Mazda – Automobile Magazine http://www.automobilemag.com No Boring Cars! | Reviews, Auto Shows, Lifestyle Fri, 23 Jun 2017 22:00:42 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.7.4 One Week With: 2017 Mazda3 5-Door Grand Touring http://www.automobilemag.com/news/2017-mazda3-5-door-grand-touring-review-one-week/ http://www.automobilemag.com/news/2017-mazda3-5-door-grand-touring-review-one-week/#respond Fri, 02 Jun 2017 07:05:16 +0000 http://www.automobilemag.com/?p=1163565 Nothing about the 2017 Mazda3 5-Door hatchback jumps out at you. It’s a nice-looking piece — aggressive nose, contoured sides — but it’s not a “wow!” The 184 horses from its 2.5-liter naturally aspirated, twin-cam four sound plenty potent, but straight-line performance is only fair; 0 to 60 runs are in the mid-7-second range. The...

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Nothing about the 2017 Mazda3 5-Door hatchback jumps out at you. It’s a nice-looking piece — aggressive nose, contoured sides — but it’s not a “wow!” The 184 horses from its 2.5-liter naturally aspirated, twin-cam four sound plenty potent, but straight-line performance is only fair; 0 to 60 runs are in the mid-7-second range. The cockpit is clean and well-finished in quality materials, but again, it’s doubtful any passenger will be bowled over when climbing aboard.

But do you know what? From the driver’s seat, you won’t care about any of the above. That’s because the third-generation Mazda3 does everything so well, it simply radiates motoring joy. It’s a delightful machine — happy at its job, well-oiled in its responses, the very definition of value and refinement. Never once during my week with the car did my insides flood with a performance-induced adrenaline rush, but I thoroughly enjoyed my daily drives anyway, savoring engineering that places astuteness over showiness. You can’t help but smile at this car’s ability to sand the rough edges off an otherwise arduous commute.

One standard characteristic is the 3’s steering. It’s light, smooth, and super precise. As a result, even a gentle pace through a winding road is rewarding. The 3 goes exactly where you point it without any wasted motion and with plenty of feedback telegraphing through the wheel to your fingertips. It’s a testament to Mazda’s commitment to driving excellence that a car without overt sporting pretensions should steer so well. Aiding handling response is the standard G-Vectoring Control system, which gradually reduces engine torque as you turn into a corner — allowing the front tires to focus on grip and thereby improving bite. This behavior — the 3’s almost spiritual connection between steering wheel and road — is just one of the pieces that add up to make such a compelling whole.

The chassis is equally likable, reasonably grippy but more notable for its poise and comfortable ride. Like the steering, it’s totally satisfying. The six-speed manual gearbox is also a standout, with a feathery, quick action that slots right into your desired cog every time. I’d noted from the window sticker that my test car was equipped with optional radar-guided adaptive cruise control (part of the $1,100 Safety package) and was curious how the system would deal with the manual transmission when traffic ahead forced the car to slow down. Wouldn’t the engine simply stall? Well, no. Turns out a dashboard light and a chime warn the driver to step in and downshift if such a situation arises. It’s nice to find such a system available with a manual as the pairing is a rarity.

Inside, the cockpit isn’t lavish, but it is extremely pleasant. Good seats, excellent fit and finish, a clean layout. The center console sports a small rotary controller for scrolling through menus on the central color touchscreen display. Surrounding it are buttons for directly accessing the various systems — nav, audio, etc. Works great. It’s very intuitive with no fussiness.

The climate-control interface is likewise straightforward, with dual-zone control and heated seats included in Grand Touring trim. The wheel is superb, a chunky three-spoked, leather-wrapped design with helpful buttons for operating the Bluetooth phone system and more. Mazda’s love of driving is right there in front of you. The driver’s panel dominated by a big central tachometer for all your engine-revving, gear-changing pleasure. My only gripes: Rear-seat legroom is tight, and visibility to the rear quarters is impeded by the 3’s beefy C-pillars.

Starting at just $24,730 in top-of-the-range Grand Touring trim, the 3 hatchback punches well above its sticker price. Included are a Bose nine-speaker surround-sound audio system, leather seats, 18-inch alloy wheels, keyless entry with pushbutton start, a glass moonroof, rear-view camera, blind-spot monitoring, and more. My test car added the Premium Equipment package ($1,600, including nav, LED headlights, heated steering wheel, and more), the Safety package (with the aforementioned adaptive cruise, traffic-sign recognition, lane-keep assist, and more), and a few other small options, bringing the final tally to $28,030.

It probably wouldn’t win a test-numbers comparo with any rival in its class, but the Mazda3 doesn’t care. The focus here is on a premium driving experience, and the 3 feels “premium” through and through. From the response of its switchgear to the fluidity of its chassis, the 3 is built to delight. Such finesse is not to be overlooked. It can mean the difference between arriving after a long drive feeling refreshed instead of beat up. It can take the edge off of fighting traffic. It can make you take notice, as you’re winding through a sinuous mountain road or skimming over the freeway, of just how unfailingly polished and likable this little machine is.

Engineering alone can’t produce such mechanical harmony. The Mazda3 is the masterfully executed automobile it is thanks to an abiding understanding of art.

2017 Mazda3 5-Door Grand Touring Specifications

ON SALE Now
PRICE $24,730/$28,030 (base/as tested)
ENGINE 2.5L DOHC 16-valve I-4/184 hp @ 5,700 rpm, 185 lb-ft @ 3,250 rpm
TRANSMISSION 6-speed manual
LAYOUT 4-door, 5-passenger, front-engine, FWD hatchback
EPA MILEAGE 25/33 mpg (city/hwy)
L x W x H 175.6 x 70.7 x 57.3 in
WHEELBASE 106.3 in
WEIGHT 3,046 lb
0-60 MPH 7.5 sec
TOP SPEED 132 mph

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Mark Fields Made His Mark at Mazda, An Eyewitness Account http://www.automobilemag.com/news/mark-fields-made-mark-mazda-eye-witness-account/ http://www.automobilemag.com/news/mark-fields-made-mark-mazda-eye-witness-account/#respond Tue, 30 May 2017 17:39:05 +0000 http://www.automobilemag.com/?p=1164638 When Mark Fields heard he was to be ousted as Ford CEO after just three years, it must have seemed like deja vu all over again. Throughout his 28-year career at the Blue Oval, Dearborn had usually shuffled Fields on to new tasks in three years or less — before his efforts could fully bear...

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When Mark Fields heard he was to be ousted as Ford CEO after just three years, it must have seemed like deja vu all over again. Throughout his 28-year career at the Blue Oval, Dearborn had usually shuffled Fields on to new tasks in three years or less — before his efforts could fully bear fruit.

That three-year rotation cycle is typical at Ford, but it’s bizarre in an industry where almost any serious initiative usually takes five or more years to execute. That means no one sees complex projects to fruition, and no one sticks around to wear the rotten apples. It’s a fundamental flaw in Ford’s otherwise powerful system of long-term executive cultivation.

So when a guy like Fields is “retired early,” pundits struggle to evaluate his achievements, especially when the best of them were wrought in Japan, far from the spotlight of Detroit’s automotive media.

In 1999, Fields was just 38 when Ford dispatched him to Hiroshima to lead the turnaround of perennially ailing Mazda. Three years later he was transferred to London. What did Fields achieve in the interim?

As his speechwriter during most of that period I had a ringside seat, helping him craft his turnaround narrative. Where similar efforts in Dearborn would have involved a phalanx of flacks, in Hiroshima it was usually just Fields, Ford public relations staffer Simon Warr, and me. So there was no varnish on anything as I watched him pull off a miracle.

As I told him in our first meeting: “Mark, as a foreign CEO you’re like a prostate exam for the Japanese people. Right now, they know they need it for the sake of their own health. Still it’s a goddamn indignity to have someone shove a hand up your ass. Afterward you just want to forget it ever happened.”

When he heard that cheek Fields almost spat out his Diet Coke — luckily, for me, with laughter. “Can I use that?” he asked.

Successful turnarounds always have many moving parts, but two of his initiatives were critical.

First, he drastically overhauled Mazda’s hidebound human resources structure, green-lighting rising talent over seniority. To get people on board and raise morale, this was backed by extensive off-site meetings and other activities. I later asked a Mazda exec what she thought his greatest contribution was. Her answer was immediate: “Mark made us believe in ourselves again.”

Second was teaching Mazda how to aim — a task for which his marketing skills proved crucial. Mazda has always had brilliant engineers able to work magic with scant resources. But product development was hit and miss, with sensational cars like the Miata followed by duds like the 929 that were aimed at consumers who would never go near a Mazda dealer.

Fields focused on aligning all facets of Mazda operations on a closely observed spectrum of consumers in markets worldwide: mid-market Japan-brand buyers seeking more than just an automotive appliance by Toyota; a stylish ride with accelerators that delivered an endorphin rush. Or as Mazda’s U.S. ad agency interpreted the brief “Zoom-Zoom.”

Long-time Mazda staffers were baffled at first by this ad slogan, but once they caught on you could hear designers asking engineers, “How does that deliver Zoom-Zoom?” Mazda product development has been tightly aligned from engineering and design through marketing and sales ever since.

Contrary to conventional wisdom, Ford also came away strengthened by its decade-plus controlling Mazda. It was akin to the U.S. Navy capturing an intact Japanese battleship, codebooks included. Ford swarmed every nook and cranny of the company with hundreds of its best and brightest. Fields once told me how amazed he was the first time he saw MPVs and Miatas rolling down the same assembly line at Mazda’s Hofu plant.

That and many other Mazda tricks led Ford to rethink its manufacturing strategy worldwide. And although he promptly sold Mazda after taking the helm at Ford, then CEO Alan Mulally likely realized the value of the experience — as evidenced by his turnaround team chockablock with Mazda alumni, including Fields and his very able successor at Mazda, Lewis Booth.

Was Mazda’s revival all Fields’ doing? Of course not. Still, Fields was never going to get the credit he deserved for his efforts even if Ford had left him at the helm for another two years.

Resuscitating any large organization hinges on thousands of people pulling together. But leadership is critical nonetheless. And not only did I watch Fields deliver at Mazda, subsequent experience gave me a gold-standard benchmark against which to gauge his efforts. After Booth left Mazda, I went on to write for Carlos Ghosn through the latter stages of Nissan’s turnaround. Ghosn is every inch as awe-inspiring as his media legend, but Fields did not pale by comparison.

Immediately following his time at Mazda, Fields was named the head of Ford’s Premier Automotive Group (PAG), then the overseer of Volvo, Jaguar, Land Rover, Lincoln, and Aston Martin, where he focused on finding synergies among a potpourri of brands. As he memorably termed it at the time: “The aim is not to tame our brands. It’s to teach them to hunt as a pack, a pack backed by the global might of Ford.”

How much did Fields achieve at PAG? That’s hard to quantify since, true to form, Ford moved him back to Dearborn after three years, before the job was fully done. When asked by e-mail whether Fields had added value to his brand, Simon Sproule, chief marketing officer at Aston Martin (and back in the day Ghosn’s PR chief at Nissan), replied: “During Mark’s tenure leading PAG, Aston Martin created a new generation of products including the Vantage and DB9 that led to the highest sales years in the company’s history.”

The capping irony is that just as Fields joined Mulally’s turnaround team in Dearborn, the PAG brands were sold off along with Ford’s stake in Mazda. Not that it mattered once the value of Fields’ contribution to Ford’s rebound won him the brass ring: the throne vacated by Mulally. But now he’s out after three years.

I can’t wait to see where Fields goes next. He’s just 56, in good health, and never one to sit still. In a nation bereft of competent leaders, my own hope is that he’ll opt for public service, that the Rutgers grad will go home to Jersey and throw his hat in the political ring. There’s no clear leader in the race to replace Chris Christie as New Jersey governor. I say go for it!

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Interview: Jacques Flynn, Lead Designer for Mazda Design Americas http://www.automobilemag.com/news/interview-jacques-flynn-lead-designer-mazda-design-americas/ http://www.automobilemag.com/news/interview-jacques-flynn-lead-designer-mazda-design-americas/#respond Mon, 29 May 2017 07:01:23 +0000 http://www.automobilemag.com/?p=1159074 Jacques Flynn — born in France but raised in America, so he pronounces it “Jack” — is the lead designer for Mazda Design Americas. We sat down with him to discuss Mazda’s new MX-5 RF. Automobile Magazine: What was the reaction on a corporate level when you presented the design for the MX-5 RF because...

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Jacques Flynn — born in France but raised in America, so he pronounces it “Jack” — is the lead designer for Mazda Design Americas. We sat down with him to discuss Mazda’s new MX-5 RF.

Automobile Magazine: What was the reaction on a corporate level when you presented the design for the MX-5 RF because it was so radically different from the retractable hardtop?

JF: It was positive. Very positive. I think it may have caught a few people off guard, but a lot of people pushed for an MX-5 coupe, inside and outside the company. It was well received, especially when they saw what the vision was and how it could be interpreted. We knew we were going to do some sort of retractable hardtop, and we jumped on this idea of blending these two worlds. The 911 Targa came out a little bit before, and that made conversations with corporate that much easier. We said, “Look how stunning the car is, and we can do the same thing.”

AM: Why such a big change from the previous car?

JF: The third-gen car was our first retractable hardtop. It was a great measure to see what we could achieve, especially from a cost standpoint. That was a huge learning curve with that car, to be able to offer something like that for very little money. But it didn’t feel like a coupe to me. It had all the positives of a retractable hardtop, but when you step back, you say, “That’s a convertible.” This car, from a hundred yards away, it’s a coupe. It’s got all the right elements.

2017-Mazda-MX-5-Miata-RF-side-profile-top-down
Mazda’s $32,390 MX-5 RF hardtop puts a smile on enthusiasts’ mugs

AM: What were some of your design themes and influences?

JF: Simplicity, really, which comes from the original MX-5 with the soft top. I had the pleasure of working on that car, and there was attention to priority. Get that proportion just right. Get the surfacing just right so that it supports this proportion. So going into the hardtop, it was that same thing: The proportions have to match the rest of the car. If we’re trying to do the coupe thing, what do we really want? Pull the cabin farther back, stretch the C-pillar as far back as possible. The surfacing on the hardtop as well—we didn’t want it to feel like engineers developed the top and just stuck it on. It needed to feel integrated and very fluid. If you look at the surfacing of the top, the rail into the C-pillar, it’s very subtle. We looked at lots of classic sports cars, old Ferraris, some of my favorites like the 250 SWB, where the cabin is pulled far back in the car. The Miata is so well balanced, so we tried to make it feel even more rear-wheel drive while not tipping the scale to where we’ve got too much weight on the rear. You now have this nice tension over the rear header with the C-pillar pulled all the way back. It feels like there’s way more energy and power at the rear wheels compared to the softtop.

AM:What were some of the engineering challenges?

JF: We wanted this very coupe-like profile with a long C-pillar. But then when the top’s folded down, where does that go? We worked with engineering from the very beginning to get the top folded up without so many shut lines. The more shut lines you’ve got, the more it disrupts the design. We were able to design those lines. If you look at the way the C-pillars land on the decklid, it’s got a nice line that resonates really well with the hoodline. I think that was the biggest accomplishment with design and engineering. The engineers at Mazda are so supportive. If we do something and we’re dead set on it, they’ll figure it out. They’re brilliant.

2017-Mazda-MX-5-Miata-RF-front-three-quarter-02

AM: Which cars influenced your own sense of design?

JF: The 1960s and 1970s were the heyday for car design. I like the classic silhouette of some of the front-engine Ferraris. I own a Volvo P1800. I also really love the whole wedge design thing that was going on, like the early Lamborghini Countach, the Ferrari wedge design, the Lancia Stratos concept that Bertone did. The excitement of those early wedge designs that Gandini and those guys were playing with are undeniably some of the coolest stuff. The Lamborghini LP400 “Periscopio,” it’s a spaceship, you know? It’s a spaceship, and they built it! You could buy one. And that’s bananas.

AM: When you drive an MX-5 RF, do you go top down or top up?

JF: Top up. I’d almost glue it shut! I’m all for convertibles, but I’ve been screaming coupe forever, so it’s top up all the way.

AM: Does it bother you to see one with the top down?

JF: No, because usually there’s a giant smile on the driver’s face.

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Mazda Introduces Exclusive-to-Japan CX-8 Crossover http://www.automobilemag.com/news/three-row-mazda-cx-8-crossover-announced-japan/ http://www.automobilemag.com/news/three-row-mazda-cx-8-crossover-announced-japan/#respond Fri, 28 Apr 2017 21:00:56 +0000 http://www.automobilemag.com/?p=1157469 Mazda has cooked up a new crossover for the Japanese market called the CX-8. The three-row CUV will be smaller than the CX-9 (pictured below) we have here to better fit Japanese roads. Mazda has so far only revealed the crossover’s interior, but the automaker does give a few specs about this Japan-only model. Mazda says...

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Mazda has cooked up a new crossover for the Japanese market called the CX-8. The three-row CUV will be smaller than the CX-9 (pictured below) we have here to better fit Japanese roads. Mazda has so far only revealed the crossover’s interior, but the automaker does give a few specs about this Japan-only model.

Mazda says the CX-8 was designed specifically to suit the Japanese market and is for customers who need more than five seats. The automaker also states that the CX-8 will be the flagship of its crossover lineup in Japan, as the CX-9 isn’t sold there. The CX-8 measures roughly 193 inches long, 72.4 inches wide, and 68.1 inches tall, with a wheelbase that’s 115.3 inches long. Those dimensions make the CX-8 about as wide as the new CX-5 with a wheelbase that’s identical to the CX-9’s. The CX-8 is 6.4 inches shorter in length than the CX-9 and 4.8 inches narrower. The CX-8 will offer seating for six or seven passengers, depending on the configuration.

“It has the looks, performance, and high-end feel customers expect from a Mazda, and even adults can sit comfortably in the third row,” said Mazda president and CEO Masamichi Kogai, in a release. “Mazda aims to create a strong emotional connection with customers, and we will achieve this by continually advancing our lineup to offer all customers our unique combination of driving pleasure and outstanding environmental and safety performance.”

The CX-8 will be powered by Mazda’s 2.2-liter Skyactiv-D turbodiesel engine, which will be mated to a six-speed automatic transmission. Mazda is set to finally bring its diesel engine to the U.S. in the CX-5 later this year, but don’t expect the CX-8 to be brought over as well since we already have the larger three-row CX-9. We still don’t know what the CX-8 looks like, but Mazda says the crossover will incorporate its Kodo design language.

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Mazda Miata Turbo Kit Increases Output to 248 Horsepower http://www.automobilemag.com/news/mazda-miata-turbo-kit-brings-output-248-hp/ http://www.automobilemag.com/news/mazda-miata-turbo-kit-brings-output-248-hp/#respond Fri, 21 Apr 2017 19:30:27 +0000 http://www.automobilemag.com/?p=1153381 The small and nimble Miata may not need extra power, but a new turbo kit from BBR has captured our attention. The Mazda tuning specialist has created a Stage 1 turbocharger package for the ND-generation MX-5, promising to squeeze 248 hp and 236 lb-ft of torque from the car’s 2.0-liter engine. BBR says the upgrade...

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The small and nimble Miata may not need extra power, but a new turbo kit from BBR has captured our attention. The Mazda tuning specialist has created a Stage 1 turbocharger package for the ND-generation MX-5, promising to squeeze 248 hp and 236 lb-ft of torque from the car’s 2.0-liter engine.

BBR says the upgrade slashes the Miata’s 0-60 time to just 5 seconds, with a top speed limited to 155 mph. That’s significantly quicker than the standard model.

The Mazda Miata turbo kit includes a new twin-scroll turbocharger that mounts onto a bespoke BBR cast-iron twin-scroll manifold. Other components include a carbon fiber turbocharger heat shield, a discretely placed high-flow K&N induction system, and a Starchip/EcuTek RaceRom ECU software package, which revises fuel, ignition, and boost calibration for better performance. Many components including the boost hoses and replacement battery tray are finished in black to look like factory-spec parts.

BBR Mazda MX 5 ND Stage 1 Turbo underbonnet

When BBR began experimenting with a new forced induction package for the Miata back in 2014, it initially considered supercharging and single scroll turbochargers. Ultimately, a twin-scroll turbocharger was deemed the most fitting way to increase power in the Miata, proving highly efficient and responsive while retaining a large boost upgrade margin for later power stages.

“Having rejected all other forced induction methods, our extensive dyno and road testing has proven that our choice of a low-back pressure twin-scroll turbocharger, with its enhanced exhaust scavenging ability, is the optimal solution,” said BBR’s Neil Mckay in a press release. “It works harmoniously with the original SKYACTIV-G layout and knock-resistant technologies, as is evident by the impressive power figures achieved at very modest boost pressures.”

BBR Mazda MX 5 ND Stage 1 Turbo Power Curve

Available on newer Miatas, including the latest RF, the package is now on sale globally. In the U.S., it can be purchased from Flyin’ Miata, BBR’s exclusive distributor in the country. On Flyin’ Miata’s website, the price of the kit is listed at $5,695 and gains of “at least 70 hp and 70 lb-ft” are promised using a stock exhaust system. CARB approval, however, is still in progress.

BBR Mazda MX 5 Stage 1 Turbo static

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Just Listed: One Owner, Low-Mileage 1991 Mazda Miata SE with Turbo Kit http://www.automobilemag.com/news/just-listed-one-owner-low-mileage-1991-mazda-miata-se-turbo-kit/ http://www.automobilemag.com/news/just-listed-one-owner-low-mileage-1991-mazda-miata-se-turbo-kit/#respond Fri, 07 Apr 2017 23:57:14 +0000 http://www.automobilemag.com/?p=1148639 Tired of your mint-condition MGB or Alfa Spider coughing-up oil every time you go for a short drive? Grab an NA Miata – you’ll thank us later. Compared to the roadsters of yore, Miatas are reliable, quick, and handsome little runabouts. Just your luck – Bring a Trailer’s got a perfect one-owner 1991 Mazda Miata...

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Tired of your mint-condition MGB or Alfa Spider coughing-up oil every time you go for a short drive? Grab an NA Miata – you’ll thank us later. Compared to the roadsters of yore, Miatas are reliable, quick, and handsome little runabouts. Just your luck – Bring a Trailer’s got a perfect one-owner 1991 Mazda Miata SE up for grabs, if you don’t mind a few tasteful modifications.

While you won’t have trouble finding a decent NA on Craigslist or eBay, it’s rare to come across a very well-presented and cared-for car like this one. Presented in wonderfully apropos British Racing Green, the car is packed with sorts of goodies. It’s stayed with its original owner all these years, accruing only 41,000 miles in the process.

The car comes with a very rare color-matched factory hard top, giving owners the choice of driving in inclement weather. It’s equipped with the desirable Special Edition package, an option group that includes a limited slip differential, tan leather, cruise control, A/C, upgraded Polk Audio speakers, and wooden Nardi shifter and handbrake handle. The seats might need some attention, as the car comes with thick sheepskin covers over both thrones.

The stock 1.6-liter was upgraded with a contemporary Bell Engineering turbo kit around 14,000 miles, giving the little car a much-needed power upgrade. The kit includes a front-mount intercooler, high-pressure fuel pump, MSD boost controller, and a Borla exhaust system, so it wouldn’t be too difficult to revert to stock, if desired. No power figures are presented, but it’s a low-pressure setup, said to be putting down no more than six pounds of boost.

Aside from classic gold BBS 14-inch wheels, stiffer stabilizer bar, and aftermarket bushings, the chassis remains stock. Buyers will receive a trove of extras, including golf bag rack, hardtop stand, front bra, Hella headlamps, factory wheels, and OEM components removed for the installation of the turbo kit.

Miatas are usually cheap and cheerful, but it looks like this Miata’s buyer is just getting the “cheerful” portion. As of this writing, bidding has risen to $7,000 with five days left on the bid clock. Considering the color, condition, and modifications, expect prices to climb over the five-figure mark.

Head over to Bring a Trailer to bid on this ultra-clean 1991 Mazda Miata SE.

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Four Seasons 2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata Club Wrap-Up http://www.automobilemag.com/news/four-seasons-2016-mazda-mx-5-miata-club-wrap-up/ http://www.automobilemag.com/news/four-seasons-2016-mazda-mx-5-miata-club-wrap-up/#respond Tue, 28 Mar 2017 11:00:04 +0000 http://www.automobilemag.com/?p=1135884 We’ve reached a crossroads where two decidedly different sports cars are at a standoff over which has the right of way. Will the autonomous system guiding the tech-laden, EV-boosted model engage polite mode and let the visceral, highly analog machine proceed first? Or will this be the last intersection for a car that actually needs...

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We’ve reached a crossroads where two decidedly different sports cars are at a standoff over which has the right of way. Will the autonomous system guiding the tech-laden, EV-boosted model engage polite mode and let the visceral, highly analog machine proceed first? Or will this be the last intersection for a car that actually needs a human to turn the wheel and push the pedals?

The old-school-flavored, drive-it-yourself ride in question is a lightweight, minimalist ragtop with rear-wheel drive. It has no advanced self-driving gadgetry, and its drivers need not waste their time dialing in fancy electronic chassis and throttle settings. It came, we think, with the correct setup from the Hiroshima factory where it rolled off the line. It’s a car we’ve been thrilled with since the original made its debut in 1989: the Mazda Miata.

When Mazda announced to the world that the all-new fourth-generation MX-5 would be lighter and closer to the original’s character, we knew we wanted to perform a long-term evaluation, even more so after we dubbed it a 2016 All-Star. So we requested a $29,420 MX-5 Club edition to join the Four Seasons fleet. The only Miata trim level that comes with the sport-tuned suspension, the Club also features Bilstein shocks and a limited-slip differential, along with a front air dam, rear lip spoiler and bumper skirt, and side sill extensions. Naturally, we couldn’t resist adding the Brembo/BBS package to the mix ($3,400), with the former’s front calipers and rotors and the latter’s 17-inch forged dark aluminum wheels. An advanced keyless system is added on for good measure.

2016 Mazda MX 5 Miata Club rear three quarter in motion 07

With minus 150 pounds of lightness added (as Colin Chapman would’ve put it) versus the outgoing third-generation model, our 2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata remains only adequately quick in a straight line, though to channel Lotus founder Chapman again, it’s quick everywhere else, too. Much like the previous three generations, it yaws at turn-in and then stiffens as the tires hold grip. The tail will predictably help speed you through the corners if you use enough throttle or lift at the right time.

“Alive is how I would describe the Miata’s steering,” road test editor Eric Weiner said. “It just tells you everything you need to know. Paired with slight body roll, the Miata is never short on engaging communication.”

Although others agreed with Weiner on the steering feel, the car’s overall ride/handling has been described by some on staff as having tons of body roll.

“I don’t like the amount of it you get when you corner hard,” executive editor Mac Morrison added. “The car is fun to drive regardless, but I would much prefer a more aggressive feel.” Our 6-foot-1-inch executive editor also wanted a seat height adjustment beyond the progressive fore-aft track that lowers as you move the seat back. Associate editor Jonathon Klein, at 6 feet 4 inches tall, said the car is crying out for a telescopic steering wheel.

Although it’s rated at just 155 horsepower, there are only 2,312 pounds of car to motivate. And though there were predictable pleas for more power, many declared the MX-5 to be as close to perfect as any sports car on sale. The power it does have is almost perfectly distributed. This is a car that’s about balance in every sense of the word.

2017 Fiat Spider Abarth vs 2016 Mazda MX 5 Miata Club 29

Not surprisingly, editors loved driving the Miata Club, especially with the top down on twisty canyon roads during a weekend getaway or on their favorite highway on/off-ramps, adding some spice to an otherwise boring, traffic choked daily L.A. commute. We drove it back to back along with the latest Volkswagen GTI, another perennial Automobile favorite, at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. We also drove it alongside the new Fiat 124 Spider Abarth on the twisty, empty Highway 58 in Central California.

Daily news editor Conner Golden spent some quality time in the MX-5, running it down to San Diego for his grandmother’s 90th birthday. “Especially in person, you notice how tiny the Miata is,” Golden said. “I didn’t pack lightly, carrying along a full-size rolling suitcase, stuffed backpack, and heavy coat. Luckily, the canvas roof occupies a very modest share of real estate, and the relatively snug 4.6 cubic feet of cargo space was just enough to swallow my luggage perfectly.”

By far our biggest trip in the Miata, however, was a cross-country jaunt by yours truly from our SoCal HQ back to our Detroit office, mostly along Interstate 80.

If you’re a couple who likes to take your sports car on longer trips, try fitted luggage, which my wife and I have used to great effect with our personal third-gen Miata. I borrowed the two larger bags for the three-day trip to Motown and had space left for my bike-messenger bag. As many of the car’s miles were short open-top blasts in and around L.A., the Four Seasons Miata barely had 9,000 miles on the clock when features editor Rory Jurnecka turned the keys over to me on the west end of Highway 58.

I drove it roughly 2,500 miles during the trip, and with less than three months remaining, the Detroit bureau team added another 7,500 or so. We (reluctantly) returned the car with 19,484 miles on the odometer.

On top of scheduled maintenance, we spent $79.38 on a window chip repair and $595 on a Flyin’ Miata Hush-O-Matic, a throaty-sounding active exhaust that offers no performance improvements. Editors in the El Segundo HQ were a bit embarrassed by its volume, while the apparently more boisterous Metro Detroit office enjoyed its manlier note.

One of the last cars available at any price to offer all the charm and driving pleasure without oil leaks and electrical gremlins of yore.

We heard that some early owners of the new Miata were having issues with second and third gear, and indeed one we know received a technical service bulletin for his personal car. The dealer kept his MX-5 a few days to install a revised gearbox. However, we received no TSB and had no issues even after tracking the car twice.

2016 Mazda MX 5 Miata Club rear three quarter in motion 05

In fact, we had virtually no problems with the Miata. “It’s been a total peach since day one,” reported Weiner just before we turned it in. “It feels as tight as the day we got it, the only blemish being the windshield chip fixed by Safelite, which apparently didn’t take.”

Although some younger staffers missed the navigation system and blind-spot warning indicators that come with the top-trim Grand Touring model, others regretted the electronic gizmos that did come with the Miata Club, such as the big center-screen control button in the center console, which is easy to brush when shifting gears. We want third, not a different radio station.

But that’s kibitzing over one of the last cars available at any price to offer all the charm and driving pleasure of a small, well-balanced, rear-drive, two-seat roadster without oil leaks and electrical gremlins of yore and the soul-sucking autonomous electric gadgetry that’s proliferating today. When we first took possession of our 2016 Mazda MX-5 Club, we asked, “Is the Miata always the answer?” For us lucky few, it is indeed the solution to all that.

Pros & Cons

+ Handling and ride
+ Communicative chassis and steering
+ Simple and easy to drive fast
– Equipment limitations among three trim levels
– Center-screen control knob gets in the way of shifting
– Could always use more power

2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata Club Running Costs

Mileage
19,484 miles
Warranty
3-yr/36,000-mi bumper-to-bumper
5-yr/60,000-mi powertrain
24-hour roadside assistance
Scheduled Maintenance
16,880 mi: Lube, oil, and filter, $63.83; rotate tires, $22.95; 14-point inspection, $8.28
Warranty Repairs
None
Recalls
None
Out-Of-Pocket
1,509 mi: Repair stone chip in windshield with Safelite, $79.38
6,500 mi: Add Flyin’ Miata Hush-O-Matic exhaust, $595
Fuel Consumption:
EPA city/highway/combined: 20/26/22 mpg
Observed:
30.5 mpg
Cost Per Mile
(Fuel, service): $0.10
($0.46 including depreciation)
Trade-In Value
$25,828
*Estimate based on information from Intellichoice

Our Test Results
0–60 mph 6.0 sec
60-0 mph 107 ft
1/4–mile 14.6 sec @ 94.0 mph
Skidpad 0.95 g

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Mazda Motorsports Adds Factory Hardtop for MX-5 Miata Cup Racers http://www.automobilemag.com/news/mazda-motorsports-adds-factory-hardtop-club-racers/ http://www.automobilemag.com/news/mazda-motorsports-adds-factory-hardtop-club-racers/#respond Wed, 22 Mar 2017 00:08:25 +0000 http://www.automobilemag.com/?p=1138100 Do you like to race your Mazda Miata professionally? Good news for you — Mazda Motorsports is now offering a factory-approved hardtop for its MX-5 Global Cup race car. It was designed for MX-5 Cup owners wishing to compete in series that require a factory-approved hardtop like the Pirelli World Challenge. Mazda says the new top retails for $4,420....

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Do you like to race your Mazda Miata professionally? Good news for you — Mazda Motorsports is now offering a factory-approved hardtop for its MX-5 Global Cup race car.

It was designed for MX-5 Cup owners wishing to compete in series that require a factory-approved hardtop like the Pirelli World Challenge. Mazda says the new top retails for $4,420.

“While our first year was spent concentrating on the successful launch of the MX-5 Cup car in our Battery Tender Global Mazda MX-5 Cup presented by BFGoodrich Tires, we knew that was just one arena for customers,” said David Cook, Mazda Motorsports business development manager, in a statement.

“Now with an available hardtop, Mazda racers can compete in SCCA and NASA Club Racing and in the Pirelli World Challenge TCA class.”

Orders are currently being accepted exclusively through Mazda Motorsports from owners and racers who have committed to purchasing an MX-5 Global Cup race car.

Mazda says that deliveries will begin in April. Check out www.mazdamotorsports.com for more details.

2016 Mazda MX 5 Miata Cup car Laguna Seca

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First Drive: 2017 Mazda6 Grand Touring http://www.automobilemag.com/news/2017-mazda6-grand-touring-first-drive-review/ http://www.automobilemag.com/news/2017-mazda6-grand-touring-first-drive-review/#respond Thu, 16 Mar 2017 11:00:30 +0000 http://www.automobilemag.com/?p=1134953 The driver’s midsize sedan

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You’re forgiven if you consider the midsize sedan to be the automotive equivalent of the dishwasher. After all, the utilitarian segment is known better for its ability to handle the demands of everyday life than the demands of a twisty canyon road. But not all is bleak for single 20-somethings outgrowing their Mazda3 hatchbacks by becoming married 30-somethings. The 2017 Mazda6 offers plenty of space for the demands of a growing family without making the family’s primary members feel like they’re giving up.

First, the 6’s qualifications for being a good midsize sedan: seating for five with enough space for a 6-foot-3-inch passenger to sit behind a 6’3” driver. The 6 boasts 38.7 inches of rear leg room, 0.2-inch less than a Toyota Camry and 1.2-inches less than the cavernous Volkswagen Passat, almost enough headroom for that rear passenger to not rub their hair on the headliner, and a big-enough trunk for a young family to easily bring what they need for a weekend getaway. (The 6 offers 14.8 cubic feet of cargo space, 0.6 fewer than the Camry and 1.1 fewer than the Passat). Further, noise is limited to what comes through the tires and the ride is smooth, though somewhat firmer than most buyers in the segment expect. The latter is no surprise for a Mazda, as the company continues to infuse its offerings with a splash of fun-to-drive character.

2017 Mazda6 Grand Touring rear end

Of course, if you’re reading this, you’re probably not a typical midsize customer and welcome the firmer ride and more dynamic behaviors that tend to come with the territory. The sportier suspension means less body roll and improved cornering control on interchange ramps and mountain roads alike, while the precise and responsive steering, which offers just the right amount of weight and resistance, will keep you confident you’re pointing the wheels in the right direction.

Part of the smile-inducing manners comes from the new-for-2017 G-Vectoring Control technology, which measures throttle inputs and steering-angle sensors — “among other things,” per Mazda — and when it deems necessary, retards spark to create the equivalent of eight pounds of engine braking pressure on the front end to increase the contact patch, improving steering stability and turn-in feel.

Mazda says the behavior will “largely go unnoticed.” Though it’s impossible to determine how significant the benefit to handling feel is without having a similarly-equipped 2016 6 on hand, one thing is certain: the handling feel of the 2017 6 is quite good. Even if you’re just navigating traffic, giving the wheel a tug to change lanes is a smile-inducing affair. “That felt good” or something to that effect will flash through your mind as your lips form a smile once you complete your maneuver.

Because of the 6’s dynamic nature, the normally vestigial shift paddles are actually worth using. Or the manual shift gate, if you prefer that; in traditional Mazda fashion, it uses a pull back/push forward configuration. Either way, the 2.5-liter I-4 works best when the transmission is in the gear you want it to be in rather than the gear it thinks you want it to be in. The engine makes good use of its 184 hp and 185 lb-ft of torque, but with 3,304 pounds of car to pull, acceleration can hardly be described as spry, with the 6 needing 7.9 seconds to hit 60 mph. Once going, it will regain scrubbed speed fairly quickly, but even in the more-aggressively shifting Sport mode, you may miss that opening in traffic if you didn’t pre-select the right gear.

2017 Mazda6 Grand Touring rear three quarter

When you shift yourself, the automatic holds gears to the rev limiter instead of upshifting for you, and downshifts as you decelerate. It’s an enjoyable configuration, but the Mazda6 might be even more fun with a manual, which is available on the lower Sport and Touring trims.

The strongest selling point of the Grand Touring trim is the active safety package, which includes the usual alphabet soup of crash avoidance systems — blind-spot monitoring, lane-keep assist, rear cross-traffic alert, adaptive front lighting with high-beam control, and active cruise control. It also boasts a pair of pre-crash systems called “Smart City Brake Support,” which uses a windshield-mounted laser and automatically brakes at speeds below 20 mph if it believes a collision is impending, and “Smart Brake Support,” which uses the same millimeter-wave radar as the active cruise control and intervenes at speeds up to 90 mph, first by alerting the driver, then by applying the brakes.

If safety is a primary concern, it’s all great stuff to have except for one glaring flaw: the adaptive cruise control cuts out once you slow to 15 mph, leaving you at the mercy of the laws of physics, which will send you slowly coasting into the car in front unless you’re paying close attention. If you’re eyeing a car with ACC to make your commute less painful, decide accordingly. That said, Mazda is rolling out a full stop-capable adaptive cruise control system starting with the 2017 CX-5. We’ll be surprised not to see it show up on the 2018 6.

2017 Mazda6 Grand Touring side

Another cool bit of Grand Touring-only tech is the head-up display. It shows information like speed, adaptive cruise control settings, navigation directions, speed limits, and other safety alerts. We’d add a gear indicator to that mix to make the HUD more useful during spirited driving. It’s a neat piece of tech to have, but hardly special enough to be dealmaker or breaker.

Our tester also came with the $2,500 Grand Touring Premium Package, a mostly cosmetic equipment group that adds Nappa leather-trimmed upholstery, heated steering wheel and rear seats, a black headliner, bright finish interior trim, LED accent lighting for the shifter, and active grille shutters. Oh, and Mazda’s i-ELOOP kinetic energy recovery system — aka KERS for you Formula 1 fans. The system uses an electric double-layer capacitor to capture recovered energy during braking and supplies electric power to the car during acceleration instead of using the battery. As cool as the concept sounds, the practical benefit is a nearly negligible, additional 1 mpg city. But hey, Nappa leather!

In all, the 2017 Mazda6 Grand Touring is a tech-rich offering that will satisfy most enthusiastic buyers in need of a family sedan, but with a base price of $31,570 its not a budget offering. (Our tester rang in at $34,530 including the premium package, $125 door sill trim plates, $75 cargo mat, and $300 for the Soul Red Paint). Those willing to sacrifice some tech and comforts like a Bose Stereo, moonroof, and leather upholstery in exchange for an even more-involving driving experience should opt for the $25,370 Mazda6 Touring with a six-speed manual gearbox. You still get the 19-inch wheels, keyless entry, and blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, and smart city brake support systems while gaining a third pedal. Sure, you have to make do with mere leatherette upholstery, but it’s the one we’d get if we needed a midsize sedan but still had to scratch an itch to drive, using the money saved to buy a cheap Miata (what else?) for track use.

2017 Mazda6 I Grand Touring Specifications

ON SALE Now
PRICE $31,570/$34,530 (base) (as tested)
ENGINE 2.5L DOHC 16-valve I-4/184 hp @ 5,700 rpm, 185 lb-ft @ 3,250 rpm
TRANSMISSION 6-speed automatic
LAYOUT 4-door, 5-passenger, front-engine, FWD sedan
EPA MILEAGE 27/35 mpg city/hwy
L X W X H 191.5 x 72.4 x 57.1 in
WHEELBASE 111.4 in
WEIGHT 3,305 lb
0-60 MPH 7.9 sec
TOP SPEED N/A

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First Drive: 2017 Mazda MX-5 Miata RF http://www.automobilemag.com/news/2017-mazda-mx-5-miata-rf-first-drive-review/ http://www.automobilemag.com/news/2017-mazda-mx-5-miata-rf-first-drive-review/#respond Mon, 13 Mar 2017 07:02:06 +0000 http://www.automobilemag.com/?p=1130848 Retractable Fastback provides a more premium Miata experience

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SAN DIEGO, California—The 2017 Mazda MX-5 Miata RF is not the first hardtop convertible Miata, but it is the first one to feature the sweet buttresses that, when the top retracts, provide the appearance of a targa top instead of a typical roadster.

Mazda developed the Retractable Fastback to preserve the Miata’s already minimal trunk space, which would be impacted considerably if a traditional convertible hard top, like that of the NC-generation Miata PRHT’s, was used, due to the new ND Miata’s smaller size. Instead, the RF loses just 0.11 cubic feet of cargo space, so there’s still enough room in the back for a duffel bag.

Top operation is quick and simple. Hold the center console-mounted switch up to open the top and down to close. Operation takes just 13 seconds and can happen at speeds up to 6 mph.

The tradeoff? An extra 113 pounds. A 4.8-percent increase in weight is not insignificant, but it’s also not that noticeable unless you’re trying to set records around an autocross course. The top is actually slightly heavier than 113 pounds, but Mazda drilled several holes into the underbody-tunnel member to save some weight. On the plus side, the RF offers true 50/50 weight distribution when equipped with a manual versus the soft-top ND’s 53/47 (automatic RFs split the weight 51/49).

2017 Mazda MX 5 Miata RF interior top view 02

Another downside is that despite being 0.2-inch taller than a 17-inch wheel-equipped soft-top, the RF has 0.6-inch less headroom. Taller folk will feel the reduction in headroom, as there’s not that much to begin with. The reduction is due to the hard-top’s sound-absorbing headliner, which does the job it is intended to do quite well. The interior is substantially lower than the soft-top’s, and holding a conversation does not require elevation of voice volumes.

With the roof down, the RF feels much like a typical roadster — just one that happens to have a B-pillar, so there’s a slight blind spot. Wind buffeting is minimal because the rear glass folds with the roof, creating an opening for air to pass through.

Aside from the top, the RF receives a 4.6-inch color screen on the left side of the gauge cluster instead of a black-and-white one. Given that the RF is only offered in the higher-level Club and Grand Touring trims, this touch helps accentuate the RF’s more premium positioning, especially in Grand Touring.

2017 Mazda MX 5 Miata RF interior 02

To the surprise of nobody, the Miata RF drives just like a Miata. The 155-horsepower naturally aspirated 2.0-liter is just as responsive and peppy, shifts are just as short and quick, steering is just as responsive and direct, and handling is just as controlled and predictable. RF Club versions, especially those equipped with the $3,400 Brembo/BBS package, will be sharper than the Grand Touring we sampled in the south San Diego County countryside, but no Miata fan short of the most hardcore autocrossser will be disappointed.

Of course, the few autocrossers out there that are looking to buy a new Miata (they prefer the cheap NA/NB route) left the building as soon as they heard the phrase “extra weight,” which is fine as the Miata RF is not meant for them anyway. The typical new Miata buyer is far from the youthful enthusiast typically associated with the name; in fact, the median age is 60. That mature customer will have a greater appreciation for the extra creature comforts of the hard-roof version, especially during inclement weather, and for many of them, a hard top simply won’t do. The Miata RF should help Mazda recapture those customers, although it’s likely to send the median age even closer to social security eligibility.

2017 Mazda MX 5 Miata RF front three quarter in motion 11

That mature customer is also going to be far more willing to pay for the privilege of the RF’s hard top, which costs an extra $2,755 for the Miata Club and $2,555 for the Grand Touring. For that, they’ll get the same wonderful Miata driving experience we’ve come to expect without any of the comfort sacrifices made by choosing a soft top. And, at least in the eyes of some, they’ll be enjoying a better-looking ride as well.

2017 Mazda MX-5 Miata RF Specifications

ON SALE Now
PRICE $32,390 (base)
ENGINE 2.0L DOHC 16-valve I-4/155 hp @ 6,000 rpm, 148 lb-ft @ 4,600 rpm
TRANSMISSION 6-speed manual or automatic
LAYOUT 2-door, 2-passenger, front-engine, RWD convertible
EPA MILEAGE 26/33-35 mpg (city/hwy)
L x W x H 154.1 x 68.3 x 49.0 in
WHEELBASE 90.9 in
WEIGHT 2,445-2,485 lb
0-60 MPH 5.8 sec (est)
TOP SPEED 125 mph (est)

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