Spannerhead Dot

Posts filed under ‘Mazda’

Mazda’s New Ad Campaign Shines

September 15, 2015 by Matt

Mazda MX-5 Miata Ad Advert Advertisement Desert Track 2016 ND

Via Autoblog, I have next to no hope that this will gain them any traction with the buying public (of whom a vast majority are simply interested in basic transportation appliances instead of a vehicle they would actually enjoy to drive), but Mazda’s new marketing campaign resonates with enthusiasts. Supplementing their long-running “Zoom-Zoom” tagline, the automaker recently rolled out a new slogan: “Driving Matters.” Greeted by a collective “YES!” from car buffs everywhere, the new campaign explicitly reminds us how closely Mazda’s car-building philosophy aligns with our priorities in choosing and enjoying our vehicles.

And yet, as much as I want to preach Mazda’s slogan from the rooftops and shout it to the unenlightened masses, I realize that it takes more than just a fun-to-drive car to derive pleasure from the act of driving. The right road is an equally essential ingredient, and therein might lie another obstacle in the Japanese automaker’s attempts to convert their enthusiast-first philosophy into sales success. Put another way, it would do me no good to insist that a friend is selling himself short from a driving perspective by buying a boring car when his daily commute consists solely of 45 minutes of bumper-to-bumper traffic. He may heed my advice and buy something dynamically enjoyable, but have nowhere to use it aside from forays onto winding back roads. And those excursions take a level of intentionality even harder to expect from someone whom I’ve already had to convince to buy something he wouldn’t have normally chosen.

The antidote to all this, of course, is to build compromise-free cars; in other words, cars that function equally well whether being used as commuting appliances or back-road burners. And as Mazda’s recent string of comparison-test wins indicates, they’re the current undisputed masters of that formula (6 straight outright victories in Car and Driver alone). Here’s hoping their new ad push can bring more buyers around to that fact.

No Comments on Mazda’s New Ad Campaign Shines

Missing the Minivan

April 27, 2015 by Matt

2005 Mazda MPV Gray Grey Side View

I miss our little MPV.

After 5 years of ownership, during which time we actually managed to pay it off, last spring we unloaded our ’05 Mazda MPV for an ’06 Volvo XC90, reasoning that our minivan days were over. I still daily-drive my truck, mind you, so the Volvo is my wife’s car, and she enjoys it. The XC90 is smooth and fleet, and with the 2.5-liter turbocharged 5-cylinder engine (not the optional 4.4l V8) and 2WD, fairly frugal, even if it does need to drink premium at the pump. The steering is sharp—well, most anything would feel sharp compared to my truck’s vague sense of straight ahead—and the leather-trimmed interior smells of plane trips and IKEA™. The kids like the DVD screens built into the backs of the headrests, and of course we’ve been freed of the “minivan stigma.”

Thing is, part of me misses, if not the stigma, then at least the practical, sensible aspects of minivan ownership. We bought our MPV for a song, in near-perfect condition, when it was only 4 years old. A quick scan of Craigslist confirms that minivan resale prices are ridiculously low compared with SUVs of equivalent size, age and mileage, and the cost of acquisition is even lower if your search terms don’t include the words “Odyssey” or “Sienna.” The MPV could be classified as a “mid-size” minivan, unable to carry a 4ft by 8ft sheet of plywood flat in the cargo area with the rear seats lowered, another fact that contributed to the car’s low profile in the eyes of a typical minivan shopper, interested only in “full size” models such as the aforementioned Japanese wonder twins and Yanks like the Town & Country. So we reaped the financial benefits of the minivan stigma and the Mazda’s lack of name recognition in the marketplace.

2005 Mazda MPV Gray Grey Cloth Interior Inside Cockpit Dashboard Console

Still—it was plenty big enough for us. During our annual beach trip last year, I had to exercise a previously unrequired level of packaging creativity when loading the XC90; with the MPV I simply tossed everything in the back and had no concerns over leaving myself a slit with which to use the rear view mirror while driving. The engine—a 3.0-liter V6 member of Ford’s Duratec family—was easy to work on as well, even if the intake manifold was a bit tucked up under the cowl, and parts were cheap and plentiful. The plumbing associated with the XC90’s engine is more daunting, and parts prices for our European ride are typically half again more expensive than those for the MPV.

I wouldn’t ask my wife to return to a minivan—she’s signed off on that stage of her car life—but I have pondered from time to time the pros and cons of trading the truck for one. The truck’s mileage is high (over 250K) but it’s in great shape, and chances are a straight trade would yield a minivan in good condition. And I can say with a fair amount of confidence that after a year and a half of driving a vehicle I bought with the expressed purpose of owning something I don’t care about, my car ego, at least when it comes to my daily driver, has been tempered to the point where practical considerations are well and truly king of the decision-making process. In other words, I’d be secure in my manhood even behind the wheel of a minivan, knowing that whatever reasons justified its purchase, they were good and rational ones. My sense of internal satisfaction would trump any superficial concerns over my “image” as a man.

2005 Mazda MPV Gray Grey Side View

I haven’t reached a tipping point yet, though. The truck has a ruggedness few minivans can match, parts are ubiquitous (it’s an F150) and the ability to just throw whatever I’m carrying in the bed, without having to consider height or dirtiness, is very appealing. Best of all, the truck is paid off, and at the end of the day, I think that—besides our 5-year family history with it—is what I miss most about the old MPV. Actually having the car’s title in my own filing cabinet (and not at the bank) gave me a transcendent sense of ownership over the vehicle, and felt fantastic from a financial standpoint as well, knowing that if anything went wrong with it, we had that many more options since the Mazda wasn’t tied to the bank. All that said, I’m sticking with the truck for now. It’s been a great vehicle so far; no complaints.

In the meantime, here’s hoping that minivans will experience something of a sales renaissance. Who knows; maybe all the Millennials who grew up in them will spearhead a nostalgia-driven resurgence of the body style sometime in the near future. Stranger things have happened, and goodness knows the unloved, workhorse minivan deserves its due.

No Comments on Missing the Minivan

Bring It Over: The New Mazda 2

October 24, 2014 by Matt

2015 Mazda 2 Demio Red

The new Japanese version (Mazda Demio) of what’s badged in the rest of the world as the Mazda 2 has won its home market’s coveted car of the year award for 2014, Autoblog reports. Fortunately, it appears the car will be sold in America, despite rumors the US market—historically unfriendly to tiny hatchbacks—would be excluded from the worldwide rollout.

2015 Mazda 2 Demio Red

I might be even more excited about the new 2’s introduction than I’ve been about its “new wave Mazda” predecessors, the CX-5, 6 and 3. The first-generation Mazda 2 was a highlight of the small car wars and a personal favorite. It maintained Mazda’s signature emphasis on the fun-to-drive factor despite the cost-cutting demands of its market niche, and I also found the design quite sharp-looking. Yes, the 2010-2013 model was a member of the previous Mazda “smiley face” design class, but its grin was much more restrained and less absurdly happy-looking than previous-generation Mazda 3’s. And now the styling has gotten a complete makeover, ditched the face and given the flanks and rear a few well-placed creases. It looks like a million bucks.

2015 Mazda 2 Demio Interior Inside Cockpit Console

As sharp as the exterior lines are, the new 2’s interior may be its trump card. Cribbing liberally from the new Audi A3’s cabin themes, the new Mazda’s interior treatment looks fresh, clean, tidy and above all, upscale—something that can be said of all recent Mazda interiors. On first glance, I can honestly say I’d rather spend time in the $15K Mazda 2 than in many cars costing several times as much.

Fundamentally, between the inside and outside styling, the engine, powertrain and chassis, the new 2 seems completely resolved. There doesn’t appear to be anything transitional or ill-advised in any element, and that confidence prompts me to reiterate the declaration I made in my post on the 2010-2013 car: If I were in the market for a small hatchback and I had to buy new, a Mazda dealership would be the first stop on my shopping list. If I get a chance to do a test drive review, I will. Stay tuned.

Image credits:

No Comments on Bring It Over: The New Mazda 2

Finally: 2016 Mazda Miata Revealed

September 4, 2014 by Matt

2016 Mazda Miata ND Red

Yesterday evening, in a live-streamed event featuring an appearance by ’80s New Wave group Duran Duran, Mazda finally pulled the wraps off its long-awaited 4th-generation (ND) MX-5 Miata.

Other than a claim that Mazda managed to trim the evergreen roadster’s curb weight by an eye-opening 220 lbs, as of this writing, hard numbers like horsepower, torque or even engine displacement haven’t yet been disclosed, so all we have to really discuss at the moment is the way it looks and speculate based on what we can make out in the photos provided.

Chris Paukert has a nice writeup over at Autoblog, and the successful concealment of the ND’s appearance up until its premiere last night—in itself an amazing feat in our digitally-interconnected age—means that discussion of the car has glutted the automotive interwebz over the past day, so I’ll just volunteer a few observations:

2016 Mazda Miata ND Red

  • My initial thought when I first saw the new Miata’s face was, “Oh no; they’ve regressed to the smiley faces of Mazda’s previous design language.” But when I consider the car’s stylistic lineage, it’s easier to appreciate its front end design: All generations of Miatas have had a friendly, somewhat anthropomorphic fascia. And as much as I pine for the 1st generation’s pop-up headlights to remove some of the “grin,” I need to resign myself to the fact that they’re never coming back, and shelve my opinions about cars with faces.
  • The biggest change to the car’s styling compared to the third generation’s is obvious in profile: No longer a symmetrical front-to-back “bar of soap” shape, the Miata now has proper hips and much more cab-rearward proportions, even if the actual placement of various components hasn’t moved much. Other than giving the car a healthy dose of visual aggressiveness—but still playful, mind you—the more pronounced rear fenders give me renewed hope that a coupe version of the car could really be in the works this time around. A fastback design would be much easier to reconcile if the car’s hips “met it halfway,” so to speak, rather than requiring it to plunge all the way to a nearly flat decklid like the third generation’s.

2016 Mazda Miata ND Red

  • Also bolstering my hope for a coupe is the fact that Mazda has been mum on the subject of whether the NC’s folding hardtop will return. It’s difficult to imagine the automaker touting the ND’s 200+ lb weight reduction and then adding it all back with a heavy, complicated origami roof mechanism. The hardtop version of the NC was, for all intents and purposes, the “coupe” version of that car, and if Mazda doesn’t retain the concept for the 4th gen, it’s natural to imagine something has to fill that niche in the car’s list of options. Let’s keep our fingers crossed.
  • I agree completely with Paukert’s statement: “Largely free of adornments, I think this is a shape that will age well.” I love Mazda’s styling restraint with the new Miata, and the fact that they refrained from chintzing it up, instead letting the proportions do the visual work. The car will be instantly recognizable on the road—and that in a good way.
  • I wonder if the added bite of the ND’s looks will allow the Miata to once-and-for-all shed its popular image as a “hairdresser’s car?” As mentioned above, the styling expertly communicates a kind of lighthearted aggression, if you will, a rogue-ishness that may, with any luck, turn off the kind of folks who might buy a Miata for the same reasons one might acquire a toy chihuahua: For the image alone. With the departure—or at least attrition—of that group, maybe the 4th gen’s styling will allow the car to be seen more exclusively as a proper driver’s car by the general public? Hope springs eternal.
  • Image credits:

7 Comments on Finally: 2016 Mazda Miata Revealed

400 Horses for a 2017 Mazda RX-7?

July 30, 2014 by Matt

Mazda 16X New Rotary Wankel Engine Motor

With a rumor mill almost as productive as the one prophesying the return of the Toyota Supra, the latest scoop from the “new RX-7” cloud of unsubstantiated gossip foresees 400+ horsepower from a next-generation rotary powerplant.

People tend to forget that car specifications—power, weight, grip and the like—are driven more by what market niche the car is intended to fill rather than what’s technically possible. So let’s assume for a moment, contrary to all actual and official evidence, that Mazda really does plan to unveil a true RX-7 successor in the next few years. A better way to speculate about the new car’s eventual output would be to “think like a marketer” and determine which corner of the sports car spectrum the car would be designed to occupy. I can think of three possible targets for Mazda’s new performance flagship:

  1. Toyota/Subaru GT86/BRZ competitor: Unlikely. The Toyotaru Twins offer slightly better performance than Mazda’s own Miata but adhere to a similar “driver-first” ethos. Making what amounts to a marginally faster hardtop Miata with a rotary engine would be a lot of fun, and would take advantage of the current mini-backlash against the current crop of overpowered, inert speed appliances, but fundamentally, such an approach would still edge too closely to the Miata’s territory.
  2. Pony car / Corvette killer: The article alludes to this possibility when it conjectures that a new RX-7 would “seriously challenge the Porsche 911.” The problem with this theory is that the high-end performance car market segment is currently engaged in a DEFCON 1, no-holds-barred arms race, outputs soaring above 600 hp with roadholding to match. In theory, Mazda could make a strong showing in this category by replicating yet amplifying the third-generation RX-7 formula: A high-strung turbocharged rotary offering competitive power in a lightweight chassis with hair-trigger reflexes. They certainly have the technical chops. But the matter of resources rears its ugly head: The automaker simply doesn’t have the capital to develop and support such a car on a mass-production scale. The fact that residents of this market segment like the Mustang, Corvette, Viper and Camaro are upping the power ante practically ever other week doesn’t help either. Besides, this niche is the obvious choice, and while Mazda’s approach to it would be unique, I’d like to think their target selection would be a little more…nuanced.
  3. Porsche Cayman / Nissan 370Z alternative: This makes more sense. Does it basically take over from where the RX-8 left off? Yes—but with the power and styling the RX-8’s chassis always deserved. If an RX-7 successor can take what actually worked about the ‘8—and given Mazda’s track record, there’s no reason to think they wouldn’t—and shore up the areas in which it was deficient, sharpening the car’s focus by axing the back seats and giving us a bonafide sports car, they might have a winner on their hands. Here’s the recipe for success in this niche: A direct-injected, 300+ hp rotary; 2 seats; perfect (and I do mean perfect) looks, transcendent driving dynamics and a curb weight under 3,000 lbs. The time is ripe; the 370Z’s basic platform has been around since 2003 and has always been somewhat awful when pushed to 10/10s. And while the Cayman is as dead-nuts perfect as a sports car can be, it’s been rampaging alone in its market segment for far too long. It’s time, Mazda.

Image credits:

10 Comments on 400 Horses for a 2017 Mazda RX-7?

One More Year:
4th-Gen Mazda Miata to Bow in 2015

February 19, 2014 by Matt

2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata Concept Rendering White

Autoblog reports enthusiasts pining for a long-overdue fourth-generation Mazda MX-5 Miata will have to stick it out for one more year.

Fortunately, there are three big upsides to such a long wait:

  1. The automaker’s recent product offerings have been roundly praised in top-flight publications, giving the company a fair bit of brand momentum.
  2. The introduction of the Toyota/Subaru 86 twins presents a fresh challenge to the Miata’s market segment. Nothing like a little healthy competition to sharpen the mind and re-focus development.
  3. Mazda’s achingly lovely Kodo design language—as seen on the new CX-5, 6, and 3—has firmly supplanted the old, unlamented smiley-face theme, and the new version of Mazda’s iconic roadster will reap the benefits, eschewing the cartoon-y grin for an altogether more sophisticated look.

Regarding that last one, according to the Autoblog article, a Mazda insider has pegged it as “our best-looking car ever.” Frankly, I really wish they wouldn’t. Not only is that a mighty tall order with a car like Mazda’s nail-bitingly sexy 3rd generation RX-7 in the history books, the automaker should learn from its mistakes and let the car’s looks speak for themselves. To whit: During an initial review of the awkward, fussy (though dynamically excellent) RX-8, Patrick Hong of Road & Track embarrassed himself with a bit of effusive hyperbole by declaring it “perhaps the prettiest looking car to come out of Japan—ever.” Err…no. And on the powerplant front, Mazda was forced to offer to buy back early production cars after independent dyno tests found the Renesis rotary engine producing 12-odd horsepower less than its advertised output. Whoops.

2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata Concept Rendering Blue

The lesson in all of this? Under-promise and over-deliver. Mazda already has with a trifecta of excellent models (the aforementioned CX-5, 6 and 3); here’s hoping the new MX-5 makes it four.

Editor’s note: The images gleaned for this article are concept renderings produced by automotive publications and may or may not reflect Mazda’s actual design.

Image credits:,

3 Comments on One More Year:
4th-Gen Mazda Miata to Bow in 2015

More Insight Into Mazda’s Prospects

July 30, 2013 by Matt

2014 Mazda 3 Red

In a recent feature, Car and Driver provides some analysis of an issue that provoked some pondering a little over a year ago: Why, in spite of a stellar lineup of cars, does Mazda still struggle to find lasting success compared to its rivals?

In my post, I speculated:

[A] glance at Mazda’s output—the 3, 6, RX-8, MX-5, CX-7, CX-9 and Tribute, among others—reveals vehicles that are almost always a joy to drive, but in terms of mass-market appeal, are a little out-of-step with mainstream tastes. They’re not boring transportation appliances, and as much as we enthusiasts would consider that a selling point, the hard truth is that much of the buying public is looking for the anonymous beige box to tote them around, never breaking down and getting 30 mpg and playing their MP3s via Bluetooth.

And while I’ve no doubt that’s part of the problem, C&D shines light on some additional albatrosses around Mazda’s neck, among them a temporarily favorable yen-to-dollar exchange rate putting the automaker in a precarious position from a pricing standpoint, vehicles that are well-sized for the American market but not ideal from a global perspective and a separation from corporate partner Ford that eliminates economies of scale facilitated by platform engineering.

By my count, between them, the CX-5 and 6 have three C&D comparo wins and the CX-5 notched another victory in the latest issue of Motor Trend. That kind of success in such a short span of time is absolutely unheard of for automakers other than media darlings like BMW and Audi, and contributes to the feeling of mystification among car buffs. We ask ourselves: “If the German performance marques leverage critical success into sales figures, why can’t Mazda?” But as C&D points out, the equation for a downmarket (though no less dynamically excellent) automaker is a bit more…nuanced.

Image credit:

4 Comments on More Insight Into Mazda’s Prospects

Forbidden Gem: Mazda HB Cosmo

February 18, 2013 by Matt

Mazda HB Cosmo Silver

I often wonder why Japanese automakers decline to bring their some of their most desirable creations stateside.

The car that immediately comes to mind when pondering this reluctance is the Nissan Skyline, but there have been a raft of other very nice automobiles withheld from our market, among them the 1981-1989 Mazda HB Cosmo. The predecessor of the even more delectable JC Cosmo, it was Mazda’s rotary flagship, a slightly larger grand tourer complement to the RX-7 and a direct competitor to cars like the Skyline and Toyota Soarer.

Mazda HB Cosmo Silver Engine Motor 12A Turbo

Available with no less than 7 engine options during its 8-year model run, among them gasoline- and diesel-powered piston engines as well as the aforementioned rotary, the most exciting mill on the option sheet was the first production turbocharged Wankel, the 12A Turbo. A non-intercooled, lower-compression variant of the standard 100-hp 1.1L 12A, the 12 Turbo featured a so-called “impact turbo” designed to better harness the rotary’s unique exhaust pulse signature. With additional injectors and a sophisticated (for its time) knock sensor system, the 12A Turbo developed a highly respectable 163 hp, more than enough to move the 2,500-lb Cosmo forward at a brisk pace.

Mazda HB Cosmo Silver Interior Inside Cockpit Console Dash Dashboard

Naturally, the car’s rear wheels received the power, and Mazda blessed the chassis with their characteristically brilliant tuning expertise. A manual transmission was standard equipment, and the interior was clean and functional, if very “period.” Of note are the upright cassette player, the near-ubiquitous ’80s maroon cloth interior scheme and the faux-digital instrument cluster.

Mazda HB Cosmo Silver

Of all the cars that could’ve but didn’t make the trip over the Pacific, the HB Cosmo is a real head-scratcher. The engine is smack dab in the middle of the chassis, and a quick glance at the interior layout leads me to think the cluster could very easily have been moved whole-hog over to the left side of the dash, eliminating a couple of reasons related to the potential difficulty of adapting the car to a left-hand-drive market. A more likely theory is that Mazda felt the HB Cosmo wasn’t a good fit from a marketing standpoint. After all, they had been burned by the failure of the previous Cosmo to catch on in the US, and there weren’t really any small-ish, quick GTs for sale here at the time, probably because there simply wasn’t any demand for them. Mazda also could’ve felt like sales of the Cosmo would have cannibalized those of their RX-7, which shared an engine, a mechanical layout and really wasn’t that much smaller. Still… As a rotary, GT and ’80s styling enthusiast, I say it’s a shame the HB Cosmo never made it here.

Image credits: Tennen-Gas

4 Comments on Forbidden Gem: Mazda HB Cosmo

Underrated Lookers: The Mazda CX-7

January 2, 2013 by Matt

Mazda CX-7 CX7 Red

After 6 years, we hardly knew ye.

Among the dozen or so cars departing the US market for the 2013 model year include the Mazda CX-7, the automaker’s first attempt at a midsize crossover SUV.

Normally I don’t devote much (any?) blog space to anything remotely SUV-ish, but as a devoted fan of the brand in general and admittedly, the CX-7 in particular, I thought I’d give it a farewell look. There aren’t many vehicles of an SUV-like nature I’d actually consider for daily driver duty, but Mazda’s outgoing midsize ute is one of them.

Mazda CX-7 CX7 Silver Rear Back

Offered starting in the 2007 model year, the CX-7 and to a lesser degree its bigger near-twin the CX-9 never really caught on. Reasons include the turbocharged 2.3l, 244-hp 4-cylinder’s relatively poor fuel economy (an important consideration in the car’s class), sub-par name recognition (no one really goes to Mazda looking for a midsize crossover) and interior space compromised by the CX-7’s styling.

Mazda CX-7 CX7 Interior Inside Cockpit Console Dash Dashboard

A word on the styling: To my eyes, as crossover SUV’s go, it’s fantastic. It communicates Mazda’s fun-to-drive philosophy exceedingly well using SUV proportions, and looks far less generic and much more cohesive than anything else in its class (contrast the utterly anodyne shapes of the Hyundai Santa Fe or Toyota Highlander for reference). No, Mazda attempted something more ambitious, shape-wise, than its rivals, creating a kind of capable-looking urban jungle transport capsule, and succeeded in crafting a design at once accessible and futuristic. 20 years ago, looking at the concept car landscape, didn’t we all think we’d be driving cars with overtones of the CX-7? I did.

Couple the winning design with a dose of Mazda’s traditional dynamic excellence (such as it can be on something with a CG so high), and it’s a true shame the CX-7 is leaving the market.

Editor’s note: This post is part of an ongoing series featuring cars whose design I find appealing, in contrast to mainstream opinion. Read the other installments here:

2 Comments on Underrated Lookers: The Mazda CX-7