We have complained for more than a year at Mazda’s reluctance to provide buyers a choice of transmissions on the top-line 2.5-liter four cylinder versions of its fantastic 3 sedan and hatch. Well, we’re thrilled to report someone finally heard us, because for 2015 you can save a grand and shift for yourself with an excellent 6-speed manual as standard equipment. We drove one not long before attending the NAIAS and found it predictably excellent, and wanted to highlight the good news for you at the Mazda stand at the North American International Auto Show.
You might be getting tired of reading about the Mazda3’s greatness on these pages, but we’ll never tire of proclaiming it so long as Mazda keeps pushing it to the head of the class. This week’s example is the fully loaded hatchback version with the gutsy 2.5-liter I4. With sweet steering feel, handling that chews up any corner and responsive brakes there really isn’t much left for us to ask Mazda for. That’s especially true now because for 2015 Mazda has listened to the vocal enthusiasts among us who want to do their own shifting with the more powerful 2.5-liter and made the stick the standard transmission with both engines. Better rest up because it sounds like you might be hearing some more about our favorite small car once we get our hands on one of those.
We’re a weird bunch. For many reasons probably, but primarily because the AT staff is part of that slim subgroup of auto enthusiasts who believe the only way to improve on a BMW 3-Series is to extend the roofline and add a liftgate. In other words, we would spec our 3 as a Sport Wagon. So you can imagine how happy we were to have a week with the latest Sport Wagon after first fearing that BMW may stop importing the cargo-friendly version when the latest generation debuted. Yes, we would like the option of a 6-speed manual and rear wheel drive in place of the all-weather capable xDrive setup that BMW wrongly assumes everyone wants, but there’s still plenty to love here as you’ll see in our latest video review.
If you want style in the Volkswagen lineup you’re going to be shopping for a CC. One of the original “four door coupes” continues in 2014 as a entry level luxury sedan distinguished by sleek styling and an athletic turbo four cylinder that may be rated at only 200 hp but feels like closer to 250. During our week with the oft-verlooked Passat alternative we came to enjoy features like opening the trunk with a wave of your foot under the bumper, the easy to fold down back seats and the superb cabin materials. We didn’t find much love for the slow to respond infotainment screen or the couple rattles that materialized around the interior. With strong competition in the mid to upper $30k segment the CC has to rely on its looks to get by but for some buyers driving a car that isn’t found in every driveway in the community is appealing enough to sign on the dotted line.
For as long as we can remember the Corolla has been forgettable. Of course, that abstract truth hasn’t stopped Toyota from selling millions of them over the model’s long life. Still, we’d argue it’s more a testament to their ability to build a reliable car at a low price and take care of their customers better than just about anyone than some burning desire American’s have to make 60 monthly payments on a new beige Corolla. However, for 2014 Toyota is looking to inject a bit of desire into the Corolla lineup with trims like the sporty S we recently had in the AT Garage. Did we like what we found? You’ll have to find the play button to find out.
Mazda Goodness Just Keeps Getting Better
We’ve been fans of the Mazda6 since the start. Our Senior Editor even parted with his own hard-earned money to put a rare manual 5-door hatchback in his fleet. You’ll understand our excitement then when the opportunity came to review the latest generation of the enthusiasts’ favored family sedan. Unfortunately, winter weather prevented us from strapping on the camera equipment for a full video review so what follows are some brief thoughts from our week with a fully loaded Grand Touring trim ($29,695 base / $33,145 as-tested) and a plea for Mazda to send it back up when spring has sprung. Read more…
The Crossover that Created the Segment Enters 2013 Better than Ever
If you’re not a fan of the crossovers that today fill every soccer field parking lot and school unloading zone, you can direct your displeasure squarely at Toyota. The company created the segment back in the mid-90’s when the car-based RAV4 burst onto the scene with a spare tire hanging off the back and a promise to ride and drive more civilized than any other SUV of the time. Since then, the little people mover has expanded to dealerships in more than 150 countries and found more than 171,000 buyers in the US last year. But competition in the segment is relentless with major players releasing all-new or significantly improved offerings in the last year, including the Ford Escape, Mazda CX-5 and Honda CR-V. While developing its all-new 2013 model Toyota is also taking the opportunity to bring this 4th Generation RAV4 back to its roots after watching the model expand away from its core to offer a third row of seats and a V6 engine option that clearly trespassed on the Highlander’s turf. We recently flew to Arizona to drive the new RAV4 and came away impressed with the value Toyota is offering in the crossover that started it all.
We don’t get many surprises in the AT Garage these days. By the time a vehicle is teased and then detailed down to parts numbers in a thorough press release and then bestowed with a gala auto show debut we’ve pretty much formed an opinion. Which is how we came to assume the Nissan Juke was an ity-bity engined, cramped-cabin crossover abomination that puts the ugly in really, really ugly. Turns out only the last part is true, and even then the ugly is pretty much confined to one side. So what changed our tune? Read on. Read more…
The “Perfect Size” Crossover Wants Its Sales Crown Back
Of all the vehicles in need of a redesign Honda’s CR-V isn’t one of them. The current generation of the entry-level crossover went on sale as a 2007 model and won the sales crown for its class every year through 2010, averaging about 200,000 sales per year. The streak would most likely be in place this year had Mother Nature not put on a shocking show of force first with the earthquake in Japan and then devastating floods in Thailand. Honda says it has lost more than 200,000 units of production for the U.S., including significant shortages of the ever-popular CR-V, which spelled an end to the little crossover’s sales reign. But despite the vehicle’s continued popularity anyone who knows Honda knows they plan five year lifecycles for their vehicles, which means we should see an all-new CR-V for 2012. And despite the aforementioned significant supplier and R&D interruptions, come December 15th, we will. After a day spent with the Honda team learning everything there is to know about the new CR-V one thing is clear: they want their sales crown back. Read more…
Proof That The Midsize Sedan Segment Is More Competitive Than Ever
We’re not sure why, but when we think of the midsize sedan segment our minds tend to picture the Toyota Camry or Honda Accord, or maybe even the Ford Fusion or Chevrolet Malibu. For some reason we don’t immediately remember the Nissan Altima. We’d blame marketing except dealers managed to push almost 230,000 of them into American driveways last year making it the third best selling midsizer behind the Camry and Accord. Maybe we should blame ourselves. The press seems content to watch Toyota and Honda duke it out for first and occasionally devote a few words to how the domestic competition is stacking up against—you guessed it—the Camry and Accord. But Nissan has nothing to be ashamed of, as our week in an Altima 2.5 S proved. Read more…