Mazda’s BMW

Mazda’s latest pitch for premium status.

New Mazda CX-60 (Source: Car Magazine)

Most long-established readers of this noble site will know that I am a bit of a Mazda fanboy. A few years ago, I wrote a series of long-term tests regarding my Mazda3 Fastback, and more recently I did a retrospective on the 1983 Mazda 626. I have admired the company’s innovation over the years, its independent spirit and, most recently, its ‘Kodo’ design language. Oh, and I still think that Soul Red Crystal is the still most beautiful paint colour on any mass-production car.

The current Mazda3 is somewhat divisive, mainly due to the arguably over-generously proportioned rear pillar on the 5-door hatch. However, the sophisticated surfacing, restrained detailing and beautifully assembled and finished interior really do rival or even exceed the design standards of premium marques such as BMW, Audi, Mercedes-Benz and Lexus. I don’t recall Mazda claiming full-blown ‘premium’ aspirations for the current 3, but much about the car is giving a vigorous nod in that direction.

Enter the CX-60, revealed on the 7th March. A number of this car’s facets shout its premium intent. It seems Mazda has given up politely knocking on the door to the sanctified inner-circle of premium-ness. Instead, this time it has brought one of those battering rams so beloved of police crime thrillers such as Line of Duty, The Killing, or The Bridge.

The CX-60 is the first European-market Mazda to be built on the marque’s new larger vehicle platform. The specifications are cause for salivation, albeit with a slightly old-school menu in mind. It is fundamentally an RWD platform, with 48V mild-hybrid, in-line, 6-cylinder SPCCI petrol and – shock / horror – diesel engines to follow. Initial deliveries will, however, be powered by a 2.5-litre four-pot PHEV which can produce a combined 323bhp and 369lb ft of torque, making this Mazda’s most powerful road car to date. Moreover, this is all Mazda’s own work, not just borrowed from its strategic partner, Toyota. It seems like a stubbornly expensive and independently minded approach.

Front elevation – lights are too small relative to the grille and fussy air-vents (Source: Car Magazine)

PHEVs seem very popular electrification solutions at present: people like the long range and easy of refuelling the ICE element, combined with the ability to glide silently and without exhaust emissions around urban areas. Personally, I find the concept a bit clumsy, compromised and likely to have a relatively short shelf-life in some markets, but I get the practicalities. The CX-60 has a claimed range of 39 miles on batteries alone, which is reported as being competitive with the likes of BMW’s equivalent X3 or Volvo’s XC60. However, there is no word of a full BEV version, or the ability of the new platform to accommodate one.

The suspension is similarly, suitably sophisticated. First, weight distribution is optimised. Second, the front features double wishbones, while the rear is a multi-link setup. Third, the whole is equipped with what Mazda calls a Kinematic Posture Control function. This is a software application taking information from existing sensors to apply gentle braking to appropriate wheels when cornering to stimulate a little stiffness from the suspension and so resist roll. Mazda first introduced it in 2022 versions of the MX-5 and it’s probably one of those things you never notice but still makes a subtle difference to the occupants’ comfort.

All very nice so far. Further good news comes from photos showing a very inviting interior (at least to these eyes). The basic layout is again a little conservative or even old-fashioned. Yes, there are screens for the main instruments and infotainment, but physical HVAC controls remain and there is a rotary controller to drive the menus on the central screen positioned on a grand looking centre console. Materials look lovely: I particularly like the use of cloth on the dashboard, trimmed by what’s said to be traditional-to-Japan style stitching. Mazda has been strong on interior ambience for a while now (I liked the use of cork in the MX-30) and this looks to be right up there with the best that Volvo has to offer.

A quality, if conservative/ old-fashioned looking interior- (Source: Car Magazine)

A little later on, there will be a larger version of the CX-60 called the CX-80, which will provide a seven-seat option for those who need to carry more passengers.

So, what’s not to like? Well, the exterior design is, frankly, a disappointment. Having been previously critical of the new Alfa Romeo Tonale, it’s only fair to state that Mazda has in my view scored a rare miss with its new and all-important, premium-sector busting SUV. I find it hard to describe, apart from saying that it looks like a Mazda badge-engineered BMW X3.

Anything can look better in Soul Red Crystal (Source: Car Magazine)

It carries too much visual weight. From the side, that lithe and flowing, yet taut and sheer panel surfacing that you get on the Mazda3 does not seem to come through. Most of the images I have seen show the car in a pearlescent white; it might work better in the makes-everything-seem-better Soul Red Crystal colour. Also, there’s not much evidence of ‘Kodo’ about the way the CX-60 looks.

The front elevation also looks heavy: it is cliff-like vertical, lacks relief and is unusually fussy in the detailing for a recent Mazda, all of which have been pleasingly reductive. The headlamps are too small relative to the enormous expanse of spangly grille.

Mazda goes all BMW with these elongated rear lamps (Source: Car Magazine)

At the rear, the lamps are overly elongated and quite un-Mazda-like in their form; change the badge to a blue and white propeller and 99% of people would believe it to be the X3. It also commits the faux-exhaust sin to which every Audi is currently committed and there’s one of those chromed wing-vent tropes aft of each front wheel-arch.

The good news for Mazda is that I am completely backward, curmudgeonly and ignorant in terms of appreciating what sells to actual buyers these days. The fact that it looks like an X3 could be a hallmark of commercial success: let’s face it, for better or worse, the X3 is a global sales phenomenon. Nevertheless, I hope this is merely a blip in Mazda’s design progression, a company  that has previously demonstrated an ability to bring a refinement and elegance to mainstream design which this SUV sorely lacks.

My hopes rest with a potential replacement for the Mazda6 saloon based on the same sophisticated large car platform as the CX-60, one that draws upon the startlingly beautiful design of the RX-Vision from 2017. Reporting on this putative model has died down over the last twelve to eighteen months. I fear that falling demand for the low-riding, three-box saloon format might have sounded the death-knell for this car. I hope I am wrong because I have been preparing to sell one of my less-vital internal organs to purchase one, if the promise of that concept were to be realised in production form.

Mazda RX-Vision Concept 2017 – hopefully the basis of the next Mazda6 built over the same platform as the CX-60 (Source: Forbes)

The final signal of premium intent from Mazda via the CX-60 is its pricing. The (very well equipped) entry-level Exclusive-Line PHEV starts at £43,950 in the UK, with the Homura and top-specification Takumi models starting at £46,700 and £48,050 respectively.  These are high prices for a Mazda, possibly the highest they have ever charged, even including the ill-fated Xedos models. Does the Mazda brand name and badge have enough kudos to make people look twice at its offerings at this rarified level? Prices are pitched slightly below the equivalent Germans and the likes of Lexus, but I do note that DS will try to charge you £55k for a less powerful, top of the range, DS7 E-Tense, which is just beyond surreal.

So, I wish Mazda success with its shift into the ‘premiuniverse’ via this expensively engineered, newly platformed, BMW clone of an SUV. However, I am wishing even harder that the CX-60/80 will bankroll the development of the RX-Vision concept into the next production Mazda6. That would be my kind of premium.

Author: S.V. Robinson

Life long interest in cars and the industry

39 thoughts on “Mazda’s BMW”

  1. Good morning, S.V. I am a bit of a Mazda fanboy too, which is curious as I don’t think I have ever driven or even sat in one. I love the current 3, especially the hatchback and in my humble opinion they have the nicest interiors too.

    Like you I am disappointed with the CX-60. I hope this is not the new design direction for Mazda. I am very interested in the new 6 saloon, but I wonder if we will ever get it. That car would definitely be on my short list. I’m off to dream about an RX7 FD successor now.

  2. A friend of mine had a Xedos 6 with the 2 litre V6 back in the 2000’s- I thought it a gorgeous car – small and elegant, great exterior styling. The curve over the instrument panel played on my emotions by evoking the Citroen GS of my early driving days. It signalled a confident way of being different.

    (That wasn’t the smallest-capacity Mazda V6, by the way – the MX3 has a 1.8 V6).

    1. I really liked both the Xedos 6 and the MX3. Wasn’t there a version of the 323 which also shared that 1.8l V.6?

    2. There was a 323(Lantis) model with a four-pot 1.8 litre, and the range-topper had the 2.0 V6

    3. I saw a Xedos 6 two weeks ago. It’s a safe bet to say I hadn’t seen one in a decade, before that, maybe longer. There used to be one in my area about 20 years ago. I really liked it back then. So much so that I called the importer to send me the introduction brochure, which he was more than willing to do. I still have that.

      I’m sad to report I don’t think it has aged well. It looked really dated to my eyes. I wonder what I will think of the current 3 in about 20 years. The 3 is one of the few cars in production that I like.

    4. I sold my Xedos three years ago,after a fifteen year love affair, to a family who already had one, plus a few contemporary 626s. I still think the Xedos is beautiful, and I still miss the ergonomics.

  3. Good morning S.V. and thanks for the report. I’m sure this is a finely engineered vehicle but, my goodness, it looks awful! It desperately needs some (vertical) curvature in the bodysides. Those tall, flat door skins give it a weird tall, long and narrow stance that is completely lacking in dynamism. What has happened to Mazda’s lovely body sculpting? It also has that ‘hunchback’ look that is common to many current large SUVs.

    (I thought it might be an April Fool’s joke, but unfortunately not. 😝)

  4. Kinematic Posture Control

    Sorry. Irresistable.

    The exterior looks horrid, frankly, as you say: an X3 clone, while the interior looks quite stunning. Mazda is headstrong and idiosyncratic, so I wouldn’t entirely count out a new 6, though all market forces seem to move against such a car. In general, I think the current market situation in Europe (EVs or bust, basically) make it difficult for smaller makers like Mazda and Suzuki.

  5. Very interesting review – thank you, S.V. I think the interior is really lovely and I’m becoming more attracted to the idea of hybrid cars which don’t rely completely on electricity. I think it may be unwise to put all one’s eggs in one basket as regards energy supply, these days.

    Two things, though; I’d have to see it in the metal, but the CX-60 looks a bit short / too tall from the pictures. Then there’s the price. Mind you, I recently tried to guess the price of Audi’s top-of-the-range EV model and discovered it is heading towards £100k. That actually made me gasp.

  6. How about this? I’ve put some curvature into the bodysides by redrawing the door shut-lines and blacked out the sills to reduce the visual height of the sides. Original first for comparison:

    1. Hi, I think it’s the bottom one that’s the original, no? It definitely works better and yet I am normally not a fan of blacked out anything. Nice work.

    2. No, I can see now on the actual web-page, it is the top one (it was reversed when I viewed the comment via my notifications on the App.

    3. Thanks, S.V. I think I might tweak the shut-line at the leading edge of the front door a little more. Both shut lines start and finish at their original points, but I think the front one needs to be pulled forward slightly at the bottom.

      An objection to my rework might be that it simply makes the CX-60 look more conventional, but conventions often evolve for the good reason that they simply work.

    4. Hello Daniel – yes, I think that’s definitely an improvement. The awkward styling is probably related to the more stringent side impact testing as introduced in the US. Mazda performed well in that, with their CX-5.

    5. Hi, the curvature to the door shutline really helps, I had not identified that the oddly flat looking job of the original was part of the problem.

    6. Yes, it is amazing what good shut line management can do. It’s still no looker, and never will be with a front like tha, but it looks more solid now.

    7. I’m sorry Daniel. This thing is butt awful ugly. Even your undisputedly most excellent talent is unable to repair it. What an awful looking thing it is and is doomed to remain.

      How could anyone buy such nonsense and allow themselves to be seen in it?

  7. Having spent some time inside a Mazda3 over Christmas, I feel compelled to state that I found it even more satisfactory than I’d anticipated. I always liked its shape, but it turned out to be not just more practical than expected, but felt like a true quality item; fit and finish, as well as the materials used were in an altogether different dimension compared to the flimsy hollowness of a Golf VIII cabin. The traditional controls also worked infinitely more smoothly, despite the car in question being fully specced.

  8. The introduction of new i6 petrol and diesel engines at this time when ICE seems on such borrowed time is really striking for me and could be really poor product planning leading to a big write off of R&D further down the line. It reminds me of Jaguar with its XE and XF mk2 being introduced just as saloon demand collapsed and so missing the SUV boom. I’m excited to see what the new 6s will be like, mind.

  9. Also enthusiastic about Mazda (MX5, RX8 & CX5 to my name), I can’t warm to this one: looks like a CX5 after too many pies. Can’t help but admire Mazda’s independence of thought over engines, whether fashionable or not.

    1. Respect for the Mazdas you have owned – always wanted a RX-8, never quite justified it to my better half and went for a Subaru Legacy 3.0R Spec-B instead, so it did not turn out too badly in the end.

  10. An entertaining read, thank you SVR. And a decent attempt by Daniel to sort out the BMW-ness about this new Mazda. However, stick a SMEG or Electrolux badge on the front and I still wouldn’t look twice at this thing which is a shame as Mazda contain that “outlier” feel that so few other manufacturers possess these days. I expect the -60 to be similar to the Volvo C40Recharge I sampled recently with that amount of shove. And of course, Soul Red, even at £900 extra, would work wonders for almost anything automotive. The other available colours sound nice, such as Rhodium White, Platinum Quartz or Deep Crystal Blue. Machine Grey, not so much.

    So, for a similar amount of folding as a top range CX-60, does this appeal as being available as of now ?

    Or a much cheaper, older saloon alternative, mentioned earlier above:

    1. Yes an “Outlier”*, we have the current 3 and it is a lovely, rational car, with a hewn from solid feel, good ride quality and a startling number of interior lights. Every time I’m in it I think that if some quiet perfectionist driver with nothing to prove had finally been obliged to sell their long-longterm SAAB 99 or Lancia Flavia they’d either choose a Mazda 3 or get a season ticket for the bus. I’m not aware of anything else that still feels like it’s built to a standard not a price. So this THING nearly had me in tears. It even has black and silver alloys, is nothing sacred? The vibe it gives off is a manufacturer chasing the Mercedes shilling, despite the fact that a typical Mazda driver would probably never consider a (Modern) MB or a BM and a “Premium German” driver vis versa.

      *I’d have also described it as an outlier in sales terms but on a recent motorway trip I was startled by how many Mazdas were zipping along and how few Hondas; I counted 2 new Hondas and three older Accord estates. That’s it, not even one of those glazed nose Civics that seemed to be everywhere a few years ago. Have Honda and Mazda swapped sales positions without the world noticing?

    2. Love the Xedos you found, not too keen on the Levante and, my sources tell me, they are lots of trouble. Speaking of which, has anyone formed firm views on the new Lotus Eletre yet?

  11. Why this car looks better than the BMW is clear to me. It doesn’t have that horrible c/rear pillar badge which BMW favours. I know lots of cars have had this in the past but for me it brings to mind a Anglia from the 60’s. Surely not what BMW was aiming for. Still at least they are consistent. Truly horrible looking cars nowadays. Buy British, if you can.

    1. Which British, if you don’t mind me asking? JLR (which is owned by Tata)?

  12. Mazda aren’t the only ones with a straight six to challenge the 2 litre-four-to-do-everything orthodoxy.

    Stellantis have just revealed the six cylinder version of the Hurricane (Global Medium Engine)

    The downside is that it’s likely to wipe their remaining iconic V8s off the map.

    We have to take their word that there’s a straight six under all that lot…

    1. I dunno Robertas. I canna see it. Canna see it at all!

      Bring back the Hemi. Better yet, keep the Hellcat engine. Better even than that, make the hellcat much bigger capacity by moving its cam higher up in the cylinder block (or like Ford’s G7A “Calliope” engine, put two cams in the block, one above the other). Yes indeed, that’s the ticket!

  13. ……or they could build a V-12 version of the Hurricane! Now THAT would be fun. I’d definitely buy one of those.

  14. Quoting SV Robinson, “… always wanted a RX-8, never quite justified it to my better half…”

    No, no, no! Never, ever, ever justify anything like this to anyone. If you want it, get it. If others are unhappy, well, tough. Life is too short to spend justifying one’s choices to other people. They need to get used to that….. or depart (remember, there are plenty of fish in the ocean).

    BTW the RX8 is a good car. I do prefer the batmobile RX7 though. Still do.

    1. All depends on the distribution of power in the relationship! Either way, one of the RX8’s strengths (i.e. justifications) is that it is a genuine 4-seater, as testified by our two 6-foot lads after a 250-mile non-stop journey.

      As SVR says, there’s nothing wrong (and much right) with the Subaru Spec B. I understand it even matches the RX8’s ability to consume petrol.

  15. Replying to S V Robinson: I would suggest British designed/ built firstly. MINI not BMW. JLR but favour the ones still built in UK. Not being xenophobic but given that most designs are within mil degrees of competency now why not give employment to UK constructors. Look at the German premium players. They don’t target our particular needs so much as those of the USA and China. Their prices spiral upwards just about permitting people to purchase their products using financial deals which may eventually come to haunt them. I too respect Mazda. Any company which can produce competitive, reliable models is to valued. Avoid the German premiums, which in my experience are not so reliable, often ugly and uncompetitive in ride/handling .

  16. Mazda are indeed idiosyncratic. The world gets CX-60 two row and CX-80 three row crossovers, eventually with the SPCCI and diesel sixes. North America (and maybe China?) gets the CX-70 and CX-90 equivalents eventually with a SkyActiv G turbo version of the six. All with hybrid assist and front axle power takeoff from the main rear drive. That means it’ll be like x-Drive BMW 3 series and up, rather than the transverse engine norm which has power takeoff to the rear wheels from the main front drive like the MINI and X1, X2 fake BMWs.

    Packaging differences apparently mean the CX-70 and 90, compared to the world CX-60 and 80, amount mostly to increased width for these North American versions. That’ll change the looks somewhat. Maybe they’ll just have bulgy flanks as the main difference!

    Presumably, so as to get some quick return from their new Alabama factory investment (a JV with Toyota making a raised Corolla), Mazda has introduced the CX-50 here. It’s a supersized CX-30 and a little larger than the CX-5, which having just been refreshed, remains on sale. A most odd strategy.

    The CX-50 is approximately 55 mm lower, yet has 22mm more ground clearance, 100 mm more wheelbase while being wider than the CX-5. Interior volume thus remains about the same, but differently arranged. Cunningly adapted to the latest industry fad of macho versions of bog standard crossovers which amount to styling jobs rather than real changes in actual ability to crawl up and down desert canyons as in adverts, the CX-50 comes standard in macho form. The reduced body height sill to roof gives gunslit windows, and makes the wheels look cartoonishly large in side views. Just the job for over the top marketing gush. No hybridization available, and oh yes, it costs a few grand more than the CX-5. I did find the CX-5 and Mazda3 narrow inside, which is why I picked the 2019 6 saloon myself. It’s been completely reliable while not inspiring love, merely recognition of its obvious competence and quality.

    The 6-cylinder 6 saloon is now officially dead before arrival, so bang goes my prospective pick for a new real car at a semi-decent price. It’s crossovers all the way for Mazda now, unless the MX-5 suits your style. Oh well.

    1. Hallo Bill, nice to have news from a Mazda owner and I would say enthusiast but your last sentence “It’s been completely reliable while not inspiring love” puzzled me a bit. The love inspiration refers to the driver, the passengers, or the spectators of the saloon?
      And where actually lays the lack of romance?
      I can also sense a reference to Subaru’s marketing campaign?
      As I understand, Mazda is attacking the market with the 6 cylinder SPCCI engines and really wants, or needs, to make a hit. So maybe a conservative design for their new CX-60/CX-80 SUVs is considered a safer bet .
      The CX-50 is a bit more macho, aims at a younger clientele and that is why the CX-5 is still being produced in parallel.
      I wish the CX-80 is a proper 7 seater, the CX-8’s back seats are for young children only and the CX-9 is only for the US.

    2. I’ll really have to congratulate everyone who bought one of the current 6’s! Could be of my go-to new cars too, if I had the means.

      I actually suspect that the reason for the CX-60’s disappointing slab-sidedness is so that the bigger variants will have some room to grow. Just like with some older Japanese cars, for example the 90’s Camry, which were narrower in their home market to comply with the regulations. Then the foreign editions received curvier sides and extended wheel arches.

    3. I’ve just been reading a review on TTAC about the CX-50. It’s a less-lux/ more butch car, inside and out, than the CX-60, and, actually, I prefer the exterior – at least it looks more planted and with a better stance. I suspect that the platform is less sophisticated, but it gets a great write up and looks really appealing (if you like that kind of thing).

  17. Mazda’s strategy seems hard to comprehend at the moment with different vehicles in different markets (as a small company, why would they go to the expense?), and a model numbering that doesn’t seem coherent – CX-30/60/etc seem to be pushing upmarket, but not the CX-50. Plus there is the MX-30 that nobody seems to like.

    As for the CX-60, perhaps it is a dimensionally-constrained version of the CX-70 hence being more square/blunt in styling. I’ve seen a figure of 1980kg which is disappointingly heavy, too.

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