By on April 27, 2017

2013 Mazdaspeed 3 - Image: Mazda Canada

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.”

2016 Mazda CX-9 - Image: Mazda

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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55 Comments on “Where’s Mazdaspeed? Is Mazda’s Premium Push Stifling Performance?...”


  • avatar
    Ianw33

    In my opinion, Mazda has always been one of the more frustrating brands.

    They make great handling vehicles, but always stop short of putting a great engine to match the chassis/handling.

    Imagine what the last (and current) mx-5 would be like with an optional higher performance engine.

    Imagine what the rx-8 would have been like with the 2.3Turbo from the Speed3 as an option.

    Having a performance tinted Speed3 now would be great, especially since th e refinement and styling have improved greatly since the last gen.

    Unfortunately, we are forced to be happy with the 3 & 6 with 175hp

    • 0 avatar
      PrincipalDan

      Unfortunately, we are forced to be happy with the 3 & 6 with 175hp

      It’s 185, but I get your point.

    • 0 avatar
      notapreppie

      I totally agree.

      I wish they’d bin the rotary dev and take the RX-8 chassis design out of mothballs. Make the base engine a tuned SkyActiv 2.5 and the “Speed” variant the SkyActive 2.5T.

    • 0 avatar
      Reino

      This. The RX-8 checked all boxes for a RWD 2+2 sports car, but it’s downfall was the motor. If they made a new RX with a conventional power train, it would be great!

    • 0 avatar
      Oberkanone

      Imagine Miata with LS376 motor with power output of 525HP. Perfect.
      No need to imagine, Flyin’ Miata will perform this upgrade to Miata.

      Me, I’m happy with 167hp in my Miata.

      • 0 avatar
        Ianw33

        While a V8 miata sounds like a hoot, it is not what i would be after.

        Something in the range of 200-225hp would be perfect.

        The solstice/Sky twins had the right idea when it came to the power train, they just had much worse chassis’ than the miata.

        Its the same issue i have with the FRS/BRZ/Toyota 86. i like their handling. its just that the power train is such a let down, especially for the price, that it just doesnt interest me.

        Some people are happy with the miata/frs vehicles as they come from the factory, and there is nothing wrong with that. To get my money, i would want a little more oomph

    • 0 avatar
      tekdemon

      You have to keep in mind that Mazda is a small car company so they literally do not have enough funds to go and develop all these different motors that you want. There’s a reason why Subaru is still using the crazy ancient 3.6L H6 as their “high power” motor even though it’s woefully out of date. The smaller companies only have enough money for a few motors at a time. I think Mazda is doing what they can do, and at least for now they’d be better off spending the money on some ventilated seats for the high end CX-9 than trying to chase the few performance enthusiasts out there.

      I think the diesel CX-5 having so much more power and torque than the gas version is the closest you’re going to get to a high output Mazda for a while.

      • 0 avatar
        alocke18

        The lack of ventilated seats and a heated steering wheel are two things that seem like obvious holes in an otherwise upscale suv.

      • 0 avatar
        sportyaccordy

        I don’t think anyone is calling for new engines. Hotter cams in the 2.0 would be more than enough… it has enough compression to get 200 HP easily without revving to the moon. People are already doing it on stock blocks/heads with bolt ons and tunes.

    • 0 avatar
      Bagelwolf

      Well said! I owned a 2005 and 2010 Mazda 3, but when I wanted a manual transmission with enough grunt to be fun, Mazda didn’t offer it. I’ve had 2 GTIs in a row now and likely won’t be looking back.

      It seems to me, their upmarket push is in opposition to their marketing stance of “Driving Matters”. They’re focusing on making their cars nicer to be in rather than more fun to drive. Their natural competitor now seems to be Buick – or at least, what Buick wants to be.

    • 0 avatar
      dantes_inferno

      >Masahiro Moro is on record as saying the execution of the Mazdaspeed 3 was “childish.”

      That statement caused many Mazdaspeed 3 owners heads to explode.

  • avatar
    notapreppie

    The sad part is that they have the parts available.

    They have a range of engines that can more or less all fit in their entire product line. Why not put the SkyActiv 2.5T from the CX-9 in the MX-5 and/or 3?

    They have the recipe for the secret sauce that makes a car fun to drive and proven that they can scale it up (old Speed3).

    • 0 avatar
      u2haveaniceday

      Absolutely agree or even a little higher.

    • 0 avatar
      LeMansteve

      There must be a good product planning or engineering reason they aren’t using the 2.5T in obvious places like the 3 and 6.

      Someone here recently mentioned that Mazda is getting ready to revise or replace the 2.5NA engine anyway. Its’ replacement could bridge the gap between the current 2.5NA and 2.5T.

      Also, consider the 3 and 6 are nearing the end of their life cycles. Most design and engineering resources are likely being dedicated to the new model.
      Not the best time to introduce a new engine to the model being phased out.

    • 0 avatar
      SuperCarEnthusiast

      The Mazda spokesperson say that there is no demand for more performance models! LOL!

  • avatar
    readallover

    Mazda wants to go upmarket? OK, then they had better start changing the way they do things: They stubbornly ignored their NVH problems, costing them tens of thousands of sales,Little or no choices of engines, substandard dealer body. They can exist with the lineup they have now, but people paying the money Mazda wants simply will not put up with this.

    • 0 avatar
      notapreppie

      Actually, the redesigned 2017 CX-5 has been lauded for it’s NVH.

      I agree on the dealer network but that’s kind of chicken/egg.

      The engines… Yah. They’ve been focusing very narrowly on the 1.5/2/2.5 SkyActiv-G engines and that’s a problem.

    • 0 avatar
      Der_Kommissar

      Second. I lasted a year with my Mazda 3GT sedan before I sold it and went back to a CPO BMW. I’m exactly who they should have been able to keep. And they tried, with lots of post purchase mailings and a few gifts- they really tried. But the car- it was either not fast enough for the vibration, or too uncomfortable for the speed.

  • avatar
    30-mile fetch

    The Mazdaspeed3 was a bit childish, as is the upcoming Civic Si & R. If you’re moving away from the equally childish “Zoom-zoom” brand identity, it’s probably a good idea not to field a product like that. But the GTI is far less so and something similar from Mazda may not hurt the new upscale perception they are going for. But either way, the sales numbers from this type of car are a hill of beans.

  • avatar
    MatadorX

    Well….when every turbocharged Mazdaspeed product ever offered struggles to make it to the 100k mark without massive engine or other drive-train related failure…kinda makes corporate think twice before going down that path again. The MS6 was the worst offender in the reliability department (AWD) followed by early CX7s and then the MS3, which was somewhat sorted by the end.

    The limited production stuff (Mazdaspeed MX5, Mazdaspeed Protege) the turbo system was basically bolted on as an afterthought. Reliability similar to if you put an eBay turbo kit on an old Honda in your garage….

    I would be very cautious with the CX9, but perhaps they finally did the proper R&D on the system before implementing, or purchased it from someone who had..

    The warranty costs were apparently insane on the entire 2003-2010+ish turbo lineup from talking to techs who worked there in that era. We owned the fabulous Mazda5, (1/3 Volvo, 1/3 Ford, 1/3 Mazda) which practically lived at the dealer for Volvo/Ford sourced suspension failures during its admittedly generous 4 year bumper to bumper warranty.

    We almost bought an 08 Speed3, until the warnings from the service department and online forums, combined with the rapidly deteriorating 2 year old Mazda5 scared us off.

    Would love to own a new Mazda product though, now that they are all Mazda, not cast off FoMoCo tech (nearly every part I’ve taken off of our “5” for failure has a Ford stamp). The one good thing to come from that marriage had to be the n/a 2.3 MZR, which Mazda basically developed, and Ford took credit for the reliability part. It is the only reason we have a 2008 Mercury product with 170k on the original motor. A feat unattainable pre Mazda.

    However now that Mazda has moved so far upmarket, I’ll stick to 15.9k Toyota’s (new 2015 Scion XB bought last year) and pocket the extra 10k Mazda wants above what the 3 sold for in 2008 (17k vs 27k) for plastic leather and navigation. For nearly 30k there are so many better values out there than an under-powered tiny compact with upmarket features. 1 year old 277hp CPO 3.5 Camry XSE anyone?

    • 0 avatar
      manny_c44

      Yeah I think this is it. Does Mazda want to spoil its reliability reputation? Even slightly? It’s a big part of what sells their cars. As a profit-seeking entity it would probably be better served balancing NVH improvements and mild displacement boosts against costs.

      In their next iteration of the 3 maybe leave enough space under the hood for the V6 and have something like the VW VR6 cars with a ‘speed’ moniker substituted (and good reliability). As a limited run I think it would work.

    • 0 avatar
      NormSV650

      Not that newly hired Dave Coleman had anything to do with engineering since giving up his gig as a writer for Compact Sport Car magazine.

    • 0 avatar
      thegamper

      I owned a 2006 Mazdaspeed6 for about 5 years. Thankfully I purchased the extended 100k warranty. I had problems with the rear diff, soot build up in turbo plumbing and just inconsistent performance. That car was bonkers though, so was the MPS 3. I had more fun in that car than probably every other car ive owned combined. I gave it daily beat downs which I am sure contributed to some of my mechanical issues. In 100k miles I went through 5 sets of tires, which isn’t all that crazy considering how narrow they were. In any event, the Speed6 and Speed3 were beasts with little to no road manners, engines wringing out every ounce of power possible.

      The Mazdaspeed line doesn’t have to be fast and furious boy racer that those cars were. It doesn’t have to be crashing suspension, white knuckle grip, roaring turbocharged track day type of performance.

      It can be bump in power, some performance tweaks while keeping it civilized. Market it to adults this time, build if for adults, not the fast and furious crowd. Decrease warranty claims in the process. Probably a good idea to call it MPS in North America as well like they do in other markets vs putting “Speed” in the name.

      • 0 avatar
        Cletus Snow

        had you opted for a subaru lgt instead of the ms6 back in 2006, you would have enjoyed all of the fun of your ms6 without any of the mechanical issues. back then, subaru’s stated goal was to go upmarket with some of its offerings, much like you describe should be mazda’s present direction (i.e. “civilized performance”). sadly, subaru abandoned this goal and opted for its own version (albeit more successful) of mainstream mass appeal, with cvt transmissions, uninspiring interiors and underwhelming engines in their adult-oriented vehicles. civilized, fun-to-drive, upscale performance vehicles have seemingly left this price bracket behind for good.

  • avatar
    Hummer

    They need to do something, it’s becoming the underpowered brand. The NA 2.5 is woefully inadequate in hauling the 3 around.

    • 0 avatar
      30-mile fetch

      Seven seconds flat to 60 with the automatic is woefully inadequate?

      It’s gotten to the point with Mazda on this thread that folks should consider putting their “perspective caveat” at the head of each comment regarding the 2.5. When we say “underpowered”, are we talking hot hatch or are we talking about the segment the car actually competes in?

      • 0 avatar
        VW4motion

        Add altitude many of current Mazda’s have inadequate hp. Not sure but why. We test drove a new cx-9 with the 4 cylinder turbo. I’m sure at sea level it would be great. At 4500 to 7000 ft. It was a dog. It just felt like a nonturbo 4 cylinder. Our na Forester felt similar.

    • 0 avatar
      Der_Kommissar

      It’s not inadequate, but its not worth the tradeoffs in comfort for the speed. It’s a really fun slow car to drive fast, but its a bad slow car to drive slow in.

    • 0 avatar
      thegamper

      I like the looks of the Mazda3 hatch very much but the pricing I think is a little out of step with reality. I would have never considered it underpowered though. 185 hp, think its 180 something torques in a car weighing right around 3000 lbs isn’t bad at all. Doesn’t the new Civic Si only have 200 hp? And you have to drive at 9000 rpm to wring any torque out.

      A more powerful engine option would be great, but the 2.5 hits the sweet spot in terms of volume buyers in every product it is placed in. A higher powered engine option would not result in significantly higher sales, maybe not even 10% higher. But it might do well for brand image.

      • 0 avatar
        dantes_inferno

        >I like the looks of the Mazda3 hatch very much but the pricing I think is a little out of step with reality. I would have never considered it underpowered though. 185 hp, think its 180 something torques in a car weighing right around 3000 lbs isn’t bad at all.

        A Mazda 3 owner that I know calls that very engine “Slow-activ”..

    • 0 avatar
      Hummer

      My perspective is from a 2010 6-manual so the power I’m sure has increased, its fun to throw around but it doesn’t take long to out-grow the cars capability, the easiest solution to fix being an increase in power.

  • avatar
    stuki

    “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.””

    If they don’t cut this crap, they’ll end up hawking latte and handbags, next to Cadillac. No competent engineer is going to seek out employment, that involves taking marching orders from someone sounding like some Bikram instructor hitting on his middle aged, married students. And, particularly in Japan, if you can’t attract recruits, you’re gone.

  • avatar
    3800FAN

    Performance doesn’t build marketshare. Mazda has been using the zoom zoom tagline since 1998 and it hasn’t done anything for them. Mitsubishi also tried using halo performance cars through the 90s and 2000s to boost their brand cred and look where they are.

    • 0 avatar
      Oberkanone

      345,111 sales in 2002 is where performance took Mitsubishi.
      Where are they now, lucky to break 100K sales.

      Mazdaspeed is not Mazda’s identity, it is part of their DNA. It would serve Mazda well to offer a higher performance version of their vehicles periodically.

  • avatar
    S2k Chris

    There’s two separate discussions to be had here, there’s the “does Mazda need a Mazdaspeed brand focused on performance” and there’s “if Mazda wants to go for an upscale sporty image should their cars be the absolute lowest powered cars (okay, just near the bottom) in almost every segment in which they compete”?

    I don’t think Mazdaspeed is required, but I do think the number of people eager to buy a $40k+ SUV powered by a 4cyl engine is limited if said SUV lacks a Roundel, 3-prong star, 4 rings, or stylized L.

    • 0 avatar
      sutherland555

      Mazda doesn’t have the R&D money to develop a V6 so I can’t blame them for not having one. The current 2 and 2.5 engines sit right on par power wise within their segments while getting top of the segment fuel efficiency.

      Not specifically to your comment but Mazda is a dying breed of manufacturers still with a virtually NA only engine line-up. With the exception of Toyota, all the big manufacturers are definitely heading towards the small turbo option.

      • 0 avatar
        Ah_non_e_mouse

        All the engine development funds at the moment are probably targeted to their upcoming HCCI range of engines. I imagine we are talking significant funds given how other larger makers have not yet brought an HCCI engine to market. The first HCCI engine is supposed to debut next year in the redesigned Mazda3.

      • 0 avatar
        notapreppie

        They could just do what they were doing a few years ago: buy engines from Ford. The 3.5/3.7 V6 they used in the 6 and CX-9 were Ford Cyclone V6 engines.

    • 0 avatar
      sportyaccordy

      Mazdaspeed would be nice, but I agree that enough power in the regular ones, especially in a move “upmarket”, would be enough. They should just turbocharge the 2.0 and 2.5 and give a little breathing room up top. Maybe offer AWD with torque vectoring on the 2.5T models. Definitely add some cogs to the 6AT and shorten 1st and 2nd. All of a sudden they go from the bottom of the pack to the top.

      Though really such a move would put them in Saab/Volvo/Acura/pre-MK6 VW territory, which is really dangerous.

  • avatar
    Strippo

    “Jinba ittai” means “powered only just enough so you’ll never get into trouble.” So until Mazda changes its philosophy, it is what it is.

  • avatar
    xpistns

    13B Rotary SkyActiv!

    I can feel it!

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    Mazda is not premium, never has been or will be. Might as well be semi sporty with your mostly run of the mill stuff. But I guess not.

  • avatar
    Troggie42

    I feel like Mazda could feasibly just release another Mazdaspeed MX-5, stiffen the suspension for less body roll and add a turbo (and associated requirements for that), and touch nothing else about the car, and it’d sell at least a few. The only gripe anyone seems to have about Mazda these days is that they don’t have enough power. Granted, I have a very, very strong feeling that those people are your typical commenter who wouldn’t buy a Mazda anyway, and probably couldn’t afford any new car in the first place.

  • avatar
    jh26036

    Time for Mazda is just focus on their suspension and NVH developments and leave the powertrain to someone else. There’s whole line of Ford Ecoboost engines they can adapt their cars to:

    New RX-8 type 2+2 sports coupe with 2.3T from the Mustang
    Mazda 3/6/CX-5 can take the 1.5T and 2.0T from the Fusion/Escape
    CX-9 can take the 3.5L V6 from Explorer

  • avatar
    REVitHigh

    So people want a V6 engine which are not known for their great NVH due to the configuration but request better NVH? They also want a high performance car but nobody goes out to buy them new. They just wait to buy them used. Oh, but the vehicle needs to be cheap and have everything in the world crammed into it.

    Gut check: Not going to happen.

  • avatar
    donatolla

    I just received 3 separate mailers and a phone call from my dealer looking to see if I’d go for an “upgrade.” I have the top trim 6. I have had nothing go wrong with the car, and would never consider an SUV and “upgrade.” We’ve all gotten these before. Every automaker does it – get the buyer to come back and re-up their financing.

    Thing is, every one else actually had something to upgrade to.

    I told the dealer very clearly: You have nothing I’d buy. There is nothing in the lineup that is an “upgrade” over what I have. Give me a quicker Mazda 6 with the interior of the CX-9, and I may be interested.

    Their resistance against putting a stronger engine in the Mazda 6 is going to drive people to another automaker. For me, an IS 200t seems like it would actually be an upgrade.

  • avatar
    NoID

    Sergio! Tim! Are you listening!?

    Take the partnership started by the Fiata, and let’s go halfsies with Mazda on a hot hatch. Mazda gets more plant utilization and Dodge gets a small car, and both SRT and Mazdaspeed get to play in the small turbo sandbox again. It’s a win-win-win!

  • avatar
    Salzigtal

    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.

  • avatar
    CaliCarGuy

    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.

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