Stop shopping, be happy | Welcome to the all-Mazda garage

Stop shopping, be happy | Welcome to the all-Mazda garage

By BOB GRITZINGER, Contributing Editor | @bobgritzinger

Mazda's CX-5 hits the sweet spot between fun and functionality

Mazda’s CX-5 hits the sweet spot between fun and functionality.

We’ve driven and tested hundreds of cars, trucks and sport-utility vehicles over the years, and we’re often asked what we’d buy. It’s not an easy question to answer, and it depends on the segment, and whether we’re talking wants vs. needs, styling vs. substance, and new vs. used vs. vintage (that’s a whole ‘nother discussion). But after some deliberation—and some recent test drives to confirm our suspicions—it’s safe to say that a two-car garage filled with Mazdas could be the solution. Let’s explore what we mean by this.

Mazda’s crossovers have families covered from big to small 

2015CX-9

Big rig needs? CX-9 carries seven and tows up to 3,500 pounds.

Think about it: Other than hauling home a load that would be better handled by a Home Depot $20-per-hour rental truck, there’s a Mazda chicken, er, crossover, for every pot.

Big families will want the three-row CX-9 with seating for seven, while smaller broods can make do with the five-seat CX-5, offering just enough cargo space for most loads and good fuel economy from its eco-friendly SKYACTIV powertrain.

While towing isn’t a strong suit for any crossover, the 3.7-liter, 273-hp, 270-lb-ft V6 engine in the larger CX-9 provides a 3,500-pound towing capacity—ample for towing most mid-sized boats, campers and trailers. Even the smaller four-cylinder powered CX-5, when properly equipped, can pull up to 2,000 pounds. Front drive is standard on both utes, all-wheel-drive is always an option.

2016CX-3

The 2016 Mazda CX-3 arrives next summer to complete the brand’s crossover range.

And that doesn’t include the next model joining the Mazda crossover lineup. Enter the super-sporty, compact CX-3 that was introduced in November at the Los Angeles Auto Show. Powered by the same 155-hp, 150-lb-ft 2.0-liter engine offered in the CX-5 Sport, the lighter weight 2016 CX-3 promises to be a riot when it arrives next summer.

Seat time in the CX-5

We spent a week in a well-equipped all-wheel-drive CX-5 Grand Touring model ($31,760 all in) powered by a 2.5-liter I4 and found little to dissuade us from recommending this car.

The CX-5 is a responsive driver with good body control and precise steering, and it is one of the easier vehicles to handle when it comes to parking and maneuvering through tight spaces. The ride is compliant without being spongy. The engine and six-speed automatic transmission seem well-matched for the work, rarely showing signs of being overtaxed.

Regardless of choice, every one of these vehicles incorporates Mazda’s KODO “soul of motion” styling and each embodies a certain joie de vivre that not every competitor can claim—and typically at a quite sporting price. Prices range from about $22,500 for the base CX-5 to upwards of $40,000 for a maxed-out CX-9. Pricing for the new CX-3 have not yet been announced, but we imagine it’ll be slotted somewhere below the base model CX-5.

Visceral driving feel is MX-5’s forte

“OK, that covers my utility needs, but where’s the fun?” you ask. When’s the last time you drove an MX-5 Miata? Our most recent sampling was a 2015 model with the power folding hardtop, running a 2.0-liter 167-hp, 140-lb-ft four hooked to a short-shifting six-speed manual gearbox. Even at what seems like an astronomical price for a Miata–our tester checked in at $32,935–the MX-5 remains one of the world’s all-time sports car performance values.

The MX-5 remains one of the world’s all-time sports car performance values.

2015 Mazda MX5

MX-5, now in its 25th year, still sets the standard for affordable sports cars.

The MX-5 Miata retains a certain raw mechanical feel that has always been its best asset, from a taut—dare we say, harsh—ride, to its brash engine and transmission, to its almost direct-drive steering feel.

You’ll hear road and wind noise even with the top up, and feel the road surface through the seat, steering wheel and even the pedals of the MX-5. It’s those attributes that make it blast to drive, in the tradition of great British roadsters of the post-WWII era that were nowhere near as dependable or functional as Mazda’s little road runner.

But you’ll have to move quickly to get this one. The redesigned fourth-generation 2016 model, that also premiered at the 2014 L.A. Show, hits showroom floors late next summer. The MX-5 promises to be leaner (by 200 pounds) and meaner as it starts its second 25 years of production.

So what say you? Could an all-Mazda garage solve both your driving wants and needs?

2016+MX-5_Rear3qtr_White_JP

The next-generation Mazda MX-5 premiered in L.A. and appears in dealerships by late summer 2015.

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Bob Gritzinger got his first taste of grease and oil as a kid tearing down small engines and repairing go-karts, mini-bikes, motorcycles and cars in the backyard. That eventually led to his first real job as an auto mechanic while still in high school, but Bob’s career took a sharp turn into journalism when he joined the high school newspaper staff. Read more about Bob here.