Sunday, November 16, 2014

Updating 2014 Mazda3 Infotainment System

So the Mazda3s Grand Touring that we bought back in February has been great. Honestly it's one of the best cars I've ever had. The amount of performance, luxury, and tech Mazda packed into this car for 26 grand is astounding. Our only complaint has been how flaky the software on the infotainment system is. Now, I realize the absurdity of what I just said. What car needs an infotainment system in the first place? We got along for more than a century without them. Do you really need a system that integrates radio, satellite radio, internet-audio, navigation, backup camera, and telephone functions into one system with a touch screen, voice control, and input-wheel/button control? No you don't but it sure is fun to use, convenient, and useful. So, given that we don't need it and would have bought the car even without it, it's extraordinarily frustrating when it doesn't work right! The 3 is my wife Jen's primary transport, and she complains bitterly when her car acts up. It should just work.

The infotainment software on the 3 is a linux-based operating system that runs on an ARM processor. The UI is customized for Mazda by a third-party supplier (Visteon, at the time of this writing). As delivered on our car in February 2014, it had already been updated at the port to version 25.00.400. Even after the update this software was not quite ready for prime time! We experienced random crashes, reboots, blue screens, flickering display, stuttering audio, and all kinds of weird glitches. Don't get me wrong - most of the time it worked ok. It's just infuriating when it randomly craps out. Updating the software would be covered under the warranty, but requires a trip to the dealer (who told me they couldn't do it on a Saturday) and we just haven't had the time to mess with it. So the frustrations continued.

As with most small sporty cars, there is a vibrant online community for the newest Mazda3, and I have been a frequent visitor to Mazda3revolution.com. The guys there have well documented the problems with the infotainment system, and have been working on a way to hack into the software so that customizations are possible. I don't have much interest in that - I just want it to work right, but along the way those guys have worked out how to update the software at home without a trip to the dealer. Bingo! Just what I was waiting for. They even put up a wiki at MazdaCMUhacks.com, and the instructions for doing the update are at that page.

Now, you do need the update files. The latest version as of this writing is 33.00.500. This is the US version of the update. If you're outside the US, find the version for your region.
That should get you a file called "Mazda33UpdateUSA.rar". If you don't have a program to unpack a 'rar' file, download WinRar for free. Unpack the rar file and you should have two files:

  • cmu140_NA_33.00.500A_failsafe.up
  • cmu140_NA_33.00.500A_reinstall.up
Put these on a USB drive formatted to FAT32 and follow the instructions at the Mazda3hacks site. If the system doesn't recognize the files on the USB drive, try a different drive. The first one I tried didn't work but I switched to a different USB drive and it worked. The whole process took about 20 minutes and I didn't even lose the radio favorites or audio settings.

New updates are coming out every couple months, but if v33 is pretty stable I probably won't see the need to keep updating. Time will tell.

The 2015 Mazda3 comes with the same Infotainment system, but from the looks of it is coming with at least v31, so there may not be as much of a reason to update those cars.

UPDATE: since installing v33 a couple months ago, the system has been quite stable. There's still some weirdness with bluetooth audio on the iPhone (and we think this is Apple's fault, not Mazda's), but everything else seems pretty solid. The frustration level for my wife has gone way down.

Update 2: The latest version of the software is now v55 (September 2015). Also note that this Infotainment System is also used in the 2016 Miata/MX-5

Update 3: The Mazda3 Hacks site has been revived and is now mazdacmuhacks.com. It has everything you need including links to the installation files. The same software and update procedure also applies to most of the current models in Mazda's lineup including the 2016+ MX-5 Miata, 2016 CX-5, CX-5, Mazda6, and the 2017 CX-9. The latest version as of April 2016 is 55.00.753A

Update 4: The latest version as of April 2017 is v59.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Quick Update

I'm sorry for the lack of new posts for the last year or so. I hope to get back to actively blogging in the next few months. It's just that I've been devoting most of my time to my house and property for the last year. It's been long overdue, and we're getting a bit closer to the end of the major projects. I wish I could say one of the projects was a big new garage, but I don't have the room for that, and other things became more important. I still have Gorilla Garage Tampa, though, where I have plenty of room for my workshop.

I will give a quick update on each of my project cars.

  • 2004 BMW M3: has been pretty bullet proof, but has 127,000 miles on it now and I feel the need for some pre-emptive maintenance. I plan to go ahead and replace the radiator, water pump, and a couple of hoses that I have not already replaced once. Then it needs new shocks as it still rides on the originals. I have a fuel filter waiting to go in it, and the brakes need to be bled. I'll install a new/reconditioned steering wheel as the leather on the original one is getting worn, and the B and C pillars have some of the cloth lining peeling off, so I'll replace those with new. All of that adds up to a couple thousand dollars, but this BMW has been pretty easy on me so far, so I'll treat it right and get what it needs to be 100%.
  • 1994 Mazda Miata: as always, my reliable daily driver. It's been over 2 years since my major reconditioning of it, and I've hardly done so much as wash it. It would benefit from new shocks as the Tein suspension is now 10 years old, and it needs brake pads all around. It's still a joy to drive and looks pretty decent considering my amateur painting skills.
  • 1992 Jeep Cherokee: As primitive and unrefined as it is, I love this vehicle. I've been using it for almost 2 years as a utility vehicle and occasionally driving it to work. Other than the initial tune-up I did on it and a little cosmetic restoration, I've not done much to it. The brake lines still need replacing, the shocks are still dead, the tires are hard as rocks, the driver window is still balky going up and down, the A/C still (despite my best efforts) does not work. I have replaced the entire A/C system, with the exception of the evaporator, and it still isn't cooling. So I have a new evaporator ready to go in, just waiting for a free weekend to pull the dashboard out and install it. If that doesn't work I give up. I plan to install new shocks and maybe a minimal lift kit, get new tires, and get the thing painted. If the A/C works, it'll be a decent vehicle. If it doesn't, I'll probably end up selling it.

I also hope for the garage at the house itself to be a project in the next year or so. It just needs some cleaning up, paint, and I'd like to put down a new floor. I don't expect we'll be in this house for more than 5 years or so, but I also know how 5 years can suddenly turn into 10, so I need to keep it together.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

A Step Back in Time to My Great Uncle's Service Station

This photo is shows my great uncle Dutch at his Sinclair station in Gulfport, Mississippi circa 1938. Based on the signage on the building, this is one of the Sinclair "castle" style stations built by the thousands between 1931 and 1940. The car in the background is a 1937 or 1938 Chrysler. I only have very faint memories of Uncle Dutch, as he passed away when I was a very small child in the 70's, and then I believe he was pushing 90 years old. The little girl is his daughter Caroline, whom I remember very well. How I wish I could go back in time and pay a visit to this old gas station!

Thursday, June 05, 2014

The Juke Game

So my wife and I have invented this game we play whenever we are in the car. It's similar to the old "Slug Bug" game where every time you see a VW Beetle you yell "Slug Bug!" and punch the person next to you in the arm or leg as hard as you can. This version doesn't require anyone to get punched. In fact, my wife specifically objected to the prospect of being punched, and I am not really for it either, so our game is much more friendly. It sort of evolved naturally when we were shopping for cars a few months ago. The Nissan Juke was one of the cars my wife was interested in for her daily driver. I just got in the habit of calling out whenever we would see one on the road. It's so quick and easy to say "Juke!". It's kind of fun, too!

Well, after a while we bought the Mazda3 for her and even though we were no longer shopping for cars I couldn't stop myself from yelling "Juke!" every time I'd see one on the road. You can probably guess what happened next, but Jen is pretty competitive by nature and pretty soon she was trying to spot the Jukes before me and beat me to the "Juke!". Naturally, we started keeping score and the game of Juke was born.

The Juke is the perfect car for this game because 1) it's quick and easy to blurt out "Juke". It wouldn't work with car like a Camry or an Explorer. 2) Jukes are common enough (around here anyway) that you do see at least one most times you go somewhere. 3) Jukes are rare enough that you feel like you've accomplished something when you spot one. You don't see them at every intersection like more common cars. Sometimes we will drive for an hour in city traffic and only see one. 4) The Juke is really weird looking so it stands out in a crowd. 5) Some of Nissan's other models have some common styling elements to the Juke, so you have to really look before you yell "Juke!" because it might be a Rogue or a Leaf.

The Rules

  1. The first person to sight a Juke and yell or say "Juke!" gets one point.
  2. If you say "Juke!" and it's not a Juke you lose one point.
  3. If two people simultaneously call a Juke the points cancel out.
  4. To win, you have to score 5 more points than your opponent. It's like tennis where you have to win by two but it's five. Alternatively, you can just have the first to five be the winner. That makes it go quite a bit faster.

The scoring method isn't critical. Play however you like. We just found that we needed to define an end to the game so that if one player gets way behind there's a way to wipe the slate clean and start a new game. If you get 10 Jukes behind you'll never catch up.

What do you get when you win? This is up to you but we decided that the loser has to make the morning coffee and being it to the winner in bed for the next weekend. It's not much but the game is a LOT more competitive when there are stakes, no matter how small.

Caveats
It's possible in other parts of the USA there are not enough Jukes to make this game fun. In that case I'd suggest changing it to something more common - perhaps Jeeps, but they may be too common.
Play safely! Don't get in a wreck because you're scanning all over for Jukes. Most often you'll see them in oncoming traffic. Stay in your lane and don't rear end the guy in front of you because you were looking off to the side.

Here's a side rear view of a Juke, to help you spot them.

Here's a front view of an approaching Rogue at a distance. These are easy to mistake for Jukes if you try to call it too quickly. Be careful!

Give it a try and let me know how you like The Juke Game. My wife and I often end up laughing til we cry, as we try to out-Juke each other. Maybe we're just weird, though.

Sunday, February 02, 2014

2014 Mazda3s Grand Touring

So, we just picked this up last night. It's going to be my lovely wife Jen's daily driver. She has a long commute and needed something new, and something that gets decent gas mileage. We were looking at a lot of different cars - everything from BMW 3 series to Subaru Outbacks. She came to the conclusion, though, that she needed a big improvement in gas mileage over her old Forester. This thing is supposed to get around 38 mpg on the highway, while her Forester got 24 on a good day. So, with commuting 350 miles per week, the Mazda3 is going to save her around $1000 per year. Sorry the photos pretty much suck. I'll try to take some decent ones soon.
We got the hatchback model. We just thought it looks a little more snazzy and should be quite useful as well.
Jen has a dislike of black interiors so the sand interior was a must. We just got lucky because this was the only s-model Grand Touring hatchback the dealership (or any other dealership nearby) had, and it just happened to have the sand interior. Being the GT model, this is really nice leather.
This is the Skyactiv-G 2.5L engine that produces 184 horsepower. It feels really strong in this application. The car accelerates smartly, and makes a nice snarl when doing it. The fact that this engine has a 13:1 compression ratio and runs on regular fuel is remarkable. I don't think a lot of people appreciate the engineering feat Mazda has achieved here.
The Grand Touring trim brings with it a LOT of features, including Bi-Xenon headlamps, heated seats, an infotainment system with navigation, Bluetooth integration, and a bunch of other neat features. I'll write more as I get to know this car better.