2014 Mazda6 Touring Impressions

After a couple long trips in the Mazda, I’ve finally gotten a good amount of driving time in.  Many of the miles are highway miles, but several things about the Mazda struck me as distinctly superior in a class of mundane sedans trying to cater to everyone.  After a few drives, I even convinced my Dad to give it a test drive.  Being a long-time Honda and Toyota driver, he was skeptical.  But after a drive, both my Mom and Dad came away impressed, whereas they made almost no positive comments about my Passat.  What makes the Mazda so special?

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Long-Term Update: 2014 Mazda6 Touring


The Mazda has 7,300 miles on it – on track to an average of 15,000 annual miles. That might not seem high, but keep in mind this car isn’t a commuter. It’s also only been on a single longer trip between San Francisco and Los Angeles. That means the remaining miles have been for weekend getaways and quick drives up through the 2 highway. We never expected the 6 to rack up so many miles, but a nimble chassis with great steering combined with stellar fuel economy has us making excuses to go out for a drive.

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Long-Term Update: 2013 Volkswagen Passat TDI SE 6MT

As American as apple pie, these two vehicles are.

Date: 1/6/2014
Mileage: 10,038 mi
Avg. Fuel Economy (since last update): 46.4 mpg
Avg. Fuel Economy (lifetime): 46.3 mpg

Our long-term Passat has just returned from its first scheduled service at 10K.  This service was on the house, thanks to VW’s Carefree Maintenance program.  Consisting of an oil and filter change, refilling the AdBlue additive, some inspections, and a tire rotation, it should have been a quick and simple job.  Unfortunately, I also needed them to check out a few other things, including low coolant level, some weird trim pieces, and a noisy clutch pedal.  The cooling system tested fine, and the clutch pedal was deemed “normal.”  I’m not sure I agree that a modern sedan with a price tag approaching $30k should be allowed to make such uncouth noises.  Nonetheless, it seems others have the same issue and nobody has successfully fixed it yet – I can deal with noises as long as they won’t leave me stranded.

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Long-Term Intro: 2014 Mazda 6 Touring

After months of drooling over a Dodge Charger R/T, I came home with a Soul Red 2014 Mazda6. Waaaah? The Charger is a gas guzzling, rolling tank of Americana, while the Mazda6 is the slightly quirky choice for family sedan buyers. Other than the color, the two have nothing in common. As much as I loved the Charger on paper, and as much as driving the Super Bee made me smile, I had to choose a car that made sense as my single daily driver. Follow the jump to hear how I decided and my first impressions on the car.

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Stupid Technology: SiriusXM vs. Pandora

SiriusXM has been on a rough ride in the past decade.  Despite launching as separate entities, economic factors made it clear that the market could not support both of them.  Thus, Sirius and XM decided to merge into one company, and that’s exactly what they did on November 12, 2008.  Since then, car manufacturers who were waiting to see who would win the war have jumped in head first.  Nearly every car and light truck manufacturer in the United States offers SiriusXM Radio today.  I finally gave it a try with the 3-month trial on my 2013 VW Passat, and left unimpressed.  That got me thinking, is there a better alternative?

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Stupid Technology: Auto Start-Stop system

On a recent trip to Asia, I got a ride in my uncle’s new car, a 2013 BMW 528i automatic with Auto Start-Stop technology.  In reality, when I got in the car, it didn’t even occur to me that it would have this feature, but it became quickly evident and clearly unacceptable.  You see, this car was purchased for ~$130,000 (US dollar equivalent) in a country where an average engineer starts at $10,000-15,000 a year in salary.  And yet, when this $130,000 machine came to a stop, it abruptly shuddered to a stop.  Then, when my uncle took his foot off the brake, it shuddered when it started up again.  Is this technology really worth the embarrassment of driving a BMW that shudders?  Not really, and here’s why.

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Long-Term Update: 2013 Volkswagen Passat TDI SE 6MT

Date: 10/14/2013
Mileage: 6884 mi
Avg. Fuel Economy: 47.7 mpg (U.S. gallons)

The Passat has been with us for 5 months, and continues to impress with its frugality and road manners.  With some more break-in mileage and more time behind the wheel, fuel economy has increased drastically.  Whereas the first few tanks of diesel ran about 42-43MPG, more recent tanks have skyrocketed – a hand calculated 52.9MPG on a recent 900 mile trip, achieved on a single tank of diesel.  That number would have been higher if the first leg hadn’t included massive headwinds – the stats from the second leg were better and are shown below.  A note to fellow TDI owners, though: doing 55-65MPH for 900 miles sure can put you to sleep, so have caffeine on hand!

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Road of the Month: Devil’s Punch Bowl


Pasadena was an uncomfortably humid 90 degrees yesterday. To escape the heat, my wife Wendy and I went for a drive out to Devil’s Punch Bowl. At 4,700 ft of elevation with mountains nearby, my reasoning was that it had to be cooler than our apartment turned greenhouse. Sadly, I was wrong. Wendy grew increasingly unhappy as we drove through endless twisty roads further and further into nowhere. The car kept reporting a steady 97 degrees outside. In the last mile, the Devil gave us some slack and lowered the final temperature to 90 degrees, but still not the 72 we were hoping for. Fortunately you stepped out into this view:

Click to view panorama of Devil's Punch

Outside, it was much more pleasant than the temperature suggested. There was a cool desert wind, and at 3PM, the worst was over  and things were already starting to cool down. The small visitor center is packed with interesting display of desert snakes, honey ants (they make honey!), scorpions, and explanations of fossils and local fauna. We spent a half hour there listening to a pink and blond haired young man explain the local wildlife. From the visitor center, there is a one mile loop hike with great views of the surrounding area. Even cooler than the views are the small trails out to the actual Devil’s Punch rock formations. Some skinned knees and dusty shoes are all it takes to scale up these bizarro looking things.

Climbing back down was much trickier and more time consuming, but a great workout.


The drive in is gorgeous and reasonable length to do in a single sitting at about 1.5 hours departing from Pasadena. To catch some mountain views on the way out, take a right on Fort Tejon Rd and continue down Big Pine Rd, which will eventually intersect the 2 Highway. Elevation climbed up to 7,000 ft at one point, and temperatures dropped to a very pleasant 69 degrees. If you time your trip well, you’ll catch some gorgeous sunsets and some great photo opportunities.