By John LeBlanc for MSN Autos Canada
Japan’s Mazda unveiled the hatchback version of its Mazda 3 this week in New York. A perennial best seller, the compact is the most important model in the automaker’s lineup. And if first appearances are correct, Mazda has not held back on any front to make the new 2014 a class-leader.
By Mark Atkinson for MSN Autos
Earlier this week, we previewed the inaugural Mazda Adventure Rally, a two-day two-state long-distance media event that served two purposes: a chance to put in tonnes of seat time in the new 2014 CX-5 and revised CX-9 SUVs and the opportunity to win up to $10,000 to be donated to the charity of our choice.
While the full write-up with more detailed stories will be forthcoming soon, we've put at least a few thoughts down here, along with a few photos to whet the appetite.
The event started in Boulder, CO and ended in Sunshine, UT - home of the eponymous film festival - with an overnight in Telluride, CO splitting the two. In between were 10-hour driving days filled with some of the most entertaining and challenging roads and off-road trails we'd ever experienced, along with awe-inspiring scenery and locales that simply defy description.
Highlights on the first day included climbing to nearly 12,000 ft at the Loveland Pass along the continental divide, and the Ophir Pass, which although not quite as high was far more difficult to ascend. On the way up, the single-track is mainly gravel but was relatively tree-covered; the way down is called a shelf road, which is exactly what it sounds like - an extremely narrow shelf cut into the mountainside with thousand-foot drop-offs only a few centimeters away from the edge. Guardrails? Hah. No guardrails.
Once in Utah, the alien Mars-scape of the off-road trails around Moab proved tricky and challenging, and the Pucker Pass did live up to its name thanks to some poorly-located sand near the top of an incredibly steep ascent. And the unimpeded views of the state's majesty from the top of Dead Horse Point make any description inadequate.
Through it all, the CX-5 and CX-9 proved near-perfect travel companions, although the altitude did mean both were left gasping for breath in the thin air. Using some quick math, the 184-horsepower 2.5-litre SKYACTIV four-cylinder in the former is only able to produce about 120 of them at that level of elevation. The 3.7-litre V6 in the larger CX-9 proved equally handicapped, but since we used it during the second day in Utah where the peak altitude was closer to 7,000 ft, it was less noticeable.
Although we'll get into a better explanation of the hows and whys, after the first day, we were sitting dead-last amongst 10 teams. Never an ideal situation, although it mainly had to do with time penalties taken while trying to 'go-big-or-go-home' during the second challenge regarding hitting the highest and lowest altitude along the route... Day 2 saw us knuckle down with a pretty simple goal: not to finish dead-last. And that's pretty much what we did, with an official result of eighth place, along with the 'Sir Edmund Hillary' award for our attempted climb into the stratosphere.
The winners were a team from Vancouver that included Alexandra Straub and Zac Spencer of Driving Television, netting the full $10,000 for Kidsport. Mazda also surprised everyone by also including awards for second- and third-place ($2,000 and $1,000 respectively), which went to teams from Carpages.ca and AutoGuide.com.
Congrats to everyone involved, and another big thanks to Mazda Canada and their partners at Vehicle Dynamics Group who organized the whole event. If we're invited back for next year, you can bet we'll be shooting for gold!
Generally, the summer months are pretty slow for new-vehicle introductions, so car companies have to go to pretty big lengths in order to keep their products in people's minds. Mazda's latest is called the Mazda Adventure Rally, a two-day event for media members to put their rally skills to the challenge.
Amazingly, Mazda has kept most of the details under wraps in the lead-up to the event, which runs June 11-12. There have been 10 teams invited, and we've been warned to expect nine-hour driving days along some pretty challenging terrain. The rally starts in Boulder, CO and finishes in Salt Lake City, UT, but what happens in between, who knows?
We'll be driving examples of Mazda's compact CX-5 and revised CX-9 crossovers, and judging by the preview photo we were provided, they'll certainly be put to the test.
The best part? The winning team - and there will be a winner - gets $10,000 from Mazda to donate to the charity of their choice. MSN Autos will be running in support of the Autism Society of Canada, should we win.
We'll do our best to update our results and any updates along the way.
By John LeBlanc for MSN Autos
As the old marketing axiom goes, it costs a lot less to keep a customer than win a new one, and America’s Ford continues to lead in keeping its customers coming back to its showrooms.
According to the U.S.-based Polk research firm, for the fist three months of 2013, Ford continues to win back customers with a brand loyalty rate of 65.1 per cent among new vehicle owners — the best in the industry. Toyota ranked second at 58.5 per cent, with Honda coming in third spot with a 57 per cent score. Chevrolet (56.2 per cent), and Mercedes-Benz and Nissan (tied at 55.9 per cent) rounded out the top six brands.
There always has to be losers in these types of reports. And sitting at the bottom of the surveyed brands was Mazda at 37 per cent. However, that’s a 7.8 per cent improvement from Polk’s rating from the first quarter of 2012.
By Mark Atkinson for MSN Autos
And the Ganassi Racing powerhouse wins once again. The undisputed heavyweight champion of the Grand-Am sports-car world put on a clinic of hard and clean driving, working your plan and the benefits of intense pre-race preparation. When the team's lead car crossed the finish line at 3:30 pm local time at Daytona International Speedway, it cemented its reputation as the winningest team in decades. This year's Daytona 24 win was CGR's fifth out of 10 attempts, and lead driver Scott Pruett's fifth overall victory, a feat that ties him with legendary Porsche driver Hurley Haywood.
Pruett's Daytona teammate Juan Pablo Montoya was tasked with bringing the 01 BMW-powered Riley home during the final stint, and did so despite mounting pressure from second-placed Max Angelelli in a Corvette DP. Montoya's gap over Angellelli was about 22 seconds at the end of 24 hours (plus one lap) of racing, which is pretty impressive, although other years have been one by significantly less time. The defending champs from Shank Racing fielded the same five-driver lineup as last year, but suffered a broken suspension piece early in the race and went seven laps down trying to fix it. In the end, they fought back to third place, but obviously without the mechanical issues would have been right into the mix with their Ford-powered Riley.
In GT, Porsche had dominated in qualifying taking the top-four spots on the grid, but by the end of 24 brutal hours, couldn't place higher than fifth... Audi took a one-two victory with its more-generously-supported R8's, a first for the manufacturer in Grand-Am. It might have been a podium sweep for Audi had the Rum Bum Racing R8 not run out of gas late in the race. That gave the Toronto-based AIM Autosport Ferrari 458 with Emil Assentato, Nick Longhi, Anthony Lazzaro and Canadian Mark Wilkins a well-deserved podium place.
The new GX class for more experimental and environmentally friendly racecars basically saw a trio of well-proven Porsche Caymans outlast the three brand-new never-raced Mazda6 SKYACTIV entries. The Mazda's 2.2-litre turbo-diesel engines were a first in Grand-Am, but proved fragile over the race. Mazda says it planned the Rolex 24 to be one giant test and the car can only improve from here.
Another Porsche legend David Donahue was the lead driver on the GX-class-winner Cayman from Napleton Racing, while Vancouver-based Bullet Racing with Canucks Darryl O’Young and Karl Thomson finished second.
Plenty of other Canadians in the race, including Paul Tracy, Alex Tagliani, James Hinchcliffe, Sylvain Tremblay, David Empringham, Michael Valiante, Dave Lacey, JF Dumoulin and Paul Dalla Lana.
There seemed to be fewer yellow-flag periods because of silly driving this year and more from general wear-and-tear or unproven parts. However, moving into morning, a giant bank of fog hit the track, forcing the race to run under yellow for around 90 minutes until conditions improved.
For full results, check out the Grand-Am page.
Anyone else watch the race? Enjoyable? I can't wait to see how it'll shake out with the additional cars in the merged ALMS/Grand-Am series.
Photos courtesy Grand-Am.
Jim Motavalli, AutoWeek
Who would have thought it: After decades of resistance, Americans are starting to realize that today's smooth-running, fuel-efficient diesel cars bear little resemblance to the smelly, polluting slowpokes of old. According to recent sales information, clean diesel sales have jumped more than 25 percent so far in 2012. In October alone, they were up 21 per cent over the same month a year earlier. CNW Research of Brandon, Ore., reports the number of consumers considering diesels rose from 13 percent in 2006 to 28 percent in 2011.
So what happened to the diesel? It's fair to say that it cleaned up its act. Since 2007, new diesels have had to run on ultra-low-sulfur fuel (ULSD). It's a dramatic environmental change. According to the Clean Diesel Fuel Alliance, switching to ULSD will have the same effect as “removing the pollution from more than 90 percent of today's trucks and buses, when the current heavy-duty vehicle fleet has been completely replaced in 2030.”
Allen Schaeffer, executive director of the Diesel Technology Forum, says that today's entries “meet the same stringent standards as hybrids or other passenger cars. There's no longer a question as to whether diesel is a clean technology.”
By Mark Atkinson for MSN Autos
You know we're already fans of the Mazda CX-5, what we consider to be one of the company's most important new vehicles. And - for the most part - Mazda really nailed it: great styling, clever use of space, fun to drive, and amazing fuel economy. The biggest gripe, however, has to be its lack of grunt. The normally-aspirated 2.0-litre SKYACTIV four-cylinder has an adequate amount of horsepower (155) but definitely felt like it could use a little extra oomph.
During the original launch Mazda execs essentially confirmed that the new up-level engine would eventually be the equally impressive 2.2-litre SKYACTIV-D - or turbodiesel - with 170 horsepower and over 300 lb-ft of torque. Sounded good to us. Well, that's not happening quite yet; turns out the third-generation Mazda6 that's arriving in North America soon will debut Mazda's diesel tech, meaning we'll have to wait a little longer for a hot-rod CX-5.
However, Mazda understands that it was probably losing some potential sales over the perceived lack of power and has reacted appropriately. The 2014 CX-5 will now offer an optional 2.5-litre SKYACTIV-G four-cylinder engine - basically an enlarged version of the 2.0-litre - in mid- and top-level trims.
With 184 horsepower and more importantly 185 lb-ft of torque, the bigger engine should make the CX-5 more attractive to customers. It will only be available with a six-speed automatic transmission is GS and GT models in either front- or all-wheel drive. The bigger engine uses a little more fuel than the 2.0-litre (8.3 city/6.2 highway L/100 km vs. 7.7/6.1) but with a slightly bigger fuel tank (58L vs. 56) Mazda expects any CX-5 to have an ideal maximum range of 900 km.
One piece of new technology debuting on the 2014 is the Smart City Brake Support (SCBS), which Mazda says works to avoid a head-on collision when driving between five- and 30 km/h. It uses a windshield-mounted laser to detect potential problems and preps the brakes in anticipation of the driver taking corrective measures.
The best part? The 2014 CX-5 will be on sale at Canadian Mazda dealers in January 2013.
By Andrew Stoy, AutoWeek
It's official: The new 2014 Mazda 6 sedan is getting a diesel engine for the North American market.
Finally coming clean on one of the worst-kept secrets of the year, Mazda officially announced the Skyactiv-D version of the Mazda 6 at the Los Angeles Auto Show yesterday. When it goes on sale next summer, the 2.2-liter turbodiesel 6 will become the first non-German-powered diesel sedan in American showrooms since the late 1980s.
Make no mistake: This is a big deal. But why?
By John LeBlanc for MSN Autos Canada
Let’s say you’re interested in a new, mid-sized car, desire a bit more cargo space or the extra height of a square back profile no trunked, three-box-sedan can, but don't want to drive a tall-riding crossover or SUV. When it comes to that type of need, Canadian new car buyers have no choice (outside of the SUV-wannabe Subaru Outback). So there’s a tang of bittersweetness with the release of photos of a pair of new sporty haulers not coming our way.