2014 Mazda 3: Last-Minute Road Trip Miles
January 9, 2015
Our 2014 Mazda 3's one-year anniversary was fast approaching with the sporty compact still 1,000 miles shy of the 20,000 we strive to achieve for all our new long-term vehicles. I quickly mapped out a route that would get me to the finish line. I've always wanted to take a long route to Las Vegas, but I typically drive with three or more passengers, and convincing everyone to double the time it takes to reach a destination isn't really an option. I brought my girlfriend along with the intention of taking her out for dinner somewhere nice. At Meat Master Mark Takahashi's suggestion, I made reservations at Mario Batali's Palazzo restaurant, Carnevino. With visions of prosciutto dancing in our heads, we headed out...
...into torrential rain. We left on the Friday that California was spanked by a Pineapple Express storm that bombed through San Francisco, flooded parts of Ventura County, and created a small tornado in Los Angeles. The Mazda's journey east on the 10 freeway toward Blythe was slowed significantly by the deep puddles forming on the inside lane. It traveled through standing water as well as any small car with all-season tires could be expected. The traction control warning light illuminated enough times to remind us to drive cautiously. It wasn't until passing Palm Desert that we outraced the clouds and finally hit normal freeway speeds. Blythe was a quick 90 minutes away.
After stopping for gas and pulled pork sandwiches from Rebel BBQ, we headed up Route 95 toward Needles. Even though the road at this point reduced to one lane, overtaking the rare commercial truck was a cinch thanks to the 184 horsepower on tap from the Mazda's 2.5-liter engine. It really is a fantastic little motor with plenty of grunt, even at passing speeds.
Flash flood warning signs were littered along the 95, and I was grateful to have outrun the storm. It was short-lived, as our luck dwindled near Needles. Black rain clouds were moving in and there was nowhere to go but straight into the mess. There was a resurgence of the traction control light, which kept me reassured as we passed through the ominously named Dead Mountains.
The Strip was 100 miles away, but we took a slight detour to the Hoover Dam. In all the times I have been to Las Vegas, I've never taken the extra half hour to see in person the massive steel and concrete structure that provides power for 1.3 million people each year. It is an awesome sight when framed by the massive bypass bridge constructed to aid traffic flow between Arizona and Nevada. A tour of the dam is definitely on the to-do list for next time. The drive from the dam to the Strip was unremarkable, as the storm had mostly passed over Vegas by the time we made it to our hotel.
We left the next morning, taking Highway 15 South back home. It was a much shorter trip, mostly because the highway formed the hypotenuse of the Interstate 10 - Route 95 legs of the right triangle. Traffic on a Saturday morning was almost nonexistent and the road was dry, so traveling was as easy as setting the cruise control and waiting till we got closer to civilization.
The Mazda 3 performed well on the long trip. Its seats may be the best in the segment, and comfortably supported our backs and legs over the course of the 12 hours I piloted the hatchback. The 3 has just enough headroom for me not to strike the headliner, which is a problem I have in other compact cars. The engine is a gem and the cruise control is smart when handling mountain climbs and descents.
With the trip, normal weekend driving, and commuting back to work, I had put 845 miles on the 3. It was just shy of our 1,000-mile goal, but Dan Edmunds finished it off a few days later. I was the first to drive the Mazda when it arrived at the office, and I will be one of the last before it leaves. I enjoyed the 3 from the moment I drove it, and the feeling has not abated over the course of the year. The car is fun, practical and the interior looks and feels better than its competitors. Like the Corvette, this is one car I am going to have a hard time saying goodbye to.
The average fuel economy for the entire trip was 31.0 mpg.
Cameron Rogers, Vehicle Testing Assistant @ 19,817 miles