Mazda Engineers Push for a Return to Rear-Wheel Drive

  • 2009 Mazda RX-8 Picture

    2009 Mazda RX-8 Picture

    Some Mazda engineers are pushing for a return to rear-wheel-drive models, like the 2009 Mazda RX-8. | October 01, 2013

Just the Facts:
  • Mazda engineers are lobbying for revival of rear-wheel-drive models, saying that the strategy would help the Japanese automaker to better differentiate itself against its rivals, Edmunds has learned.
  • Top management is said to be resistant to the idea, citing the high cost of redesigning its mainstream models.
  • Mazda might find a partner in Alfa Romeo as it rethinks rear-wheel drive.

LONDON — Mazda engineers are lobbying for revival of rear-wheel-drive models, saying that the strategy would help the Japanese automaker to better differentiate itself against its rivals, Edmunds has learned.

The push is coming from many of Mazda's senior and middle-ranking engineers. Products like the rear-wheel-drive Mazda RX-8 have been discontinued as the automaker focuses on front-wheel drive models. Mainstream models such as the 2014 Mazda 6 are front-wheel-drive.

Insiders at the company believe that this rear-wheel-drive strategy would produce more distinctive cars that are more fun to drive and would align more closely with the visual and dynamic character of the company's successful MX-5 Miata and RX series.

However, Mazda's top management is said to be resistant to the idea because of the cost of designing fresh architectures for its mainstream models.

Mazda might also find a partner in Alfa Romeo as it mulls the benefits of rear-wheel drive. The two are already collaborating on sports cars, including a new Alfa Spider to be derived from the next-generation MX-5.

The Italian brand is also said to be investigating rear-wheel drive for some of its mainstream models. However, there's no evidence yet of a deepening collaboration, and given the success that Mazda is enjoying with its current, predominantly front-drive range, a major switch to rear-drive looks unlikely in the immediate future.

Edmunds says: Rear-wheel drive could give Mazda the distinctiveness it needs to be successful and profitable as a relatively small player.


  • lions208487 lions208487 Posts:

    In 2009 Mazda had an RX-8, combustion hydrogen vehicle that they were testing for possible production in 2015, then they killed the RX-8 all together. Hope they bring that back.

  • greenpony greenpony Posts:

    This strategy could work for a certain type of consumer, with a certain type of vehicle. But to migrate their entire range to RWD platforms is foolish without heavy consumer interest to back it up.

  • yellowbal yellowbal Posts:

    If they can get to market a RWD midsize sedan for under $30k, I'd buy it. I don't think they can.

  • For a relatively small company like Mazda, it might be easier and more practical to introduce all-wheel-drive with torque vectoring on front wheel drive platforms in order to compete with rear-wheel-drive models and appeal to discriminating driving enthusiasts who want more than front-wheel-drive. Honda/Acura did this with SH-AWD (Super-Handling All-Wheel-Drive).

  • pommah pommah Posts:

    We enthusiasts love RWD, but the rank and file don't care. The packaging and traction advantage of FWD is pretty hard to overcome. AWD is great but comes at a cost and mileage penalty. I never go over 90 for fear of losing my license and find that good FWD cars have more than adequate handling for me - and I suspect most enthusiasts are in the same boat. Just buy a new or used BMW or Mercedes if you gotta have RWD.

  • pommah - I am inclined to agree. I would be happy with front-wheel-drive with these provisions: 1) precise steering with good feel, 2) no torque steer, 3) genuine helical LSD to transfer torque and cancel understeer, and 4) sport-tuned suspension with compliant ride.

  • rael_r rael_r Posts:

    I have never felt the need to comment on here before until today...HELL YEAH PUSH FOR REAR WHEEL DRIVE!!! There is a reason the BMW 3 series has dominated for decades...and it isn't because they make the styling great. It is because they understand what makes a great driver's car regardless of the number of doors. Mazda already commits a bit more to making cars fun to drive than the other Japanese brands. Time to go all in! One of my favorite cars I have ever owned amongst Corvettes, Porsches, and Audi's was my old first generation Miata I had when I was a teenager...I have a family now, and would love to see them expand rear wheel drive into something I could use...not to say I won't jump on another Miata someday if the opportunity presents itself...anywho, my two cents...

  • stovt001_ stovt001_ Posts:

    I don't think they even need to change their mainstream models like the 2, 3, and 6 to RWD. They just need an RX replacement and a new Miata to keep the enthusiasts happy. I'm a RWD purist myself, but I have to credit Mazda for making even their FWD offerings significantly sportier than the competition. But I sure wouldn't say no to a small RWD sedan/hatch with the 2.5L Skyactiv. Once the wife and I decide to eventually have kid #2, the Miata will have to be replaced by something...

  • skw0123 skw0123 Posts:

    The obvious question is rear wheel drive for what model(s)? There is no obvious advantage to rwd for CX5/9 that I can think of, and they did a pretty bang-up job designing the 6 around a fwd platform...and that's brand new. Going rwd on the 3 would make it uncompetitive in terms of packaging and cost. And the MX5 is already rwd, so the question stands... Subaru is the most obvious example of a car make that sets itself aside with unique powertrain options. But compared to Mazda, they don't seem to enjoy much if any pricing advantage. They have a fanatically loyal (and growing) customer base, but a lot of that comes from a very long history doing what they do. As long as Mazda keeps making a rwd MX5 I think they're doing good in the world.

  • 7driver 7driver Posts:

    With the RX-8 gone, the MX-5 chassis currently stands alone and unshared. If the Alfa Romeo deal falls through, the engineers might have a hard time justifying such a low volume chassis and I suspect this push might be an effort to preserve the Miata.

  • metalmania metalmania Posts:

    If they want to make a total performance car with RWD as a "halo" vehicle then great, go for it. If they're thinking of making their whole line exclusively RWD I think that's a bad mistake. I like RWD a lot, my first two cars were RWD. But my '04 Mazda 6 with FWD handles better than either of them and I've never gotten stuck or spun out in the snow with it like I did in my RWD cars (yes, I had winter tires on them). I'm not saying I think FWD handles better than RWD as a rule - if you were asking me to go out and do laps on a track I'd take a performance tuned RWD car in a heartbeat over FWD. But for my everyday car that I have to drive year round in all kinds of weather, FWD has served me better. I like where Mazda is - making practical cars for the "mainstream enthusiast". I don't drive on racetracks or twisting canyon roads on my commute or taking the kids to practice, but my car has just enough "spirit" to make everyday drives enjoyable. I'm fine with FWD in the mainstream models, they already do a good job with the steering and handling - but wouldn't mind an AWD option. The Miata is a great little car, but I could see something a little more badass in the lineup where RWD would be perfect. Please though, forget the rotary engine. Who cares if it revs to 9,000 rpm when it makes no torque and gets worse fuel economy than a 6 liter V8? Turbo 4 or a high performance version of the upcoming diesel would be cool.

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