Mazda: All-Wheel-Drive Availability Crucial for Future Success, MX-5 to Remain RWD

The enthusiast-loved automaker wants to steal a piece of Subaru's all-wheel-drive pie, but it has its reservations.

JAMES HALFACRE

On Wednesday at the 2019 Denver Auto Show, a Mazda spokesperson claimed that the automaker's increasingly available all-wheel-drive drivetrain might not be of interest to prospective buyers of its flagship MX-5 roadster. However, the automaker known for building spirited hatchbacks, sedans, and crossovers, believes there isn't a solid case to tweak its halo roadster.

"We believe that it is, all-wheel-drive is a game-changer for Mazda," North America's Gulf Region Marketing Manager Dennis Flaherty told The Drive when asked whether AWD is important to MX-5 customers.

"Obviously, it's available to all of our CUVs, we feel it's very, very important, and it sets us apart from our competition [sic]. Is it necessary, all-wheel-drive in the Miata? Probably not so, because of the kind of vehicle buyer that's after the MX-5...it's kind of a different audience, and it's our little niche—our signature vehicle, if you will."

Flaherty emphasized the availability of AWD on as many of Mazda's products as possible as a cornerstone in the company's plan to move upmarket and join the ranks of Lexus, Acura, and Infiniti. AWD is crucial to the brand ethos of companies such as Subaru and Audi and is becoming increasingly prevalent with former rear-wheel-drive hardliners BMW and Mercedes-Benz.

"We do you believe that all-wheel-drive is an important offering to our consumers as we evolve into [a premium marque]," he continued. "You know, more technology, more feature benefits. All-wheel-drive isn't just for ice and snow. It provides a stable driving experience even in dry weather climates, if you drive in rain, or on gravel, or what have you."

Flaherty again pointed to AWD's increasing importance to buyers as the reason for making the feature available on the new Mazda3—which we recently tried, enjoyed, and deemed a good alternative to the old AWD standard: the Subaru Impreza.

"It's a game-changer in the segment," Flaherty said, also pointing out that the only other AWD option in the Mazda3's segment is the aforementioned Subaru. "When you are one of two that offer it in the segment, it sets you apart in a very competitive segment as well. With everything else we've added to the product, it's just one more layer, one more platform that we can use to appeal to consumers."

Another potential way to bait customers Mazda's way could be its new, ultra-efficient SkyactivX engine, a cutting-edge power unit with spark-assisted compression ignition technology, a world first for a mass-produced gasoline engine. Flaherty, however, advised that Mazda hasn't yet formalized whether this engine will eventually power its entire lineup.

One final detail that sets Mazda apart from its intended contemporaries of Lexus and Acura is the lack of a full-size flagship sedan, as the current Mazda6 sits in the midsize segment. Flaherty confirmed that Mazda has no plans for a sedan larger than the Mazda6 at present, meaning a direct comparison between Mazda and even the likes of Infiniti will remain tough to draw.