By on February 17, 2015

Last week, fellow contributor Doug DeMuro posed the question, “Has Mazda lost its zoom?” Some weeks before that, he asked readers, “When did BMW lose its edge?”

To be brief, the answer to the first is a simple “No,” while the answer to the second is – well, let’s ask BMW. Hey! Bavarians! How do you sleep at night, selling bizarre cross-coupes and sport activity whats-its and M-badged heffalumps like the 5-series Gran Turismo?

BMW, in a Rainier Wolfcastle accent: “On a huge pile of money, surrounded by many beautiful ladies.”

I see. So here’s my question – if Mazda is, as I posit, selling the strongest lineup of vehicles it’s had in decades, then why isn’t it knocking it out of the park?

First though, some brief defence of the Mazda range may be needed, as there are those who feel that it lacks cohesion. I believe the quote bandied about refers to our resident hot-shoe / well-heeled-Visigoth Jack Baruth declaring the Camry SE a bit sprightlier around a racetrack than a Mazda6. However, I remind you that the same gent said the following, “As it turns out, I did nearly sixty laps of Laguna Seca in the CX-5. The first three were for you, dear readers; the rest were for me.”

And that was back when you still couldn’t get anything other than a relatively overmatched 2.0L in that particular crossover. Now there’s a more-flexible 2.5L engine available that still returns excellent fuel economy but doesn’t feel overtaxed in passing maneuvers. You can get the same engine in the Mazda3, which I have just finished up a week in, now with either a six-speed manual (lovely) or conventional six-speed automatic (frankly, better), and that car is pretty enough that it could easily wear an Alfa-Romeo badge.

The Mazda2, which Doug dismissed for having just 100hp, is just debuting with 115hp now, and shares a design language with the rest of the range. The new CX-3, bound to launch somewhere mid-year, builds on the 2’s chassis with a little more ride-height (as well as a 2.0L, 155-horsepower engine), and having watched a camouflaged mule run along the Angeles Crest highway at speed, that thing’s going to be sharp too.

Much more importantly, they’re also very pretty cars these days. No more of the grinning why-so-serious nonsense that only really worked on the cutesy ‘2, Mazda’s new design language is good enough to have those who don’t care about corners looking twice. Should they glance at the fuel-economy figures, those too should impress. Moreover, most Mazda products I’ve driven actually hit their economy targets without trickery, unlike some turbocharged options I could name. And will: so-called Ecoboost offerings.

So what gives? Is it, as Doug suggests, a lack of power in the range? Toe-to-toe with four-banger Camrys and CR-Vs, Mazda’s products are actually a little ahead; it’s a fair point that handling and feel take a backseat to plain ol’ underhood gumption, and that there are probably a few people driving around in 2.0T Optimas who turned down the ‘6 on the basis of power, but where the bulk volume is, there too is most of the Mazda range.

The problem, I feel, is in not in the product, it’s in the perception. Easiest example of this? The new MX-5.

When the word went out that the new ND-chassis MX-5 would have just 155hp, out came the knives. It wasn’t enough. It certainly wasn’t daring enough. If anything, it was a step backwards. Just one issue: the Venn Diagram between those complaining and those who’d driven the car had zero overlap – and that was with the JDM 1.5L cars.

Moreover, get a few lines down in the comment thread of any first-drive, and you’d start hearing people talk about rust. Either they’d be dismissing all Mazdas as rust-buckets, based on apocryphal experience, or defending the brand, based on apocryphal experience. The consensus seems to be that the modern cars are much better (with the caveat that time has yet to take its full toll), but that the buying public hasn’t forgotten.

More to the point, the buying public doesn’t seem to have forgotten their last poor experience with a Mazda dealer, or perhaps the lack of choice when it comes to finding one. Not that they’re all the same, but if there are five Honda dealerships in your town, eight Toyota dealerships, and one place that sells Mazdas, guess which brand takes a kicking? Someone who had a bad experience at Toyota A but liked their car might try Toyota B before switching brands.

Meanwhile, over at Subaru, equally a niche player, things couldn’t be rosier. This despite a history of headgasket issues and fussy maintenance requirements. Subaru’s overall sales in the US were double Mazda’s results, with just under treble the growth.

It’s not a mystery, no more so than the prevalence of gluten-free food these days. Subaru’s all-wheel-drive is of no real benefit to many shoppers, but it has at least a placebo effect. In addition, overall fuel economy is improved enough now thanks to CVT and direct-injection to be acceptable, and the brand can tout its reputation for all-weather capability and safety loudly enough to drown out the critics.

For Mazda, a philosophy of “fun-to-drive spirit” baked into every car, no matter how true, just isn’t enough. In fact, if Mazda succeeds, it’ll be in spite of the fact that their cars drive well.

Enthusiasts buy into handling and feel, but they do so in small numbers, and they currently face a glut of options. No-one would tell you the Miata wasn’t zippy, but the actual sales figures for that car are almost hilariously modest, even by niche-market standards. Everybody else buys safe – not boring: safe. Something that’s a known quantity, recommended by friends and family, with a decent monthly payment and a nice-enough feel.

BMW certainly understands this, and has abandoned their Ultimate Driving Machine image for a scattershot approach that currently fills at least three niches which were probably better left empty. They still make the odd enthusiast-pleasing car, but the average 3-series leaving the lot is more akin to a Mercedes-Benz C-Class than its boxy ancestors. BMW knows that they need not worry about the weight-distribution of the ATS when the Audi Q3 is a far bigger sales volume threat.

Thus, the disheartening feeling that the gleaming alloy air cars are coming for that Soul-Red barchetta with the Mazda badge on the nose. But perhaps that’s not quite the case just yet.

CX-5 sales are steady, and the company’s growth, as-mentioned, is modest but present. The CX-3 will be an important launch, but its the CX-9 that faces down even tougher competition in the three-row segment. At least Mazda’s earlier to the game here than VW.

Personally, I’d like to see the next Mazdaspeed car, the next powerful Mazda, be a version of the CX-3; imagine a GLA AMG competitor for less than half the price. With the conventional hot-hatch segment relatively crowded, the next ‘Speed, and Mazda as a company, needs to hit them not where they are, but where they ain’t.

However, that’s beside the point. If Mazda’s to survive, it’s the twin attributes of consumer-reproducible overall fleet fuel economy and attractive styling that will keep the company afloat. Has Mazda lost its zoom? No, but that’s practically irrelevant. Survival here is not going to be about Jinba Ittai, but how pretty the pony is, and how much it costs to keep it fed.

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108 Comments on “Editorial: Zoom, But Where’s The Boom? The Mazda Question...”

  • avatar

    #1. The competition got better
    #2. The choices got wider
    #3. The people got broker
    #4. The desires of the buyer changed

    I never ever wanted a BMW, even after considering buying a 7-series. Coulda leased one cheaper than my JeepSRT.
    It handed extremely well, but the interior bored me and I’d rather have the design and materials of a CLS.

    I look at Mazda and they don’t excite me at all. I’d rather have an Azera, Genesis or 2015 Sonata if I had to go import.

    Mazda isn’t advertising its cars well enough. You’ve gotta make me want one.

    I DO NOT LIKE the new Mazda designs. They are ugly. Same for Nissan. Hyundai grills are ridiculous looking, but they grow on you.

    • 0 avatar

      I don’t like the looks of the new Mazdas either. From certain angles they do look a little upscale, but overall, that front overhang kills it for me. The 6 almost works, being a longer car than the rest, but the arched greenhouse looks way cheaper than the rest of the car. I wish they would go back to ripping off the A4 (2002 Protege).

      The new Miata looks excellent, aside from the tiny headlights. I look forward to buying one used in 15 years (sorry Mazda).

  • avatar

    I am part of that niche customer base you mentioned above. Above all I look for cars that are fun to drive while still offering a modicum of practicality, hence the purchase of the FoST. I feel that Mazda does a very good job catering to “my” segment with the exception of power.

    Every time I see a Mazda6 drive by I am reminded how truly beautiful the 6 has become and think to myself that I really should find a dealer that has a 6MT on the lot and take a test drive. Then I remember that it has 184hp. I’m simply not sure I can go from 250hp to 184hp and be happy, great handling and looks notwithstanding.

    The next Mazdaspeed offering should be the rebirth of the speed6.

    Just as the next ST model should be the Fusion ST.

    • 0 avatar

      My guess is the drive of the mazda 6 will leave you dissapointed. Not necessarily because of the power, but because it drives well for a large sedan, which is a world apart from your ST.

      I am also in that niche that buy cars for the way they drive, and have have been admiring the looks and fuel economy of the 6. I recently spotted a used manual at a dealer and asked to have a go. The 3 is much more fun to drive and very tempting for me, but I think I’m going to wait and see what the mid life refresh brings and hope a mazdaspeed is part of that (even though I might just test the speed to settle on a regular 3)

      • 0 avatar

        I seem to alternate back and forth between mid/large sedans and hatches; to wit:

        Jetta GLS > Mazda3 Hatch>Passat>ST

        I mean what I really want is a high performance wagon that a mere mortal can afford.

        Though, considering the current street conditions here in Boston (less than 1 lane wide in most places) I am very happy that I don’t have a larger vehicle right now.

    • 0 avatar

      Mazda will never be great until they “Dare Greatly,” as Cadillac has:


      The Arena. “Dare Greatly”:

      Love Johan SoHo Zohan, Melody CT-Lee & Publicus

  • avatar

    Very well considered follow up article. Thank you :)

    I do wonder if the marketing has something to do with it. Somehow Subaru won that one. The other point is that it simply takes time to grow sales, and so it will take some time for Mazdas new line up to have much effect. I don’t know the stats, but lets say the average new car buyer does so once every 8 years, and 4 out of 5 end up buying the same brand they had.

    • 0 avatar

      marketing is huge. One of the biggest problems that Doug wrote about in his piece the other day is their current campaign. “Albert Einstein is smart. Look at this Mazda, we’re smart too!” is a terrible ad campaign. The brand has no real identity since they removed Zoom Zoom from marketing speak. Think about their perceived competition:

      Subaru is AWD
      Toyota is most dependable
      Honda is America’s favorite (aka buy it because everyone else does)
      Nissan is racecar, at least with the Altima ad in the desert, and the new Maxima Super Bowl ad. Also sub-prime, but that’s a different conversation.
      Mazda is what?

      Another thing to think of is the dealership experience. We have 2 Mazda dealers within 15 minutes of me, and both are dumps, probably last renovated in the early to mid-90s. All of the other brand dealerships have had work done in the last decade and look modern. The effect that has on potential buyers is huge; if they can’t afford to have a modern-looking dealership, is the brand going to be around? Heck, is the dealer going to be around to do the factory service?

      • 0 avatar

        Agreed completely. I’ve owned multiple Mazdas; they make a great product. If they took all their cars, swapped their logo for a blue oval, and sold them in a Ford dealership, they’d be top sellers. No, it’s not their vehicles that are the problem.

        Mazda doesn’t know how to sell cars. They can design & build them, but for the life of them, they can’t sell them.

        • 0 avatar

          Correction – They don’t know how to sell cars in the US.
          They ripping shreds into the competition in Australia and Canada.

          Reliability proven to be better than most by Auto Bild in Germany (Mazda has had 2 of 3 faultless vehicles in their long term, 3 year tests – both post Ford).

          Best quote from a recent comparison with Honda and Toyota in Australian car magazine, Wheels is that the engineers at Honda and Toyota must been sleeping after driving the Mazda.

  • avatar

    A very fair and balanced article. The author reminds us that Mazda is incdeed growing (as it should in a growing market) but that it is not growing as much as it should do. Mazda resolved two of their big issues from a few years back – namely exterior design and fuel economy. Both are greatly improved. They are getting into segments like the small CUV ahead of most of the competition (CX3).

    I agree with the comments about dealers, and that is to some extent a chicken and egg sitauion since there will not be more dealers until there are more sales. The bigger thing holding them back is that they are tuned more for enthusiats and they are a small part of the market. So Mazda is nver going to be like Toyota with 15% market share, and nor do they need to be.
    They also sell world cars here – you can get the same 3,6 and CX5 in all major markets. You cannot get the Camry in the EU. This allows Toyota to tune and build their cars for the specific market. Mazda cannot/does not and this means they are always going to be a step back in some area.

    • 0 avatar

      As a Mazda owner, I will pile on to your comment about dealers. The dealer experience was not great, and the service side of the house is not on par with the other Asian makes. As you say, all this is due to scale, and I get that.

      But this is 2015, so expectations are higher. If you want to compete with Honda and Toyota, you gotta get the revenue and customer touchpoints from service and maintenance.

    • 0 avatar

      It’s good they sell world cars instead of the boring black, white, silver exterior and black/gray interior. Growing up with ~100 HP in heavier cars, 184 HP in a Mazda 6 is plenty, especially with a manual transmission. I’d buy one when the road noise becomes acceptable. (Unfortunately, my hearing is still good!)

  • avatar

    As has been pointed out several times on TTAC, rust concerns and high road noise are brand-wide flaws for Mazda. Time will tell if this generation of cars has conquered the rust problem, but the road noise is still very present and behind the competition.

    They also have zero “halo” effect anymore because of the lack of mazdaspeed models.

  • avatar

    It’s a problem for an enthusiast brand when none of it’s cars have the horsepower to be the enthusiast option. I too cry a little overtime I see the Mazda and remember it’s lowly 184hp only engine.

    Sadly the driving enthusiast niche is just too small to be the reason for being for any automaker. Pontiac tried it and failed. Dodge is trying it, and how many Darts and Chargers are they really selling? Mazda? Same thing. Subaru rightly picked the AWD earthy crunchy niche, and is capitalizing on its customers safety minded and outdoorsy sensibilities.

    Even makes like Ferrari and Lamborghini aren’t really selling sports cars. They are just selling giant penises shaped like cars.

    • 0 avatar

      I don’t think horsepower is an absolute neccesity for enthusiast friendly product, although it helps. Pontiac’s (and to a lesser extent, Dodge’s) problem is that in the cheaper, low-power models, they literally drive no differently from a Chevy or Chrysler.

      Mazdas at least feel a little different in how they go around corners compared to most of their competition, and as a frugal enthusiast who commutes far more than I like, I at least appreciate that they build a cheap, frugal car that I’m not compelled to hit over and over with a breaker bar just to make things interesting.

    • 0 avatar

      Horsepower is important, but horsepower is not a make or break metric for what defines a driver’s car. By this logic a G63 AMG is more of a driver’s car than a GT3. Right or wrong?

      My current car has half the horsepower of my previous one, and you know what? It’s still more than enough. What I do miss is the RWD traction, but with the loss of ~400-500 lbs now I just replace that with momentum. Horsepower is a part of the experience, but a car defined by its horsepower is boring and unusable. Again, by your logic a Camry XLE V6 is more of an enthusiast’s option than a stickshift Mazda 6. If you think that’s the case you’re not an enthusiast, you’re a bench racer.

      And the irony of someone writing off a Mazda for not having enough HP calling a Ferrari a penis car is not lost on me. 250-300 HP in a big FWD sedan is not necessarily a good thing, especially with the 3500+ lb it will have to carry to do so in today’s regulatory environment. No thanks!

  • avatar

    Hey, why don’t you work here more often? Quite literally one day short of a year between posts! Your material is good and is always substantive. Write more!

    • 0 avatar

      Quality takes time :)

    • 0 avatar

      I also noticed the absence of Brendan; this is a fine piece marking what I hope is a return of sorts.

      I agree, the world mostly cares “how pretty the pony is, and how much it costs to keep it fed.” Next, from the comments, I agree it’s dealer network and advertising. Last, rust, NVH, and the like, probably don’t have much of an impact, especially for people who lease.

      Mazda has turned around, but needs time. The best advertising would be for people to notice lots of old Mazdas still on the road, relatively rust-free.

  • avatar

    Mazda is in a very difficult position of being a very independent automaker attempting to compete in the price points and segments dominated by large volume companies that dwarf Mazda. If you go to the Mazda global website and take time to browse through its history, and more important, the management plans and forecasts outlined in various documents in the “investors” tab, you will find a well run company that is trying to carve out a reasonable profit in the business of selling cars. Add in the fact that, being on the opposite side of the mountains, it was one of the few local businesses that survived the atomic bomb and it all adds up to an underdog that keeps getting up off the mat to fight another day.

    Since the time that they lost the full Ford financial backing, they have quite incredibly, re-engineered the entire lineup from the ground up, with the CX-9 being the sole remaining vehicle that has not been completed. The lineup refresh alone is an enormous undertaking for an independent, along with the completion of a new porduction plant in Mexico. Whatever the sales results happen to be, it is without a doubt not from a lack of effort.

    I for one really like the fact that they have undertaken the challenge of improved efficiency without resorting to the complexity of the turbo or the hybrid. I really hope they succeed. If Mazda can gain some solid traction with the current lineup, maybe it can provide enough resource for the development of a new round of boom to go wtih the zoom.

    • 0 avatar

      SkyActiv is quite impressive, but I’m not sure it will outshine some of the other naturally-aspirated powertrain technologies from other manufacturers.

      If Mazda wants to continue as an enthusiast brand, they will have to develop hybrid technology. Honda reached that conclusion a long time ago, but they lost their nerve and the god-awful CR-Z was the result. Manual transmissions and Skyactiv can’t compete with CVT’s and the new Atkinson-stroke technology Toyota is working on.

      They are in a tough spot.

  • avatar

    It’s just easier to buy something else.

    • 0 avatar

      That statement could apply to many manufacturers. At the end of the day wouldn`t it just be easier to have Toyota, Honda and one other company. Then people don`t need to be bothered with too much choice.

      I was surprised by your concise and somewhat pithy statement. I expect more from you.

      • 0 avatar

        What I said is accurate. I’m not sure why this is such an emotional topic for you, when I’m just stating a fact. I like Mazdas personally, but this is about data and business, not personal sentiment.

        • 0 avatar

          You gotta pay the troll toll…

        • 0 avatar

          Ageed, however what you said could apply to nearly all car companies. A lot of the tone on here is as if Mazda are losing sales (or market share), when they are not. So they are growing, they are fixing issues (whether that is design, fuel ecdonomy or a lack of a NA factory). They will certainly do more alliances, but given that companies like Toyota want to work with them it seems that they are well regarded and have something to offer.

          • 0 avatar

            No, what I said can’t be applied to most car companies.

            This is the sort of thing that I used to say about SAAB and Suzuki’s US business. Seen many new ones lately?

            (And I had a soft spot for SAABs. Again, this is about business, not about sentiment.)

          • 0 avatar

            I think they could take a piece of Subaru’s pie if they had both the sporty/fun things (of which Subaru really has 2 -barely- the WRX and the BRZ), AND also add AWD availability across all models (except Miata).

          • 0 avatar

            Why can’t your logic be applied to most car companies?

            Surely it is easier to buy an Accord or a Camry than a 200, Fusion, Malibu, Altima, Passat or Sonata/Optima. None of those listed offer more horsepower, more space, better reliability or better real world fuel economy than the Camry or Accord. Yet the majority of the mid size market (and this analysis would work for other sgements) do not choose the Toyota or Honda entry.

            Toyota and to some extent Honda have even got down into the incentives game so pricing is now comparable also.

            Ford and GM have their truck and large SUV business which gives them some differentition. But companies like VW, Hyundai/Kia do not have that and operate in essnetially the same market segments that Mazda do.

          • 0 avatar

            The other car brands are larger.

            Size matters in this business, particularly as the industry matures. There used to be a place for boutique brands selling low volumes at modest prices, but no longer. As margins get compressed, the little guys get squeezed out.

            It’s only going to get tougher. Why do you think that Marchionne is so intent on building more volume as fast as he can?

  • avatar
    el scotto

    In a great many peoples minds there is Toyota and Honda reliability and then there are the other Japanese brands. Bad head gaskets in Subarus, bad transmissions in Nissans, 480 FICO scores Mitsubishis, and they think why not just get a Toyota/Honda? The only different for Mazda is the Miata. It’s very, very good and very, very fun different. The rest of the Mazda line-up? Not so much. I think there is speculation if or when Toyota will absorb them to be an engineering/tuner shop.

  • avatar

    I’m rooting for Mazda and want them to succeed. The 3 has been more interesting than the Civic for as long as it’s existed. The old Protege5 managed to be more than the sum of its parts. I thought the old 2.5L V-6 626 was a cool sleeper of a family car, especially with the 5 speed, and I appreciate the quirkiness of the rotaries, even with their inherent downsides. The Speed6 was also simultaneously a daring and understated sport sedan.

    The problem is that non-enthusiasts don’t care about most of these things. What they know is that Mazdas (did) rust, and for a long time the company said they had fixed it, but they hadn’t. I’m pretty vocal about the fact that I still see fairly recent, ~2008 rusty Mazdas on a regular basis, so you can’t blame consumers for waiting for the proof.

    Consumers also know that Mazdas don’t have power. Yes, they’re wonderfully balanced and fun to drive, but you can’t put that on a spec sheet, and most people don’t understand enough about cars to appreciate it. What they know is that Mazda’s signature sports car is beaten by a V-6 Camry in a straight line. Mazda needs some razzle-dazzle to catch regular people’s attention.

    Upon seeing pictures and reading the first-drive reports, I personally believe that the new Miata will be amazing, but the 155hp figure has people turned off before they can even get the chance to see one in person, let alone drive one. Even as someone who really enjoys my 0-60-in-8-seconds Miata, I have to say it’s hard to explain an impractical 2-seat sports car that gets dusted by hot hatches at the same price point. I think this is a situation where a Mazdaspeed version with a no-excuses engine would be worth Mazda’s while, even if they don’t sell many of them; it might get the public to take the car, and the brand, a little more seriously. In fact, I could imagine ‘speed versions of the 2, 3, and 6 being well-received, at least by the reviewers, too.

    • 0 avatar

      Unfortunately, spec sheets are going to continue killing off dedicated, inexpensive sports cars. Even though the Miata drives far better than compact sedan/hatch based, being able to say that you got 250hp for $25k gets more buyers. Most roads in America aren’t fun to drive in the first place. Even worse, I often find myself behind an F350 when I do have a reason to be on a good road. “Fun driving” is slowly morphing into just pushing the skinny pedal. And that is depressing.

  • avatar

    What is important? Looks? Wealth? Power?

    If you want a Mazda, buy a Mazda.

    We will all be dead and forgotten one day.

    • 0 avatar

      Looks like someone had President’s day off and used it to read Thus Spoke Zarathustra.
      Given that I have all of the above and a Mazda of my own, I shall state that I have self-actualized and can just die and be forgotten immediately.
      I am now dead to me.

  • avatar

    Mazda continues to impress me with their engineering given their size. Most of their lineup, as noted, is near top-of-class across the board. But all the models I have driven all have at least one critical issue: the 6 is seating, the 3 is road noise, the 2 is just too average, and all of them seem to have electronics issues.

    In the end they need to rebuild their “differentness.” Bring back the ‘Speed series – but in an informal survey on my engineering floor at work nobody knows what the ‘Speed series even was – for the enthusiast. Make sure the better-than-average cars are advertised as such. Upgrade service and sales – most salesmen I’ve talked with don’t know the product. And keep the Miata at the top and advertise it as the bell cow it is. No other mainstream manufacturer has a difference-maker like it.

  • avatar

    Why would I buy a Mazda when I can get much of the same elsewhere? They have the disadvantage of being lesser known than the major players. They need to offer something that buyers don’t think they can get anywhere else in order to attract more people to the brand.

    Think about “What makes a Subaru a Subaru”.

    • 0 avatar

      On the surface you may have a point. But name many manufacturers and models that offer somethign truly different.

      As for Subaru, the asnwer to your question is LOVE. At least according to Subaru. I always thought the “Love is what makes it a Subaru” a stupid tagline. But maybe it works.

      They offer AWD – on the CUV models their competitors also offer AWD so no difference. The only distinugsihing ones are the Impreza (poor seller) and the Legacy (again a poor seller, on a par with the 6).

      I agree with those who posted above and said it will take time. Time for the people to get into the market, time for the fuel economy to be shown, time to put to rest the rust issue.

      • 0 avatar

        What matter is perception. Mazda could build carbon copies of Accords and Civics and they wouldn’t sell in equal numbers because they aren’t sold with that badge or available in as many stores.

        Subarus are perceived to be different and offer something more, even if you can get a similar cup of coffee elsewhere.

        • 0 avatar

          This is similar to the problem with badge engineering: There is less interest in the copy, and those who will accept the copy will usually expect to pay less for it.

          The Accord and Camry franchises are so solid that they are tough to beat. A small company trying to cover the costs of competing head-on against them is just begging to get slaughtered.

          • 0 avatar

            Isn’t it also true that a comparable Mazda is in fact MORE expensive than the Toy/Hon offering?

            When my sister and parents were car shopping – different time periods for different models – they all came to me separately and mentioned on their own that Mazdas are too expensive.

          • 0 avatar

            Too expensive for what?

          • 0 avatar

            Whoops sorry. Too expensive compared to other similar cars in the class in which they were searching.

            (In this case my sister wanted a small sedan, and my parents wanted an SUV, CX7 or CX9.)

    • 0 avatar

      This is the correct answer. If people want a solid, reliable Japanese car, then the choices are obviously something else.

      Mazda will have to be similar enough to be acceptable, yet different enough that it doesn’t just lose customers to the larger, safer brands. Unfortunately, it rode the rotary horse for far too long, so the brand doesn’t have much of its own identity.

    • 0 avatar

      “Think about “What makes a Subaru a Subaru”

      Fart Can Mufflers, Giant Spoilers, and Headgaskets that don’t outlast the sparkplugs.

      That was just the first things that came to my mind.

  • avatar

    I almost agree that they need models with more power, but as I spend most days passing slow-pokes who have clogged up the left lane and trying to get out from behind those who consider merging on a short ramp a leisure activity, I would argue that most people don’t drive very fast and 180-something HP is likely sufficient.
    However I, being one of the very best drivers, would LOVE a faster Mazda. I was on the hunt for a Mazdaspeed6 for a long time as I was in love with them. Went for a few test drives and would have been 100% happy with one. However once I realized how often they ate their turbos and suffered other expensive issues I stepped back. It was basically a grown-up WRX that flew under the radar with far better appointments. Shame about it.

    • 0 avatar

      Sometimes people have to step away from the forums and realize the reported issues may not be representative of an average build. Bought mine new and it’s tastefully modded at 110k with the only real repairs being a leaky turbo replaced under warranty at 5k (majority of turbo leaks were on the early builds) and a couple transfer case seals.

      On the flip side, I know owners who thrashed rear diffs or blew engines without knowing what they were doing. They usually had the loudest forum presence.

      I still have nasty thoughts about an RX-8 with a longitudinal MZR DISI, help me Mazda!

    • 0 avatar

      “However I, being one of the very best drivers,”

      Aren’t we all.

  • avatar
    John R

    Sales figures of V6/Turbo 4 Camcords versus NA 4-cylinders be damned.

    I think it’s been proven that you have to have SOMETHING that will put a V6 Accord to task. GM and Hyundai tried to go NA 4-pot alone. How did that pan out? We have, now, have a turbo Sonata and a turbo Malibu. Not to mention that the Legacy is still available with a flat 6. Subaru choose correctly and didn’t make that gamble.

    Whatever is at work here – whether it be people go in looking to work numbers on a V6 and they leave with the base motor or whatever – it is working. Mazda has to have a stronger motor or some sort of halo trim available for that car.

  • avatar

    I guess rust is not an issue if you live in Texas, my ’94 Miata (owned since new) has none. It’s also the most durable, reliable and fun to drive car I’ve ever owned. It’s also very easy to work on. More power does not make a car a better drive. Steering, braking and handling: yes, more power: no.

    • 0 avatar

      The NA Miata can rust no matter where it lives. I looked at several Georgia cars that rusted at the rear of the rocker panels. The drain would get blocked and the convertible would drain right into that area. A couple I drove you could literally hear sloshing.

      I ended up buying one though and had it repainted and the rust fixed. Yes, you are right though…most fun car I’ve ever owned though I did eventually address the power which only increased the fun.

  • avatar

    I think they’re wonderful but I live 140 miles from the nearest Mazda dealer and the one I want the most (Miata) doesn’t fit my current lifestyle because I already have a toy. (I also lust after an RX-8 (used) but it doesn’t fit for the same reasons.)

    FYI although every “American” brand is sold in Gallup the sum total of foreign brands is Toyota and Nissan.

  • avatar

    I’ll start by saying I’m a big Mazda fan. I owned a 1991 Miata for 13 trouble free years, had two Mazda5s (one with a manual trans), and my ex had a Protege5 that she dearly loved. However, with the exception of the Miata none of these were particularly reliable cars in the way I would have expected a Honda or Toyota to behave.

    As an example, the Mazda5s have had a lot of suspension issues, with rear shock towers cracking and shocks wearing out prematurely. This are not inexpensive repairs on cars with 60-80k miles. And this was in California without rust issues. The engines and transmissions were fine, though.

    Back in the 1980s, the standard Japanese family sedan trifecta was “Accord, Camry, and 626.” At some point, perhaps after Ford started making the 626, they simply fell off of the table. They had reliability issues and their designs just became beyond vanilla for a long time. Their first SUVs were rebadged Fords, also with reliability issues and their pickups were rebadged Rangers.

    Like Cadillac, they are making some of the best cars in their history and they are doing great in comparison tests. Their fuel economy is finally something to talk about as well. But, they have a lot work to do before 20 years of mediocrity is forgotten among mass-market car shoppers.

    • 0 avatar

      A very good post. Agreed it will take time for the current lineup to gain more awareness. I would just add though that the Mazda 3 and Mazda 6 (from the first generation over 10years ago) were well regarded and not ford clones. The SUV’s only started bing non-Ford with the CX7 (a sales dud) and now the much better received CX5. They have learnt their lesson, out of necessity with Ford divesting itself.

  • avatar

    On the ground I’m seeing the fastest turn time for the line up that I’ve seen in 5 years (15 years if you ask a colleague). While everyone else is using CVTs and turbos on low displacement engines, we have a tested, reliable engine/transmission platform to build on. IE the grunt work is done, time for the frosting.

    After the split with Ford, speculators were trashing Mazda. I saw everything from SAAB/Saturn/Mitsu compares, to them needing to sell interest in schools/hospitals/baseball team, or they are guaranteed to fail.

    I see a lot of the same manner of speculation here. I knew what was coming then, and I know what we have now. I see it all as baseless.

    Turbos are coming folks. However, we have clawed our way up in Cost of Ownership ranks and they aren’t going to sink that just to appeal to a fraction of the market, a fraction sooner.

    I don’t see any reason for them to exit out of the niche they have. Appeal and floor traffic have gone up significantly. The brand isn’t for everybody though and the good salespeople recognize this. For all the reviews that knock power vs a V6, I rarely loose a buyer due to power. Usually it’s due to the stiffer ride or incentives, or lack of an AWD sedan platform.

    Far as I can see into the crystal ball, the brand is only poised to get stronger. The discipline is there up top. Logistics are paced to not over extend the demand.

    The only negative I can say, is our marketing outside of the internet, sucks.

  • avatar

    I owned a Mazda for six years with no problems. But when I was ready for my next vehicle I was ready to move up and they didn’t have anything. The next gen RX-8 may never get off the drawing board. There are good reasons for this, but disappointing nonetheless

    • 0 avatar

      We owned both a 626 and a 323, back in the day. They were both bought used from GIs departing the area and both cars were trouble-free, providing reliable transportation for my children for many years.

      And that was a good thing, because the nearest Mazzda dealer was 75 miles away, and parts, if needed, were very expensive and had to be special-ordered through Autozone or NAPA.

  • avatar

    I wanted to get a Mazda 3 or 6, but I couldn’t get the deal I wanted. End of story.

    Would i still take either one if anything happened to my Dart? Yes.

    Anyway, more to the point of me chiming in here, is there seems to be a lot of talk on the internets about whether Automaker X or Automaker G “have lost their way”. Mainly because certain automakers aren’t making internet-certified hoonmobiles or something.

    And every time someone writes this article, I think about how the internet bullypulpit cried out for an affordable RWD sportscar; Toyota/Subaru answered their call, and there was much rejoicing. But… the Toyobaru twins haven’t exactly been a sales success.

    Sometimes, these automakers are building great cars that can be seen as acceptable enthusiast cars, but for mysterious reasons like those cars are not turbocharged or are front-wheel drive, they’re not seen as an enthusiast car, or not as good as these “true” enthusiast cars.

    But I will bet you fifty Yankee dollars if Honda discontinued the Civic Si and Accord Sport/ V6 coupe and Nissan discontinued the 370Z and Juke NISMO/ RS in the near future, half the internet would cry out in anguish and the other half would say those were crummy cars anyway and hadn’t been worth a flip in twenty years.

  • avatar

    To me, Mazda has boxed themselves into a corner based on their attitude of pushing to the customer what it feels is best – light weight, nice handling and fuel economy. All worthy items, but not what the customer notices in the 15 minute test drive.

    The 6 is a stunner versus the Camry and Accord…it’s only 75 pounds of sound deadening material and an upmarket motor away from being on more people’s lists.

    Look only at the Legacy from 5 years ago to note that Subaru finally got the message that quiet counts.

  • avatar

    First, the real answer to last week’s question was not no…but HELL NO!!!
    An it should never have been trolled out to begin with.
    THIS is the correct story/question to have presented to us ad not that disturbing bait.
    Next, there is a lot of competition.
    Would you rather be Volvo or Mazda?
    I wonder how Mazda looks internationally, not just here in the good ol USA, where we kind of want big ass stuff.
    And other than the needed R&D money, what is wrong with being a bit player that has the ability to make what it wants and when it wants?

    And to tell my opinion on the future of Mazda, I kinda think it will be a partner of somebody soon and will soon be adding some pretty cool models, perhaps a wagon or diesel, or both.

  • avatar

    mazda, like KIA, like subaru will be washed way or bought out in the next 10-15 years by Chinese car companies.

    Its no longer, blah blah American market, blah blah European- its china. its india. later its africa.

    they need crap cars that people buy in droves. lots of plastic, upscale, words like aspirational paddle shift minivans and station wagons, call them crossovers, suvs, and fast hatches.

    They need a fast bachelor/midlife car that the stay at home dads can look at in the show room while bouncing their daughter on their knee, with the same suburban stunned look a cow gets after it gets a nailgun to the head. The sheep consumer needs something they know they don’t need that they will never buy so they can overspend on the main line of crap hoping the halo car will pixy dust their purchase and make them happy and fulfilled in a way their pathetic lives will never hope to achieve.

    Doing that sells fucking cars.

  • avatar

    The zoom-zoom thing might have actually scared some customers away.

    In conversation with a family member,
    me: “My coworkers just drive pretty average cars, you know, like two of them drive Mazda 3s-”
    her: “Isn’t that a little, uh, beyond average? Like a sports car?”

  • avatar

    Mazda: Perpetually overrated.

    The fanboys/armchair ”enthusiasts” perpetually tell the world: ”Just wait ’til the next new models/technology/engines that are years away arrive… then you’ll see Mazda’s sales Zoom-Zoom!”

    Uh… still waiting. And waiting.

    Somewhat pretty cars only get ‘ya so far.

    How much is Mazda paying for all this slobbering love-festing and hand-wringing, while bashing the successful competition?

    Obviously not enough it seems.

    • 0 avatar

      They do the niche thing pretty well with the Miata and former RX7 or 8, but mainstream player they are not. They fell down into tier 2 with Mitsu back around 1993 after the failure of Amati to get off the ground, and their lack of rustproofing when everyone else had learned how. Then Mitsu fell to tier three, but I’ll grant you Mazda is still tier 2.

  • avatar

    Mazda is dealing with many small problems that accumulate into the big problem of tepid sales.

    Mazda reliability isn’t as well regarded as Honda or Toyota. The dealership network is relatively weak. The cars have modest power. The cabins are often a bit noisy. Mazda has no halo vehicle. Most importantly, for me anyway, the cars have a history of being ergonomically designed around an average person of 5’6″ tall and 150 lbs.

    Subaru is succeeding because rugged utility sells. Always has and probably always will, as long as you’re west of the Mississippi or north of Boston. Mazda doesn’t have rugged charm, either.

    Mazda makes solid cars, but they lack virtually all of the competencies that lead to sales gold.

  • avatar

    I had a lovely conversation with an owner of a Mazda franchise in Illinois last week. He pointed out two massive problems with Mazda as operate today:

    1) They do a wretched job of promoting special financing and lease deals, mostly because they dont want to damage the brand image. They market things that nobody cares about—brand heritage, etc. Did you know that Mazda has an amazing lease pull-ahead program right now? Nobody else does either.

    2) Mazda thinks they can get away with overpricing their cars because of their name and brand loyalty. Price out a Mazda3 against an Elantra or Corolla or Forte. The base Mazdas have virtually no bells or whistles, whereas the Korean competition has Bluetooth, navigation, etc. “The kids don’t care about airbags,” this gentleman complained. “They want tech. Our cars don’t have it.”

    Just some food for thought.

  • avatar
    7th Frog

    Sweet Rush reference.

    I am a happy 2012 Mazda3 hatch owner, smiley face and all. Got it for a song as a leftover. The dealer and service department have been nothing but good to me.

  • avatar

    I owned a 2005 “3” andknwo the rust toowell, My US made 2007 “6” is trouble free. although the suspension after 50K miles shows how bad they are made for US roads.

    Mazda in theory is in a good position: a little bit more expensive to buy and operate than Toyonda (tires, parts), but looks and driving dynamics of a FWD BMW without the German pricetag and reliability problems.

    the problem is in-between Toyonda and BMW is not a good spot. The people that have the money go for BMW, the people who want an appliance at low cost, go for Toyonda. there are only so few people who want to pay more for tires, parts etc. without going all the way to the Germans.

    When I shopped for an SUV (ended up in a CRV) the Mazda sales person just walked away after I sat down with him (at the time we had 2 Mazdas bought in that store and serviced there…). So I never got a test drive of the CX5. but on my spreadhseet I compared it to the RAV4 and CRV: tires twice as expensive, $2K more upfront (19″ vs. 17″ and also would require winter tires in WI), higher depreciation. Equal mileage (if I ignore the 2.0 MT that is advertised), more expensive insurance, more expensive parts, fewer dealer options…. and i didn’t even throw in my elephant memory of the rust and the lack of any honoring of warranty.

    Since the salesperson never let me drive (Toyota and Honda dealers just tossed me the keys) I can’t tell if it drives better. But I know the CRV drives very nice on our winter-salt ridden roads (much better than my Mazda 6 with aged suspension).

    the “3” was a nice car, but it also required winter tires since the 17″wheels were useless… another expense and hassle. the suspension was totally worn out after 50K miles, the AC was weak, rust of course. Was it nice to look at (before it turned brown), yes, would i buy it again… hell no.

    For the people that say “this rust issue is resolved”. How do you know? I believe when the car is 10 years old.

    • 0 avatar

      When you say “the suspension was worn out after 50k miles” do you mean the dampers or rigid components?

      If you mean dampers, how long do you expect them to last?

      • 0 avatar

        dampers yes, shop quoted new struts for $1200 (not sure anymore if the set, or only back). Tires are expensive and not good in snow (darn high speed 17″ tires in a country with maximum 85 or so speed limit) and totallay not made for US streets.

        Honestly, at work we have Honda Fit (1st generation) with more miles and they drive nicer over our streets. and no, they didn’t get new dampers and are totally torn up because 10 different people (8 of them don’t know how to drive) share them and drive like maniacs. but their suspension holds up better.

        On my “3” I had 16″ winter wheels (because the 17″ stock tires were not drivable in winter at all) and using the 16″ was so much nicer driving. If I keep my “6” for longer an need new tires I may switch to 16″ wheels, just for the nicer ride and cheaper tires. Darn designers and their huge wheels. I swear if they had installed 16″ tires the whole car would have hold up better. I even can see gap differences for the hatch and swear when it was new the gaps were even. And I don’t race, I slow down before bumps etc.

        The fact this is my last MT and has a hatch makes me keep it for some more years. i only drive ~4K miles a year, but if i drove much more, i probably would look at something else with better ride. New tires and struts… that is a $2K cost as opposed to $500 if it was not a “sports” car.

        I never got that zoom zoom thing, what the hell is that supposed to mean? A bee, or what?

  • avatar

    The answer is not mentioned in the article. Its 3 letters; N-V-H. For years, people who know have been screaming at Mazda to fix these most basic problems, and year after year they ignore it (or have no idea what to do).

    I would have been a “3” owner except for the FAIL in NVH. Instead the 3 went from top of the list to the bottom.

    • 0 avatar
      30-mile fetch

      That’s not the entire answer. If it was, the Civic wouldn’t have sold as well as it has.

      • 0 avatar

        Honda only recently addressed this with the new Accord. The rest of the Honda line up is still behind the other players in this game. all of Hondas other products still suffer from this but yet they sell a tremendous amount of them

  • avatar

    Mazda’s have rust issues, despite regular allegations this problem has been fixed.

    Strangely enough, however, the Mazda3 is a very strong seller (likely in the top-five) in Quebec, a region notoriously unsympathetic to cars prone to rust.

    You see some 3’s here that are only seven or eight years old, yet already have the orange fungal growth in the usual spots.

    And if you see a Protogé5 or 2005 Mazda3, it is truly a god-forsaken sight.

    • 0 avatar

      A 7-8 year old Mazda in Quebec with no visible rust would be a miracle. They’d have to bring it back to Japan for intense study.

      • 0 avatar
        Kevin Jaeger

        Indeed, I’d love to believe Mazda has addressed their rust issues but it’s kind of hard to ignore the rolling rust buckets I see in my daily commute in Quebec.

        It has always puzzled me why Quebec continues to buy so many Mazdas when this should be the last region in North America to buy rust-prone vehicles.

        But I’m still very tempted by a new Mazda6 – I just gotta hear a story on how they’ve closed the gap.

  • avatar

    1. Because sporty cars attract people who like to drive fast, and 0-60 times in the mid 7’s and above from 4 cylinder non turbo cars don’t satisfy enough of them.

    2. Because while the designs are ok, they tend toward the feminine and swoopy. Car guys like broad curves and angles.

    3. The dealership I’ve been to sells like they’re talking to college girls. No thanks.

    4. Boring people into midsize family cars often just don’t care how a car handles.

    • 0 avatar

      And here I thought the great sports cars of ye olden times hit those 0-60 times in the mid 7s or more. My mistake.

      I also thought all the beautiful cars were shaped like women. You know, like the the great Italian cars. But I guess that’s wrong and the 1980s GM product are really the most beautiful cars that ever were.

      And I also thought there was a market for mid-size family cars that were geared to the enthusiast, like the Accord Sport and the Mazda6. Even Jack Baruth has extolled the virtues of the Toyota Camry. He’s clearly not an enthusiast. I guess a lot of us that come on here really aren’t enthusiasts, because we have mid-size family cars or minivans or SUVs.

      • 0 avatar

        Today is not 1969. A V6 Camry, 0 to 60 around the six second mark, and more than acceptable handling and brakes to go with it. Haven’t driven a V6 Accord in a while, but either one seems like a good bet for an enthusiastic driver wanting a family sedan, and you won’t have to deal with the Mazda sales manager trying to sell you on their financing for 2.5 hours after you already show up with the check from your credit union.

  • avatar

    Toyota should buy Mazda and rebadge all of their Scion Dealerships as Mazda Dealers. Mazda seems to have the qualities that Scion thinks their customers want.

  • avatar

    Agreed that Mazda has not lost its zoom. To me, the whole zoom zoom thing was never about the Mazdaspeed models. Instead, its about mainstream cars that are more engaging than the alternatives in a given segment.
    I’ve been impressed with what Mazda has done since the end of the Ford partnership. The Mazda6, Mazda3, and CX-5 all look great (to my eye) and have been winning comparison tests. I’ve taken out a couple of Mazda6 manuals and enjoyed the experience. With that said, it felt like a car with almost enough power. In contrast, I drove an Accord Sport 6-speed and that felt like plenty of power for a front driver. (that engine must be underrated)
    I’m hopeful that a bit of sales success will free up resources for some Mazdaspeed models in the next couple of years.

  • avatar

    Best-written article to appear on TTAC since the last McAleer essay.

    Paragraph 5 made me spill my cup of oh so Atlantic Canadian tea with laughter. Neatly skewers Baruth for his inconsistencies, which really amount to the fact that the man just loves cars, any car at all and I can understand that.

    As for the rest of the comments, well just the usual mumbles about this and that. Grrr Mazda, Grrr Subaru. Buy a Honda or a Toyota and become a drone. V6 Camrys are supercars, and other urban legends.

    Trying to penetrate the consciousness of the readers with superior writing is, as always, a losing proposition judging by the “I’m holding both hands over my ears and averting my eyes” comments. Instead of erudite responses, we get the same old rubbish dredged up, masquerading as informed opinion.

    I don’t own a Mazda, but if any dolt who drives a cheaper spec Mazda3 and then the competition at the same price can tell me with a straight face that something else is better, I know their grasp on reality is tenuous.

    And that is my bias.

  • avatar

    America is the land of drag racing and commuting. A commuter’s view of a sporty car is a large sedan with a large V6 engine and an automatic transmission. This way the driver can sip his latte and still keep up with an erratic traffic without shifting gears by hand. Hence, a bunch of comments about how they’re rather stick with a V6 Camry than drive a Mazda6 with 4-cylinder. It doesn’t matter than today’s 4-cylinder cars would beat many V6 sedans from 15 years ago on straight line acceleration, while delivering 30 mpg average fuel consumption. A Honda Accord with a 4-cylinder now accelerates to 60 in under 7 seconds, and yet apparently that’s not sporty enough, despite the nose heavy design of V6 sedans and lethargic automatic transmissions which never hold the right gear.

  • avatar

    My take; some of Mazda’s competitors are overrated, and they (Mazda) came late to the party. When two (well, one, now) Korean compan(ies) gets a jump on you, you got a lot of catching up to do. Still and all, I’d prefer a 6 over a Camry (especially NOW)next to it’s rivals. Same goes for the 3. Horsepower is soon going to be overrated ..

  • avatar

    Mazda has repeatly told to Japanese media that they are aiming to build cars appealing to 10% of the market and bought by 2% without discount.
    The strategy worked to triple their profit from previous year.

    They have bad memories of early 90s when aimed to grow in size with 5 distribution networks, left only huge debt and too much badge engineered similar cars forced to sell in deep discount.

    For now, nothing is more important for them than financial stability.
    I’m glad they are in the direction with very good products.

  • avatar

    I have wanted to purchase a mazda three for some time since the original 3 came out. Back then I was comparing the 2006 mazda 3 to the Misu Lancer Ralliart, and the Hyundai Elantra GT… The Mazda was what I really wanted, but the dealer was not super interested in selling me a car and never returned my calls or followed up on my test drive… and due to a few things, I ended up buying a 2000 Toyota Camry with 26000KM on the dial. Years later when I went to trade the Camry in 2009, I again looked at the Mazda 3. The current promotion at the time was on the the 2009 models as the 2010 redesign had just come out. The dealer, however had a unsold brand new 2008 Mazda 3 GT. The car was everything I wanted including the colour. However, sadly, Mazda was not concerned with getting rid of this car and they were not willing to negotiate on the price at all since all the promotions were on 2009 models. The car I ended up with: a 2009 Hyundai Elantra GLS.

    In 2013, I was once again in the market for a car – planning on trading the 2009 Elantra. Mazda actually offered a tremendous deal on a 2013 Mazda3 GS – however, my situation was different and I needed more space than the mazda could offer… so I traded up a 2013 Hyundai Elantra which provided much more usable rear seat and trunk space. the 2014 re-design was out and I would have LOVED to get into that car, but the deal on the 2013 Elantra was much better and suited our needs better.

    So again, this summer our other car’s lease will be ending and we are once again considering mazda, along with Hyundai and a couple other options. I will be interesting to see what happens… The new Mazda 3 is a great looking car and meets our needs, as does the CX-5, but so does the Santa Fe Sport and Hyundai Accent… yes I realized 4 completely different vehicles and not an apples to apples comparison.

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