By on November 9, 2020

2013 Mazdaspeed 3 - Image: Mazda Canada

We’ve spent the last few years wondering how Mazda’s upmarket push would impact its focus on performance. But keeping tabs gradually devolved into holding out hope that the brand wouldn’t totally snub fun-to-drive products to broaden its appeal. While there’s a wealth of Japanese brands ready to sell you comfortable and well-appointed automobiles, there aren’t many devoting a sizable amount of resources into maintaining engaging driving dynamics for the whole of their lineup. Mazda used to be the exception but now seems interested in banking on its above-average styling and novel luxury aura to drive sales.

It’s not a bad strategy but appears to have come at the expense of performance. Despite Mazda products rarely being famous for the output of their powertrains (unless we’re talking in the context of size), the brand is not making up the difference in handling anymore. It also hasn’t built any new Mazdaspeed performance products in years and doesn’t seem interested in trying.

While the automaker spent the last decade issuing noncommittal answers about the fate of its performance appendage, Mazda Motor of America CEO Masahiro Moro famously insulted Mazdaspeed back in 2016 and said the company needed to grow up.

“As a brand we are trying to elevate again a little bit more, because execution of Mazda MPS or Mazdaspeed3 or whatever you call it was a little bit — I am not afraid to say it — childish,” he explained.

It was also much more thrilling to drive (even with gobs of torque steer) than anything currently in Mazda’s lineup that isn’t the MX-5. But it was not a premium vehicle — far from it. The Mazdaspeed3’s level of NVH would probably be deemed unacceptable by today’s standards and this is where the root of the problem begins to take shape. Mazda isn’t looking to build cars that cost substantially more than the competition and has decided to shore up luxury and comfort at the expense of its zoom-zoom persona.

That decision also appears to be final. According to comments intercepted by CNET during a question and answer session with media, Mazda has unofficially announced it’s done with Mazdaspeed.

From CNET:

That doesn’t mean Mazda vehicles will turn floaty and start driving in an uninspired way. Quite the contrary. The company still plans to keep a heavy focus on driving dynamics, and the latest Mazda6 and Mazda3 make good on those promises. We’ll soon know if the Mazda3 Turbo carries that torch, which you could consider as the spiritual successor to the Mazdaspeed3.

2018 Mazda 3

There’s also been an RX model rumored forever that’s alleged to incorporate a rotary-hybrid powertrain. But we’re doubting it’ll have anything to do with Mazdaspeed and have to reserve judgment until we’ve heard more. It sounds like wishful thinking at this point. Meanwhile, the Japanese automaker has been adamant that it’s not abandoning performance, though it’s less ready to deny claims that fun-focused trims are a thing of the past. Mazda somehow sees thrilling dynamics as a foundational aspect of the brand, whether or not it’s giving it the attention it needs.

Frankly, we’re pretty excited about the upcoming turbocharged 3 — as it should be giving both entry-level German performance and quick Asian hatchbacks a bit of competition. But it’s not attempting to provide an experience you couldn’t get elsewhere, just another way to go upmarket within the brand that happens to incorporate a truly desirable engine option. It will not be a raucous, scrappy Mazdaspeed product, nor deserving of the badge.

And that’s okay if you’re looking for something a bit more mature and less interested in keeping a smile permanently plastered on your face. If not, Hyundai’s 275-horsepower Veloster N is priced extremely close to the upcoming 2021 Mazda3 2.5 Turbo. Otherwise, the not-quite Mazdaspeed3 will set you back $29,900 for the sedan ($30,900 for the more-attractive hatchback) while offering 250 hp and 320 pounds-feet of torque on 93 octane fuel. Those figures come down a bit for those who had to settle for 87 octane on their last fill up. But customers do get all-wheel drive by default, which is fairly uncommon within the segment.

[Images: Mazda]


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12 Comments on “Mazdaspeed Isn’t Coming Back, Which Might Be Okay...”

  • avatar

    the current 2.5t that Mazda uses is a completely different animal than the 2.3t it used in the Mazdaspeed6 and Mazdaspeed3. It is much more tuned for low end torque than top end speed or excitement. It is probably much better suited for the masses that would just like some power on tap for passing than it is for the Fast and Furious set.

    I owned a 2006 Mazdaspeed6 and the NVH and harsh ride were definitely geared toward buyers that Mazda just isn’t catering to with their newer models. The 2.3t was pretty fun though for sure. Something like 278 lb-ft of torque that came on like a fire hose at 3000 rpms. Turn off traction control and easily overwhelm the relatively narrow tires even with AWD. Some very good automotive entertainment.

    The 2.5t feels pretty smooth, gives you gobs of usable power where it matters for daily driving but doesn’t really feel premium and doesn’t really excite all that much. Cant wait for their straight 6.

    • 0 avatar
      Rick Astley

      I owned a 2006 Mazdaspeed3 (instead of your 6) with the 2.3t and now own a 2018 Mazda 6 GT with the 2.5t.

      Agree on your comparison completely. The Mazdaspeed version was definately made for sporting fun and something to toss around. It’s acceleration was rapid and enjoyable.

      I am apprehensive to pin the 2.5’s overall boring nature on being paired with a slothlike automatic transmission (it isn’t helping), and unnecessarily tall gearing to cut out one gearshift on the altar of published 0-60 times. But the 2.5 motor is not visceral, it is not sporty. It’s certainly adequate for daily driving and clogged motorways.

      Only my age advancing up the years has had me enjoy the 6 (the interior is very nice and comfortable, yet ergonomic and stylish), but that motor will not be waking up the 3 to make it a sporting car. It will simply be better at 30-70 mph acceleration.

      Mazdaspeed is dead.

      Whatever they are rumoring to come out with the inline 6 is the same pipe dream as the diesel 6 wagon that was on hold for a half decade.

  • avatar

    “That doesn’t mean Mazda vehicles will turn floaty and start driving in an uninspired way.” – FLW
    Zoom Zoom become Yawn Yawn. :-/

  • avatar

    With Honda, Hyundai, Ford, VW and others (many more abroad) currently throwing all they’ve got at the “hot hatch” sectors, there really isn’t much for Mazda to do there anymore. They’re too small to throw resources into al out global sized brawls.

    Back when the MS3 was unveiled, there was more room for one. Just as there are for more driver focused takes on many mainstream vehicle classes.

    And most definitely is for an NA RWD I6 with a manual option. The E36 is still no less The Ultimate Driving Machine, for a compact, practical road car, than it was back when. And while not setting spec sheets on fire, Mazda is one of (the only??) the few who bother keeping NA engines alive and relevant. Let’s just hope they get there, before they too succumb to being drowned in dullery.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    In other words, Mazda still doesn’t know what it wants to be, so they can break out of being a 2% niche player.

    Frankly, most people probably buy their overpriced products because they have nice interiors, and arguably attractive exteriors. Maybe a few like the presence of actual gears in the transmission.

    As for the rotary hybrid thing, that’s a concession prize for the team of engineers who have slaved on the rotary for the last decade, and the wishful customers who have been buoyed by a ‘someday’ return of it.

    The rotary remains an emissions pig and a torque weakling, thirsty for fuel and always threatening failure of the apex seals. If it really reappears as a hybrid range extender, it will answer a question nobody asked. This will be its last hurrah.

    • 0 avatar
      Ol Shel

      Mazda sales have been lackluster for many years. They tried making cars that appealed to enthusiasts and journalists, and while journalists took the bait, buyers did not. So, what is Mazda supposed to be? They have to try something other than zoom-zoom in order to improve sales.

      The priorities of buyers has changed. Car enthusiasts have been replaced by digital device lovers. The Koreans have stepped in with great options. If someone wants reliability, they automatically get a Toyota or Honda. For prestige it’s a german brand, and the Americans and Mitsubishi handle the sub-prime market.

      As much as I have liked Mazda (My only one ever is an NA Miata), I just don’t think there’s room in the market for it to thrive. I don’t see a need waiting to be filled.

      • 0 avatar

        There still some hope that with everyone, now up to and including even BMW’s once vaunted M division, is falling over themselves catering to “digital device lovers” and those only; a niche of holdouts large enough for a company like Mazda, just may open up…. Or, of course, one may not.

  • avatar

    This is 4 years now since I carried a thought that Mazda is the only car I would want to buy. Now, they don’t make a product for me. In fact, I don’t even like the interior. I don’t like this simplified center console. Where is hand brake? Where is MT? Where is IRS? Sounds like selling a snake oil.

  • avatar

    I can’t speak to the 3, but both guys I know who tried autocrossing a Mazdaspeed Miata dumped it in short order.

    • 0 avatar
      Art Vandelay

      The Mazdaspeed Miata was poorly executed. I had a 90, got the Mazdaspeed planning on selling the 90 but sold the Mazdaspeed.

      The tuning on them is wonky. The wheels were big and heavy which the people that drove them as intended hated, and it was geared so that the transmission and the turbo seemed to be fighting each other. Plus the 6 speed was never as good feeling as the 5.

      The aftermarket builds better turbo Miata than Mazda did. I did get a Torsen LSD out of a wrecked one for my 90. They got that right but the rest of the car was a miss.

  • avatar

    sigh. Even VW ignores the obvious “GTI all the things”.

    Give me a Tiguan R…

  • avatar

    I just don’t think Mazda really has the volume to manage the additional niche marketing that a proper Mazdaspeed redux would require. Honda sell sooo many Civics that justifying the Type R is a lot more logical.

    I’m willing to be grateful Mazda’s still got the Miata even after others have tried and failed, or moved on. Grateful enough I’m planning to get a new one soon as I can make the numbers work. I try and try to like the new 3 hatch but just can’t get past that C-pillar. If anyone wants a 2007 Miata PRHT Grand Touring a grown up has put all but 14 miles on and personally did 21 out of 22 oil changes, keep me in mind right about tax refund time 2021.

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