Masahiro Moro, president of Mazda USA, recently called the Mazdaspeed 3 “childish” in execution. Most press took this as a kiss of death for the car and speculated that we might never see the model in the market again. I tend to agree. The “Mazdaspeed” brand looks like it’s on the way out the door, but not the performance model itself. I’ll explain.
Two years back, I noticed that the Mazda prototypes stopped carrying the Mazdaspeed name. All the gear of the factory-backed teams had their logos only as “Mazda.” I inquired about the shift and was told it was just a change to the requirements for pro racing, and that club racing would still keep the Mazdaspeed name. It made sense to me at the time, and I didn’t think too much more about it until the announcement came out this year that 2016 will be the last year the Mazdaspeed logos are used on club racing cars. Mazda wants all its cars to simply use “Mazda” for all logos in all areas of racing in 2017. The removal of the “Mazdaspeed” from racing is a big shift in branding as it’s always existed here in the U.S. and Japan.
What makes me think we’re still going to get the great performance models we all love is the recent news that came out about Mazda’s G-Vectoring Control (GVC). I’m not a fan of “vehicle nannies,” but this one sounds interesting to the racer in me. The GVC uses slight variations in torque sent to the front wheels to reduce the need for steering corrections and lateral acceleration on the driver. The constantly variable torque applied to the front wheels allows the car to maintain a steady cornering speed, which Mazda says helps improve driving dynamics. The setup is made to put extra weight on the tire contact patch of the front wheels, which would generate more grip.
I can see two uses for GVC in a performance model: 1) In the Mazdaspeed 3, accelerating in corners can be exciting with the torque it develops, which now requires lifting the throttle to keep from driving off the road. Being able to control the torque with GVC, you could maintain a steady speed, which would increase your acceleration through the corner. 2) I could also see GVC being used to help fight the torque steer that high power front-wheel drive cars tend to have (like the Mazdaspeed 3), which makes the cars a handful. In this light, Moro-san’s comment about the car being “childish” makes a little more sense.
Mazda also mentioned it’ll install new seats in its cars that will hold drivers in more snugly to reduce the muscle exertion needed to hold themselves in during cornering. There wasn’t any specific info given on how this will be accomplished, but “Road and Track” noted that it sounded like the seats in the new MX-5, which utilize a springless hammock design. When driving the CorkSport MX-5, the seats do an excellent job; you don’t even think about sliding around in the seat going through the twisties.
This last bit really goes out on a limb, so bear with me. Three months ago, someone in a Mazdaspeed 3 group mentioned that “his buddy, who works with Mazda” was in Japan and saw what could be a future Mazdaspeed 3 model being tested. He said it had an AWD system from the CX-3 and a turbo motor. Personally, I think the CX-3 AWD system would be ejected from the car with the first full boost take off from a standstill. So the system is probably the i-ACTIV AWD setup from a turbo-diesel CX-5, which is bigger and could withstand the abuse. I could see the new CX-9 engine being installed in the chassis, as it’s based on existing architecture and works with Mazda’s AWD offerings already in production from the diesel models sold in Europe. Adding AWD would get rid of the burnout qualities of the past Mazdaspeed 3, which could be interpreted as “childish” as well.
Does this all mean we’re getting a turbo Mazda 3 next year with the facelift model? I don’t think so. We would’ve had a glimpse of it out of Hiroshima by now, instead of a rotary concept like the RX-VISION. Still, the performance we’ve all come to love from the Mazdaspeed name doesn’t seem like it’s going anywhere. It’s just growing up and going by a different handle these days.