Tag Archives: Mazda

More Than I Bargained For…

If you’ve read any of my other posts, you’ll know I bought a new car last year.

I hate it more and more every day.

Right now I hope it bursts into flames, gets crushed by a collapsing skyscraper, then has the remnants stolen by scavengers preferably while still smoldering.

I don’t want to deter anyone from buying a Mazda3 but I’ll now share a little bit of how a perfectly amazing car could be so despised that I hope and pray the children of the designers all become unhappy and disgruntled little brats with a complete lack of toilet training

First, it’s not a stick shift. Personally, I believe that if you’re not capable of pressing a clutch pedal with your left foot, shifting gears with one of your hands, and using your brain power to help you maximize the forward momentum of your motorized object, you should be forced to take public transportation where you’ll be happier at your ability to stay completely glued to your smart phone. The car I purchased did not even have a manual transmission available, a further sign that corporate marketing and development teams for modestly priced automobiles steer products toward the lowest common denominator.  Now that the 2015 version has an available manual, at least I know the manufacturer has changed a bit and is willing to build one now, as an insult to those of us who decided that it might be time to just suck it up and deal with no longer shifting for ourselves. I’d rather employ someone with at least one arm to follow me around and wipe my mouth every time I eat something.

To add injury to that insult, and I mean a sharp thrust-kick to the knee type of injury, most dealerships will never have an actual manual transmission car on the lot even if the company builds them. Or they’ll have one, that’s gets test driven to death so that when you buy a “new car” you’re getting one with a couple hundred miles of abuse on the clock.

Secondly, in my rant against this new car, I find the infotainment system on the Mazda3 poor at best, and outright abysmal on most days. I forget what I’ve typed about it before, but after four or five trips in to a dealership to have the system updates installed (or re-installed in my case,) I still have a stereo system that simply fails to deliver what it promised. The Mazda3 has a genius design– instead of an iPod cable sticking out from the dash, it has two USB ports for connection of just about any audio device. It’s vague as to which ones are actually compatible, but I assumed my Apple iPod would work. Sure enough, it did.

Here’s where it goes from pushing me past “annoyed” straight on to “get the straitjacket.” When the iPod is connected, it automatically plays the first song alpha-numerically that’s on the device. For me it was the single song I had from the band AFI, called ‘Miss Murder.’ While once an acceptable track, hearing it start over EVERY SINGLE TIME the car was started got old after about 15 minutes of car ownership. It didn’t matter that I’d just stopped to fill the gas tank, or that I had previously selected something else. It went right back to the start of the AFI tune. Well, that wasn’t going to stop me. I recorded a track of complete silence in my studio and called it 00000001 AAAAAAAAaaaa. Seriously. That way, at least my stereo started out with NOTHING and gave me a few moments of silence in which I could select another track. Then the iPod died. It sustained a complete hard drive failure.

Now repeat that exact same paragraph only with a newer iPod. Again, a completely failed hard drive.  Coincidence? Most likely yes, but two in a row? I’m good that way.

Fast forward several months. I had wised up and loaded my entire music library onto a USB flash drive. Of course, I deleted the AFI song out of everything. It’s gone forever. I hate it so much now I hope AFI turns into BFE or something. The biggest difference is that it takes a lot longer for anything to start playing, as in about 90 seconds.

When it does start, guess what song plays maybe 85% of the time? If you said Frank Sinatra’s “Luck Be a Lady,” you’d be wrong. It plays that blasted AFI track.

Now I’ve had the OS reinstalled or updated on that car at least 3 times since the iPods died, and they have completely failed to remove that track from the system cache. The scary thing is that now it really is completely random. Some days, the USB drive might remember where I left off. Most of the time, it does not.

Here’s where it goes from straitjacket territory onto something that would make Jack Nicholson’s character in The Shining look like a viable candidate for a preschool teacher. This infotainment system has no power button. When it fails, (did I mention which is every single day I drive the car?) you have to just let it go or hit the mute button until you can stop, shut off the engine and restart it. Once on I-75 between Lexington and Cincinnati, I actually had to exit the freeway, stop the car, restart it then wait for it all to start up again after it froze up. I have since found a 3-button combination I can hold down for 10 whole seconds in order to relaunch the system. That’s wonderful, in a modern car that wants so much for me to keep my hands on the wheel and eyes on the road.

There are buttons on the steering wheel that I don’t use because the same ones are only 14 inches away from my leg. There’s a HUD so I can see my speed without looking down at something so cumbersome and awkward as a speedometer. I have a nice big tachometer that is useless because the car shifts when it wants to, not when I want it to. The mirrors light up and blink at me if I use my signal and a car might be in the blind spot. Never mind that I know how to look quickly over my shoulder first. There is a camera in the back that lets me see what I’m about to back into when in reverse, rendering my ability to actually look behind me with my eyes as inconvenient for once. Actually, that reverse camera is kind of cool.

In the end, this rant is about a car that is about 97% perfect in every drivable way. The sad thing is that that last 3% are the very things that are most important to me in a new car. You never can tell straight off the dealer’s lot. You need a few months with a car to really get to know it’s flair. So a good internet deal ended up being more than I bargained for. Every review raved about this car. All the magazines said it was great. No one noticed the lack of the power button on the infotainment system. (I even ran that past the rep at the Detroit Auto Show in January)

Couple all that with the fact that this car was dinged in a fender bender after one week of ownership, and you can see why I just want to start over. Yes, that first month where you really start to learn your new set of wheels, the thing was in a shop having the entire rear suspension replaced. It’s factory brand new and in perfect specs, but the Carfax seekers won’t care about that.

I think the time has come to embrace the fact that I’ve been screwed, jump ship and buy something that just screws you in the repair & maintenance dept.  You can at least prepare for that and you know ahead of time how much a timing belt replacement costs.

I hope people from Mazda read this, and I hope they all are forced to drive Reliant Robins for the rest of their lives. That’ll show ’em why you pay attention to details to the nth degree!

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A Tribute to a Really Great Car

In January 2002 I bought my first brand new car, a Mazda Protege5. I have kept it for these twelve years but racked up only 158k miles on the odometer. That’s only half its life at a minimum. I’ve spent enough time behind the wheel in that car to have it feel like an extension of my home. So selling it has been… strange.

I’ve been researching new cars since October of last year, just checking out what was available and pricing. I read many reports and reviews hoping to find the one magic bean in the mix, the car that’s SO great, you’d be stupid not to buy one.

I did not find that vehicle. So why did I buy a new one this weekend?

I’m a driving purist. If I have to operate a motor vehicle, I expect it to do exactly what I want it to do. I want to be in complete control over every aspect. I don’t want a car that shifts by itself, I want a third clutch pedal and a stick to row through the gears. Manual transmissions are going the way of cassette decks in cars. No one else seems to want them so almost no one makes a good one anymore. I want it to handle well and steer exactly where I point it. No play in the wheel, just instant response to every bit. In short, I should be driving a $400,000 supercar. Right.

I don’t give a rip about car technology other than how good the stereo sounds. Now you’ll find cars that park themselves, will stop if you get too close to driving through your garage wall, and will warn you that you’re drifting out of your lane because you just couldn’t wait to make that text. There is technology available on cars now that when added to the lack of manual transmissions, enable drivers to get worse and worse.

I absolutely hate the idea of willingly spending large sums of money for a new car just to get something new. It’s partially why I never was interested in anything new over the past dozen years. It’s partially why I intend to keep my next car even longer. I had even set in my mind that I’d never EVER buy another new car simply because they can’t convince me anything is better than what I have.

So what did I go and do? I bought a new car. With an automatic transmission. I feel like I just sold out. I feel as if I betrayed an old friend, stabbed them in the back so to speak, in order to go with the new flashy trend setting post-hipster to a new kind of party, one that will last just as long, but be a bit more subdued, mature if you will. But there’s some practicality in there. A car is an inanimate object. It has no feelings. My old car is starting to need repairs that will cost as much as its worth. Even though it’s always cheaper to keep repairing an old car, it makes little sense to keep putting good money into something that will not retain value any longer. Besides, I’ve already done that. I’ve put more into routine maintenance and repairs than I ever expected to tolerate, based on my first few cars when I was younger. So what’ interesting about this purchase?

I bought the exact same car as I got in 2002. Only this time it’s called a 2014 Mazda3 hatchback s Grand Touring.

Here’s the stupidity of it: It’s the top trim level, with everything except the tech package, and it outperforms my old car in every way, even in the automatic transmission. It approaches the cost of an entry-level BMW. It has standard features that I’d never buy outright but are cool to have. It looks like a work of art and drives like a car that costs twice as much.

Here’s the smart of it: After thorough homework on my part, I was able to tell the dealer was more interested in selling the car than screwing me over on price. I was so dumbstruck by how his price actually came in lower than I expected, that I didn’t even attempt to haggle. I just said, “Duhhh, dat’s a good price!” Then he went on to offer me more for my trade in than it was actually worth by a few hundred dollars. I completely abandoned my rationale which was to collect the information, go back to the internet and use it as leverage between dealers. You know, get them to compete. Instead I decided that since this guy was playing straight, I’d buy. And aside of a backup camera and a heads-up display, there’s no idiotic technology to get in the way.

Most people drive away in their new car. I did not. Mine has to come from Cleveland because they didn’t have the right color. It has to be black, and I don’t like paying extra for that great-looking Mazda red. I’ll take delivery later today, and turn over the oldster. Weirdly enough, It’s after 4 AM and I’ve been awake since 3:30. I can’t sleep for some reason.

Eventually this will all be water under the bridge. I’ll be comfortable in the new car, I’ll eventually forget what it was like to need the clutch pedal, and I’ll grow a little older. I’ve been learning that life is best lived by taking calculated risks, looking forward and not dwelling on the past. I have always failed at the latter, becoming far too sentimental about trivial things.

Ultimately despite the nature of what’s going on here, this car purchase will be helping me be a little less selfish. My wife will be able to share this car instead of having to learn to shift. My son will come of age and learn to drive on this one. I’ll be less likely to drive like a complete maniac, which I’ve been known to do when I can shift precisely and hit the corners hard on twisty roads.

And the stereo sounds phenomenal.


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