In March 2016, we arrived in California to take part in an epic road trip with with Mazda USA and #MenWhoBlog, for the California road trip of a lifetime – #Driving Matters!
While we had driven the Mazda 6 to Joshua Tree National Park, the rest of the group had driven other new models from Mazda’s 2016 range. In total, we had the Mazda 6, Mazda CX5 AWD, Mazda 3, Mazda CX3 and the Mazda CX3 AWD, all of which were ready to be put to the test on our #DrivingMatters California road trip through the desert!
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It was already dark when we arrived at LAX to collect the Mazda 6, the metallic burgundy paint, sweeping curves of the bodywork and the big-mouth grill all gave the car a slightly aggressive appearance – it looked refined, while giving the impression it would hold its own.
We had just left our home with all our belongings, so the first challenge we gave the Mazda 6 was to take all of our luggage. The massive boot / trunk easily swallowed a super-size duffel, a hard suitcase, 65 litre backpack and two 20 litre backpacks. It’s hard to describe how big this space was!
I had done no research on this car before climbing inside, so when I first started the engine I was a little shocked by the noise it made, like an almost clackety sound you might get from a very small diesel. That only lasted a few seconds through, switching to a raspy growl when given some revs. The new Mazda engines are designed with high-compression SkyActiv technology, which uses the same compression as a Formula 1 car, allowing greater power from a smaller engine and improved fuel efficiency in the high gears.
The automatic gearbox was surprisingly good, (being British we don’t tend to use them) but the sequential paddle shift on the steering column really made this car as the shift was very responsive. The Mazda 6 was very smooth on the road, with just the right balance of stiffness and comfort in the suspension and feeling through the steering wheel. There were a couple of new safety features which I had never had in a car before, one of which I loved, but the other was a massive pain in the ass! The one I had to disable straight away was the lane warning sensor, which beeped every time I apparently strayed near the line and in my opinion was far too sensitive. The one I loved however was the blind spot warning sensor, built into the wing mirror. A symbol would light up when a car was in the blind spot and would beep when indicating to change lane if there was any danger of hitting another car. This was a great feature and will be really useful for people who never turn their head to check before pulling out.
The interior was excellent, with very high quality materials like tactile rubbers, brushed aluminum and various textures of leather on the trims. The seats were comfortable and firm, with just enough bolster to hold you in properly through a sharp bend. The front seats had a very easy to use electronic adjustment too. One of the best things about the interior was the inclusion of a sunroof, which all too often gets omitted these days in favour of AC.
The whole package of the Mazda 6 really came together for the first time when we took it down the Malibu Canyon route and along Pacific Coastal Highway 1. The sunroof was wide open and fresh sea air blasted in with the sun streaming through, then with one press of the SPORT button the whole car changed, still the refined sedan, but with noticeably stiffer suspension, more responsive steering and far more aggressive gearing and power distribution. Although I knew the traction control was there in the background, there was never once a hint of under steer, despite being a front wheel drive with quite a lot of power, the Mazda 6 stayed poised and balanced through every corner, sailing around bends like it was on rails.
I was extremely impressed by this car, it has just the right amount of everything, power and precision, comfort and aggression, excitement and practicality, technology and simplicity.
We drove the Mazda CX5 AWD on the second day of the #Driving Matters California Road Trip, where we started out at Joshua Tree National Park and made our way to Historic Route 66, with a few random stops and some unexpected off-roading to really put the car through its paces!
I’m not usually a fan of SUV’s as I always see them trying to be too many things at once and not being very good at any of them – too big to be a good city car and too much of a city car to be any good off road!
For a start, this one was actually a lot smaller than I thought it would be, yet it had a lot of space inside and seemed to have pretty good clearance. Where we were taking it, we would soon find out if that was enough!
Looks wise it had the same dynamic lines of the Mazda 6, yet obviously more rounded to create all that extra space. The big wheels were slick, but without being so big that they needed low profile tyres.
While in search of the iconic Route 66, we were diverted by a local to a side road which led us out into the desert. The road was series of soft, sandy, undulating peaks and troughs, which the CX-5 handled perfectly, even across the more difficult diagonal pitches which put us on three wheels for a couple of seconds. The AWD system kept us moving the whole way through, the tyres having enough profile to handle being off the tarmac road. After stopping to pose next to a giant rock and drive onto the side of a small boulder, we made our way back to tarmac!
On the road the CX-5 was fast, smooth and handled extremely well, with almost zero body roll for the size of the car! With the same SPORT function as the Mazda 6, the SUV had almost exactly the same handling as the sporty sedan. With all of the same features as the 6, you could easily be driving the same car and with the added off-road performance of the CX-5 making this a very surprising car!
After the #Driving Matters California Road Trip, we headed to Los Angeles for a few days to meet some friends and explore some the city’s lesser-known and unusual attractions! Both the Mazda 6 and the Mazda CX5 seemed a little big for our needs, so we borrowed something a bit more suited to the mean streets of LA, the Mazda CX3 AWD, essentially a mini-SUV, about the same size as a large compact with extra clearance, more headroom and 4 wheel drive. We had no real need for the 4 wheel drive, but all the other SUV style features seemed like they could be useful.
The heightened suspension and elevated seating position, combined with the small size of the CX3, made it a perfect city car. Last minute lane changes in traffic were a breeze and the improved visibility across other cars made for better decision making in choosing how to slip through traffic and for pulling U-turns!
The little petrol engine had a lot of punch for its size, using the same high-compression SkyActiv system as the Mazda 6 and the CX5. The SPORT button with the sequential paddles made for a real good time on the twisty roads outside of Los Angeles.
In terms of space, there was plenty of room for people, just as long as they didn’t have any luggage. The boot / trunk could handle one normal size suitcase, but no more than that, so we had to use the rear seats for the rest of our things. Granted, we were carrying more than the average two people, but on a long trip it would only be good for two people, or four people with very little baggage.
The interior of the car was very stylish just like the rest of the the Mazda’s, but the controls were a bit too compacted, making it hard to reach things like the cup holders and the on-board computer controls. The rest of the interior though was very well made, like the leather trimmed seats and steering wheel with aluminum door handles. All in all, if you’re looking for an upgrade on a high quality compact car, that offers a whole lot more in terms of driving experience, features, handling and plain old fun, but can also handle getting a little bit wild, then the Mazda CX3 AWD could be a very good choice!
Mazda 3 Grand Touring
After a few days in Los Angeles, we flew to Miami to get ready for our week-long Caribbean cruise. While we were there, we took the chance to try out one more of the new Mazda range before setting sail – the Mazda 3 Grand Touring. Based on the Mazda 3 compact with a sedan back end, the Mazda 3 Grand Touring looks a lot like a scaled down Mazda 6, which is definitely a compliment. The handling and performance were just as good as the previous models we drove and the modest size made it easy to duck in and out of lanes in the notorious Miami and I95 traffic, with the revvy engine giving enough power to accelerate away from any ‘problematic drivers’ who were likely to cause an accident, of whom there are many in and around Miami!
Mazda didn’t seem to have taken out any of the styling from the Mazda 3 just because it sits in a lower price bracket than the other three models we tried, the interior was just as comfortable, with just as much leather and exactly the same on-board computer system. Even my favourite and not so favourite safety features were still there – the blind spot monitor and the lane monitor, respectively.
We had no issues getting two full size suitcases into the trunk, side by side next to each other, with space for smaller bags in and around them.
As we were only on city roads and no where near any exciting corners, I didn’t get chance to put it to any real test, but the drive felt smooth and responsive. My favourite part of this car however was the manual transmission, which I have been missing since my last visit to the UK almost two years ago! The manual gear change was very well-matched to the 155 horsepower 2.0 liter 4 cylinder engine and once again the SkyActiv system kept the power ready where it was required, but the fuel economy high at the same time.
The Mazda 3 Grand Touring was definitely one of the best small cars I’ve driven for a long time and easily beat the crap out of a new Fiesta rental car we had driven not so long before in the same city, in every way you could think of.
A huge thanks to everyone involved who helped to make this California road trip happen and turned it into such an incredible experience! Thank you to Mazda USA for sponsoring our #DrivingMatters Trip. If you’d like to read more about our Joshua Tree trip, check out the Men Who Blog website to read the other stories of our new blogging friends who joined us!
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