Mazdaspeed Isn’t Coming Back, Which Might Be Okay

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Image: Mazda Canada

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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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