With consistent toasty temperatures beating down on us New Mexicans in Las Cruces for the past few months, I was certainly looking forward to escaping somewhere a little cooler for the weekend. It was a perfect time to head out of state in search for some fresh countryside and curvy roads. That’s just what I did. Last weekend I grouped with Tyson Hugie (drivetofive), Bradley Kyle and James Lee (six speed blog), and we had a grand time in the White Mountains of Eastern Arizona. James brought a 2016 Mazda 6 press car for the ride, and I had a lucky opportunity to take the keys and see how it fared in the mountain roads.
With sleek “Kodo” design language, a brilliant chassis, and SkyActiv technology to boost those fuel economy figures into the…well, “sky,” the redesigned 3rd generation Mazda6 was an instant hit with journalists and consumers when it was unveiled in 2013. I was a bit surprised when I heard Mazda was already doing a refresh for 2016. This should be a treat to drive on our planned route.
Let’s get to the road trip! My total travel distance was 717 miles. Las Cruces, NM > Globe, AZ > Eagar, AZ > Las Cruces, NM.
- 2013 Acura ILX: 2.4 liter 4-cylinder, 201 horsepower; 6-speed manual
- 2016 Mazda 6 Grand Touring: 2.5 liter 4-cylinder, 184 horsepower; 6-speed automatic
- My 2004 Mazda 6: 3.0 liter V6, 220 horsepower; 5-speed manual
Friday afternoon I headed west to Arizona where I’d spend the night in Globe. Easy sailing the whole way.
Accommodations of choice was the Belle-Aire Motel. Don’t let the rather sketchy broken neon sign fool you…this was actually a pretty nice stop. Room was decent and clean if not the most luxurious. Did I mention it was only $37 a night?!
I took a little drive through the historic district of Globe after hours. The quiet town is very picturesque at night and during the day. These photos aren’t my best work. My DSLR was left at home.
The next morning, I was able to find a nice high point in the town for a photo.
From Globe, I headed west on Hwy 60 to the small town of Superior where I’d meet with Tyson, Bradley and James.
They arrived. And here’s James’ ride for the weekend…a 2016 6 bathed in Sonic Silver Metallic.
The new updates to the 6 really show well in person. If you think it looks slick in photos, it’s much better in the flesh.
Snack and restroom stop in Globe (backtracking a little for me). Here are a pair of 6’s and an ILX.
Bradley, James and me comparing and contrasting headlight designs.
We swapped cars afterwards, and I was in the new 6. Tyson and Bradley took my car and James was in the ILX.
On to the hills!
We took Hwy 77 North that would go through a very scenic area of Arizona: The Salt River Canyon in the the Tonto National Forest.
This canyon is been referred to as a “mini” Grand Canyon. This canyon can be driven from rim to rim and comes with lots of fun curves that requires a focused driver and a taught, athletic chassis. 6% grades will greet you in some areas, so you’d better check those brakes! Perfect opportunity to put this 6 through its paces.
Photo stop at a lookout point.
First Impressions on the new 6:
As I settled myself into the driver’s seat, I felt like I just stepped into a $40-50,000 car…BMW anyone? The stitched leather treatments on the dash and splashes of high gloss silver and piano black really make the cabin inviting. One feels cocooned, yet has a commanding view of the road. 6ft plus adults should try before buying though, as the low-slung roof can make headroom a bit tight. Seat comfort is excellent and among the best I’ve experienced. Aggressive bolsters held me in place nicely.
The driving experience impressed with a few minor reservations. A snob like myself keeps wanting more power from that 2.5L motor. The 184 Horsepower rating just doesn’t do the excellent chassis and slick styling any justice. Power delivery is a little soft at lower RPM and off-the-line. Throw a turbo or V6 option into the lineup, and I’d seriously consider being the first in line at the dealer. For regular sane folks though, this engine should be perfectly fine. Modest power is backed by excellent fuel economy and nice raspy noises emitting from the dual exhaust. Quietness is up there with the best of them if not quite as hushed a Camry or Passat.
Perhaps the biggest improvement by far is the infotainment system. Placing the volume knob on the center console took some getting used to, but it soon became familiar and very easy to use. Overall, the interior gets an A+ from me.
Console command center.
At the base of the canyon lies a rest area along the river’s edge. We made this a pit stop for a few photos. You can see the new bridge run parallel to the old bridge constructed back in 1934. Gotta love those old bridges!
Old abandoned bridge.
Taking in the sights.
This time we swapped cars again and I took the ILX. Tyson and Bradley in the new 6 and James in mine.
Tyson’s ILX is still as solid as a rock even with 130,000 miles and lots of off-roading adventures. He recently celebrated its 3-year anniversary. When Tyson first took delivery, it only had 16 miles on the ODO. My first time behind the wheel was back in 2013 at White Sands. It only had 31,000 miles on it then!
It sure loves these back roads!
Lunch in Show Low, AZ
After lunch, we car swapped again and we were back in our respective rides. James wanted to test out the new 6 on our next leg of the drive to Eagar, AZ.
Another stop near Crescent Lake.
A good looking trio!
The new 6 compared to mine is quite a lot bigger and has a much more aggressive stance. After taking this new Mazda to the twisty back roads of our journey, it was immediately apparent that this car had some hidden engineering magic striking a magical balance between ride and handling. Though the electric steering is a bit numb compared to traditional hydraulic units, it still is the best in the class. The suspension kept body roll in check and hid the front drive characteristics quite well. It made my old 2004 model feel a little flabby. This Mazda is definitely one of the best handling front drive cars out there. Well done, Mazda. The brakes were excellent and inspired confidence.
After a few hours of more playing on the back roads, we arrive relatively early in Eagar, AZ…just in time to catch the new Jurassic World movie in their historic El Rio theater. I highly recommend this.
We all climbed into the new 6 for our evening running around. Check out those LEDs!
After the movie, it was time to grab some grub at Trail Riders Restaurant.
Next day, we caught some continental breakfast at the hotel and then parted ways. I headed towards home via Hwy 180, and the rest of the gang went back towards Phoenix. Stay tuned as I share a nice pit stop on my way back through New Mexico. Thanks for coming along!