Living With It Review- 2012 Mazda Mazda3

In August of 2013 I purchased my very first “new car” from a local Mazda dealer and fell in love. I bought a 2012 Mazda3 iTouring hatchback with the all-new SkyActiv engine/transmission/chassis makeover released on 2012 Mazda3s. When I purchased this vehicle my main needs were
1- Fuel Economy
When I bought this vehicle I was commuting about 80-90 miles a day between work and school and getting home. The SkyActiv treatment from Mazda netted me an average of 37 miles per gallon on regular 87 octane fuel. For a college student’s budget- this was great news.
2- Cargo Room
My job requires that I work out of my vehicle for a large part of the day, and between the hatchback body style, and well-engineered interior space, the Mazda exceeded my needs and was more than commodious for my Christmas gift haul from Cabelas leaving the store with a fireplace and other bulky items for my country family.
3- Style and Community
This was low on the priority list, but as a car enthusiast, was still necessary. The styling of the front of this vehicle is… Polarizing… And we’ll leave it at that. I personally love the styling of the entire vehicle and the SkyBlue Mica paint job only added more lust. The Mazda community, I would come to find out is quite large and the people I have met through the community are generous and kind, and I have made some very good friends through the local Mazda community in my area.

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Over the course of a year of ownership of this vehicle I experienced no mechanical problems with it and had nothing but great experience in the service department at the dealership I purchased from. All services were reasonably priced and the service was superb.

Likes-

I love Mazda build quality, in my opinion, they well surpass other Japanese manufacturers in fit and finish and material choices. The SkyActiv engine was noticeably tuned for economy, but worked well with the 6-speed Automatic in everyday driving and in manual shift mode can be sufficiently sporty. Standard Auxillary audio input, Bluetooth streaming audio and high-quality standard 6 speaker sound system were extremely appreciated for my inner audiophile. The visibility is great, only very minor blind-spots. The ride quality is taut and controlled but not jarring. The hydraulic-assisted power steering is direct and communicative but on the lighter side, and in twisty roads is exceptional. Mazda has a great track record of resale value and this model was no exception.

Gripes-

I don’t have many, because this vehicle was extremely well made, and was very affordable. However the road noise at freeway speeds is very high, so much so that phone calls over the Bluetooth system are interrupted. Placement of the rear-view mirror may affect visibility for taller drivers and larger passengers may not be impressed with interior space.

So that in summary was my experience with my 2012 Mazda3 iTouring SkyActiv Hatchback. Feel free to ask me any questions about my car, my dealer, or anything else you want to know. Review of my new car coming soon.

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Part II- Solid Axles vs Independent Suspension

Last week I discussed the importance of ground clearance when deciding between an independent or solid axle system. The next aspect of offroading that you will need to consider is articulation.

Articulation is the ability of one side of the suspension to travel and move over obstacles and keep tires in contact with the ground. Part of this includes the ability of the suspension to contract and relax in conjunction with the frame/chassis of the vehicle. Some offroad vehicles are body-on-frame (rolling chassis with body panels mounted to it) and some are unibody (frame and body are one inseparable piece)

Solid Axles

The benefit of solid axles when it comes to articulation is that the pivot point for suspension movement is the other wheel. You can drive up taller obstacles and keep the tires in contact with the ground because the geometry of the suspension allows greater angles and larger differences in wheel travel. As the vehicle drives up the obstacle all four wheels remain in contact with the ground.
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Independent Suspension

Independent suspension falls short here. The pivot point for the movement of the suspension is where the control arm mounts to the frame, which is approximately 12″ from the wheel. When looking at the geometry of suspension travel, pushing the pivot point towards the outside of  the vehicle limits the maximum travel of the suspension. As the vehicle drives up the obstacle the independently sprung wheel moves up the obstacle. If the driver continues to proceed up the obstacle at least one wheel loses contact with the ground.

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The images show a solid axle Jeep Cherokee XJ at the limits of suspension articulation, and a 2014 Cherokee KL at it’s limits.The difference is very pronounced and you can easily see the advantages of solid axle systems as it pertains to articulation of the suspension offroad.

Solid Axles vs Independent Suspension Systems

This topic comes up very frequently in the 4×4 community for good reason. Both systems have pros and cons, and when you break it down to the basics you may find yourself in a debate wherein there may not be a definitive answer. We will be dissecting the components of each suspension system, discussing variations of each system and compare pros and cons of each as they pertain to different consumers’ needs and wants.

Lets begin by describing both suspension types. Solid axle suspensions support the weight of the vehicle using coil or leaf springs mounted on an axle tube, and shock absorbers to dampen suspension oscillations. These systems use trailing arms,  which control the vertical movement of the axle assembly.  If it is a driven axle, a differential housing separates two axle tubes. When suspension movement occurs on one side of the vehicle, the motion is transferred to the other side of the vehicle because both sides are connected via the sold axle. Solid axles are heavy, but are known to be very strong.

Independent suspension systems also use coil springs and shock absorbers, in conjunction with control arms, but different variations exist. Each wheel is independent from the others. When suspension movement occurs on one side of the vehicle, the motion is contained to only one side. If the wheels on an independent system are driven, a differential is mounted to the subframe of the vehicle and CV (constant velocity) axle shafts transfer the torque to the wheels.

On your average passenger car (ex: Altima, Camry, Accord) all 4 wheels are independently sprung because independent systems provide a smoother ride.

However for the purpose of this discussion we will be comparing these suspension systems when being used for offroad purposes. General offroad goodness can be achieved in many ways, but a few simple things are necessary to avoid breaking your ride unintentionally. Today we will discuss one of the necessities for offroad credibility and the others will come later on this week.

1- Ground Clearance                                                                                                             Whether you are trying to crawl over rocky terrain or ford a river, the distance between the working bits of your vehicle and the obstacle is of the utmost importance. From this standpoint, you can immediately see the pros of the independent system, the differential is mounted high and close to the body of the vehicle and the control arms are far out on the vehicles track.

Independent Suspension

In the solid axle suspension system, the differential dips below the axle tubes and lowers your available ground clearance at that point.

Solid Axle Suspension

Solid axle systems are arguably easier to lift and can handle larger tires due to their inherent strength.

I will dive more into what your vehicle needs to be an offroad machine later on this week. Until then, feel free to comment and provide your input on this topic.

Overlanding 4x4s to hot hatches to hybrids