The Mystery of the Mazda 3.

Reviews of cars, trucks, and other autos.
June 20 2005 4:41 PM

The Mystery of the Mazda 3

Or the Curse of the Excluded Middle.

(Continued from Page 1)

Unfortunately I'm a middlebrow driver—and a devotee of the "Ace" Feel-Good School of everyday automobiling. This highly practical doctrine has a sound academic basis in studies showing that people with the name "Ace" tend to live longer. Why do they live longer? Because every time they say their name (or somebody else says their name) they get a little hit of esteem-building, anti-oxidizing serotonin. They're "Ace"! My friend Dale applies this theory to cars, encouraging all his friends to get the most powerful motor available on the grounds that "Every time you step on the gas you'll feel good."

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I agree with Dale, except I don't think you need a lot of power to feel good. All it takes is a car that feels good every time it goes around a corner—at normal speeds, doing normal chores. My 1991 Nissan 300Z gives me those little serotonin shots. So did Toyota's bargain-priced Scion XB. But not the 3. On the 10 point Gearbox Parking Lot Scale of Automotive Satisfaction—measuring how happy I am to walk out into the parking lot and see that this is what I'll be driving home—the 3 gets only a 5. (The Scion, in contrast,  was an 8. Even the slow-moving Honda Element was a 6.)

Recently, there have been rumors that Mazda, disappointed in the 3's sales, wants to make it more luxurious and less racerish: quieter, softer, with cupholders and plusher seats and better air conditioning and Bluetooth capability, etc. The People Who Drive Really Fast are horrified. "Go ahead and fix the cupholders and A/C, widen the seats for American-sized asses but don't mess with the spirit of these cars," pleads Autoblog. Normally I'm with these "car guys" against the La-Z-Boying of sporting vehicles—but in this case I think the high-content, plush route may be the way to go. The build quality is certainly there to justify a much higher price—that's the 3s competitive advantage. The Mazda isn't that much fun in ordinary driving anyway. Turn it into a little luxo-pod for people who just want to relax and get to where they are going with all mod cons.

One more thing: The car's reliability record, according to Consumer Reports, is near-perfect. That's why I still recommend the Mazda. Just not to myself. Call me "Ace." 6/17/05

Drive By Sniping:
Mercedes builds a car based on a boxfish. It's lighter by a third and extremely aerodynamic. If form follows function, it's beautiful by definition. Works for me. ... P.S.: But even if a boxfish's structure is perfectly adapted by evolution for what a boxfish has to do, boxfish may not have to do some things that cars have to do—like crash into each other at 60 m.p.h. This seems like a flaw in the theory. ... 6/18/05

Meanwhile, Mercedes' Maybach division helps produce a new ultra-exotic two-seat supercar, the Exelero. In keeping with now-established Maybach tradition, it is a complete monstrosity. ... 6/18/05

I thought the trend of tumorous wheel bulges was over. I was so wrong. ...P.S.: This new, very expensive German car actually combines the same two tired styling clichés—1) the wheel tumors and 2) a rising side crease—as the lowly Scion Xa. ... 6/18/05

The Plot To Kill Buick: Forbes.com's Jerry Flint sees a sinister competence in GM's surface haplessness:

I recall how Plymouth was starved for product before it was killed a few years ago. Four cylinder cars, which should have been Plymouths, were called Chryslers.

And look at what's going on with Buick:

A vice chairman talks about "damaged" nameplates and hints it's possible that some could go. That means Buick.

A Buick-Pontiac-GMC truck dealer group is set up. The dealers are to sell all three makes. Thus, if Buick does go down, this dealer body can still sell the other brands. ... [snip]

The Zeta project for the rear-drive cars that everyone knows Buick needs was killed.

A few years ago, I thought I thought I  detected a similar internal GM plot to kill Saturn. That plot's now almost completed: Saturn's simple, wholesome, high-reliability, Earth-shoeish brand has been destroyed. Its famous Spring Hill, Tenn., plant may be closed. Only a few glitzed-up Opels stand between it and oblivion. But GM's traditional divisions and its national union had good reason to want to extinguish Saturn, which after all was building reliable, well-made cars without complicated work rules! Saturn embarrassed the UAW. But Buick more or less is the UAW. I doubt they want to kill it. And if GM's managers could make money selling Buicks, wouldn't they try—even if the Buicks were rebadged Daewoos?

Still, it's hard to interpret the styling of the new LaCrosse as anything other than a genius B-school attempt to design a vehicle so loserish that costly Buick factories must be shut down immediately. ... Go ahead. Sit down with a pad and pencil and try to draw a car that bad. It's not easy! ... [Via Autoblog]

P.S.: Here's a Buick I might conceivably buy. ... It's rear-drive, doesn't look like a parody of a geriatric's car.

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