Midsize Sedan Reviews: Mazda6 and Lexus IS 350

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Jul 312021
Mazda6 Signature
Lexus IS 350 F Sport

Believe it or not, fans of the sedan do still exist and at a time when computer chip shortages have made most sport utility vehicles hard to find, overlooked sedans may lurking on the lot. Packed with standard features and new technology, the modern sedan has gotten sleeker inside and out. Latino Traffic Report recently drove the Mazda6, specifically the top-of-the-line Signature trim as well as the Lexus IS 350 F Sport, two viable sedan options with more in common than expected.


UltraSuede dash.

Mazda’s flagship midsize sedan, the Mazda6, pushes style and refinement but the Signature trim is considered the most aspirational in the lineup.

Regarding its design, the test model Mazda6 set itself apart on the outside with unique features like a gunmetal front grille and on the inside, with Nappa leather seating enhanced by heated and cooled seats, Japanese Sen wood and gilded UltraSuede (right), accents that most carmakers save for their luxury nameplates.

Convenience features on the Mazda6 also hit a high mark with a 360-degree View Monitor (backup camera) with front and rear parking sensors, a seven-inch reconfigurable digital gauge cluster, and Mazda’s navigation system with Traffic Sign Recognition, an essential feature for speed traps. On the test model, a black headliner, frameless rearview mirror, LED ambient lights and unique stitching on the leather-wrapped steering wheel completed the heightened look and feel. Plus, the rear seat was split 60/40 for added utility and access to the trunk.

For 2021, Mazda enhances the standard safety suite of features by adding radar cruise control with stop-and-go function, pedestrian detection, collision and lane departure warning with Lane-Keep Assist, and a blind spot monitor with Rear Cross-Traffic Alert.

The test model added a rear spoiler, ambient cabin lighting, and XM Travel and Traffic Link.

While it offers more luxury than most in its segment, the Mazda6 doesn’t ignore performance. A more powerful turbocharged 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine with Mazda’s signature Skyactiv fuel saving technology with 227 horses and 310 lb.–ft. of torque powered the test model. The engine was matched to a six-speed automatic transmission with a Sport mode for a more aggressive performance.

The EPA estimated fuel economy on the Mazda was 23 miles per gallon (mpg) in the city and 31 mpg on the highway. It averaged 26 mpg on the weeklong test drive.

The starting price for the base model 2021 Mazda6 is $25,270. The as-tested price came to $36,620. For fans of Mazda’s signature Soul Red Crystal Metallic exterior paint color, that’ll cost an extra $595.

Lexus IS 350

The IS represents the entry level Lexus sedan model for car buyers who aspire to move into the luxury segment.

As such, the IS reflects the brand’s distinctive design DNA, namely the spindle grille, while pushing its sportier side.

One would assume luxury nameplates always include a bigger list of standard features but that’s not always true, for instance, leather seating is not offered on the IS, including on the test model, IS 350 F Sport considered near the top-of-the-line IS—replacing rear-wheel drive with all-wheel drive on the test model would have made it top of line. NuLuxe, a man-made leather upholstery, is standard on the IS but also convincing as a leather alternative. Lexus’s dramatic color palate for the seating also helps. The test model came with black seats with gray accents and blue stitching. The shift knob and steering wheel, however, were leather trimmed.

As expected, the Lexus included a healthy list of safety features, like pre-collision warning with pedestrian detection, adaptive cruise control, Lexus Enform Safety Connect and Service Connect, a blind spot monitor with rear cross-traffic alert, and Smart Watch and Alexa Skill integration, among other features. The parking sensor, however, didn’t always engage.

Lexus is one of the few automakers to stick with a six-cylinder engine and that’s what powers the IS, specifically a 3.5-liter V6 that produces 311 hp and 280 lb.­–ft. of torque. Matched to an eight-speed automatic transmission, the test model also came with drive modes and paddle shifters on the steering wheel for better performance. It had an EPA estimated city/highway fuel economy of 20/28 mpg and averaged 23.3 mpg on the test drive.

As mentioned, the test model came equipped with the F Sport package ($3,735) that put badging wherever possible and with a sportier look inside, like metal pedals and bolstered front seats, but more importantly, a sport tuned and adaptive variable suspension, limited slip rear differential, and 19-inch alloy wheels. It also added fancy features like a power rear sunshade and illuminated door sills. For 2021, only the IS 350 comes in an F Sport model.

Starting price on the 2021 Lexus IS is $39,050 without destination fees. The as-tested price came to $52,484.

Sí: The Mazda6 may seem pricey but it effectively combines luxury amenities with a sporty performance.

The Lexus IS 350 F Sport offers a sporty performance in a snazzy package.

No: The lack of leather seating on any Lexus seemed odd and the level of road noise was surprising.

The infotainment system on the Mazda6 was a bit clunky and hard to program.

Compact Car Review: 2020 Mazda3 Hatchback

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Aug 122020

How do you become a brand’s top-selling model in the world? Features like fuel economy and affordability seem to help, but give car a hatchback and it earns another advantage, utility. Mazda accomplished that with its entry-level model, the Mazda3, but not content to stop there, Mazda decided compact hatches needed one more attribute, performance. Latino Traffic Report recently tested the 2020 Mazda3 hatchback and it delivered on most of the above, although its sportiness does come at a cost.

A 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine with 186 horses and 186 lb.–ft. of torque powers all Mazda3s. While it’s available with a six-speed manual transmission, which tends to heighten the sporty experience, the test model came with the six-speed automatic transmission with the Sport mode.  

Mazda3 gauge cluster.

Equipped with iActive all-wheel-drive, the test model had an EPA estimated fuel economy of 24 miles per gallon (mpg) in the city and 32 mpg on the highway. It’s the lowest EPA rating for the Mazda3 lineup but only by two mpg in the city and three mpg on the highway. It averaged 29.3 mpg during the weeklong test drive. The 60/40-split rear seats folded flat to reveal 47.1 of cubic ft. of cargo room.

While the test model did not come in Mazda’s signature Soul Red Crystal exterior paint color, it did have red leather seats on the inside by virtue of being the top-of-the-line or Premium trim level.  The Premium trim also included a power moonroof, paddle shifters, a head-up display on the windshield or in Mazda vernacular, Active Driving Display, and adaptive front lighting, among other features.

Compared to a sedan, a hatchback brings added value and fun so the list of standard safety features gets a bit more generous. All Mazda3 hatchbacks include a rear backup camera, a blind spot monitor with rear cross-traffic alert, adaptive cruise control, lane keep assist, and Driver Attention Alert that monitors the driver’s alertness and issues an alarm if it senses fatigue, among other features.

Mazda’s infotainment system starts with Mazda Connect and an 8.8-inch display, HD radio, Android Auto or Apple CarPlay, eight speakers, and voice command. The test model also came with XM Satellite, but the overall set-up, with a volume control in the center console next to the shift knob, was awkward and the process for setting channel favorites was counterintuitive.

Other luxury features on the test model included heated front seats, dual-zone climate control, aluminum speaker grills, the Bose premium audio system, and an eight-way power front seat.

Pricing for the 2020 Mazda3 hatchback starts at $24,495. The as-tested pricing for the hatchback came to $31,470. By comparison, the Mazda3 sedan starts at $21,895.

Sí: Fun to drive, the Mazda3 hatchback lives up to its promise of performance and utility.

CUV Review: Mazda CX-9

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Feb 282018

The Mazda CX-9 pictured in front of this historical mural in Bertram, Texas.

Packed up and ready to leave campus at UT Austin.

You never know when you’ll get a chance to use all the cubic feet of cargo carrying capacity in a crossover utility vehicle (CUV), but when your nephew moves out of his dorm that’s as good a time as any. Latino Traffic Report recently tested the Mazda CX-9 Grand Touring including its 71.2 cubic feet of cargo volume with the second and third rows folded flat that provided just enough room to make the move in one trip.

First introduced in 2007, the midsize CUV entered its second generation with the redesigned version in 2016. The CX-9’s success helped grow a complete lineup of CUVs for Mazda and it continues to lead the way for its siblings, offering more versatility and improved drivability.

Cargo can also be defined as people. While classified as a midsize CUV, the CX-9 is the largest offering from Mazda, with three rows of seating and a capacity to seat seven. The seats folded easily, sans breaking a nail, to reveal the cargo room. Once loading began, I was shocked at  how much we managed to fit in the CX-9.

Available with all-wheel-drive (AWD), the test model was configured as a front-wheel drive (FWD) giving it a fuel economy advantage over the AWD. A 2.5-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine that can achieve 227 horsepower and 310 ft.–lb. of torque, matched to a six-speed automatic transmission with Sport and manual shift mode comprise Mazda’s Skyactiv powertrain on all CX-9s. The FWD version should achieve an EPA estimated city/highway fuel economy of 22/28 miles per gallon (mpg). I averaged 26.1 mpg in the city and up to 27 mpg on the highway during the test.

While transporting the cargo, many other assets from the CX-9 emerged, like a standard rearview camera, Bluetooth, and the Mazda Connect infotainment system, with a seven-inch or the available the eight-inch touch screen that came with the test model. Compared to other infotainment systems, however, this one was not so user friendly. While the number of presets, from AM to XM, is limitless, it took four—five steps to program each one.

One away from the top-of-the-line trim, the Grand Touring included additional features like a head up display, navigation, second-row retractable sunshades, leather trimmed seats with heated seats in the front and second-row (new for 2018), and Sirius/XM satellite radio. Convenience features included Lane Keep Assist, Mazda Advanced Keyless Entry and Start System, Mazda Radar Cruise Control, and a Rear Backup Sensor.

The best news for 2018 is that the blind spot monitor and rear cross traffic alert are now included as standard on all CX-9s. New standard features for 2018 on the test model included a heated steering wheel and Active Driving with sign recognition that uses a camera to update speed limit information instantly. Additional standard creature comforts on the test model included the Bose AM/FM/HD satellite radio, a power liftgate, second-row window sunshades, and a power moonroof.

Pricing for the 2018 CX-9 starts at $33,070. The as-tested price came to $41,810.

: The CX-9 makes room for plenty of cargo with its easy to fold flat seats.  Super kudos for making the blind spot monitor and forward collision warning standard on all models.

No: Mazda Connect infotainment could be more intuitive.




Car Review: 2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata

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Aug 262016

2015-11-10 miata

Summer’s winding down and in Texas that means convertible season is about to begin. The selection in this segment has dwindled over the years but one little roadster celebrated 26 years of success this year. For 2016, the Mazda MX-5 Miata gets a whole new look and improvements. On a recent test drive of the MX-5 Grand Touring for Latino Traffic Report, it made me smile just looking at it, and from ear-to-ear after getting behind the wheel.

While the convertible still requires a manual release rather than an automatic one, the cloth top is light so it can be done quickly and easily—with one hand in my case.2015-11-10 miata.side

As expected, the diminutive Miata is fuel efficient, but the fourth-generation MX-5 adopts SKYACTIV Technology for a 25-percent greater fuel-efficiency and drops 150 pounds to make it faster and save even more gas.

The test model powertrain included a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine matched to the SKYACTIV six-speed manual transmission. It had an EPA estimated rating of 27 miles per gallon (mpg) in the city and 34 mpg on the highway. I averaged 31.2 mpg during the weeklong test. While the manual transmission ramps up the Miata’s sporty performance, a six-speed automatic transmission is also available.

2015-11-10 miata.seatsA double-wishbone front suspension further enhanced performance as well as a lightweight but rigid rear multilink setup.

Known for a driving experience best described as “zoom-zoom,” Mazda was also one of the first to offer safety technology that had been reserved for premium brands, like a blind-spot monitor. On the top-of-the-line Touring model that I tested, Mazda goes further by adding rear cross traffic alert as a standard feature, along with the blind spot monitor. Sadly, these features are not available on the Sport and Club trims.

2015-11-10 miata.dashAll three MX-5 trim levels, however, come equipped with air conditioning, a push-button starter, cruise control, steering wheel mounted audio and speed controls, power door locks, USB input, Bluetooth wireless phone pairing and audio streaming, a leather shift knob, and as an added bonus, a CD player. The Touring adds heated leather trimmed seats, a Bose audio system and Mazda Connect infotainment system (standard on the Club trim as well) with a seven-inch color touch screen, and navigation. The number of radio presets was limited to twelve and couldn’t be set while the car was in motion, an odd inconvenience.

Probably the greatest appeal of the Miata, besides the open-air ride, is its value—it’s one of the most affordable convertibles in its segment. Pricing for the 2016 Miata MX-5 starts at $25,735. The as-tested pricing came to $31,315.2015-11-10 miata.rear


Sí: The Miata is a fun and affordable roadster, packed with lots of features.

No: Safety features like a blind spot monitor should be available on the lower trim levels and I need at least 40 presets on a radio.

Reviews: 2015 Mazda3 i Touring

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Aug 242015

2015-02-04 mazda3.front

Offering great value, compact cars may be popular, but not extraordinary. The 2015 Mazda3 is one of the better choices in its segment.

This little four-door sedan (it’s also available as a five-door hatchback) sets itself apart from the competition in a couple ways—its SKYACTIVE system for better fuel economy and the availability of features not normally found at this price point.

The best-selling model for Mazda, it was redesigned in 2014 and was the first Mazda in North America to feature SKYACTIV components.

It’s available with two engine choices in the United States. I drove the SKYACTIV-G 2.0-liter four-cylinder that comes standard on the base model. A 2.5-liter is also available. Either can be mated to a six-speed manual or six-speed automatic transmission.

2015-02-04 mazda3.smallScore a point for Mazda for not limiting manual transmission enthusiasts to considering only an as-is base model like several manufacturers do. The test model I drove came with the automatic, which was nice, but with these little cars, a manual can be so much more fun.

As mentioned, Mazda introduced SKYACTIV to save gas. The EPA estimated fuel economy for the Mazda3 I drove was 30 miles per gallon (mpg) in the city and 41 mpg on the highway. I averaged 34.5 mpg.

The third out of four trim levels, the Touring version I drove really ramps up the packaging by including a blind spot monitor as a standard feature.

While a back-up camera will be required in all vehicles by 2018, my favorite safety feature is still the blind spot monitor. Who wouldn’t love a technology that could avoid more than 100 deaths and more than 8,000 injuries each year, according to the National Highway and Traffic Safety Association (NHTSA)?

MY2014 Mazda 3

This feature first appeared on luxury models—I first experienced it in 2004 at the launch of the Volvo S60. It has begun to trickle down to more affordable models but usually as an option or part of a technology package. While NHTSA ponders requiring the technology on future vehicles, score another point for Mazda for being a trailblazer when it comes to bringing this feature to the masses.

Other cool standard features on the test model included a rearview camera, rear cross traffic alert, a leather-wrapped brake handle, shift knob and three-spoke steering wheel with contrast stitching, and 60/40 split rear seats with a rear seat folding armrest with cup holders.

All Mazda3s come with push button start, air conditioning, and remote keyless entry.

Another optional feature not normally offered at this price point is the Active Driving Display, a clear pop-up panel, vertically mounted behind the meter hood to deliver vehicle speed, navigational directions and other related driving information safely within the driver’s line of sight. Unfortunately, it’s not available on the Touring trim level I drove so I didn’t’ get to test it.

As a sedan, the Mazda3 adds versatility by stretching cargo room to 47.1 cubic feet with the rear seats folded flat.

Optional features on the test model included the Technology Package ($1600) that added dual-zone climate control, a CD player with MP3 connectivity (yay!), a moonroof, and the Bose nine-speaker stereo with Satellite Radio.

A true leader in its segment considering value, fuel efficiency, and versatility, the 2015 Mazda3 i Touring has a base price of $21,440. The as-tested price came to $23,410.


Sí: Standard blind spot monitor and manual transmission available throughout the lineup.

No: The audio system wasn’t very intuitive.