What Needs to Happen to Bring Mazdaspeed Back

Mazdaspeed's last production vehicle was canceled in 2013. We spoke with two Mazda engineers to see what could bring the nameplate back.

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Mazda

Mazda has always been an enthusiast-oriented automaker. But for a handful of years, there was a nameplate that denoted a more hardcore offering: Mazdaspeed. The in-house racing and tuning team turned its attention on the Protege, Miata, Mazda 6 and Mazda 3, giving each model pumped-up turbo power and sharper handling.

But since 2013, there hasn't been a single Mazdaspeed factory offering. So during my brief review of the 2019 Mazda 3, I asked two Mazda engineers what needs to happen to bring Mazdaspeed back—or whether that's even a goal for Mazda.

"There are certainly a lot of us that still want to do something like that," Dave Coleman, Development Vehicle Engineer at Mazda, told me. "But the more we get the regular cars to where we want them, the less gap there is to what we would want to do with a Mazdaspeed car."

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The first Mazdaspeed3, sold from 2006 to 2009.
Mazda

Mazda's small size compared to other mainstream automakers means that the company can really only focus on one big goal at a time. The all-new 3 is the first vehicle engineered under Mazda's new human-centric design strategy; employees I spoke with made it clear that the automaker's continued survival rides on the success of the 3.

Coleman echoed that sentiment. "To do a [Mazdaspeed] car, you really have to do it right. 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.

"So far, nothing's quite speaking the right language to be able to put something like that together and have it be as good as it needs to be," Coleman continued. "So we'll just continue to focus on trying to bring everything up to where you don't feel the need for [a Mazdaspeed variant]."

And what if Mazda woke up tomorrow flush with big-time automaker cash? Would that mean the return of Mazdaspeed?

"I think you would find Mazdaspeed, as we would do it now, would be a more mature execution than what you saw in the last ones," Coleman told me. "Again, those [earlier cars] were partially due to constraints of budget. So yeah, if we had infinite budget, we'd be able to sort out something that had the ability that we want now."

I asked Coleman if that means the market has changed since the last Mazdaspeed 3. "I think it has," he replied. "There was a groundswell of young enthusiasts in my generation"—Coleman is 47—"that is much smaller in new generations. 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.

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Mazda

"Even the Mazdaspeed 3, in its last iteration, came out as raw as it did due to the constraints," Coleman continued. "We only had so many things we could do with it. And we were down to the point where we had to compromise as far as, we can have this much torque steer, or we can have less torque."

He cracks a smile. "Well, that's an easy decision! It's gonna be a torque-steering monster. We're gonna lay rubber. I was actually, personally, the guy fighting for the torque steer in that car. It was gonna have a really weak first and second gear to keep it civilized. Nah, civilized is not what this car is. Its first mission is to go fast, and everything else will be as good as it can be."

This got me and Coleman talking about the shift we're seeing in performance cars. Where there used to be raw, hairy, punishing machines, now we've got polish and composure. Is that necessarily a bad thing?

"What you think you want is rawness," Coleman said. "What you really want is responsiveness and directness. We're used to paying a price for those things, and so we're willing to pay that price because we want this direct response. If we can get those things without paying that price, nobody's going to complain. We used to make excuses about how noisy our cars were because that's what it took to make it as light, direct and responsive as we could. As we figured out how to make them quieter, nobody's complaining that the car's too quiet, that they don't have that connection to the road surface anymore. Because we haven't made compromises. We haven't made the car dull and boring to drive as we made it quiet. I had this car that was really fun and it was really painful. That doesn't mean you want a painful car. You want the fun part."

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