By BOB GRITZINGER | Contributing Editor The instrument panel "Driving…
South Carolina’s Lowcountry is a region with a deep culture centered on enjoying nature alongside the finer things in life. We headed down to the Montage Palmetto Bluff — a 20,000-acre property that rests along the May River between Hilton Head Island, SC and Savannah, GA — for Mazda’s national lifestyle drive event, where we experienced the brand’s entire vehicle lineup, including its newest Mazda3 and Mazda6 offerings for 2017.
2017 Mazda3 Grand Touring 5-Door
The beloved Mazda3 compact gets updates for the 2017 model year, including exclusive-to-Mazda G-Vectoring Control technology and a new 2.0L SKYACTIV-G engine for entry models with the automatic transmission and Sport Mode toggle. Mazda brings back the manual trans for the Grand Touring package, its highest trim level, which pleases those of us who enjoy all the creature comforts, safety technologies, and a livelier driving experience.
We hit the sandy streets around Bluffton, SC in the 2017 Mazda3 5-door Grand Touring, which now comes in a delightful Eternal Blue Mica paint paired with a soothing parchment interior. The Grand Touring gets a slight engine upgrade to Mazda’s 2.5L DOHC 4-cylinder and an optional six-speed manual transmission.
For just $27,730, you can get the Mazda3 decked out with every feature and comfort you desire. From an exterior point of view, the Mazda3 5-Door GT gets all-new front and rear fascia, redesigned side mirrors, 18-inch alloy wheels, and LED fog lights. We appreciate the glossy black grille and the vehicle’s stance, which is a dead giveaway that this car carries Mazda’s latest KODO design language. The Mazda3, especially from the angle we photographed it, has a silhouette of a shrunken down CX-3. And we think it looks great.
Inside, Mazda has stepped up their game considerably, adding more function and comfort than ever. The ride is noticeably quieter than outgoing models thanks to the addition of sound-mitigating insulation. We enjoyed the cozy yet breathable perforated leather-trimmed seats with driver and passenger heat (not that we needed it this time of year). The full-color head-up display does well to show the driver key information such as navigation directions or what’s playing on the satellite radio. We like that the full-color HUD helps to differentiate between safety alerts and less important vehicle status info. Mazda beefs up its already safe vehicle with advanced blind spot monitoring with rear cross traffic alert and Smart City Brake Support (part of the $1,100 i-ACTIVSENSE Package), which will actually apply the brakes for you, if needed, in low-speed conditions.
What will likely set the 2017 Mazda3 apart from its competitors is the plethora of advanced tech, fuel-efficiency, and luxury features found on such an affordable model.
Personally, I’m a big fan of hatchbacks and the Mazda3, and while I haven’t owned this particular variant, I did drive a Honda Civic Si sedan for five years. This Mazda3 provides as much fun running through the gears and practicality for a very similar price.
2017 Mazda6 Grand Touring
Toting along the mossy tree-lined roads, the 2017 Mazda6 Grand Touring served as a delightful companion. The midsize sedan market is a highly competitive segment, with many options ranking high on the snooze-o-meter. The Mazda6 has always been a breath of fresh air in this regard, providing standard an engaging driving experience that separates it from the crowd.
Similar to the upgrades found on the 2017 Mazda3, the new Mazda6 gets those features and more, such as: Mazda CONNECT infotainment, rear backup camera, Mazda Radar Cruise Control, Lane Keep Assist, Traffic Sign Recognition (to help keep you within the speed limits), High Beam Control (to keep you from blinding others on the road), and a driver’s memory seat that also remembers the height of the Active Driving Display. A new Mazda6 outfitted with everything but the Premium Package can be yours for the reasonable price of $32,030 (including delivery and a few minor optional equipment charges).
If you’re wanting to step up your luxury game even further, then opt for the Mazda6 with the new Premium Package. For $2,500, you’ll get heated rear seats, heated steering wheel, Nappa leather seat surfaces with contrast piping, i-ELOOP regenerative braking with active grille shutters, and accent lighting throughout the interior. It’s also worth noting that Mazda is ranked the most fuel efficient brand by the EPA, and they don’t employ any electrification.
A Hifalutin Lifestyle Experience
Having been born and raised in the Carolinas, it was a joy to visit the coast I grew up visiting throughout my childhood. The Lowcountry is serene, full of natural beauty, and Mazda was generous to provide us experiences beyond the driver’s seat.
During the day, we ventured into Hilton Head Island, manning kayaks and paddling to the Salty Dog Cafe (a favorite among locals and tourists alike). We made the journey to the restaurant with about 15; however, only four were brave enough to venture back. Thankfully, we had the tide on our side, making the return jaunt much faster.
But more than outdoor activities, Mazda provided a true taste of the South with a boat trip to a remote location where they hosted an Oyster Roast. Fresh oysters are the best in months that end in “r”, so we were in luck. Guests enjoyed a coastal South Carolina-style dinner accompanied by live music and an abundance of ambience.
The overall experience fit nicely with the Mazda brand. Southerners are always going against the grain, making choices that may not be the same as their neighbors’. They hold in high regard the tradition of hospitality while also valuing comfortable refinement without an exorbitant price tag. The ease of passing time in the South is also akin to driving along a windy, rural route in one of Mazda’s capable vehicles. In the end, it’s all about the adventure, enjoying life, and getting the most out of the experiences you choose to embrace.
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