Will we see a return of torque madness in a new hot hatch?
The last time you could buy a new Mazdaspeed vehicle was in 2013. The Mazdaspeed3 hot hatch was a torque beast that compared to today’s hot hatches is not exactly refined. But why hasn’t the Japanese automaker done more with its in-house performance brand? Road and Track spoke to a couple of Mazda engineers and was told the reasons come down to money and brand image.
"To do a (Mazdaspeed) car, you really have to do it right, said Dave Coleman, Development Vehicle Engineer at Mazda. "And we can't develop a new engine for that, we can't do all the stuff with the core hardware at our scale, and with the ambitious stuff we're trying to do with our small team. If we had an engine on the shelf that would fit that properly, then we could talk.”
Despite its mainstream status, Mazda is not a large automaker on the scale of, say, Toyota or Honda. Every investment dollar is counted carefully and spending the time and money to develop a niche engine for a niche model, presumably a new Mazdapseed3, makes no sense. At the same time, Mazda has so far been very successful in improving its image. It’s a far more mature brand now than it was only five or six years ago when the last Mazdaspeed3 was around. In short, the hot hatch market has changed.
"There was a groundswell of young enthusiasts in my generation that is much smaller in new generations,” the 47-year-old Coleman said. "And so for the large part, it's my generation that's looking for those cars. And we're a little older. Also, Mazda as a brand is becoming more mature. Trying to be a little bit more premium, a bit more polished.”
Performance cars, in general, are becoming more refined and so yesteryear’s raw and torque steer crazy Mazdaspeed3 wouldn’t stand a chance today. "What you think you want is rawness," Coleman said. "What you really want is responsiveness and directness.”
In short, Mazda has discovered customers are not complaining about its newfound premium status. At the same time engineers can still make fun to drive cars, just not a "torque-steer monster” like the last Mazdaspeed3. With a lack of funds to revive Mazdaspeed and a majority of buyers not even aware of its past existence, why bother?
But if Mazda were to suddenly get a cash infusion enabling a Mazdaspeed revival, what would it be like? "I think you would find… a more mature execution than what you saw in the last ones,” Coleman said. But until that hopeful infusion happens, don’t expect Mazdaspeed to return anytime soon.