By on February 4, 2019

2013 Mazdaspeed 3 - Image: Mazda Canada

These days it seems as though every automaker, no matter how small, has a performance division on hand to offer up the occasional heart-pounding model variant to be coveted by enthusiasts. However, it only seems that way. Many brands have to go without.

Despite once branding itself as the everyday performance brand, Mazda hasn’t delivered a new Mazdaspeed vehicle since 2010. This left us wondering if the brand’s performance division would ever return. We even asked the company to weigh in on the situation back in 2017, with Mazda suggesting that all of its models are performance oriented (before saying it couldn’t comment on future products or any associated speculation). Subsequent inquiries were met with nearly interchangeable explanations.

Similarly dissatisfied, the folks at Road & Track adjusted their line of questioning in the hopes of prying more information out of Mazda. Rather than asking what’s happening with Mazdaspeed, they asked what it would take to see it produce another automobile. Unfortunately, the answers aren’t particularly encouraging. 

“There are certainly a lot of us that still want to do something like that,” explained Dave Coleman, Development Vehicle Engineer at Mazda’s R&D center. “But the more we get the regular cars to where we want them, the less gap there is to what we would want to do with a Mazdaspeed car.”

One of the issues involves Mazda’s role as a relatively small automaker. While it moves a lot of metal as a singular brand (around 1.5 million vehicles annually), it doesn’t have the deep pockets of Volkswagen Group or General Motors. Since dissolving its partnership with Ford in 2015, Mazda has struck out on its own, being very careful with its money. It doesn’t want a performance project to go off half cocked due to financial constraints and it doesn’t seem convinced that any of the models currently on offer would be suitable for the Mazdaspeed touch.

“To do a [Mazdaspeed] car, you really have to do it right. And we can’t develop a new engine for that, we can’t do all the stuff with the core hardware at our scale, and with the ambitious stuff we’re trying to do with our small team. If we had an engine on the shelf that would fit that properly, then we could talk,” Coleman continued. “So far, nothing’s quite speaking the right language to be able to put something like that together and have it be as good as it needs to be … So we’ll just continue to focus on trying to bring everything up to where you don’t feel the need for [a Mazdaspeed version].”

While the engineer confessed that Mazda would green light all kinds of projects if money were no object (what automaker wouldn’t), he was also under the impression that times have changed. Mazda is a different kind of company now, with an emphasis on building itself into an upscale brand. While fun is still part of the equation, it’s not the entire focus anymore. Like the customers it seeks, Mazda has grown up.

When asked if the market has changed since the last Mazdaspeed 3 rolled off the line, Coleman said he believes so. “There was a groundswell of young enthusiasts in my generation,” the 47-year-old engineer said. “That is much smaller in new generations. And so for the large part, it’s my generation that’s looking for those cars. And we’re a little older. Also, Mazda as a brand is becoming more mature. Trying to be a little bit more premium, a bit more polished.”

“Even the Mazdaspeed 3, in its last iteration, came out as raw as it did due to the constraints,” he continued. “We only had so many things we could do with it. And we were down to the point where we had to compromise as far as, we can have this much torque steer, or we can have less torque.”

Ultimately, the manufacturer decided to go more hardcore with the Mazdaspeed 3. While this author can attest to the 2010 model year playing host to some of the most extreme torque steer ever encountered, it always felt like a fair trade in exchange for its lightning-fast reflexes and upgraded powertrain. Maybe it wasn’t something you wanted to live with, but it was something you could cope with while having barrels of fun. Coleman doesn’t agree.

“What you think you want is rawness,” he told Road & Track. “What you really want is responsiveness and directness. We’re used to paying a price for those things, and so we’re willing to pay that price because we want this direct response. If we can get those things without paying that price, nobody’s going to complain. We used to make excuses about how noisy our cars were because that’s what it took to make it as light, direct and responsive as we could. As we figured out how to make them quieter, nobody’s complaining that the car’s too quiet, that they don’t have that connection to the road surface anymore. Because we haven’t made compromises. We haven’t made the car dull and boring to drive as we made it quiet. ‘I had this car that was really fun and it was really painful.’ That doesn’t mean you want a painful car. You want the fun part.”

Speaking broadly, he might be correct. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t a subset of shoppers who don’t mind a roughing it a little to have a good time. Still, those might not be the kind of customers the company is interested in anymore. When was the last time anyone saw a new Zoom-Zoom ad?

[Image: Mazda]

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55 Comments on “Don’t Expect a Return of Mazdaspeed...”


  • avatar
    PlaysInTraffic

    “To do a [Mazdaspeed] car, you really have to do it right. And we can’t develop a new engine for that, we can’t do all the stuff with the core hardware at our scale, and with the ambitious stuff we’re trying to do with our small team. If we had an engine on the shelf that would fit that properly, then we could talk,” Coleman continued.

    Uh, you say you can’t develop a new engine for a speed 3. Say what? Are you not aware of the turbo 4 offered in the 6 and the CX-5?

  • avatar
    NoID

    I know Mazda and Toyota have some tie-ups, but I’ve said it before and I’ll keep saying it: FCA (Dodge) and Mazda should team up for D-segment/C-segment car platform sharing, and let SRT/Mazdaspeed collaborate on performance models thereof. We already have the Fiata, so the groundwork for such a partnership exists already. Mazda gets higher plant utilization and performance models, Dodge gets small/midsize cars (and access to the Japanese market?) at half(ish) the engineering cost.)

    I’m sure someone smarter than me has considered this already…but still, it makes sense to me from the 30-foot level.

    • 0 avatar
      PrincipalDan

      Ford/Mazda reaped some pretty good things for both, I think FCA with a lineup bereft less-than-full-sized sedans could benefit strongly from a partnership with Mazda.

      • 0 avatar
        NoID

        I think the only thing hurting the potential is that there’s no strong need for FCA to re-enter the contracting small/midsize car market, as they’re clearly doing fine sans Dodge Dart and Chrysler 200.

        That said, if they wanted to protect for a market shift or simply get a larger slice of the Asia-Pacific market by leveraging Mazda’s logistic network in the region, on the surface it seems to be a sound strategy. It wouldn’t satisfy the MAGA crowd, but at least it wouldn’t be off-shoring existing manufacturing.

    • 0 avatar
      MoDo

      Nobody would buy it, a 350hp AWD Jeep Renegade “trackhawk” possibly would though.

  • avatar
    3800FAN

    So true you are about torque steer. With traction control off these were literally uncontrolable at WOT. I almost drove my friends into a ditch. Its proably the most raw hot hatch ive driven with way too much power and a ride so rough you feel every pebble in the road. My other friends focus st was much mor3 civilized.

  • avatar
    dougjp

    Comparing the 2010 MS3 in terms of HP and torque with the variety of turbo 4 FWD cars’ numbers that are available today, and how they seem to manage it pretty well, it seems Mazda is the only one incapable of dealing with torque steer.

    This is not surprising because Mazda has consistently avoided dealing with torque until recently. They always had an excuse and not surprisingly, the same type of defense is being used by them, even in modern times.

    • 0 avatar
      stuki

      You can always avoid torque steer by ecu trickery limiting output in lower gears. Mazda is, or at least was before the usual trite babble about “premium” (although I’m not 100% convinced that spiel goes much deeper than the sales staff over there), trying to retain some qualities related to driver involvement. Which sticking electronic intention-interpreters between key controls and the driver never helps with.

  • avatar
    ACCvsBig10

    “Zoom Zoom”

    “No, Zoom Zoom”

    “Zoom Zoom?”

    “Because, Zoom Zoom”

  • avatar
    nels0300

    Why does it have to be bonkers Mazdaspeed or nothing?

    If Mazda won’t do a 1.5/1.6T, at least make the naturally aspirated 4 as good as the K24 in the previous Civic Si.

    Bring back cool Mazda, the Mazda that turboed 323s and 626s.

    • 0 avatar
      Nick_515

      nels, i just checked out R&T’s piece on the new MAzda 3. It’s kinda glowing. I am pasting the relevant part here. What’s your take? This is not snark: I respect your opinion.

      That desire for clean, simple suspension inputs led Mazda to take what seems like a technological step backwards: The new car has a simple torsion beam rear suspension where previous 3 had a multilink independent setup. According to Coleman, the torsion beam isn’t a downgrade.

      “In the macro scale, there’s an advantage to multilink,” Coleman told me. “But in terms of precise control […] it just gets too hard to make that clean input that we’re looking for.” The last-gen 3’s rear suspension had seven bushings per side, Coleman explained; the new torsion beam setup has just one. Fewer bushings means fewer squirming motions, and therefore, fewer competing forces being transmitted to the passengers. Another benefit: The torsion-beam setup minimizes compliance-steer, eliminating rear wheel toe-in under cornering loads. The new 3’s rear suspension may be a simple design, but it helps the car get settled more quickly in turns, with fewer mid-corner adjustments needed.

      • 0 avatar
        nels0300

        All of that sounds like Mazda engineer Coleman explaining why they used a torsion beam. It’s all in quotes from him. What’s funny to me is that none of that mentions cost, the real driver of that decision. If it was better, we’d see that setup in luxury cars and sports cars, but we don’t.

        It’s fine on a flat surface.

      • 0 avatar
        nels0300

        “Seems like a technological step backwards”

        Lol, seems like, but it’s not?

        Is Mazda onto something here? Are we going to see everyone going to torsion beam now? Pfffffft.

        • 0 avatar
          gtem

          Torsion beams have ALWAYS come as cost cutting measures, 100% of the time. What the guy said wasn’t untrue, but he’s cherry picking the up-sides while ignoring the downsides. Of course a guy at a launch event won’t just admit “yeah, we needed to cut costs.”

          • 0 avatar
            Featherston

            +1, gtem. Kudos to Mazda if this is a well-sorted implementation of a torsion beam rear end. Given their reputation for good-handling cars, it wouldn’t surprise me if they’ve achieved it in this case. That said, this is a cost-cutting move first and foremost.

            Any favorite torsion beam cars for the B&B? – The classic Saab 900 had a torsion beam rear, yes?
            – I found the steering too light, but I liked the ride-handling combo of the first-gen Cruze. (Those actually had a surprising array of wheel-suspension subvariants. Based on my numerous Cruze rentals, make mine a 1LT RS, with the Z-link and stiffer springs from the pricier trims but the more sensible 215/60-16 sidewall of the cheaper trims.)

          • 0 avatar
            SPPPP

            These are good points about the realities of cost-cutting and technological limitations, versus marketing spin. It’s hard to simultaneously move your brand upscale and talk about how you made the cars cheaper to build.

            However, I do think it’s worth noting that Dave Coleman was previously the technical editor at Sport Compact Car magazine (now gone). That magazine was great if you like reading about things like 400hp Dodge Omnis, Frankenstein-type Honda engine combinations, and all sorts of other JDM auto enthusiast catnip. I think he really is a gearhead, and he really does want to build cars that are great to drive.

  • avatar

    Regarding torque steer why not to make it AWD? They can use Ford’s Intelligent AWD. As far as I know Ford learned from Mazda how to make four cylinder engines. I am sure Mazda has engineering potential for developing new high performance engines. Or they may go electric.

    • 0 avatar
      conundrum

      That’s exactly what the new AWD 3 has done. Perhaps you missed the announcement last week. The AWD will be as predictive as any of these single in-line clutch “wonders” can be, bar Subaru who keep it engaged at all times: Torque splits published are determined by marketers not reality. Still, as long as the clutch grabs hard under acceleration, torque steer at the front is unlikely to be a problem.

    • 0 avatar
      Featherston

      Hey, c’mon now, Inside Looking Out. The Model T and Model A both had four-cylinder engines. ;-)

      Fun watch/read from a few years ago: the “365 Days of A” series, in which a Hagerty employee daily drives a Model A.

      • 0 avatar

        Ford’s idea of 4 cylinder engine was a pushrod variety V6 3.0L Vulcan which wasn’t able to perform even like average Japanese 2.0L I4. That’s what they offered on base Taurus which could not make it over 80 mph. 4 cyl engines in Europe seemed ancient to me – e.g. in Ford Scorpio.

  • avatar
    conundrum

    I think Mazda made some strange choices with the 6 last year, not adding AWD with the new low rpm turbo, well, low rpm like the VW 1.4t: 4800 rpm and it’s done gone to sleep, but very nice below that.

    Mazda gloated that the turbo occupied exactly the same cubic space as the regular atmo engine, because the bundle of snakes exhaust is no longer required. Obviously, then, this newish turbo engine will fit the 3. It needs a different turbo and a tune with less low end and more top end. Easy, relatively speaking, to turn out a Mazdaspeed3.

    Even more obviously, Mazda isn’t interested.

    Perhaps if sales keep falling they may change their mind. But at the moment they’re on a styling, interior and Acoustikit rampage.

    There’s no doubt the nicer interior, structural additions, and a hundred extra pounds of sound-deadening have helped to make the 6 more livable, and those lessons have been applied to the new 3 from scratch, we’re told. But they miss the completely obvious – Honda gives you a free remote start with a Civic/Accord. It’s an expensive hassle to get one on a Mazda from the dealer. Honda gives you an infotainment screen not designed with 15 year-old low resolution pixels – it’s crisp. These things matter to the average joe about to sign a 60 month note, even if the seats aren’t as nice.

    Since I see about zero difference in metal stamping or assembly quality these days between a $20K car and an $80K car, the difference being only in options and interiors, I no longer know what “premium” or “luxury” fundamentally means. Extra sound deadening and thicker glass is the only practical difference between an econobox and a German ground pounder in the assembly stakes; if you’re extremely lucky, a better paint job on the latter. Can’t see the point in paying for myths with dodgy German reliability just to get a badge. It’s possible that the buying public still believes gnomes assemble Mercedes’ in the Black Forest, while elves are on duty at BMW.

    Therefore, to me, if not others, it seems that premium just means a quieter car with less hard plastic and nicer seat covering. Extra money buys extra power. By that reasoning, a premium Mazda is not an oxymoron. Educating the public that a change has occurred is the challenge, because nobody at large cares. Mazdaspeed would face the same challenge. The faceless two box crossover reigns supreme no matter the make, just as no-name potato chips aren’t much different from brand name ones. All the same middling quality, just available in different size sacks.

    • 0 avatar
      sportyaccordy

      Cheaper cars are getting more and more expensive car tricks too. Hyundai/Kia for example are using more body adhesives on everything down to the Forte. New RDX uses adhesives and spray in foam.

      For me, if it has ventilated seats, adaptive cruise control, Android Auto, a panoramic sunroof and the ability to cover the quarter mile in <15 seconds it's premium. Not uncommon to get all that bundled in a mainstream compact.

    • 0 avatar
      LeMansteve

      Beyond the tactile things like insulation and materials, with true luxury brands there are a number of intangibles you indirectly pay for. Dealership experience, for one.

      Another big difference is feature execution. Not all features are created equal. There are things my 2004 BMW with 185k miles did far better than my brand new 2017 Mazda6 ever will. For example:

      -The doors on the old BMW still opened with a satisfying CLINK and closed with a solid CLUNK.
      -The automatic lights and wipers responded almost instantly to changes in light and rainfall.
      -The brakes could have stopped a freight train and never, ever warped (the original front rotors went to 120k).
      -Full throttle acceleration was thoroughly enjoyable.

      For all of these, I cannot say the same for the Mazda.

      A good modern example of this is Active Cruise Control. Many cars come with a form of ACC, but execution varies widely. Some ACC systems include stop-and-go functionality. Others drive the car in low-speed traffic jams. Low end systems won’t work below a certain speed.

    • 0 avatar
      Boff

      The biggest real difference between premium/non-premium is powertrain quality. For example, everybody makes a 2.0L turbo four but the BMW version is uniquely real-world potent AND fuel efficient, actually revs with enthusiasm and sounds decent, while being hooked to an 8-speed auto that is leagues better than the 6-speeders in the non-premium class.

      • 0 avatar

        The BMW 2.0 sounds like absolute trash, and I can’t believe that’s your selection for a good engine.

        • 0 avatar
          FreedMike

          Depends on which one you’re talking about. The one in the 320 sucks – it’s de-tuned. But it’s damn good in the 328/330. Try it out.

          • 0 avatar

            The one I’m thinking of I heard on a 5 Series of some base trim.

          • 0 avatar
            FreedMike

            If I’m not mistaken, it’s the same engine that’s in the 330. Probably a bit overmatched in a car the size of the 5-series, and there’s the matter of a four-banger in a car with a $55,000 pricetag.

            But I can tell you from firsthand experience that there’s nothing wrong with it at all in the 3-series. I drove several ’15s and ’16s with that engine, and it’s the car’s best feature.

  • avatar
    Ryan

    I’ve liked Mazda for years. I currently enjoy owning one. Yet… C’mon Mazda. You do a lot of things that other manufacturers do not AND do so very well. For a company who’s face is the Miata/MX5 it’d be fitting to have a hot hatch MAZDA 3! For crying out loud, people still enjoy driving. That’s your deal/gimmick/DNA, is it not? Earmark some dough for the MAZDASPEED rebirth. In a land of boring and soulless CUV’s, be different.

  • avatar
    bodayguy

    I dunno, I don’t think it would be sacrilege to take a Miata, flatten the body roll with some bracing and suspension, add a dual exhaust and maybe a modest body kit, and call it a MazdaSpeed. Charge a couple grand more, give yourself something to crow about. And I own a ND. I don’t care about a turbo if they can’t justify the development cost, that’s understandable.

  • avatar
    sportyaccordy

    I really see no reason why an MS3 couldn’t work if the GTI, CSi, Elantra Sport and various others do

    They talk about not being able to make a new engine… they don’t have to. If they can retune the 2.0 for the Miata they can retune the 2.5T for the MS3. Real challenge is the transmission as they’d have to go AWD and manual.

    Though honestly if they just offered the 2.5T + AWD in a regular 3 I think a lot of people would be happy.

  • avatar

    They’re moving away from the F&F crowd, and have no interest in such customers as they do not suit their premium image. It makes sense to me.

  • avatar
    EGSE

    It’s sad from an enthusiast standpoint but it obviously doesn’t fit with their new marketing direction. They want to be seen as an upscale, sophisticated family in the neighborhood. Having a brash teenager that can’t pull an honor-roll GPA to match the Civics and GTIs won’t work for them. With the declining market for small cars the cost/benefit of fielding a car that won’t embarrass itself compared to the top contenders isn’t there in their estimation. Can’t blame them.

    Just saw Corey said the same thing…..

  • avatar
    jack4x

    ‘“There was a groundswell of young enthusiasts in my generation,” the 47-year-old engineer said. “That is much smaller in new generations.’

    What an unsurprising copout to “blame the millennials” just like everyone else does. Plenty of competitors are out there offering fun to drive and fast cars, and plenty of people my age and younger are buying them. If you don’t want to sell to that crowd, that’s fine, but the hot take that young people only want transportation pods and Ubers is pretty lukewarm by now.

    • 0 avatar
      notapreppie

      It’s no secret that interest in sedans and sports cars is waning. This is exacerbated by the fact that millennial gross earnings potential is still being negatively impacted by the economic disaster a decade ago.

      We enthusiasts think we are a big market because we talk to other enthusiasts. However, in the grand scheme of things, we’re a pretty damned small market.

    • 0 avatar
      FormerFF

      I wouldn’t say it’s a matter of blaming anyone, it’s just a statement of fact. Having fewer members of your age group interested in performance cars is hardly an insult.

  • avatar
    notapreppie

    Honestly, I think mothballing the Speed sub-brand is a good plan.

    They want to move into a premium segment but have limited resources. So, they spend their resources on that until they get reasonably situation. Once the brand idea has moved upmarket, they can re-introduce the Speed sub-brand.

    That or somebody at the brand will look around and realize that Volvo has Polestar, MB has AMG, BMW has M, Lexus has F, Cadillac has V, Infiniti has IPL, VW/Audi have R, Hyundai has N, etc.

    Either way, I’d bet it comes back in 2-3 product cycles (10-15 years).

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    Do they need Mazdaspeed? No. Do they need speedier Mazdas? Yes. But they need to be speedy and refined.

    • 0 avatar
      chiefmonkey

      They don’t need Mazdaspeed lol. I’m not even convinced Mazdaspeed was ever that great.

    • 0 avatar
      nels0300

      Exactly.

      This isn’t black and white.

      Fast and furious Mazdaspeed or the status quo is a false choice.

      There is a middle ground.

      Mazda made a fancy Corolla with the new 3. People should just buy the Corolla.

      Hyundai should NOT be out gunning the company that brought us the RX7 and turboed everything 30 years ago.

      • 0 avatar
        chiefmonkey

        All Mazda really needs to do is keep making affordable cars with above average to exemplary handling and driver involvement. Mazdas don’t have to be fast. The Miata isn’t particularly fast

        • 0 avatar
          nels0300

          Yes, they don’t have to be fast!!

          That doesn’t mean they should be slow.

          They should be competitive.

          The Elantra Sport and Civic EX-T are neither fast, nor furious.

          Why are people acting like we’re asking for a giant wing and 25 lbs of boost?

          • 0 avatar
            dantes_inferno

            >Why are people acting like we’re asking for a giant wing and 25 lbs of boost?

            Because you are (admit it… ;))

  • avatar
    nels0300

    Mazda made a MK4 Jetta.

    Same deal, take compact car and attempt to move it upmarket. Same torsion beam rear suspension too.

    One problem though, Mazda forgot the 1.8T and VR6.

  • avatar
    cimarron typeR

    The optimist in me hopes Mazda is observing how the z4 , Supra experiment goes down and will re-enter the fray, with an RX9 joint venture with someone.Ironically the F&F crowd is now in their late 30s now, with presumably more income.
    One historical note, the Cobalt SS had a torsion bar suspension, and it held the Lightning Lap record for a long while for it’s class.

  • avatar
    videoracer

    My only experience with Mazda was a 2006 Mazdaspeed 6. The AWD was genius in that it helped that 2.3 turbo hookup the power without torque steer. An absolute rocket. Powerband was short at 1500-5000. She dug down low. Would love to have that car today with superb winter tires.

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