Auto blogWed, 05 Feb 2014 05:00:00 EST
We focus a lot on what new cars are like to drive, but it's difficult on a one-week loan to really get a sense of what a car is like to live with. Sure, we try to recreate that sense with our long-term vehicles, but even after a year, it's impossible to know fully learn about a car, particularly in terms of reliability and cost of repairs. For 2014 model year vehicles, Kelley Blue Book has put together a list of the most affordable vehicles over a five-year period.
At the tippy top of the list are Mazda and Lexus, with the Zoom-Zoom automaker winning the award for best non-luxury brand. Lexus, meanwhile, was the most affordable luxury marque over a five-year period. It's interesting to note, though, that not a single Mazda won its segment in this year's awards.
General Motors did quite well, taking eight segments, including both the subcompact and plug-in segments, with the gas-powered Chevrolet Spark and Spark EV. The Chevy Camaro SS and ZL1 took the high-performance car award. Toyota was well represented, with five winners split between the main brand (Corolla, Prius C and Tacoma) and Lexus (LS and RX).
Almost by definition, affordable compact cars aren't supposed to be fun. Sure, hot hatches get our blood pumping, but not long ago, the terms "compact car" and "economy car" could safely be used interchangeably. A key exception for the last decade has been the Mazda3, a car that has consistently delivered more dynamic thrills and tactile feedback than its contemporaries. Competitors have picked up their game significantly in recent years, however, leaving the Mazda3 wanting in several areas, including overall refinement, in-car technology and cabin appointments, so Mazda went back to the drawing board to create this all-new third-gen model for 2014.
Including this redesigned 2014 model, Mazda's recent crop of new products have targeted North America's hottest non-truck segments - compact car, midsize sedan and compact crossover/SUV. Yet it might be fair to call this launch the most important of them all, as the 3 remains the Japanese marque's best-selling vehicle. While America's pool of compact hatchbacks isn't exactly deep, the 2014 Mazda3 still has a challenging road ahead of it competing against two-box compacts that include the popular Ford Focus and recent additions like the all-new Kia Forte and the still-new Hyundai Elantra GT.
Mazda3 sales in the US were down about 15 percent last year to a total of 104,713 units. According to a report from Automotive News, though, the slowdown in sales has been due more to production constraints than demand.
Good news for Mazda dealers, then, that a new plant in Salamanca, Mexico has just come online. Tom Carey, chairman of Mazda's national dealer council, told AN, "We're going to be in good shape because of that Mexico inventory." If estimates prove accurate, sales of the Mazda3 will increase by about 20 percent when the new plant begins production this month.
If those lofty projections come to pass, Mazda will reportedly be on track to exceed 300,000 total sales in the US in 2014, which would represent the brand's highest figures since its 375,000-unit peak in 1994. The brand hopes to sell more than 400,000 vehicles in the US by 2016, and with well-received products like the latest 3 and Mazda6 sedan, such expectations seem quite possible.
Twenty-six years after it was introduced at the 1989 Chicago Auto Show, the much anticipated fourth generation Mazda MX-5 Miata will meet the press at the 2015 Chicago show. A piece in Autocar refines some of the details on the larger, lighter Miata that a Mazda insider has said will be "our best-looking car ever."
The company has relented on the quest for the metric tonne, the 1000-kilogram (2,200-pound) target too difficult to achieve in light of cost constraints. You can still expect it to lose a generous dollop of weight - Autocar says a curb weight of 1,100 kg (2,420 pounds) will still make it the lightest in its class. And Mazda will be stressing a fun driving experience through light weight and a modest amount of naturally-aspirated horsepower. Engine capacities of 1.5 and 2.0 liters are expected. Sounds familiar (and good), right?
The Miata's interpretation of Kodo design will be veer from that found on the Mazda3 and Mazda6, with "very clean and simple" lines marking out "more muscular proportions" and elongated bodywork on a longer wheelbase. A stretched engine bay will make room for the current Skyactiv engine and perhaps the future Skyactiv 2 powerplants, initial reports suggesting there could be a 30-percent increase in fuel economy from the moment it arrives.
With less than two weeks before the Mazda Skyactiv Prototype makes its race debut at the 2014 Rolex 24 at Daytona, the Japanese Zoom-Zoom brand brought its diesel-powered racer to the floor of the 2014 Detroit Auto Show.
The red prototype marks Mazda's return to prototype racing, and will campaign the inaugural Tudor United SportsCar Championship using a 2.2-liter, SkyActiv-D diesel engine. With 451 horsepower on tap and 580 pound-feet of torque, the racer should stand up well against a field of gas-powered competitors.
Should the Skyactiv win Daytona, it'll be a coup for Mazda. The racer is running an engine with over 50 percent of its parts drawn from the oft-delayed production Skyactiv-D. Head up top for our full gallery of images of the new Skyactiv Prototype. The 2014 Rolex 24 will be run from January 25 to 26.
Road & Track has taken on a Miata project. One hell of a project, if we're honest. You see, the Miata in question, a 1989 example in Mariner Blue, isn't a high-mileage Mazda that the publication intends to fix up, or make race-worthy, or try to flip or give away to a reader or something. No, it's a rather typical well-used NA, with a hefty 325,000 miles on the clock to-date that the staff plans on driving until the six-digit odo reads all zeros again. One million miles or bust (or both, most likely).
Procured for the bargain-basement price of $1,600, complete with seat covers that "really do look like muppet pelts" (according to Zach Bowman) and a bondo-filled love tap on the nose, the NA Miata actually looks like just the sort of fun-machine that a real driving enthusiast would pick up to get some cheap thrills in. The R&T team already has some interesting plans for the Miata, including a potential run up Pikes Peak and loaning it out to readers (or perhaps your author...). Click through to read all about it.
Japanese automakers haven't lead the charge towards diesel power in the same way as, say, the Germans have. But Mazda is out to change that. It has been following Audi's lead on the racetrack with oil-burning racecars right here in America, and will soon translate that excitement to the road by introducing its Skyactiv-D engine in North America. It just won't happen as soon as we expected.
Mazda announced today that, while its diesel engine meets current emissions requirements, the company has decided once again to push back an introduction originally slated to kick off in the Spring. According to the brief statement below, Mazda wants to take more time to find "the right balance between fuel economy and Mazda-appropriate driving performance."
In other words, the Zoom-Zoom brand apparently thinks its diesel engine doesn't deliver the zoom-zoom American drivers would expect, so we'll have to wait just a little bit longer. Details to follow closer to launch, whenever that will ultimately take place.
As Mazda continues the current rollout of its still-new Skyactiv technology, the automaker is already looking at improving its family of engines for even better fuel economy and emissions reductions. Automotive News reports that with stricter fuel economy and emissions regulations planned for 2020 and 2025 in Europe, Mazda will likely release engines with next-generation Skyactiv 2 technology by the end of this decade, and Skyactiv 3 units just five years later.
The latter is expected to focus on improved engine cooling and lessening energy losses, but the big news in AN's report is that the next-gen Skyactiv 2 engines will use Homogeneous Charge Compression Ignition, or HCCI. This type of ignition is very similar to how a diesel engine operates (with high compression and using the compression stroke for fuel combustion rather than spark plugs), a method said to provide a cleaner and more efficient fuel burn - to the tune of a 30-percent improvement in fuel economy compared to current Skyactiv engines. Other automakers, including Hyundai, have already announced they are developing HCCI powerplants with similar technology and characteristics, so Mazda likely won't be a lone wolf here.
Equipped with HCCI technology, Mazda figures to be able to compete with larger automakers in terms of fuel economy and emissions without resorting to hybrid powertrains, continuously variable transmissions or automatics relying on more forward gears (eight or more) for optimal efficiency. Some of the challenges of HCCI, according to AN, include the need for better engine cooling, risk of misfire at high and low rpm and uneven engine performance based on fuel properties.
With fluctuations in international currencies and rising shipping costs to take into account, foreign automakers can't get away with building cars overseas and selling them in North America as easily as they used to. Particularly with inexpensive mainstream models. And given the benefits of cheaper labor and free trade under NAFTA, many have opted to assemble their cars for the North American market in Mexico. That's why the likes of Toyota, Mercedes and BMW have all opened plants in Mexico. And now Mazda has followed suit.
Ground was initially broken for Mazda de Mexico Vehicle Operations at Salamanca in the state of Gunajuato back in 2011, but production has just now gotten under way. The first vehicle to roll off the line? A Mazda3 sedan destined for the United States. Soon, the plant will begin production of the next Mazda2 as well, selling it alongside its larger counterpart across the Americas and in Europe as production expands to 230,000 units annually. For more information, see the official press release below.
Diesel has without a doubt become the dominant fuel in the modern era of endurance racing. The 24 Hours of Le Mans has been won under diesel power for the past eight years running, as has every race in the FIA World Endurance Championship since its inauguration in 2012. Yet there will only be one diesel prototype entered in the top tier of the new Tudor United SportsCar Championship this year, and it belongs to Mazda.
The last Japanese manufacturer to win at Le Mans outright, Mazda has been gradually working its way back up the endurance racing ladder once again, following the example set by Audi with diesel power. Last year it campaigned a competition-spec Mazda6 Skyactiv-D in the GX class of the Grand-Am series, but rather than simply port over the existing racer into the new series, it's fielding a new prototype instead, just as it promised a couple of months ago. And now that prototype has hit the track for the first time, prompting Mazda to release its basic specs for the first time.
Tentatively referred to simply as the 2014 Mazda Prototype, the purpose-built racecar is testing this weekend in the Roar Before the 24, the official test session at Daytona that kicks off the racing season. It packs a 2.2-liter SkyActiv-D engine that's based heavily on the production version but tuned to produce 450 horsepower and 580 pound-feet of torque in race trim. Power is channeled through a six-speed sequential transmission from Xtrac, carbon brakes from AP and 18-inch racing slicks from Continental. With the Daytona-spec aero setup, it'll top out at around 186 miles per hour.