Costco To Costco On A Tank Of Gas: The 2016 Mazda 3 S 5-Door Grand Touring

Front 7/8 view of 2016 Mazda 3 S 5-Door Grand Touring
The 2016 Mazda 3 S 5-Door Grand Touring.
Over the past two years and several months, regular TireKicker readers have seen references to Navigator, the best travelling companion known to man.  Well, Navigator is now Mrs. TireKicker, and we decided our kind of honeymoon was a leisurely ten-day trip up California's Highway 1 from Morro Bay (a charming place, but don't book a family vacation based on what you saw in "Finding Dory" without doing some research, Mom and Dad) to Gualala (pronounced wah-LA-la), 356 miles north.  And the car in our possession the day we would leave would be the 2016 Mazda 3 S 5-Door Grand Touring.

So what's that got to do with the Costco to Costco reference in the headline?

Map of Folsom to San Luis Obispo
Costco Wholesale in Folsom, CA to Costco Wholesale in San Luis Obispo, CA (source: Google Maps).
The plan was to take U.S. 50 to I-5 to Ketteman City, then Highways 41 and 46 (the route where James Dean met his untimely end at the wheel of a Porsche back in 1955) to U.S. 101 in Paso Robles and down to San Luis Obispo.

Hoping to minimize fuel expenses, I topped off at the Costco near TireKicker World Headquarters in Folsom, and hoped, but didn't get my heart set on, making it to the Costco in San Luis Obispo.  Why would that matter?  Well, Costco was selling gas in Folsom at $2.31 a gallon, and $2.67 a gallon in SLO.  Those are good prices.  But I have a rule, taught to me by helicopter pilots during my TV news days:  The last 25% of the tank never is allowed to go dry.  That meant if I had to fill up before San Luis Obispo, I would, with the most likely place being Kettleman City.

Say hello to Kettleman City:

Kettleman City, CA
Kettleman City, CA (courtesy eccentricculinary.com)
This is the only photograph I can find of Kettleman City's cluster of gas stations, truck stops and fast-food joints, and it exists only because of an excellent article about how what used to be the largest freshwater lake west of the Mississippi came to instead be a less-glamorous version of Kingman, Arizona.   H.D. Miller is a gifted writer and I'll be bookmarking eccentricculinary.com.  You should, too.

Besides being an eyesore in its present state, Kettleman City is a complete crapshoot when it comes to buying gasoline, a place where the greedy prey on travelers far more weary than wary, who just want however much gas will get them to the part of California they show in the travel brochures, 'cause this sure ain't it.

I didn't do a price check three weeks ago, but here's the range as of this writing, courtesy GasBuddy.com: The lowest price for a gallon of regular today is $2.99.  Everyone else (all in what would be two city blocks if the road were divided up that way) is between $3.29 and $3.35. Since gas prices appear to have dropped by 20 cents a gallon in the past three weeks, let's figure the range was $3.19 to $3.55 a gallon on the day of our drive.

Before you fire off a comment about expensive California gas, though, consider:  At Costco in Folsom right now, it's $2.11.  At Costco in San Luis Obispo, $2.47. So avoiding Kettleman City and making it to Costco in SLO would mean a savings of 52 cents a gallon at minimum.

Rear 7/8 view of 2016 Mazda 3 S 5-door Grand Touring
2016 Mazda 3 S 5-Door Grand Touring.
The fuel tank capacity of the 2016 Mazda 3 S 5-Door Grand Touring is 13.2 gallons.  75% of that is 9.9 gallons, and the EPA fuel economy estimate is 26 city/35 highway.  That works out to 316 miles if we made the highway average...four miles short of San Luis Obispo, but close enough to call it good.  The question was...between truckers, RVs, headwinds, hills and all the other challenges that meet a driver on I-5 (a four-lane divided highway that is populated by the most varied assortment of vehicles and drivers day and night you'll ever find) plus the fact that we had packed the car with ten days worth of road-trip supplies (no sweat thanks to the fold-flat rear seats)...could we make that highway average?

Well...no.  We hit Costco in SLO with a "distance to empty" reading of 60.  Our average was more like 29.5 (your mileage may vary) and once I knew I could make it without a re-fuel along the way, I relaxed my own rule.  That last 25% became the last 15.

Interior view of 2016 Mazda 3 S 5-Door Grand Touring
2016 Mazda 3 S 5-Door Grand Touring interior.
Still-impressive fuel economy aside, the Mazda 3 S 5-Door Grand Touring was a great car for a road trip.  We've already talked about the cargo capacity.  Up front, the seats were comfortable, the dash design allows for a very roomy cockpit for driver and passenger, the air was cold and the audio system was loud, clear and clean.

$25,445 gets a 184-horsepower 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine, six-speed manual transmission, 18-inch alloy wheels, rain-sensing wipers (which also worked on the ash from the Big Sur fire later in the week), heated power side mirrors with turn signals, halogen fog lamps, a moonroof, leather-trimmed sport seats (the driver's is a six-way power unit), a leather-wrapped steering wheel, gearshift knob and brake handle, dual zone automatic climate control, keyless entry and pushbutton start, a seven-inch color touchscreen display, rearview camera, navigation, a Bose Centerpoint 9-speaker audio system with AM/FM, SiriusXM Satellite Radio, Bluetooth streaming and two (yes, two) USB inputs, as well as cruise control and paddle shifters.

And to deal with those other drivers, the standard equipment also includes blind spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, dynamic stability control, traction control, hill launch assist, and...should all else fail...a full complement of airbags.

All standard.  In fact, the only option on our tester was the Soul Red paint ($300), so with that and $835 delivery, processing and handling fee, the bottom line came to $26,580.   In short, a fun, economical and well-equipped ride for two people beginning their lives together.  If they were making the Crocker Bank ad now instead of 1970, my money would be on the 2016 Mazda 3 S 5-Door Grand Touring replacing the '67 Falcon at the end of the spot.