Post-COAL: 2014 Mazda 6 – Leveraging the CC Effect

But first, the end of the Accord. Someone else at the studio had got a similar car, so scenes like this were common in the Autumn of 2022 into early ’23:

Mine (on the left) had better lights and mirrors, see? Oh, and a shark-fin antenna at the back of the roof:

And one morning late last year, I found this amusing snow-moustache:

In February of this year, I learnt all about the newest(?) scummy scam to be encountered in trying to sell a car on the likes of Kijiji or Craigslist: they reply to the ad from a distant area code; mostly from Toronto, in this case, and probably all spoofed. They make interested noises by text message—why, this is exactly the sort of car they’ve been looking for, and they have cash in hand, and they’d like to come see it. Just one thing, though; they want to see a [non-Carfax vehicle history report company-dot-com nobody’s ever heard of] report on it. I say “I’ve got the Carfax on it, as it says in the ad; I’ll be happy to send it over to you.” They say no, they don’t want the Carfax, they want the [other name] report, and it’s fast and easy to get—affordable, too!—at website-dot-com. I didn’t keep count, but I guess I got about 20 of these bogus bites, comprising about five ‘different’ (uh-huh) services. Some of them were aggressively pushy about it, too. I quickly lost patience with the game and started jumping cues and saying their lines in the scriptoid before they could get to them. Eventually I just responded to the first new text with “Does this scam ever actually work for you?”. None responded.

I’d had the car detailed and taken the usual assortment of pics, such as these:

By and by, the car sold. It garnered less than I had hoped for, given the overheated used-car market, but it went away, and that was the main thing. An earnest early-20s collegegoer from India got a very good deal, and it generated stories on its way out my life: his friend, new to Canada and I think without much English, drove him here from Surrey (suburb). We went off to the nearest open-on-Sunday-evenings ICBC office, about 10 minutes’ drive, to formalise the sale—licence plates, etc—but there was a system problem, so they directed us to the next-nearest place about 5 minutes more away. The system problem was systemwide, as it turned out. So my name and plates were off the car, but the rest of the stuff he’d have to do the next day in Surrey. We drove back to my house and discovered not a damn thing but air where friend’s Toyota Corolla had been parked in a no-stop zone. They went to call 911 and I suggested trying 311 first (city → parking). Yep, towed. I’d never seen a tow truck in our street. I’ve seen people leave cars and motorcycles there in that very no-stop zone for hours and days and maybe get a ticket, but this tow job was a new one on me, and it’s not happened again, that I’ve seen. The tow yard was a 10-minute drive away, over by the railway station. Fortunately they were still open, so it wouldn’t be a hafta-come-back-tomorrow-which-counts-as-a-second-storage-day circus. I drove them there and they got the Corolla out of hock. They put his not-quite-squeaky-legal plates on the Accord, dropped me off near where I’d been parking the Mazda, and drove off for Surrey. I collected Bill from work and drove us home in the Mazda.

Right, then—the Mazda! That story starts when I read Fierrorunner’s COAL post about his ’16 Mazda 6, a rare build in Soul Red with a handshift transmission and a cream interior rather than black, grey, charcoal, dark quartz, burnt midnight, or one of the unreasonably large number of other ways of saying the same thing. I’m an old veteran expert at powerwasting time on the internet, so the whim to go see how rare was this rare Mazda went right through the spinal cord without my having to dream it up. Craigslist immediately sprang forth an ad for an almost identical car, but a ’14 model.

Texts and emails were exchanged; conversations were had. I drove (the Accord) over the river and through the woods out to Suburburgh and had a look and a bit of a drive. I talked it over with Bill and the two of us trekked back out to see if he would fit comfortably in the car: yes. Then there were negotiations, ugh. I wound up paying more than I wanted to for the car; evidently the white-hot used car market worked against me when I bought, and ignored me when I sold. Grumble.

Oh, how the water did bead with a detail job! Note the dark-tinted backglass.


But the Accord was gone and now I had this, my first Mazda—the first syllable of which rhymes with “daz” in this country, not “boz”. It is a vastly superior car to the Accord in almost every way. Over the first few months I got reacquainted with forgotten feelings: now I like my car. I even catch myself actually enjoying driving, which never ever happened in the Honda. It’s an agreeable change to be in a car with a short list of minor gripes, and I’ll get those out the way first: the materials and apparent construction quality are a couple notches below the Honda. The handbrake handle is a little wobbly by design, that kind of thing. And probably the thing I like least is that the front doors sound inexcusably tinny upon closing. Seriously, they sound like a cheap, thin steel cookie sheet whapped onto a countertop, nothing like the solid crumph of the Honda’s doors. Even my Dodge Spirits had heftier-sounding doors. There are websites showing how to fix it by removing the door cards and strategically installing small amounts of peel-and-stick deadener; perhaps I’ll get around to it. Road and wind noise also aren’t super well excluded; they’re about the same as in the Accord, but that car was launched 11 years before this one, so it’s sort of less okeh in the newer car. I’m told these GJ-series 6s got a great deal quieter for 2017 or so, but I’m still less than entirely impressed at Mazda for having dropped the ball on basic NVH stuff like this. Still, there are pages with fixes for that, too.

The HVAC controls are less completely awful than the Honda’s, but still scarcely operable by feel—another basic design failure. This is my first car with a display screen in the dashboard. I quickly figured out how to switch it off, and if it could be made to keep just the radio station showing, I’d be all the way completely delighted that it remains off full-time except when I’m in Reverse, when it shows the backing camera view. This is also my first car with one of those, and it is a giant help, even if the image quality is not up to today’s possibilities. Another minor gripe-and-half here: it takes a fraction of a second to power up, which by itself wouldn’t be a problem, but it’s obviously powered by the reversing light circuit, so it shuts off at the same instant as the reversing lamps. It would be much nicer if it remained active for even just five seconds; it would make manœuvring into or out of a parking space a whole lot easier. I know exactly how I’d try making that so. In theory, it would be easy; perhaps I’ll get around to that, too. In the meantime, I’m working on remembering to look down, not just up, when reversing; the view’s better down there.

It is an engaging car to drive, in large part because of the do-it-myself shifting. I’ve long known that, but it had been many years since I’d felt it; a long time since my last handshift car. I’ve borrowed a three-pedal truck a few times over those years, and that was usually a knuckle-whitening experience (heavy load, unfamiliar vehicle with a bazillion miles on it, etc). That doesn’t really count. I was a little worried stick-shifting would become tiresome in city traffic, but at worst it’s a minor annoyance—outweighed by having something to do, glory be. And this car has an automatic hill-holder: with the clutch pedal down and the car inclined up or down, I get about two seconds’ time between letting go the brake pedal and the brakes releasing. It works in forward and reverse, and it’s a giant help in starting up or down hills. Purists may scoff, but I’ll absolutely take it. I’ve been driving this car almost all year, and my terror of uphill starts with a car behind me is finally, gradually beginning to fade. When I’m not reminding myself to relax in preparation for such a start, I have fun practising my double clutching and rev-matched downshifts. Necessary? No. Fun? Effyeah! Could wish the clutch pedal weren’t quite so close to the brake pedal, but…eh.

And so now, at long last, I’ll introduce the car by name. Oh yeah, that’s another thing: this is the first car I’ve named since the Crapiece over two decades ago. I never much liked Mazda’s number-only model names. Not a whole lot wrong with “Mazda 6”, but I cannot abide “Mazda6”, and I do not tolerate “Mazda Mazda6”. So a bit of a rebadge was in order—something I’ve not done before. I knew within days of getting the car what I’d call it, and it wasn’t going to be the ‘Atenza’ name this car bore in some markets, so it took some doing to come up with the needed badge. Eventually I did. Before:

…and after:

I present to you: Manuel Capella (“mahn-WELL kahp-EH-yah”). Because it’s a manual-shift car, and I like the name Capella, and I like “Fawlty Towers”. So there.

It’s got an absolute honey of an engine: a 2.5-litre GDI four. It has 13:1 compression and runs on regular 87 gasoline, which is a seriously cool bit of magic. And it doesn’t seem to run any better on high-test 94, which is another. It is vastly more economical of fuel than the Honda was. I mean, like, at least 40 per cent more economical in town. It is torquey and tractable and smooth, with juuuuuuust enough of a tremble at idle to telegraph “C’mon, let’s go, let’s motor!”. And up through the gears, it sounds remarkably like the high-zoot 2.2 T3 engine in my Spirit R/T—maybe it’s a sound characteristic of 16-valve 4-cylinder engines? Donno, but I like it. Speaking of sounds, I hesitate to sound like a fanboy, which I’m not, but I do think Mazda weren’t just blowing smoke with that ‘Zoom-Zoom’ slogan of theirs around the time they made this car.

I bought and applied a reproduction decal for a late-’60s/early-’70s Tecumseh engine. No word of a lie; go on, try to find a set of breaker points—I dare you. Why’s it on the airbox? Because I said so, that’s why.

Most of the controls and displays are thoughtfully designed and configured, though the pushbutton ignition switch is a nuisance and the automatic door locking on keyholder walk-away has some inscrutable logic to it that makes it less than 100 per cent reliable. I also might prefer if this car were the top rather than middle trim line, then it’d have the upgraded instrument panel. I don’t know for sure if that would bring some gauges (oil pressure, engine temperature, line voltage), but seems to me the odds would be good. Then again, it kind of surprises me Mazda didn’t include any but a fuel gauge on the regular IP. It’s got a thermometer-shaped telltale which lights up in blue until the engine’s warm (I object; this looks too much like the also-blue high beam indicator) or red if the engine overheats. That’s not my favourite unfeature. Also the high trim would have adaptive cruise control and adaptive HID headlamps. None of that on this car. I put thoughtfully-chosen bulbs in the regular halogen headlamps, which improved them quite a lot. There’s a giant canyon between the light a driver wants and the light a driver needs, even when that driver knows much too much about the topic; I don’t love these headlamps, but they’re objectively well more than good enough (as these things go; low beams are categorically inadequate to the task we ask of them).

Speaking of the headlamps, I went to get them aimed. That is a very difficult thing to do on this continent! Lamp aim is by far the prime determinant of how well or poorly one sees at night and how much glare they’re throwing around, but in North America we just don’t give a carp. Awhile back, I did an unscientific survey: I called around to a variety of shops and dealerships, said I wanted my headlamps aimed, and asked how they do it. The most common responses were along these lines:

• “We don’t, really, but if yours are way out we can try to level ’em out for you”

• “We shine ’em on a wall”

• “Are you getting flashed?”, and

• “Today’s headlights don’t need to be aimed, they set ’em at the factory” (or
“…they aim themselves automatically”).

Those are all super-extra-wrong answers.

When I got this car, it was immediately apparent that at least one of its headlamps was improperly aimed; the left lamp shone higher than the right one. Where I live, as in most of the U.S. and Canada, no vehicle inspection is ever required, so I could have gone right on driving it as-was; that’s what most people do. Of course, I couldn’t accept that. I live in a medium-sized city with plenty of auto garages, but only at great difficulty did I find a shop—one shop—in my greater metropolitan area with an aiming machine and the will to use it. In clear traffic it was most of an hour’s drive away, past countless other shops unable or unwilling to do the job.

They let me watch, which I did without mentioning any expertise or credentials. They were using an old green Bosch aiming scope, a veteran of at least 40 years, with a Europe/rest-of-world type
adjustment wheel calibrated in declination percentage, and no factory- or field-applied markings for the overwhelmingly common North American-spec lamps. That’s not a dealbreaker; if one knows what one’s doing, American lamps can be aimed with such a machine by dialling in the correct setting. But there were no fingerprints evident on the thickly-dusty setting wheel, which looked like it was never moved from the 0.0% setting. My car’s headlamps just happen to be the type that takes a 0.0% setting, but that seemed more a matter of chance than deliberate setup; the mechanic never checked the lenses to see what type they are—had my headlamps been VOLs, they would have been aimed wrong with the scope at 0.0%. Grumble, but at least I got an aim job closer to correct than most people located between sea and shining sea (and North Pole).

The car came to me with dark tint film on the rear door windows and the backglass. For a bunch of reasons, that had to go away. For one thing, that crap hinders outward visibility; I felt like I was perpetually driving out of a dark cave. For another, it hinders inward visibility, and I don’t fancy frightening or enraging any cops. Three, I’ve never liked the mismatched look of blacked-out back windows and untinted front ones. The tint came off the door glass without drama, but it took most of the defogger grid and radio antenna off with it from the backglass, snarl. I went to my excellent glass guy and he asked whether I wanted an aftermarket ($x) or original-maker ($2x) glass. I asked him if aftermarket glass had got better since the last bad experience I had with it (on the Accord). He was ambivalent about it: In general, aftermarket glass has got better than it used to be. And China’s Fuyau/FYG, the biggest aftermarket supplier, make a lot of original-equipment glass. But on the other hand, there’s still often a significant difference between OE and aftermarket. But on the other other hand, aftermarket glass is half the cost. Eventually we decided he’d bring in the aftermarket glass and we’d see how it looked. The glass guy said while we waited for my appointment, I oughtta watch an Oscar-winning documentary called “American Factory”, about Fuyao’s Ohio operation. It sure didn’t give me any warm fuzzies about Fuyao and their ilk; this article is a pretty good quick summary (and in looking now, I see that movie sparked federal scrutiny of Fuyao; I hope they got nailed).

The glass came in, and we didn’t see any issues with it. It was Ⓔ-marked, etc, and in it went. The shop did their usual high-quality work, and I had a working antenna and defogger again. What I didn’t have was acceptable rearward vision. There was no perceptible problem with the glass as examined on a stand, but once installed, the fast rake angle revealed giant distortions across the whole lower third of the glass. Car lights behind me would jump small-BIG-smallBIGsmallBIGsmallBIGsmall. Lane lines behind me were a scribbled-up zigzag mess. It was a constant, nagging distraction in the rearview mirror. Glass guy was a rock star: not a scrap of argument from him. He ordered the OE glass and all I had to pay was the part ∂cost. There’s no such distortion with the Japanese glass. So that’s how I learnt that aftermarket glass is very much like aftermarket headlamps: lookalike looks, copycat quality. Don’t even get me started on the ‘CAPA certified’ scam.

Oh, speaking of glass: genuine Mazda wiper blade refills appear to be from the same Japanese supplier who make them for Honda, and they are likewise massively better than any of the plain or fancy parts store brands.

The car also came to me with Continental IceContact XTRM tires, Russian ones. I have nothing against Continental in general or their tires in particular, but I was not happy to be rolling around on Russian rubber, and running winter tires in summer is unwise. The shortest version of my short list of things I buy the best I possibly can includes tires, eyeglasses, shoes, and brakes; I bought Michelin CrossClimate2s. They’re made in Canada, and I like that a lot better. More generally, they’re not from Russia or China, so fine by me. And they’re Ⓔ-marked. Which doesn’t necessarily mean a good tire (or headlamp, etc), but I do like having the assurance that it meets something other than the North American regulatory island’s ‘Yeah, whatever; it’s all good, we don’t really care unless bodies start piling up’ standards. I like them; they’re good tires.

Problems with the car? Well, it had some weird electrical behaviour: the lights inside and outside the car were a little flickery with the engine running, and they’d grow dimmer on engine acceleration, which is opposite what’s often seen when there’s a faulty alternator or something. It wasn’t major, this flickering and fluctuation, but I noticed it. I more or less figured it was just a quirk of the car and resolved to try not to be bothered.

Then the battery came up lame at the end of March when we went to go run errands: 5.4 volts across it. One block from parts store—just like Accord last November, but different parts store. I walked over, bought a MagnaCharge 35-625. Never heard of ’em, and I remember when batteries had longer warranties than 30 months, and I remember when they used to routinely outlast their warranties, but…one block away and right now versus Lyft across town or wait for Amazon or whatever. Plus, this one has what used to be called a Delco Eye! Green built-in hydrometer. I walked back and installed it. 

And we set off on our errands, but just as we were belting in came that thing where you finish putting in a new battery, car starts up fine, then you notice the overhead doom light switch in the ON position, which is weird because you never touch that switch and always just leave the doom light in DOOR mode. It’s not an easy switch to accidentally hit, either. Recessed, etc. No idea how that happened; neither of us ever touches it. But we must have without meaning to, unless some weirdo defeated the security system, entered the car, turned it on, then closed and locked the car.

But perhaps it was just Gladys (“Gladys, Gladys, full of grace: may we have a parking space?”) helpfully arranging for me to replace the battery in a low-hassle manner. And with the new battery there’s no more flickering or light fluctuation, so that’s fine. Lost my clock setting and my radio presets, but there was no ‘Oh, no, uh-uh, you will have to enter a sixty-one-digit security code and pass twelve consecutive CAPTCHAs within the next seven seconds or else the car will need to be taken to an authorised dealer before it will start/before you can use the radio/etc’ baloney to deal with. All I had to do was reset my presets and re-teach the car where the door window up- and down-stops are so the one-touch up and down would go back to working. Oh, that’s another thing: one-touch up/down for all four windows, not just the driver’s. That’s extra expensive to build, and I’m glad they spent the money.

No further electrical issues, but increasingly there’s a creaking, groaning noise when I turn the steering wheel or go over the likes of a speed hump. There’s a TSB for it, issued in 2018: faulty ball bearings below the upper strut mounts causing the wheel-turning creak, and there are revised lower control arm bushings for the speed-hump creak. I’ve got the parts on order.

Let’s see, what else? Someone keyed the driver’s door one night a couple months ago, and put a weird longitudinal crease several inches below where they keyed it. Why? Because people suck. We don’t have any feuds with neighbours, so it seems random. Our street is a bit narrow, and I park as close to the curb as can be, and I fold the street-side mirror, but I guess someone didn’t quite keep their car out of contact, creased the door, then took a key to it to express their displeasure at the whole thing. I was expecting a fight out of ICBC, but they approved coverage for the repair. Pretty big-ticket repair, in the end, done to a high standard of craftsmanship by the same shop who fixed the vandalism to my last dark metallic red car.

The colour’s fine with me; I’d prefer a green or a purple, but I like it better than silver or beige or black or white or grey. The front and rear bumper fascias don’t match the metal parts of the car, but they match each other, which suggests the car was in some kind of a crunch not reported to insurance, sometime in the past. And the paint quality is not 10/10 on the parts of the car which give every appearance of bearing factory paint. But you see what I mean? My gripes are few and minor. This is much better than trying in vain to find anything to like about the Accord, other than its reliability. Think I’ll hold onto this one for awhile, Gladys willing.

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