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The Start of A Tech Project Car

2014 Mazda5 Sport: Say Hello To Tom's Hardware's Project Car
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I have a lot of plans for our 2014 Mazda5; these few projects were just the beginning of creating something more technologically apt for an audience of enthusiasts. The integrated wireless charger is a perfect match for our Nexus 5. It’s like Mazda designed that slot to fit a compatible Qi charger. Paired with Sony's XAV-602BT head unit and Pandora Internet radio, we get in the car, toss the phone on the charger, and stream music without worrying about battery life. Sweet, right?

The back-up camera works well enough for now, though I'm looking to run an RCA cable to the head unit rather than leaning on a wireless transmitter. I've seen some annoying video interference, though that doesn't keep me from seeing what's going on behind the van.

Despite the mileage we've already racked up, I haven't caught anything YouTube-worthy on the dash cam. It'll happen eventually. Fortunately, thanks to a nice, clean install, I don't even notice the camera from the driver's seat.

My toddler loves the iPad in the back seat. She can watch her favorite movies or play educational apps. I even picked up a set of pink kid-sized IR headphones for her.

Our early impressions of the Hellst LED headlights are a little disappointing, though we'll continue evaluating them, gathering more feedback in different situations.

You’re probably wondering what else we have planned for the little microvan. The list is long. Our Mazda5 will serve as a reference platform for double DIN head unit reviews, beginning with Sony's XAV-602BT, a MirrorLink-compatible solution. I'll continue with Pioneer's NEX and a next-generation Alpine, once that's ready. I'm installing a blind-spot monitoring system, one of my favorite driver assistance features, from Goshers very soon.

The factory cloth seats will get a makeover with leather, heat, cooling, and lumbar adjustment. We haven't decided on a system yet, but the Katzkin Degreez solution leverages the Peltier effect and has our interest. An in-car wireless network will be installed eventually, too. Right now it's a toss-up between an outdated Autonet Car-Fi (a router designed exclusively for in-car use) or an 802.11ac home router with a CarPC shutdown controller.

Ultimately, the rear-seat entertainment system will be replaced by a flip-down or headrest LCD with HDMI input so we can run a Steam Machine in the car for real gaming and XBMC. Unfortunately, all of the units we've found thus far have front- or side-mounted ports that preclude a stealthy installation. The stereo will receive attention with new component speakers up front, coaxials in the rear, and a four-channel amplifier. That install will be documented with RTA measurements for detailed analysis of the gains available from aftermarket stereo equipment.

Since Mazda doesn’t equip the 5 Sport with a simple MPG display, we have to go aftermarket for a detailed trip computer. I may drive with a lead foot, but I still like to keep an eye on fuel consumption.

Despite the technology focus of our project car, it'll receive some visual and performance upgrades as well. We have a set of second-generation (2010-2013) Mazdaspeed 3 wheels in the garage awaiting clean-up and new rubber. A mild 1.5-inch drop from lowering springs, Mazdaspeed 3 front brakes, front sway bar, and rear sway bars are in store, too.

Orange Virus Tuning will help us tune the ECU and squeeze out more power. A short ram air intake and catback exhaust system are the only other power mods we have planned at the moment. However, Bob “De janitor” Roberts, formerly of PC Arena and CNET Asia, and owner of Drift Office, is graciously letting us use his dynamometer so we can measure the power gains with each engine mod.

Those are plans for now. We’re open to suggestions if there’s something you, our reader, wants to see installed or tested. The end goal is a fun-to-drive family hauler with upgrades that are applicable as universally as possible with a little do-it-yourself spirit and a day off of work.

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