COAL: 2019 Mazda CX-5 Touring – What A Long, Strange Trip It’s Been

The problem with history is it won’t stand still.  I arrived at this conclusion while reading the Road & Track road test of a 435 horsepower ’69 Corvette posted this week on this inestimable site.  Truth be told, I re-read the piece as I bought that issue of R&T when it hit the newsstand long, long ago in a different world and another age.  For some inexplicable reason I can recall some events from fifty years ago in incredible detail, while other times I struggle to recall my cell phone number.  You know what they say about aging, but that applies to other people, not ourselves, am I right?

In any event, I remember with clarity the disappointment that met the C3 Corvette when it was first tested by the Road & Track crew.  Of course in those days you could guarantee that anything designed in Detroit would be met with skepticism at R&T, which seems odd on the face of it, but truth be told one of the Crown Jewels of the automotive press establishment would not succumb to hometown boosterism until some decades later.  Given that advertising revenue was the lifeblood of a magazine back in the heyday of the printing press, it seems strange that such iconoclasm should not only survive, but prosper. › new-cars › reviews › a9794 › 1968-chevrolet-350-hp-corvette

In tune with their anti-‘Murican cars brief, the road test mavens concluded that not only did the newly styled Corvette fail in any bid to be an actual improvement over the old one, in some ways it had regressed.  In fact, they hauled out the argument of style for style’s sake referenced in these pages last week.  The charge was that the ‘Vette had been reworked not to materially advance the platform, but as a styling exercise.  If we’re ready to promote the notion that technological change is always moving the needle forward, then as R&T implied, ‘fuhgettaboutit’.  The editors noted that instead of making the car more efficient, it had in fact gained both length and weight while providing less space for both passengers and cargo than the C2; apparently all of the highly touted Corvette skunk works engineering prowess had been used up making vacuum activated headlight covers and another actual panel covering the windshield wipers that lifted up into the airstream when the wipers were in use.  Also, there were fiber-optic glow points in the console that told you which of your lights were functioning.

Apparently, little attention had been paid to the chassis.  I suppose that the Chevrolet engineers figured they had provided an IRS setup to the USA back in 1963, so their work was done.  GM management most likely lost exactly zero sleep over the Chevy flagship as essentially it had no competition aside from a few Cobras trickling out of Carroll Shelby’s hangar.  The rumored mid-engine ‘Vette proved to be vaporware. And after all, why spend resources when you have the market cornered?  So, I’m not sure what R&T had in mind . . . I take it back, of course I do; they wanted a Ferrari or Aston Martin, you know, something with aluminum castings, a brace, at least, of overhead cams, and an alloy body like those beaten into shape by heavily muscled artisans on tree stumps somewhere outside of Modena or Newport Pagnell.  All of this, of course, for $6 grand, or roughly half the price of the aforementioned exotics.  We won’t even bring up running or maintenance costs for the exotic Italian and Brit compared to the mechanically un-exotic Corvette because that just gets depressing.  But R&T knew what it wanted and never apologized.

Headlights up, windshield wiper cover down.

As for the 427 ‘Vette tested the following year, you have to wonder if R&T put it through its paces just to be provocative.  The year before they’d been handed a 435 HP 427 and promptly handed it back, deeming it to be useless as a transportation device.  Today we would scoff and say, of course, that was the point, but R&T was consistent in its refusal to be tainted or tempted by something so base as 1/4 mile times.  Apparently, they could watch a grossly overpowered two-seater burn its rear tires down to the the cords without jumping up and down cheering like any normal American would do.  Something about this smacks of a sort of elitism, or maybe they really were principled.  On the other hand, take something like the Ferrari Daytona mentioned in this space some weeks ago:  its performance window (and fuel consumption) was similar, save for a top speed basically unusable in most of the USA without fear of imprisonment.  R&T raved about the Daytona.  Of course, as transportation devices both are so unsuitable for normal traffic and road conditions as to be ridiculous if viewed objectively.  Objectivity?  What’s that?  We’re car geeks.

Which brings us back to the notion that history is a mercurial thing;  those early C3’s panned by Road & Track at their birth are now highly sought after Classics.  We’re not talking about restomods engineered with an eye to updating them into something usable and safe . . . we are referring to R&T’s actual unusable transportation devices fifty-odd years down the road.  They are no easier to drive and are no less functionally outrageous today and no doubt that’s part of their appeal to a certain audience.  Of course with fifty years of development and hindsight humankind has progressed to the point where we now recognize the foolishness of delivering vast quantities of horsepower to the untrained masses, right?

Well . . .

To recap, the documented above Unusable as Transportation Device developed 435 horsepower from its 427 cubic inch V8 and ran a 14.3 quarter mile at 98 mph. Today we have two electric four door sedans, a Lucid Air Sapphire and a Tesla Model S Plaid  that develop 1200 and 1020 horsepower, respectively.  The Lucid Air runs the quarter mile in 9.1 seconds @ 151 mph.  The Tesla manages 9.3 @152. The conventional run-of-the-mill internal combustion powered W-16 Bugatti Chiron beat the Tesla with a 9.3 @ 156, but it finished a few car lengths behind the Lucid. However, at the end of the quarter mile the Chiron will accelerate pretty much into infinity with a top speed of 305 miles per hour or thereabouts, a capability that of course would come in handy during your morning commute.

Granted, the Tesla costs $120,000, the Lucid $250,000, while the Bugatti starts at an affordable $ 3,299,995, so, depending on your income level, you may not see many on your block.  But perhaps the question should be asked:  how many people are capable of handling that kind of power?  I realize that many driver’s aids exist in modern cars designed to keep you between the white lines, but eventually the laws of physics must apply.  I suspect that the number of drivers capable of handling over one thousand horsepower are quite limited, and most of them are normally found driving around modified circles in Indianapolis, Monte Carlo, and Darlington.  The rest work for Hollywood.  In 1969, it’s doubtful your average Yuba City Dentist who might have been able to afford a 427 Corvette would have been qualified to drive it in anger.  Is your average San Fran hedge fund manager any more qualified to handle a Lucid Air?  At least the dentist would have been required to acquire the skill to negotiate a Muncie four-speed, a clutch, and sometimes unpowered steering.  With a Lucid, you just mash the accelerator pedal.  And after all, the Corvette and Bugatti are sports cars and so we might assume that their buyers have some idea what to expect; the Tesla and Lucid are four door sedans that carry five people including Grandma in comfort, ostensibly.  Do Tesla and Lucid warn potential buyers of the hazards of hitting 150 mph on Wilshire Boulevard?

The horsepower wars are an interesting intellectual and engineering exercise, but eventually someone has to ask about the moral and practical implications.  The 187 horsepower that my current vehicle churns out is the most horsepower of any car that I’ve ever owned.  Our Geo Metro had 49, and yet somehow we survived to tell the tale and didn’t even realize we were underprivileged.  If the Geo (and Simca, Saab, Lancia, Plymouth, Aerostar, et. al.) were underpowered, we nevertheless managed to survive with dignity intact, thank you.  The makers of our current vehicle now offer an optional turbocharged model that develops 250 horsepower (still less than a quarter of the Lucid and Tesla quoted total) if you fill the gas tank with 93 octane.  Why would I spend the extra money for the turbo?  I don’t have any trouble keeping up with Seattle traffic (pause for laughter) and I can comfortably cruise at 85 should I wander into the underpopulated eastern counties of the state of Warshington (sic).  Am I so bereft of meaningful experience that I have to resort to the cheap (well, not that cheap) thrills of warp speed acceleration?

I dunno.  I do know that Brave New World hand-wringing aside, at some point you come to realize that today’s high-tech is tomorrow’s Jeopardy question.  I wasn’t actually around at the time, but I suspect that in 1932 the Duesenberg SJ would have been looked on with awe and many would have concluded that nothing would ever match its engineering excellence and soul-shattering speed.  Today we still look at it in awe, but mostly because it is so big and unfamiliar.  We can appreciate it as a period piece and marvel at the quality of its workmanship and design, but my modest compact Mazda SUV could beat the SJ in both 0-60 and the 1/4 mile while providing a level of comfort and safety unthinkable in 1932.  It doesn’t take a great deal of imagination to project that in ninety years if humankind still exists after the Singularity that any entity curious enough to look at the Lucid Air will consider it quaint.  It may be impossible to relate to, as the 2112 mode of transportation will eclipse our poor early 21st century offerings; it might not look like something from Blade Runner, but it will be as far removed from the Lucid as the Lucid is from the Duesenberg.

But now I’ve revealed the actual subject of this COAL, not that I’m being coy, but I’m trying to make my long-winded point, which, if I remember right, is that nothing is so constant as change. In other words, don’t pay too much attention to history (although I incorporate many of its unchanging lessons seriously) because next week it may have been revised, again.  Even our own point of view changes on some kind of sliding scale:  in the course of my lifetime I’ve shifted my beliefs all over the map in many areas, but I’m not going to traverse that minefield in this forum save to mention that twenty years ago I held the burgeoning class of sport utility vehicles in contempt.  My reasoning went that they were inefficient poseurs and gasoline swillers:  too big, too tall, poor handling, and not really that great for off-road use.  What exactly was the point, then?  Essentially, I believed that the SUV manifestation was that decade’s Brougham Era.

So what do I drive today?  A Mazda CX-5, or, in other words, an SUV. It may be that I’ve drunk the kool-aid, or it may be that my own needs and priorities have shifted, or it may be that the product itself has improved exponentially.  Twenty years ago I was too busy to spend my days wandering about the wilderness of the Pacific Northwest; today, I spend a great deal of time on Forest Service roads seeking the grail of solitude, along with, ironically, thousands of other hikers.  Given my automotive druthers, I’d be driving a Miata (so long as I could find a suitable crane to get myself in and out of it).  But now I tend to need available AWD and ground clearance, or at least I think I do–I confess that I often see normal sedans at the trailheads, although usually not when there’s a foot of snow on the ground.

Your faithful servant on Mt. Rainier.

In any case, when the time came to replace the esteemed Mazda 3 Hatchback described here last week, I realized that I was going to have to bite the bullet, swallow my pride, change my flag, and embrace the current idiom, aka the SUV.  The question was, how far down the primrose path was I willing to wander?  I mean I could jump in with both feet and sign up for a Jeep Wrangler, or I could compromise and get what serious off-roaders disparagingly called a ‘cute-ute’.  As the new vehicle was going to be our sole mode of transport, a Wrangler wasn’t at the top of the list as driving one around town and on the interstate is officially listed in the DSM as a form of masochism, or sadism if you are carrying passengers.  That narrowed the list down, but only slightly.

Fortunately, I’d had occasion to drive or ride in most of the candidates for the honor of gracing our humble garage.  I scratched a few from the ticket early on.  The best-sellers, both Toyota RAV4 and Honda CR-V, left me cold, the Toyota because of its forced styling and, when I checked out the local dealers, an unfathomable pricing scheme; the Honda because of wonky styling and its 1.5 turbocharged four, which was rumored to have oil dilution issues, and, oh boy, I’d had my fill of Honda and oil issues.  Until Tesla took over the title, the Subaru Outback had been the champ-een of Tapioca Beach, ubiquitous and unlovely.  I never contracted the Subaru virus; I hate to ramble on like some Victorian aesthete, but Subarus are not so much styled as decorated–someone at Subaru HQ draws a box and then pencils in some trinkets and black moldings.  Kia and Hyundai were considered, but I could never get a handle on Kia pricing and although the Tucson was attractive, it failed to shoulder its way into the top three.

The top three?  I misspoke.  Actually it was the top two.  I liked the VW Tiguan, and although the press was mixed about its virtues, at least it looked good and had some useful features.  I went so far as to investigate two dealerships to see pricing and what was available.  In the end, though, I had to go back to Mazda.  After our bulletproof Protégé and 3, it seemed foolish to look elsewhere.  At the same time, it wasn’t that the CX-5 was a middle-of-the-pack offering; it always finished first or close to it no matter what test you bothered to reference.  It’s true that it may not have been the most capable offering off-road, but I wasn’t going to be rock-crawling at Moab, was I?  I just needed something that could negotiate Forest Service roads and manage to find its way through the sometimes abundant Cascade Mountain snow.

I spent some time looking at specs, attempting to find the best combination of features, keeping in mind that I really did need it for light off-road duty.  In the end it came down to the fact that the Touring edition had P225/65HR17 tires while the Grand Touring had P225/55VR19’s.  That extra bit of sidewall on the 17 inchers could be critical when it came time to take on the sometimes brutal mountain roads of the PNW.  The leather upholstery and other gee-gaws of the GT didn’t tempt me–I could add the ‘Preferred Equipment Package’ (Bose stereo, sunroof, power tailgate, Homelink) that got me to 80% of the GT without the stuff I didn’t want.

Mazda Styling’s finest hour.

All that was left to do was to e-mail my homies at the U-District Mazda dealer, tell them what I’d chosen, and see what they had in stock.  They gave me the lowdown and the usual reasonable quote that same day and so with mixed feelings we cleaned out the beloved 3 and took it on its final journey, bidding it a sad farewell.  Linda was a nurse at Childens’ Hospital in Seattle for forty years and it so happened that our salesperson had a grandchild who had recently passed away there.  Tears were shed and bonds were formed while I stayed in the background.  It wasn’t the car-buying experience you expect to have, but then none of the staff at U Mazda had ever fit the car sales stereotypes.  Sadly, U Mazda, the very first Mazda dealer in the USA, sold out to a competitor during Covid and so that relationship is now in the past, but it lasted over a twenty year period, which is a rare thing in this day and age.

The Last Homely House.


Linda drew the straw for color choice, and selected a dark blue metallic CX-5 Touring AWD with all the equipment described above.  The seats were upholstered in a leather-look vinyl with faux suede inserts that prove to be cool in the summer and warm in the winter and after three years show little sign of wear.  On the other hand, they are black and require frequent vacuuming should one suffer from OCD.  The cargo compartment proved to be on another level compared to anything that came before it, save the Aerostar.  It holds not only a Fender Twin Reverb and a Vox AC-30, but also the Fender Deluxe and half my current collection of git-tars.  The sad thing is that old band of mine is no more, scattered by the eight winds to various parts of the country in the wake of Covid, so in a sense I’m all dressed up with nowhere to go. Of course the trunk can be used to carry all sorts of novelties, including carpet rolls.

Trunk sans amplifiers.


I can’t begin to list all the features, partly because after three years I still don’t know how to use them all.  Suffice to say that the windshield wipers know when it’s raining, the headlights know when to dim themselves, the steering wheel vibrates when I get too close to a white or yellow line, the mirrors light up and the car beeps a warning when someone is in my blind spot.  The cruise control is of the active variety and so adjusts its speed depending on what’s happening in front of you, but can be overridden with a poke at the gas pedal.  Should the car in front of you slow suddenly, the CX-5 will brake itself, which scared the bejesus out of me the first time it happened. In the entertainment arena, Bose has provided a stereo with ten speakers that is so much better than any sound system in my house that it’s slightly embarrassing.  Apparently the CX-5 deems that I have grown feeble as the tailgate rises and lowers with the touch of a button, no questions asked.  A sunroof allows whatever scarce Pacific Northwest light is available into the cabin, thus keeping the vampires at bay whenever we visit Forks on the Olympic Peninsula.

Room at last!

I’m certain if I were to peruse the owner’s manual again I would find more forgotten features, but of course the Mazda is still a transportation device that will stand or fall on what it’s like to drive.  Needless to say, it isn’t a Miata, but given its bulk, height, and weight, it still acquits itself well on the road.  I’m not going to try to convince you that it’s a sports car, but neither is it a wallowing walrus that bobs down the road like a ’58 Buick (and I would know, as my Dad owned one).  The brakes don’t quite inspire the confidence that was one of the 3’s prominent characteristics, but they still do the job.  The Mazda does excel in fairly high speed cruising (once I leave the eternal gridlock of the greater Puget Sound), as it is extremely quiet and tracks like a Casey Jones piloted locomotive, plus, wonder of wonder, you can see over things, which is a greatly underrated quality that largely explains why so many are attracted to SUV’s.  I drove our daughter’s newish 3 sedan a few weeks ago and was reminded how frustrating it can be to feel buried in a sea of cars and trucks.

The Princess of Tapioca Beach.

As for reliability, it still has only around 34,000 miles on it, so it’s just getting broken in.  I service it when it tells me to, which may mean more oil changes than strictly necessary, but I do plan to keep it for awhile and an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, as B. Franklin was wont to say.  Fuel consumption, amazingly, is nearly identical to our much smaller Mazda 3, so the argument that SUV’s are wasteful of resources begins to dim.  However, its current tires likely won’t last much past 40,000 miles, but that’s par for the course with original equipment rubber.  Otherwise, there are no tales to tell, as in typical Mazda fashion it goes about its business with no drama and no unscheduled dealer trips.  As for filling its original brief, Forest Service roads strike less fear in it than they do in me.  I’ve yet to feel it bottom out and it’s reassuring to feel the rear tires kick in when needed, something that occurs seamlessly and unobtrusively.  My sole concern is my 2.5 liter SkyActiv four is equipped with cylinder deactivation . . . I never really feel it in operation, but I know it’s there and I’m also aware of CD’s less than stellar history in other makes and models over the years.  Only time will tell.  Nevertheless, I only read today that Consumer Reports ranks the CX-5 in its top ten most reliable vehicles.  But, in summa, the CX-5 is a capable machine that is still a joy to look at when I approach it in a parking lot.  It has confirmed me as a Mazda-phile . . . in the marque from Hiroshima I have found a suitable end to my long, strange automotive trip as outlined in these pages.

Mazda fusion reactor, or maybe a DOHC four?

(**Heavy sigh**) Here I am at the other end of my Cars of a Lifetime . . . whether or not another car will follow depends on a number of factors, chief of which is whether I’ll be around to play the new car field in the future.  Should I continue to survive and thrive, it seems reasonably certain that any vehicle replacing the CX-5 will be either plug-in hybrid or electric:  high on the list is the rotary assisted PHEV due soon from Mazda; I just might own a Mazda rotary yet!  I try to keep abreast of automotive developments and stand fascinated by the imminent migration to electric vehicles.  Many questions are yet to be answered, but what seemed unlikely, questionable, and debatable five years ago now has an air of inevitability.

And so the time has come to wrap us this series and bid you all a very fond farewell.  I’ve appreciated the opportunity to stand on my soapbox and expound my thoughts, theories, and idiosyncrasies without too much fear of the hook, and I appreciate very much the kind words and encouragement that so many of you have given.  Some of my family have followed the series and have remarked how civilized and thoughtful the response in the comments section has been.  This is a rare group, and I’m proud to be a small part of it.  Thanks, too, to Paul N. for the opportunity and his patient encouragement.

Here’s wishing a memorable holiday season to all, and to all a good night.  Happy trails, and catch you all on the flip side, and in the words of one B. Dylan:  “I’m glad I fought, I only wish we’d won!” . . .