It’s been nearly half a decade since Mazda 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 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 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,” Brown told TTAC, “and performance is in Mazda’s DNA.”
So he’s telling us there’s a chance.
A version of this story originally appeared on The Truth About Cars
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