As a green parent, and one who prefers to walk, ride my cargo bike loaded with kids, groceries and an assortment of tattered books that have seen a bit more than their fair share of weather, I remain eternally curious about vehicles with a low carbon footprint. For years I have followed Treehugger.com's Transportation Reviews on Hybrids, EVs, alternative forms of fuel, etc. and although I would prefer not to ever get in the car, I also dream of a car that has a zero carbon footprint. One made of recycled bits in a solar powered plant that plugs into an alternative energy grid and has an endless number of miles available per charge. Alas, my dream car does not yet exist and so I continue to comb the reviews of low carbon vehicles and hope to meet one that strikes my fancy. I was recently presented with an opportunity to test out vehicles that purport to be a bit greener than the average car on the road. Given my intrigue in the matter of low carbon vehicles I thought this might be an interesting chance to test out what the market has to offer. We are a family of 4: 2 adults and 2 wee ones, one in a booster, the other in a carseat. Nobody is over 5'6", so we like our vehicles compact and generally find small cars to be quite comfortable. When we were offered the Mazda3 with SkyActiv Technology, a claim to a powerful yet efficient driving experience, we thought it might be a fun adventure. The Green Mama take-away? Although not awful, The Green Mama would not buy this car. The Mazda3 claims to average 33 mpg, with 28 mpg under city driving conditions and 40 mpg on the highway, this is not what we experienced. We were doing primarily city driving, short distances, under winter driving conditions, a driving style much more conducive to a hybrid or EV. When the car arrived it had an average usage of 30 mpg. We drove under strictly city conditions for a few days and our average fell to 25.7 mpg, we then drove on the highway briefly which improved the average, but I suspect that our average may have continued to drop had we continued to drive strictly under city conditions. This was tremendously disappointing for a car that might be considered fuel efficient. * Additionally, the SkyActiv experience offered very slow acceleration and puts the drive into 4th gear at about 20 mph. For my husband, who never does this with our car, that slowness from a standstill meant that he often used the manual override - which at least partly explains the low fuel economy.
What's To Love?:The car came with all the bells and whistles of a fully loaded vehicle, and a claim of 28 mpg under city driving conditions. We drove the car for a week, taking our kids to and from school, running errands, and offering to drive fellow parents to parties and dance classes. The car felt spacious and roomy despite its small size. We had two nearly 6 foot tall passengers in the backseat late one night and everybody was comfortable. Our children were thrilled with "our new car." It was easy for them to open and close the doors and for my older daughter to climb into and strap herself into her booster. My younger daughter easily climbed into the car and her carseat, and the installations of both carseat and booster were glitch free and speedy. There was plenty of legroom for passengers in both the front and back seats and ample trunk space for extensive groceries. Whenever I drive a car that I am not familiar with, I find it generally takes a bit to figure out how to work the various controls and signals. This felt intuitive in the Mazda3 and required little learning curve. The car also had a few Smart features like the windshield wipers automatically going on when it began to drizzle, and the side view mirrors letting me know when a car was too close for me to change lanes or turn. These features seem to add additional safety parameters for a frazzled and distracted parent. The rear window of this sedan style car seemed far too small. I like having a greater view of the road behind me and this felt dangerously wee.