2008 Mazda6 Sport
2008 Mazda6 Sport. Click image to enlarge

By Paul Williams and Grant Yoxon

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2008 Honda CR-V
2008 Mazda6 Sport

2008 Mazda6 Sport; By Paul Williams

Though car manufacturers are often subject to criticism, every once in a while they’ll do something that’s truly commendable. Sometimes it’s lost on consumers and the manufacturer will give up, but that’s another story.

The Mazda6 Sport is a case in point. Looking at this car, you might think it’s simply a sporty version of the typical mid-size, four-door sedan. It’s got a rear spoiler, fancy alloy wheels, sleek design… nice, but there are several such cars to choose from. However, look more carefully and you’ll see that the Mazda6 Sport has a trick up its sleeve that no other midsize sedan can perform. This car is a hatchback, or a liftback… or something to that effect. Raise what appears to be the trunk and the whole shooting match lifts up; rear window, handy rear windshield wiper and all.

2008 Mazda6 Sport
2008 Mazda6 Sport. Click image to enlarge

I tell you, it’s brilliant. Lower the rear seatback and you have a giant opening and cavernous cargo area that you can stuff with hockey bags, skis, a big flat-panel TV, or pretty much whatever you need to haul (Saabs used to be built like this; practical Swedes, right?).

Lower the hatch, and it morphs back into a sporty sedan.

Granted, it’s not for everybody, but for many people you’d think the Mazda6 Sport would be a terrific alternative to a fuel-hungry SUV. It’s got the looks, it’s got some of the moves, and it costs bupkis to run.

Well, not exactly bupkis, but not much, as our fuel economy challenge is proving.

The Energuide estimates for the four-cylinder Mazda6 Sport with manual transmission are 10.1/6.9 L/100 km, city/highway (that’s 28/41 miles per gallon for the Imperialists among us), or a combined city/highway rating of 8.7 L/100 km. With a heavy foot, driving fuel inefficiently, we returned a combined 10.2 L/100 km, 17-percent more than the Energuide numbers.

2008 Mazda6 Sport
2008 Mazda6 Sport. Click image to enlarge

Three tanks later, with 1,670 kilometres added to the odometer that included a 900-km highway drive, the Mazda had consumed 147 litres of fuel, which works out to a combined 8.8 L/100 km.

This is in line with the Energuide ratings, you’ll be happy to know, and was achieved by driving fuel-efficiently throughout the period. However, we are still seeing less than ideal weather and road conditions in our part of the world, and I expect the number would have improved even more if it was warmer, and the roads were clear of snow.

Related to this observation is that one tank of fuel was used entirely for highway driving (641.6 kilometres at 90-115 km/h), and it returned 8.1 L/100 km, which is better than the Energuide combined estimate, but not as good as its pure highway estimate of 6.9 L/100km.

2008 Mazda6 Sport
2008 Mazda6 Sport. Click image to enlarge

As an everyday vehicle the Mazda6 Sport has fit right into our household. It starts readily, and is largely unfazed by our challenging winter road conditions (we are using winter tires, and the Mazda6 Sport features standard antilock brakes and traction control). The engine does buzz a little when accelerating in second and third gears, but it’s surprisingly peppy for a four-cylinder and is pretty much inaudible in fifth. And although it’s got little to do with fuel economy (unless you want to trot out the coefficient of drag argument), the exterior styling of this car is very appealing. It looks as if it costs much more than its $26,395 price.

Conclusions at this point? Fuel economy has been improved by 17-percent as compared with our “baseline” tank. Driving style continues to yield promising results, although the Energuide highway rating for the Mazda6 Sport is still optimistic, at least for this time of year with its sub-zero temperatures and poor road conditions.

2008 Honda CR-V; By Grant Yoxon

2008 Honda CR-V EX-L
2008 Honda CR-V EX-L. Click image to enlarge

This Honda CR-V has quickly become a family favorite, particularly when the weather is lousy as it usually is most days this winter.

Our EX-L model comes standard with all-wheel drive, stability assist, anti-lock brakes and traction control – all of which make driving in blizzard conditions a whole lot easier to handle. In slippery conditions the CR-V accelerates confidently, stops straight and corners without hassle. Put your foot into it (which we’re trying not to do) while cornering and you can force a skid, but the stability assist quickly intervenes to bring the car back on track. Our tester came equipped with Bridgestone Blizzak tires, and these have proven to be very good in a variety of winter conditions.

The CR-V has also become an extended family favorite as my father now prefers it to our other vehicles. He finds the seat height makes entry and exit easy for him and front seat leg room allows him to sit comfortably. I like the load height in the cargo area – the large opening, low floor and hatch-style rear door make it easy to load and store my father’s walker.

2008 Honda CR-V EX-L
2008 Honda CR-V EX-L. Click image to enlarge

Our teen aged children don’t complain about back seat comfort – rear leg room is excellent and three can sit together without undue discomfort.

We’ve put almost 4000, mostly city kilometres on the CR-V in the past six weeks and have learned a few new tricks to bring down the fuel consumption. We baselined the CR-V during a relatively easy week at 12.97 L/100 km, well off the Energuide rating of 10.7 L/100 km for city driving. Since then we managed to get the CR-V down to 11.53 L/100 km in a 70/30 mix of city and highway driving. On the highway, the best we could manage was 9.2 L/100 km, as measured by the CR-V’s trip computer, well above the Energuide rating of 7.8 L/100 km.

A lot of factors combine to make it difficult to reach the Energuide rating, excluding things we can control like unnecessary acceleration and speeding. Snow tires and snow covered roads create a lot of drag compared to summer tires on clean pavement. Heavier loads including passengers and cargo will also increase fuel consumption. But we found that cold starts boost fuel consumption more than anything.

2008 Honda CR-V EX-L
2008 Honda CR-V EX-L. Click image to enlarge

Frequently during the last few weeks I parked the CR-V with high 10s or low 11s on the trip computer only to see any gain made the day before disappear before noon the next day. Why? I usually make three trips out in the morning at different times with family members, to the high school, to the bus station, to the post office.

When we cut out unnecessary cold start trips, combining visits to the bank, post office, grocery store, etc. with routine and unavoidable tasks like dropping off and picking up children from school, we began to see some real improvement in fuel consumption.

Like reducing acceleration and speed, planning to avoid traffic lights and stop signs, and trip planning to reduce the frequency of stops, planning a day’s activities to reduce cold starts is something we can control. And it has a real impact on fuel consumption.

2008 Honda CR-V EX-L
2008 Honda CR-V EX-L. Click image to enlarge

Our time with the Honda CR-V is nearly ended and we’ll be sad to see it go. Our EX-L came with a nice complement of equipment including heated (oh yeah!) leather seats, power driver’s seat, excellent sound system, dual zone climate control and a navigation system. There was nothing in the controls that seemed quirky, even after six week’s of use.

The only omissions, unusual in our opinion for a car priced at almost $38,000, was the lack of a garage door opener and vanity mirrors that did not illuminate – not big issues, but things you would expect to see at this price level.

It would be easy to be critical of the CR-V for exceeding predicted fuel consumption by what is a relatively wide margin. But consider that it weighs 1597 kg (3,520 lb.), carries five passengers and plenty of cargo, has a full complement of safety gear and luxury features, for the fuel-conscious buyer the CR-V fares well compared to larger SUVs or minivans.

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