Commentary: A Ruggedized Mazda?
up points to the move upmarket, there are still consumers who rather look at their value than move into the near-luxury space.
If your memories of Mazda run as long as mine, then you recall some of the machinations, this century-plus old manufacturer has gone through during its time in this country.
From selling rotary engine models from compact sedans to three generations of the iconic RX-7. Then, Mazda wanted to show you its sporty side between the rotary sports car and the high-performance hot hatch wearing the Mazdaspeed name. From “Zoom-Zoom,” Mazda looking to go upmarket along with their new tag: “Feel Alive.”
While its current lineup points to the move upmarket, there are still consumers who rather look at their value than move into the near-luxury space.
Now, we were hoping for a new rear-drive biased platform as the spiritual replacement for the Mazda6. The oft-rumored return to Mazda’s sporty side would be great right now.
However, Mazda had other plans. In fact, they brought out a very interesting twist to their plot. That plot twist has a name: CX-50.
We were not that shocked that Mazda introduced another SUV/crossover. However, they went for a ruggedized model. They decided to follow a new trend while maintaining their own vision of what the brand should be.
If that sounded like an awkward statement, it is. It makes us wonder which direction Mazda is ultimately going during this decade.
Before I address the brand, I must address the trend. The trend towards ruggedizing mainstream SUVs have been a small movement that has been around since the Subaru Outback was born. The idea is to make their normalized wares to appear to want some of the Jeep Wrangler’s action on the trails. The truth is that earlier efforts in doing so fell short due to their unibody construction, lack of a lower ratio on their transfer module, and a ground clearance that looked good, but felt like a compromise.
With the introduction of the Ford Bronco, the industry decided to pivot towards capturing ambitious active lifestyle consumers by ruggedizing other SUVs. So far, we have seen Hyundai, Honda, and Kia jump into the fray. Toyota pivot into this space already, joining Jeep, Ford, and GMC.
While Subaru started this trend, they also upped the ante. The Wilderness versions of the Outback and Forester added more ground clearance, more cladding, more underbody protection, and a true second ratio to the X-Mode system.
The Mazda CX-50 comes in at the same level as the Hyundai Tucson XRT and Santa Fe XRT, Honda Passport Trailsport, and the 2023 Kia Sportage X-Pro. It will be offered only with all-wheel drive, connected to the Skyactiv-G 2.5-liter engine in naturally aspirated and turbocharged versions. Mazda adds a new drive system that sort of adds a lower ratio to handle the rougher stuff. Mi-Drive appears to work similarly to Subaru’s X-Mode, where it replies on pre-determined settings and electronics to improve traction on climate and off-highway conditions.
The CX-50 will be available with a hybrid driveline. This announcement alone will help Mazda’s efforts towards electrification, augmenting the all-electric (for now) MX-30. Given that Mazda offers the same two engines across the rest of the lineup, I would not be surprised to see this hybrid driveline show up on other models. After all, they share the same basic architecture across most of the lineup, am I right?
At this point, you might conclude that Mazda has lost its way only to chase after upwardly mobile customers and new vehicle trends at the same time. The further this brand has strayed away from its enthusiast’s core could turn off those same exact consumers that rely on Mazda to provide them with exciting new products that deliver on the excitement they have been known for.
Then again, Mazda could surprise us. They could justify the CX-50 as part of their strategy all along, pointing to how it fits with their push upmarket by meeting the needs of the active lifestyle set.
Or, does Mazda have another trick up their sleeve?
Photos courtesy of Mazda North American Operations