Which Mazda rules the roost? What DRIVEN's team would actually buy
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DRIVEN's headquarters is, generally, one rolling ongoing argument after another about all things four-wheeled. Whether it's cars currently on test or rose-tinted memories from years gone by, the next passionate vehicular debate is never far away.
It made sense to take this excitable energy and turn it into something (hopefully) useful. As such, welcome to DRIVEN's new online content series (published each Monday), where we pick out the cars that we would actually buy with our cold hard cash.
Following on from last week's look at which double-cab ute is best, and the previous week's deep dive into compact hatchbacks, we're looking at Mazda's line-up. So which classy Japanese vehicle ticks all the boxes for our team?
Editor, Dean Evans: CX-8
An easy one for me, given a Mazda CX SUV is already on our next-car short-list. Given their overall brilliance, it’s a process of elimination between CX-5 (too small for our three-kid family), and CX-8 or CX-9.
And that’s where it gets tough because I love the CX-9’s slightly larger boot, and the practicality of the second row seat that tilts forward with a booster seat attached to the ISOFIX points for quick and easy access to the third row is particularly enticing.
So it gets down to a choice of petrol (CX-9) or diesel (CX-8); I’ve calculated on our yearly 10,000km there isn’t a huge difference in costs between the two (even with RUC), so while the petrol is more responsive, the appeal of the CX-8’s characterful 2.2L diesel engine, combined with mountain of 450Nm – and the thinking that I’m saving money with cheaper/less frequent diesel fills - tips me over the edge towards the CX-8. That it’s slightly shorter (4.9m vs CX-9’s 5.075m) is also a factor when squishing it into a typical garage. CX-8 was also the 2018 AA DRIVEN Large SUV winner… and it’s the Mazda I’d pick.
Deputy Editor, David Linklater: CX-5
The CX-5 was the model that started Mazda on its SUV path and I reckon the second-generation model is still the best thing the brand makes in terms of quality, broad appeal and a bit of surprise-and-delight.
I’d recommend any CX-5 for distinctive design, the ride/handling combination and a cabin that feels distinctly premium. But the surprise-and-delight bit comes with the brace of models powered by Mazda’s 2.2-litre turbo diesel engine.
I know diesels area bit out of fashion these days, but have a go in a CX-5 SkyActiv-D and you’ll be won over. It’s smooth, strong and even sounds good. Like, it sounds much better than the CX-5 petrol.
I also like the fact that the CX-5 blurs the line between SUV and car more than most. It’s definitely an SUV in its basic styling proportion, but a lot of the design detail is really delicate and the driving position is distinctly car-like – it’s just that you get the extra height.
Senior Multimedia Journalist, Matthew Hansen: Mazda3
I really liked the Ford Focus. It was superb to drive, sounded great, and there was just about enough room in it to hold the entirity of Dean's Star Wars paraphernalia addiction. But all through last year's AA DRIVEN New Zealand Car of the Year festivities, even as I tallied up my final voting numbers, I couldnt help but think to myself that if I were buying a car for myself I'd be getting the Mazda3 instead.
Rear visibility be damned.
I'm not sure the new one is necessarily as good a drive as the model it replaced, but as an ownership experience the Three is wonderful. It feels and steers like a genuine premium product, and also wins my highly unscientific 'most comfortable in class' award for driving me to Wellington and back in a day without any complaints from my neck, back, or bottom.
I love the way it looks, which will be controversial to some. Its sleek, beautiful, minimalist appearance lives at the apex of what Mazda's 'Kodo design language' stuff is all about. The SkyActiv-X version (which performs like a petrol but drinks like a diesel) will undoubtedly make headlines when it arrives later in the year, but I fear its pricing will negate some of the good engineering under the bonnet.
Given that the design really needs the larger 18-inch wheels to truly pop, it's the 2.5-litre GTX for me. Yeah, fourty grand is a lot for a hatchback. But, it's better value than the $36,895 base. Its larger engine isn't quick, but it is quiet, smooth, and a bit more adult than most four-bangers. Can I have it in Soul Red too, please.
Digital Writer, Andrew Sluys: MX-5
I’m going to look past the hair dresser stereotypes, and vote for the Mazda MX-5 here, because it’s both an icon, and an absolute pleasure to drive. My first car out of university was a first generation MX-5, and I’d go as far to say that it is still the most enjoyable car I’ve ever driven. So when I was presented with the opportunity to get behind the wheel of the current model, I jumped at the chance.
In a world where safety is the main priority, cars get big due to manufacturers cramming as much tech as possible in, but somehow, Mazda has avoiding doing this with the fourth-generation MX-5. Incredibly, the ND only weighs 29kg more than the NA, and has achieved a five-star ANCAP safety rating.
While you won’t have enough room in the cabin to swing a cat, or any animal for that matter, you and your best friend will fit nicely. Mazda’s reputation for stunning interiors is evident in the little roadster, with everything being right where it’s needed.
The 2.0-litre naturally aspirated four-cylinder pumps out 96kW/200Nm, which is just enough to keep you on your toes without getting you in trouble with the law. When this engine is paired with the six-speed manual transmission, it feels like a quintessential sports car, something that’s not very common in 2020.