BMEWS
 
When Sarah Palin booked a flight to Europe, the French immediately surrendered.

calendar   Tuesday - February 18, 2014

You Put Your Left Foot In

I Found The New Car I Want

Only One Problem: I have to move to France to buy one

I was going to make this a post about the dearth of manual transmission vehicles for sale in the USA. Sure, you can find one on most stripped down el-cheapo econoboxes. And you can find them on the big-bucks, super powered sports cars. But in between, where the rest of us live? Good luck Chuck.

People complain ... ooh, it would be a bear in traffic, and I’d have bulging muscles in my left leg. Wrong. There hasn’t been a non-hydraulic clutch car for sale in 20 years. It takes hardly any effort to work the left pedal these days. And shifting quickly becomes second nature; working your way through a traffic jam, even one going uphill, is no big deal. Heck, it isn’t even a small deal. It’s dead easy, if you know how to shift gears. What a manual transmission WON’T let you do is zone out behind the wheel. You have to pay attention. You have to be involved. Gee, that’s what makes driving fun, isn’t it? Funny how all the major car companies outside of Germany seem to have forgotten this.

And then there was Mazda. Zoom-zoom.

I am thoroughly in lust with the new Mazda 6. A mid-size car that’s available in the USA as either a 4 door sedan or as a 5 door hatchback, the new “6” has earned rave reviews all over the place, from Consumer Report’s Best Value award to highly positive words at Edmunds.com, Car & Driver, etc. It has unseated the Honda as best car for the money, and initial impressions are that this one is more of an entry level luxury car than “merely” a very well done mid-size family car.

So, great. Can I have it with a warm V6 and a 6 speed stick please? No.

Can I have it with a hot turbo 4 and a 6 speed stick please? No.

Can I have it with a warm 4 banger and a 6 speed stick please? Yes.

Super. Hey, the other car I’ve been looking at is the older Passat wagon. Mini wagons - or “estates” as they’re known in some countries - are really useful vehicles, better than hatchbacks, far more fun to drive than rolly bouncy little SUVs. And since the “estate” is popular in Europe, where everyone knows how to work a clutch, you can often find one with a stick over here. Well, you used to. Not anymore.

So how about it Mazda; can you make me a 6 wagon? With some power? And a manual? Oui, oui, mais seulement si vous êtes en France.

quoi?

Yup, only in France. Nobody else even sells the wagon. And nobody sells the Mazda 6, in any of the 3 body styles, with a V6, or with a turbo 4, or with the peppy 2.5 liter gasoline engine and a 6 speed manual in the higher trim lines. You want fancy, you get an automatic. Period. That sucks.

So there goes that daydream, at least for another year. I looked all around the world, 7 different countries, and it seems that only in France can you get this sleeper:

imageimage

“175 ch (BVM)” is the french way of saying horsepower. Horse Vapor to be exact; and it’s metric horsepower at that. But what that means in American is a 2.2 liter (132 cubic inches) diesel engine that makes 173 hp at 4500 rpm, and gives you 310 lb-ft at 2000 rpm. Which is V8 levels of torque right off of idel, which means this one pulls like a tank as you bort your way through the gears. It’s a sleeper. A mid-size family wagon ( BORING ) in a flashy paint color (très sexy !) that should be pretty zippy. And it still gets 35mpg on the tank. I want one.

Around the world, the Mazda 6 comes with several engines, from 2 to 2.5 liters in gasoline, or 2 to 2.2 liters in diesel. In the UK, Mazda offers you your choice of a medium small rubber band with diesel, and a very small rubber band for petrol. But at least you can get them with a clutch pedal.

The 2.2-liter oil burner is quiet, smooth, and loaded for bear with torque to spare. Available in standard (148 hp at 4500 rpm, 280 lb-ft of torque at 2000 rpm) and High Power versions (173 hp at 4500 rpm, 310 lb-ft at 2000 rpm), we drove the latter. A delight with either the six-speed manual or six-speed automatic transmission handling cog-changing duties, the stronger diesel does without the extra hassle of an exhaust after-treatment solution to meet European emissions regulations. Shove is available right off idle, and the diesel pulls strongly to its redline. Only in the quietest moments are strains of clatter or injector tick audible; at speed on the highway, the diesel is indistinguishable from its petrol-swilling sibling.

According to Mazda, the 2.2-liter’s compression ratio of 14.0:1 is the world’s lowest in a production diesel engine. This enables the adoption of an all-aluminum block, lighter engine components, and optimized combustion timing. We had only a few hours with the engine, but we came away convinced that it could make a run at dethroning VW’s TDI as the mass-market, family-sedan compression-ignition king. Bring it, Mazda.

The direct-injected 2.5-liter, 16-valve Skyactiv gasoline engine that is confirmed for the States performs with equal aplomb, exploiting its higher-rpm capabilities to produce 189 hp at 5700 rpm. When called on to perform downshifts, the six-speed auto responds smartly and delivers 189 ft-lb of torque at 3250 rpm, hustling the vehicle with relative ease. (We estimate curb weights to ring in at 3200 to 3300 pounds.) Only in the direct shadow of the diesel does the gasoline engine feel a little anemic, and that’s primarily at low rpm.

Ah well. Guess I’ll have to wait another year. So I made an appointment for tomorrow to get the exhaust pipe welded up on my old Saturn. It’s been chugging along like a motorboat for a couple of weeks now, and it’s getting irritating. OTOH, that loud hole is giving me another 4mpg on the highway, using up nearly as little fuel as a brand new Mazda 6, which is a third larger with nearly half again as much power. And that’s the 2.5 gasoline American engine, with a 6 speed manual. Which isn’t available in the top-line versions sold here that have all the cool modern technology bits. And they don’t even sell the wagon here. Yet. Ever? Please??

image

PS - As a somnolent citizen, you have probably been lulled into narcolepsy by the meme that modern automatic transmissions are more cost effective than manuals because they get better gas mileage. In truth, the only time they get better gas mileage is on the EPA’s computer model. In the real world, they do what they can to increase MPG by shifting into high gear and staying there forever. This sucks all the fun out of driving, and turns your car into a putt-putt, no matter how big an engine is under the hood. A manual can get you better mpg than an auto if that’s the way you drive it. What I dislike about them the most is that they’re slow. Manual shift cars are faster off the line and accelerate quicker under normal driving conditions. None of this stoplight grand prix nonsense. I’m talking day to day. Put me in an automatic and I’m suddenly the most impatient driver around. Come on, let’s go already!!! as the auto just sits there sucking up rpm. And these new CVT go-kart transmissions are even worse.

And when push comes to shove, the automatic can never really justify itself from an economic standpoint. The numbers never really add up. Perhaps the convenience you think you’re getting

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Posted by Drew458   United States  on 02/18/2014 at 04:45 PM   
Filed Under: • planes, trains, tanks, ships, machines, automobiles •  
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