30 July, 2008

Comfort, economy, and fuel economy

I wrote recently that after years of owning a Saturn SL, followed by a Saturn ION, I switched brand to a Mazda5. This contribution to GM's possibly impending bankruptcy was occasioned by the addition of another wallet-emptier to my once-uncrowded household, and GM's inability to provide an inexpensive, fuel-efficient vehicle that can seat 6 people. Ironically, Saturn's original mission was to attract people who wanted an inexpensive, fuel-efficient vehicle. They quite succeeded at that, but, GM being GM, Saturn was starved for resources, and is now the US badge replacement for GM's European lackey Opel.

Clemens at Sententiae has written recently about the American car culture's disdain for fuel efficient cars. After I mentioned my satisfaction with the Mazda5's fuel efficiency, he followed up with a brief reminiscence of his own experience with Mazda.

I had meant to add some hard data to that comment I left on his website:

And if you need to seat more than four people, a Mazda5 gets excellent gas mileage while seating 6. I speak from experience, having made more than 30mpg on my recent cross-southeast trip.
Having completed the trip, here are a few calculations I made of the mileage. The trip is ~1000 miles in each direction. These are all from memory, so they might be a little out of order, and I believe that I've omitted a couple of refills on account of a bad memory. However, the ones that are here are correct (several from today's return trip).


For a non-hybrid vehicle that seats 6 people, I find that astounding. I'm quite sure that no minivan or SUV with 6 or more dedicated seats has given that kind of output on the highway (but I could be wrong).

Some qualified disclaimers are in order.
  1. Legroom will likely be cramped for those sitting in the back, and perhaps in the middle. If your victims consist of an 11 year-old, a 2 year-old, and a 7 month-old, this is not a concern until you can afford a larger van in a few years.
  2. When filled with people, you have to fit some shopping bags around their feet. Again, if your "people"'s feet don't reach the floor, this creates no discomfort.
  3. I have the Sport version of the Mazda5, which basically means I couldn't afford the Touring version. It has fewer built-in features and after a few hundred miles on the road my posterior started to ache. Less fuel-efficient machines, such as the large SUVs and vans pushed by American manufacturers, may prove more comfortable for long-distance trips. Of course, one could always rent the comfortable gas guzzler for your road trips, buying a Mazda5 for your in-town driving, and using the difference in change and gas expenses to save for that vacation.
  4. Mazda seems to sell their cars through Ford dealers, so you have to put up with the harassment that constitutes a Ford dealer's notion of making a sale. It took me 45 minutes of asking to see the numbers before the saleswoman stopped lowering her "total price" offer and the sales manager trotted out to ask what at price I would buy the car. I never did see the numbers that evening, and I correspondingly did not buy the vehicle that evening. I've heard that the Saturn retailers make buying a car less unpleasant an experience, but I had no idea how much less! Too bad Saturn is now a rebadged Opel, bereft even of the polymer panels that lightened its load and kept it looking brand spanking new.
I once drove a Mazda Protege and liked it very much. The Mazda5 keeps that tradition going.

That said, if your notion of a good car is a gas guzzler whose oversized and underused engine growls like a male lion (and performs about as often), whose aerodynamic properties are equivalent to those of a flying brick, whose interior lavishness and roominess is more appropriate for a cross-country trip than a daily commute, and whose reliability ends at about the same time as its 3-year standard warranty, then by all means lower your credit score on that steel abomination.

Don't expect me to listen patiently while you complain that gas has hit $4/gallon, mainly on account of the laws of supply and demand.

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