The model year was 2007. ‘Crazy’ by Gnarls Barkley was popular on the radio. Steve Irwin, the famous crocodile hunter was killed by a stingray and minivans were about as cool as Barney. Two new three-row crossover SUVs entered the market looking to haul families and mass quantities of Vitamin Water from Costco in style and safety.
Here I am, snaking through the famed Ortega Highway in Southern California in a Mazda, attacking every apex and rowing through the crisp six-speed manual’s gears with an ear-to-ear grin. Only I’m not driving a Miata or RX-8. I’m driving a friggin’ minivan.
Now in its second generation, the Mazda5 continues to occupy a unique niche in the marketplace (and will likely continue to do so for the time being now that Ford has canceled plans to bring the conceptually similar European C-Max seven-seater to the U.S.). Launched earlier this year as a 2012 model, the new Mazda5 doesn’t stray much from the template established by its predecessor, but for the right kind of family, that’s fine and dandy.
Mazda has a real winner on its hands with the CX-9 – a Large Crossover SUV that actually says Zoom-Zoom! The CX-9 is the outright winner in 26 of 48 satisfaction attributes, and is well rated in the rest. Winning attributes of the CX-9 include such important characteristics as:
• Exterior styling and size
• Fun-to-drive, power/acceleration and handling (the essence of Zoom-Zoom)
• Seating capacity and flexible/changeable seating
• Quality, reliability/dependable, durable/long lasting
• Safety features and a feeling of safety while driving
• Operating costs, anticipated resale value and value for money
Once fuel had reach $4.05 a gallon nationally, we watched as truck sales plummeted and small/compact car sales got a little boost. People in the industry began to say that compact cars were going to appeal to more Americans and make up a larger percentage of vehicles sold here in the United States. The trick is said to be selling these small/compact cars for a profit. Up until recently the major domestic automakers had been able to make up to $12,600 profit on Large Luxury SUVs, but selling a small/compact car only raked in about $2,400 bucks. Once you subtract anywhere from $3,000 to $5,000 for fixed costs you could actually end up with a negative number. Which means that a solid business case to produce small/compact cars here in the U.S. is not always an easy case to make; other than to help offset CAFE. Although, Mazda seems to be able to make a business case for them, and they sell tons of them!
Of course now there is talk of ‘premium small cars’ becoming popular with Generation Y and possibly becoming a more lucrative business venture. With fuel prices dropping again to around $2 a gallon only time will tell what the future of the small/compact car will be here in the United States. Still, injecting premium content into a small car may go a long way in appealing to an increasing number of people who don’t think small size should equal skimpy content.
Tustin, California, June 30, 2008 –
An “ideal” is defined as an excellent or perfect example. In the annual Ideal Vehicle Awards (IVA), announced today by automotive research and consulting firm AutoPacific, owners rate their new 2008 model year cars and trucks by how close they come to their ideal, as measured by 15 key vehicle attributes. The cars or trucks that owners would change the least are the most ideal.
Zoom Zoom Evolution
Mazda Atenza Sedan, Tokyo
Mazda 6 Hatchback, Frankfurt
It was back in 2001 that Mazda started blasting auto-show attendees and innocent TV watchers with the now-famous zoom-zoom theme. Mazda has remained true to Zoom-Zoom in the intervening years, and the second generation of the first Zoom-Zoom cars are starting to arrive. The Mazda2, not sold in the States, led the evolution this past summer. Mazda’s mid-size sedan (and five-door hatchback and wagon) entry is next, known as the Mazda6 outside of Japan and as the Atenza inside. Though U.S. sales don’t begin until summer 2008, the exterior shown at the recent Frankfurt and Tokyo auto shows, pictured below, is close to what we’ll see then.
What we likely won’t see are the wagon or the five-door hatchback, though these bodystyles continue for other markets. U.S. mid-size car segments are dominated by sedans, with a few coupes here and there. For the 2008MY, Mazda gave up the wagon version of the 6, Dodge will drop the Magnum for 2009MY, and Chevrolet gave up the five-door hatchback/wagon-type Malibu Maxx with its 2008MY redesign. Mazda sold fewer than 10,000 wagon Mazda6s in any given year it was available, compared with well over 50,000 sedans annually.
Mazda Atenza Family
Mazda 6 Family
The job of the new Mazda6, according to Mazda, is to continue to deepen and evolve Kizuna
, the emotional connection drivers feel with the 6. The new face is evolutionary but strong follow-up for a car that was as well received as this the first time around. Kizuna, for Mazda6, embodies three core values. Mazda wants the 6 to offer an emotional and sporty driving experience that creates a oneness between car and driver, to offer an exclusive experience through a comfortable space and high-quality craftsmanship inside, and finally to offer an “insightful package” that balances the first two elements and incorporates logical, well-thought-out, and easy-to-use driver interface and storage areas. Based on our limited show-floor time, Mazda looks to have created a 6 (and Atenza) with the kizuna they are looking for.
Mazda 6 Sedan
Automotive News reported on December 15, 2006 that Mazda North American Operations will scrap all 4,703 vehicles that were aboard the freighter Cougar Ace when it foundered at sea this year. Read the VehicleVoice story from September WARNING – Beware of Cougar Ace Mazdas. There is also a great comment by a longshoreman who had been on the Cougar Ace and seen the damage.
Previously, Mazda stated it would have engineers evaluate all the vehicles to determine which to scrap or to sell through a used-car program. However, given that the provenance of the vehicles might come into doubt in several years’ time, Mazda decided to avoid a potential customer-satisfaction nightmare by scrapping all the vehicles.
The Cougar Ace went into a 60-degree list on its trans-Pacific run in July when its ballast was displaced, but the ship was towed into port and righted. Some of the cargo was under water. Other cars were dry, held in place by their mounts, and showed little visible sign of damage.
“We just couldn’t take the risk of there being unforeseen issues down the road,” said Mazda spokesman Jeremy Barnes.
“There were two camps of potential buyers. One was, ‘Where can I get one cheap?’ The others were worried they might get one by accident and weren’t going to shop Mazda as a result.”
The tally of lost vehicles was 2,475 Mazda3 sedans, 329 Mazda3 five-doors, 56 Mazda5 minivans, 1,329 CX-7 crossovers, 214 RX-8 sports cars, 5 MazdaSpeed6 sedans and 295 MX-5 Miata convertibles.
Although maritime insurance is a relatively convoluted process, the main insurer of the cargo was industry conglomerate ACE Ltd., based in Hamilton, Bermuda.
We’ve reported on the CX-7 several times previously. In fact Mazda’s Jeremy Barnes was featured in a walkaround of the CX-7 in our second-ever video cast. Now AutoPacific has driven it in the rolling Virginia countryside outside Washington DC.
Mazda compares the CX-7 with the likes of the Honda CR-V and the Toyota RAV4. They also mention vehicles like the Nissan Murano. Certainly, CX-7 may have some similarities, but it is a very different type of vehicle.
On the plus side, CX-7 has very distinctive styling. Mazda describes it as a combination of sports car and SUV. They say it has the image and driving performance of a sports car – or maybe a sports coupe – and the utilty and capability of an SUV. CX-7 certainly looks different from SUVs and sedans. And it is a useful piece – functional.
Shinsuke Kawasaki, head of the Mazda product development team for CX-7 used the descriptive term “Metropolitan Hawk” to convey the sense of what he wanted to his colleagues. Yes, CX-7 is an SUV, but an SUV for the city. CX-7′s targets were to 1) have advanced emotional styling, 2) have exceptional driving performance, and 3) to suport a user’s urban lifestyle. It is an SUV for a person wanting individualistic transportation, not necessarily a joiner.
Its off-road pretentions are mild (using essentially the same AWD system as on the MazdaSpeed6) and Mazda did not provide any opportunity for off-roading. Darn.
CX-7 Powered by Turbo 4-cylinder
Mazda’s conclusion going into development of the CX-7 is that SUVs over-deliver on family and under-deliver on performance. Matching Mazda’s Zoom-Zoom image, Mazda set out to make the CX-7 a different type of performer. Surprisingly, it is powered by a turbocharged 2.3L 4-cylinder with 244-horsepower. Now, a turbo four is not what is expected in an SUV (except that Acura is launching the RDX SUV with a turbo 4 at about the same time), but this engine does pretty well. Little turbo lag, spritely performance, little torque steer. At high RPMs it gets a bit raucous – does not have the sophistication and finesse of a Volkswagen 2.0L Turbo 4-cylinder for instance. We would have opted for a V6, but Mazda’s 2007 CX-9 7-passenger SUV gets Ford’s 3.5L DOHC V6 with 265-horsepower. The CX-7′s turbo four is a clear differentiator. Not bad, but unexpected.
But there are negatives. These are not killing points, but if Mazda had really heeded the input from folks who want a more useful sporty car and might consider an SUV, they wouldn’t have missed on some important points.
Mazda’s Five-Passenger CX-7 Gets Seven-Passenger Sibling, CX-9
Mazda has floundered with its MPV never being quite right for a minivan and the Tribute a decent, but undermarketed, SUV offering. The brand may be in a better position for 2007MY, with two new crossover SUV products that seem to be just what customers want these days. The Tribute goes on a break, scheduled to return as a 2008 model year vehicle.
Mazda’s CX-7 spring 2006 launch provides a glimpse of what Mazda’s SUV lineup will look like over the next year, but the CX-7 isn’t the only new thing for 2007MY. Mazda is adding a second, larger SUV product for its 2007 model year lineup.
The CX-9 is being prepped quickly, with an introduction at the 2006 New York auto show in April and a sales launch in early 2007. VehicleVoice and AutoPacific correspondents were on hand for the introduction. Mazda is pitching its two new SUVs as offering an alternative for those looking for SUV attributes, like more space and all-weather capability, but also insistent on keeping a zoom-zoom sporting driver. As the launch release says, the CX-9 intends to “blend sporty driving spirit with seven-passenger SUV practicality.”
In discussions with Mazda North American Operations design management, the CX-9 is the attitudinal successor to the old Mazda 929 and Milenia four-door sedans. As those products withered away over the years, Mazda wondered what types of vehicles they really wanted to buy. Well, the CX-7 and CX-9 are the result of that navel gazing, and are much better choices today than me-too sedans.
According to Mazda, the CX-9 is on its own platform. It is its own product, and most certainly not a long version of the CX-7. And the CX-7 is certainly not a shorter version of the CX-9. In any case, the two do share styling cues, with the larger CX-9 taking on a more grown-up and sophisticated look, with its longer proportions and wider stance. Mazda is building both CX-7 and CX-9 in Japan and making a big deal about these vehicles being designed primarily for North America.