The Japenese brand doesn't get the love it deserves.
We're fans of Mazda in general and some cars in particular. In general, Mazda's build quality is consistently great, its exterior design is always contemporary and stylish yet doesn't date quickly, and the Japanese brand's interiors are always excellent and lead their classes.
Mazda also never fails to make its cars and crossovers fun to drive. Every vehicle has excellent dynamics on the road for its type, except when it comes to power - and we'll get into that. Specifically, the MX-5 is the best sports car you can buy for fun within limits, and the CX-5 crossover is an excellent family vehicle. The MX-5 is in a class of one as a small, affordable roadster before you even look at how wonderfully it drives. The CX-5 is a must for anyone to cross-shop when looking at a compact crossover. Then there's the mid-sized CX-9 which drives way better than a mid-size crossover should.
Yet, despite all the love, and not just from us as an automotive outlet, you don't see as many on the road as the brands it competes with, like Toyota, Honda, and Hyundai. Certainly, Mazda is not so popular in the USA, where we're based. This got us wondering about the subject of Mazda's popularity, so we've taken a closer look at why we don't see more on the road.
Mazda doesn't have a long lineup of models compared to its competitors. Mazda's core lineup is split between cars and crossovers. The cars are the MX-5 roadster, the Mazda3 compact, and the Mazda6 sedan. Its crossovers are the CX-30 sub-compact (instead of the CX-3 in the US), the CX-5 compact crossover, the CX-50 (which will likely replace the CX-5 here), and the midsize CX-9. On the fringe is the all-electric MX-30, which is an experiment at best or a compliance car at worst. Either way, you can only buy it in California.
Honda also keeps its lineup tight but includes vehicles in other segments like the Odyssey Minivan, the Ridgeline truck, and its high-performance Civic Type R. Then, Toyota, Hyundai, and Kia have breadth and depth in their lineups and are forever expanding them. Toyota and Nissan go a step further and have full-size trucks so they can get a piece of the largest vehicle segment in the US.
That makes the lack of choice part of the Mazda popularity issue. With a limiting lineup, that leaves a lot of possible customers having to look elsewhere - particularly if they want a hybrid. Mazda has, seemingly resolutely, not moved into the hybrid powertrain game. While other brands are moving into all-electric vehicles with careless abandon, Mazda is letting that market go as it grows, and grows, and grows.
Another decision Mazda seems to have made is not to chase the entry-level market. That makes sense as the margins are low, and Mazda wants to position itself as a more premium brand than its competitors. That's a solid move, but it also helps explain why you don't see as many on the road as Toyota, Kia, or Nissan - all of which are happy to get people into cars with their badges no matter what their financial standing is.
Modern Mazda, to its detriment at times, insists on its cars having enough power rather than an abundance. The MX-5 best highlights this, but that makes sense for a small roadster designed to handle well while being inexpensive to run. In the rest of Mazda's lineup, even the youthful Mazda 3 isn't a particularly peppy car. The CX-5 has a more powerful option for the engine over the base model, but the more powerful engine just shows how lackluster the base engine is. For enthusiasts, brands like Hyundai and Toyota have performance lines. Hyundai has its N performance cars, and Toyota has TRD and now has GR as its road car performance brand. This brings us to the next reason why Mazda isn't popular.
That subheading isn't necessarily true if you count the MX-5, but it has never been an attention grabber like a halo car should. Whereas Honda has its Civic Type R to grab headlines and enthusiasts alike, Mazda hasn't given us a Mazdaspeed road car in a long time. Toyota has the Supra as its sexy, powerful halo, while Nissan has its new Z car and the admittedly dated GT-R. Hyundai has been threatening a halo car, but it hasn't quite happened yet. However, it is growing its N brand at a swift rate. Those cars not only grab enthusiasts by the scruff of the neck and draw headlines, but they turn heads in traffic and bring people into showrooms. That's something Mazda used to have with its rotary-powered RX models, but those days are long gone.
Take a drive through any smaller city in America, and you'll still find an auto mall. Inevitably there will be a Toyota, Ford, and Chevy dealership and likely a Honda, Hyundai, and Nissan lot. The least likely is a Mitsubishi dealership, but you'll probably have to travel a little for a Mazda outlet. Like not having a halo car, that hurts brand awareness when people go shopping for cars. People will travel for more niche cars - think Subaru for the outdoorsy types - but not so much for a brand that doesn't have a specialty like Subaru's all-wheel-drive system and perception of safety and ruggedness. Mazda also doesn't have Toyota and Honda's huge reputation for reliability or an aggressive warranty like Kia and Hyundai that will draw people in.
While Mazda's infotainment is far from the disaster that Volkswagen customers have to deal with, it does follow behind Toyota and Hyundai. Mazda's infotainment tech isn't bad; it's just not comprehensive. All the basics are there, like Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, and the systems are intuitive and easy to use. However, you have Toyota integrating assistants and cloud-based apps into its systems and Hyundai implementing its Digital Key system brilliantly. Hyundai also did a fantastic job of lodging its name in people's memory with its Remote Smart Parking Assist system and subsequent advertising.
Mazda's approach of making its infotainment solid is an excellent checkbox to tick. Still, the latest technology is not just for premium-price brands anymore, and Mazda needs to invest and develop.
None of this will be news to Mazda, which is looking to move upmarket as a brand. Plans are in motion with some new models that look like they will tread into Lexus and Acura waters. The CX-70 and CX-90 look like they will place themselves firmly in that territory, and Mazda will be embracing V6 engines, rear-wheel-drive, and all-wheel-drive.
Going rear-wheel-drive in its non-sports models is a departure for modern Mazda that will give it a one-up on Acura, the kind of advantage that all BMWs used to have over rivals. Mazda should then be able to differentiate itself from Lexus with its love of and detailed approach to excellent driving dynamics. The new models are also set to have hybrid drivetrains as an option.
If Mazda can out-sport Acura and out-style and quality Lexus while adding cutting-edge technology and plentiful power, that will be a game changer. It could dominate the bridge between the Japanese cost-efficient premium brands and the premium-price Germanic trio of BMW, Mercedes, and Audi. With such a strategy, there's a good chance Mazda is going to get a lot more popular.