By on September 17, 2021

Mazda had elected to make all future CX SUVs default to all-wheel drive, rather than front-wheel drive, as it continues to shift its products upmarket. However, the announcement was curiously hidden within the marketing materials for the refreshed CX-5, rather than being allowed to stand on its own.

From the 2022 model year onward, all Mazda products carrying the CX designation will come equipped from the factory with i-Activ all-wheel drive. For now, this pertains exclusively to the U.S. market and will undoubtedly result in vehicles carrying a higher price tag. AWD typically requires shoppers to tack another $1,500 (give or take) onto the MSRP and we doubt Mazda will be giving away the extra parts for free. 

From Mazda:

Mazda’s i-Activ AWD system is engineered to enhance performance and confidence, enabling the driver to enjoy the experience in various driving conditions. Providing i-Activ AWD as standard for all Mazda CX models, starting with the 2022 model year, supports the brand’s dedication to deliver unparalleled driving pleasure for all owners. While making i-Activ AWD newly standard emphasizes the enhanced driving dynamics Mazda customers value, it is part of the Mazda brand’s expansion into the premium space.

Engaging driving dynamics are engineered into every aspect of vehicle development to help create a connection between car and driver. Mazda’s unique i-Activ AWD system continuously monitors weight transfer, based on acceleration and cornering forces, and shifts power to the appropriate wheels, providing drivers a near instant response to inputs. By sharpening turn-in response and control based on vehicle speed, the i-Activ AWD system can help enhance the vehicle’s performance, while also providing additional safety in various road conditions.

This means the CX-30, CX-5, and CX-9 will come with AWD in their next incarnation. If you feel like we’re forgetting someone, the CX-3 has been discontinued and will not be making an appearance on next year’s vehicle lineup. While the CX-3 could be had with power going to all four wheels, Mazda likely figured the necessary price bump wouldn’t have made a lot of sense for some customers. It also previously confessed there might be too much overlap with the CX-30, even though the CX-3 is technically one size down.

But Mazda has been intentionally moving upmarket and several premium manufacturers recently decided they can make more money by selling larger vehicles with higher price tags than trying to stick it out with smaller automobiles. This has been particularly true of German automakers, which other luxury brands tend to use as a benchmark.

While there have been several companies favoring all-wheel drive, it’s only been commonplace among a few nameplates. Subaru was formerly known as the de facto AWD brand. But more companies have been offering it as standard equipment of late. Mazda clearly believes it can further distinguish itself from the pack and add some premium flare by going with universal AWD.

The decision should work nicely for a company that already has some of the best exterior vehicle designs in the industry and is about to add inline-six motors to the lineup. Though we do wonder how the larger engines will affect the promise of all-wheel drive. It’s extremely likely we’ll see that unit installed into some of Mazda’s larger SUVs, potentially leaving an opportunity for rear-drive performance modes.

But is the swap to AWD a wise one?

More than likely. Mazda likely wouldn’t have done this if customers weren’t routinely optioning it already and it reduces some manufacturing complexities by making it so the factory always knows what to expect. Despite the need for additional parts, Mazda no longer has to bother with front-drive SUVs and can charge more for the resulting products.

[Image: Mazda]

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39 Comments on “Mazda Goes Subaru: Makes SUVs All-Wheel Drive...”

  • avatar

    I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, while everyone’s focused on Hyundai and Kia making SUV strides, Mazda is quietly overtaking them in overall quality, feel, and design. Nothing against H/K, but their overall portfolio’s (Genesis excluded) hold nothing to Mazda in any category except diversity.

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      And price. Mazdas are surprisingly expensive.

      Mazda is an internet darling that never seems to capitalize on the detailed refinement you mention.

      • 0 avatar


        Base MSRP’s-
        CX9 vs Telluride: $34,160 vs. $32,790
        CX5 vs Sportage: $25,370 vs. $24,090
        CX30 vs Seltos: $22,050 vs. $22,490
        6 vs K5: $24,475 vs. $23,690
        3 vs Forte: $20,650 vs. $17,890 (yeah, that one stings)

        Every Mazda comes standard with LED headlights, which in the case of the Telluride, you’d have to step up to the $42,690 SX trim to get.

        IDK, having spent considerable time in both a 2020 CX9 and a 2021 Telluride and having numerous experiences (not long term) in a Mazda 6 and a Kia Optima, going from almost any KIA to a Mazda, there’s absolutely no comparison. Mazda just looks, feels, and SOUNDS more quality and high end. The sounds of the doors closing, the switchgear, the handles, the actual FEEL of the seats, the sounds of the windows going up and down, the noise (or lack thereof in most instances in a Mazda) of the HVAC system. It’s all just very different in a Mazda, for the better.

        The one thing I will give the nod to the H/K on is that you can get a smoooooth V6 in the largest SUV.

      • 0 avatar
        Mike A

        Coaster is right about quality, design and reliability. I am not sure why SCE is such a consistent critic of Mazda. A small company, consistently making good product and profits. Sakes in the US, but not their only market, are doing well.

        Completely wrong to say they are expensive. They are priced comparable to Honda, Toyota and H/K but are more refined , higher quality and sometimes better built.

        Interesting side point Subaru does crap in Europe sales wise. In the UK Subaru have stopped selling several models.

        • 0 avatar

          Coaster was WRONG about quality, design and reliability (For Mazda).
          He said “quietly overtaking them in overall quality, feel, and design”

          what?? Mazda has been way better in all parameters at lease since 2008 and some cars since 1990s. And before Ford as well. This is not even a serious argument. Not even close. Japan-sourced Mazdas were always solid (outside some rust). American ford-based models were worse.

        • 0 avatar
          SCE to AUX

          For the Mazda fans:

          If Mazdas are better than Honda, Toyota, and H/K for the same price, why have they been stuck at 2% market share in the USDM for the last 20 years?

          As for price, the Mazdas I looked at a year ago were shockingly expensive. Maybe the dealer only stocked loaded models, in keeping with the theme of this article.

          • 0 avatar
            Mike A

            I will trust the MSRP analysis above than your anecdotal findings from one dealer. They sell less because there are less dealers and they are also a little less mainstream (3 hatchback is a great example of that)

          • 0 avatar

            Biggest problem for Mazda has been its packaging.

            The longer hoods look nice, but the vast majority of buyers would rather have more interior space which is where Mazdas tend to fall short.

            For example, the CX-9 is a good bit longer than the Telluride, but the 3rd row is a lot tighter.

            Another issue is their outdated infotainment systems, but that hasn’t seemed to be a problem for Toyota/Lexus sales.

    • 0 avatar

      “hold nothing to Mazda in any category except diversity.”

      and inclusivity.

    • 0 avatar

      Mazda isn’t going after H/K, but rather the FWD Japanese lux brands (giving them a RWD alternative for around the same price).

      This move to AWD-only likely is temporary until they make the switch to RWD.

  • avatar

    This isn’t much of a change. I checked and 534 of the 535 Mazda SUVs within 50 miles are AWD. One (!) CX-30, a model I didn’t know existed and is apparently the cheapest one, isn’t. This in an area where winter amounts to one snow day every couple of years.

    The women who buy these things won’t have FWD and that’s all there is to it.

    • 0 avatar
      Matt Posky

      You’ve nailed it.

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      That’s it.

      So I think this statement “will undoubtedly result in vehicles carrying a higher price tag” is moot.

      Actually, Mazda could pocket some savings if they don’t have to carry two versions in stock.

    • 0 avatar
      Rick Astley

      Certainly dealerships aren’t ordering the FWD models and the market demographic for who is shopping in this price bracket, looking at the more striking visual models (meaning the Mazda offerings, not anything from a domestic brand), in the right income/FICO bracket, doesn’t live in the country and wants this vehicle won’t know Jack and/or squat about the limited mechanical advantages of these “mild AWD” systems.

      It’s as simple as “AWD = safer”. Correct? No, certainly not an altruism. But that’s the vernacular understanding of what AWD is (independently confirmed by asking my non-car friends to describe what AWD is).

      Heck, ask 100 Subaru owners if they are aware of how they must actually drive an AWD differently than a FWD to obtain the real advantages of the platform and i’d bet you get 99 blank stares back at you.

      For fun, observe how real-world people drive in corners with their Subaru or econo-SUV/CUV with it’s cute “AWD” badge on the liftgate….. Braking mid-corner, constant steering corrections and the like.

      So if 99% of people don’t/can’t/won’t understand how they must change their driving to suit the drivetrain, what does it matter if every car is AWD? I would argue that the widespread adoption of these brake-assisted “AWD” systems is just to salve the buyer who wants to feel they are buying the safer car, regardless of their inability to actually make their car function properly.

      • 0 avatar
        SCE to AUX

        AWD has gained widespread adoption for cultural security reasons, period. This is also why health care is so costly, because people will pay anything for that extra moment of life. I’ve never heard anyone say they’re visiting the 5th-best doctor in the area.

        40+ years of driving in the snow belt, and I’ve wished for AWD maybe once a year. If I ever get AWD, it won’t be because I checked that box.

        • 0 avatar
          Stanley Steamer

          I live in a hilly snowy place and yes awd makes a huge difference, with the right tires. Another factor is hugely reduced wheel spin when accelerating out of a corner in the rain. I make frequent left turns into busy 2 lane roads during my commute, and yes, the awd helps get me up to speed way sooner in those slippery conditions.

          • 0 avatar

            ” live in a hilly snowy place and yes awd makes a huge difference,”

            I’m in the same situation. On steeper hills in snow the weight in a FWD car shifts to the rear and you lose traction.

    • 0 avatar
      MRF 95 T-Bird

      Most of the FWD crossovers are solid in the sunbelt. The take rate is a few percent. It probably makes little sense for Mazda to produce so few of them on their production line.
      My dad has a Honda Pilot with fwd. He likes it and says it grippy in bad weather.

  • avatar

    When you can sell every well-equipped car you can make, why bother making cheaper ones?

    • 0 avatar

      In the case of Mazda, when you only make like 500 per year and they’re drop dead gorgeous (relative to the other offerings in their classes), it’s easy to sell them.


  • avatar

    [email protected] you Subaru. Convinced everyone you need AWD just to drive in the rain.

  • avatar

    I know this is priced in CAD, but over $49k for this? Never mind.

  • avatar

    The Mazda fanbois made fun of Subaru’s standard AWD every time the brands are compared and now, WOW!. It’s the greatest thing and really makes sense! It is interesting that whenever Mazda is mentioned here on TTAM (The Truth About Mazda) how some folks quickly compare this brand to Subaru, a much smaller company that sells and has sold 2 to 3 times the volume in the USDM for the last 5 years. The fact that Mazda’s main market is outside the US and Mazda is a much larger company than Subaru is most always overlooked. “Subaru does crap in Europe sales wise. In the UK Subaru have stopped selling several models”; so what? Subaru’s main market is the USDM. Fiat does well in Europe and is basically dead in the USDM. Mazda consistently has over promised and failed to deliver over the last few years (where’s that diesel?). The company has been reduced to tossing stuff at the wall to see what will stick and apparently can make money on only one model – the CX-5. I still see the brand eventually following Suzuki out of the USDM back to the rest of the world’s markets where it has much more success.

    • 0 avatar

      So I guess you don’t like Mazdas, is about the only piece of information I could glean from that post.

      • 0 avatar

        It’s not that I do not like Mazda’s as a brand or any of their products. I find it interesting that many here like and upvote a niche brand that continues to have a flatline sales record in the USDM and celebrate Mazda getting on board with a technology (AWD in this example) that another much better selling brand has been installing as standard on its vehicles for almost 30 years. On that competitors brand AWD is “unnecessary”, “Who needs it?”, “Selling by creating fear”, “leads to decreased fuel economy/excess weight/complexity”,… As the days of Subaru head gaskets are long in the past, so are the days of Mazda’s “Zoom – Zoom” reputation. Mazda’s are an okay if overpriced, overhyped small car brand at the periphery of the US auto market and there is nothing wrong with that.

    • 0 avatar
      Mike A

      The reason for bringing up Subarus poor sales performance in other major markets is because some people think Subarus performance in the US is all that matters. Thai website is not just about the US market so this additional context helps.

      • 0 avatar

        I bring up sales/market performance for the reasons you mention. The USDM is not the major market for Mazda just as someone pointed out the European Market is not the/a major market for Subaru. As far as the Thai website, I’m not familiar with that one nor do I read Thai.

    • 0 avatar

      This move to only-AWD is likely a temp move until the arrival of the RWD models (FWD is not seen as “luxury” – which is why Audi has mostly stopped offering FWD here).

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    Living in the snow belt my wife has an AWD Honda CRV which does great in the snow but if I lived in a warmer climate I would not buy AWD. Honestly our front wheel drive only vehicles handled the snow very well. Mazda makes an excellent vehicle and I would pay more for a Mazda than a Kia or Hyundai despite the fact that the Korean vehicles are vastly better than they once were but they still are not as good as a Toyota, Honda, and Honda.

  • avatar
    DC Bruce

    Let’s remember how we got here. In the beginning FWD was limited to small cars like the VW Golf, the (original) Mini and a few outliers — especially Audi. The system worked well with modest power and the packaging benefits were undeniable. Audi, like Citroen, produced FWD not small cars. As the desire for performance increased, more power was added. . . with various bad side effects: torque setter, wheelspin on startup to name a few. Ferdinand Piech, then head of Audi, decided that the solution was a form of sophisticated on-demand AWD, which Audi labelled (and trademarked) as “Quattro.” Audi’s Quattro cars were virtually unbeatable in mud and snow rally competition, where extra traction confers a big advantage.

    Early on, one of the car mags took otherwise identical Audi sedans with Quattro and with FWD respectively and did hot laps. On the track, wet or dry, with expert or “regular” drivers, there was no difference.

    Subaru, who tried, with little success, to enter the US market with some ridiculously small cars hit on the idea of a Quattro-style AWD system (which was easy to implement with a longitudinally-mounted engine) and marketed the beejeezus out of it. Audi did the same, forcing the other premium Germans — BMW and Benz — to follow suit.

    Interestingly, any serious off-roading destroys these systems as the clutches that make them work gradually overheat from too many slip-and-grip cycles. The better 4wd systems use a Torsen center differential, not slip and grip clutches.

    • 0 avatar

      So, about this AWD system. Out West, where some state highways are dirt roads and other roads often cross sandy washes where 2wd (1wd) vehicles are at risk, will this AWD system keep you from getting stuck in sand?

  • avatar
    Shockrave Flash Has Crashed

    I have a CX-30 and the AWD makes it more fun to drive than the Mazda 3 it replaced. I loved my Mazda 3, however, the CX-30 is better every way for my needs. The LED headlights, upgraded interior, and radar cruse control are the things that were most surprising.

  • avatar

    Nice! And now: On to longitudinal engines and a rear drive bias…….

    Not that it’s strictly “better,” but it does help stand out from the common herd. And hence help feel more “premium.”

  • avatar

    I guess the desert southwest qualifies as “the sunbelt”, and although AWD is entirely unnecessary here, I see plenty of AWD CUV around here.

    I think (most) people find the CUV they like the looks of and has the options and features they want and they buy it. If I was in the market, I’d prefer FWD, just because it’s lighter due to the lack of unnecessary hardware, and less complex. But I really think most people don’t care. People buy Subarus around here, too, so they won’t care if they can’t get a FWD Mazda anymore.

  • avatar
    Roberto Esponja

    * Mazda has elected…

  • avatar

    When I bought my 2013 Mazda CX-5 AWD Touring in June 2012 the dealer had one CX-5 with FWD and a stick and said I have no idea who will buy that in Northeast Pa.
    I’m sure someone did because of price and nothing else.
    BTW most trouble free vehicle I ever owned

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