Where's Mazdaspeed? Is Mazda's Premium Push Stifling Performance?

Timothy Cain
by Timothy Cain

My, how time flies. Nearly half a decade has passed since Mazda, undoubtedly an automaker that believes in performance, last offered a Mazdaspeed product.

Not since 2004 and 2005, when 5,142 Mazdaspeed MX-5s were delivered in the United States market, has Mazda’s most obvious performance car been available in a power-up version.

Not since the first-generation Mazda 6’s 2005/2006 Mazdaspeed tenure has Mazda’s midsize sedan been offered in performance guise.

And after following up one of the best-handling front-wheel-drive cars of its era, the Mazdaspeed Protege, with the Mazdaspeed3 in 2007 and another in 2010, Mazda hasn’t had a hot hatch contender to battle the Volkswagen Golf GTI and R, Ford’s ST and RS models, the Honda Civic Si (and now Type R), the Subaru WRX, and Mini’s Cooper S since 2013.

So, is Mazdaspeed dead?

Mazda won’t say.

Company spokesperson Jacob Brown refused to comment on “future products or speculation.” However, “Mazdas are and will continue to be driver-focused vehicles, no matter their positioning in the lineup,” Brown explained to TTAC, pointing even to Mazda’s CX-9 crossover flagship as evidence that Mazda injects performance DNA into every product.

From Mazda’s perspective, the CX-9 also offers evidence of Mazda’s successful venture into a premium zone of the mainstream market. Mazda has no intention of birthing Amati a second time — it didn’t work the first time around. But 60 percent of the CX-9’s clientele, Mazda says, are choosing the top two trim levels, Grand Touring and Signature, with base prices of $41,410 and $45,255, respectively.

To Mazda, premium means “delivering a deeper bond with customers,” Brown says. “We want to be a brand that is sought out and loved by our customers at all points in the purchase process, whether before purchase, shopping, purchasing, ownership to the end, and, hopefully, repeating the cycle.”

Mazda is employing a strategy that puts current Mazda owners “in front of our engineers and designers as well as into some of our vehicles before anyone else,” Brown says. Mazda owners, not just media, were at the CX-9 launch in 2016, and special MX-5 and CX-3 drive events in 2015. Mazda’s goals for this strategy, the company hopes, will build greater desirability into its brand and its products. That may not result, indeed it will not result, in an immediate turnaround in Mazda’s paltry U.S. market share.

Still, according to Mazda spokesperson Jacob Brown, the customer who says, “That car is an amazing value for the experience it offers,” is a customer that won’t require Mazda to race other automakers to bigger discounts and incentives.

Mazda’s North American CEO Masahiro Moro told Bloomberg the company is comfortable with its current share of the market. “Mazda is targeting a very small niche of customers,” says Moro. “These people really like driving and, to them, a car isn’t a commodity; it’s an emotional expression of their style.”

Mazda knows this strategy will not result in large volumes — there just aren’t enough buyers out there who still feel the driving experience is a vital component. “Many customers don’t care too much about driving itself — that’s fine,” Moro told Bloomberg. “We focus on a particular type of customer.”

Mazda’s current winged logo isn’t soon going to suggest Mercedes-Benz-like levels of prestige. Yet Mazda is, according to Jacob Brown, “seeing a healthy number of premium competitors show up on the consideration lists of new CX-9 shoppers.” Perhaps Mazda can be Acura before Acura becomes Acura.

But will Mazda lose the performance car buyer in the process? Mazda has but one moderately hi-po engine, the 2.5-liter turbocharged four-cylinder from the CX-9, and it isn’t currently available in any other Mazda product.

How about a Mazdaspeed CX-5 with the 2.5T? “We might, it fits,” Mazda engineer Dave Coleman told MotoManTV last week, before suggesting that Mazda’s upcoming diesel CX-5, the vehicle the brand actually plans to sell, is just as torquey. “If it’s up to me,” says notoriously fun-car-oriented Coleman, “we’ll put the 2.5 turbo in there, too.”

It’s not up to Coleman.

In truth, it’s not up to anybody at Mazda USA.

To some degree, it’s not even up to Mazda HQ in Japan.

It’s up to the customer. And performance car customers are few and far between. Moreover, Mazda doesn’t want to do performance cars purely for the sake of performance at any cost. Masahiro Moro is on record as saying the execution of the Mazdaspeed 3 was “ childish.”

Mazda believes there are enough keen drivers who want nicer Mazdas with nicer materials and less vibration for Mazda to make a premium push. Any new performance variants must fit inside the upmarket Mazda image it’s attempting to carve out for itself.

Where does that leave Mazdaspeed?

“We are aware that Mazdaspeed adds value to the brand,” Jacob Brown told TTAC, “and performance is in Mazda’s DNA.”

So he’s telling us there’s a chance.

Timothy Cain is the founder of GoodCarBadCar.net, which obsesses over the free and frequent publication of U.S. and Canadian auto sales figures. Follow on Twitter @timcaincars.

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  • Salzigtal Salzigtal on Apr 29, 2017

    In 2014, I asked the same question at the SF & SV Auto Shows and was told "maybe next year". Perhaps the rep had just transferred in from the '49ers? Forgot to ask which planet's orbit we were measuring with. As long as Mazda keeps supporting Laguna Seca, a lot can be forgiven.

  • CaliCarGuy CaliCarGuy on May 02, 2017

    I doubt we will be seeing any Mazdaspeed products for a long while. They are too busy trying to cash in on the crossover game. Its why the CX-3 came to the US so fast. Its going to be like it used to be with them: if you want Mazda and performance, you'll have to do with driving a good slow car fast in the Miata.

  • Bd2 If they let me and the boyz roll around naked in their dealership I'll buy a Chinese car.
  • THX1136 I would not 'knowingly' purchase a Chinese built or brand. I am somewhat skeptical of actual build quality. What I've seen in other Chinese made products show them to be of low quality/poor longevity. They are quite good at 'copying' a design/product, but often they appear to take shortcuts by using less reliable materials and/or parts. And , yes, I know that is not exclusive to Chinese products. When I was younger 'made in Japan' was synonymous with poor quality (check John Entwistle's tune 'Made in Japan' out for a smile). This is not true today as much of Japan's output is considered very favorably and, in some product types, to be of superior quality. I tend to equate the same notion today for things 'made in China'.
  • Mike Beranek No, but I'm for a world where everyone, everywhere buys cars (and everything else) that are sourced and assembled regionally. Shipping big heavy things all over the planet is not a solution.
  • Jeffrey No not for me at this time
  • El scotto Hmm, my VPN and security options have 12-month subscriptions. Car dealers are not accountable to anyone except the owner. Of course, the dealer principles are running around going "state of the art security!", "We need dedicated IT people!" For the next 12 months. The hackers can wait.