2014 Mazda CX-5 during the Mazda Adventure Rally - photo by Mark Atkinson
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!