 CX-5 Touring model I tested came equipped with the 184 horsepower 2.5-liter engine and showed a measurable improvement in acceleration.

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Quick Spin: 2013 Mazda MX-5 Club Edition
The password into driving Heaven is “Club Edition”

2013 Mazda MX-5 Miata Club Edition lead

Engine in the front, manual transmission shift lever in my hand, and the drive wheels out back are a recipe to make me a happy man. Still, even when these automotive stars align it doesn’t necessarily signal a success story. Maybe the car won’t have enough power, or perhaps part of the car will feel a bit numb. There’s a chance I won’t fit comfortably in the cabin space, or that the vehicle will feature some fuel saving measures to quell the fun.

After a few hours on a twisty ribbon of asphalt outside of Austin, Texas, I can report to you that the 2013 Mazda MX-5 Club Edition suffers from none of these issues. In fact, it might just be one of my favorites cars I’ve driven in some time.

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Video Review: 2014 Mazda 6 First Drive

Style, allow me to introduce you to Substance

2014 Mazda 6 lead

Happy-happy, joy-joy no more.

Say hello to crisp, angular aggression. Say hello to an exterior wrapper finally matching the driving dynamics that lurk beneath. Say hello to the 2014 Mazda 6, and what I hope is the precursor of a whole lot more style injected into a family that always gives back to the person in the important seat.

Yes, I’d prefer to spend time with the upcoming 2.2-liter diesel variety, but I’m not exactly settling when given the keys to the all-new gas-swilling 2.5-liter-equipped 2014 Mazda 6. Click past the jump for the video review.

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2010 Mazda Mazda5

mazda5

Life has a funny way of sneaking up on you. The night I took this picture, I became an uncle and my brother became a father. Meanwhile, my own first progeny is (hopefully) a few weeks away. An unplanned ten pounds of diaper ruination doesn’t have the Missus and me scrambling to shop for family trucksters yet, but it struck us as all too symbolic when the flat-pack crib wouldn’t fit in the WRX wagon. The signs are all around: grownuphood is upon us.

Thankfully, we live in a post SUV world. Sort of. Ladder-frame truck based behemoths are on the wane, but their successor in the family hauler role has yet to be anointed. The amorphous “crossover” leads, but the last few years have shown it slowly melting into more wagon-like forms. That wagons are The Hoon’s Choice is a foregone conclusion, but when it comes to hauling more stuff than ass, for the price, there’s no beating a van. The question is, how do you get the utility of a van without feeling like you’ve given up on life?

Mazda has the anwer.

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