Red-hot Mazda is on fire
Mazda has come through its tribulations well and there is a new energy about the marque
If there was nothing else that we should be grateful to Mazda for, it is Soul Red Crystal, the metallic paint which the company has made its signature look.
It lifts my heart on a grey day when I see a car dressed in that colour and, if that vehicle is an MX-5 sports car, CX-5 SUV or 6 saloon, the stunning red shine and design combine to make one of the most attractive sights on the road.
This has come out of the Japanese company's devotion to the idea of Kodo, the soul of motion. Not surprisingly, perhaps, there is something rather cult-like about Mazda now in this country. It has become a niche player, while still having iconic cars like the best-selling two-seater MX-5, which for 30 years now has become one of the classics of the highway, and the Mazda 6, one of the best driving and looking saloons around.
Yet it is for its SUV/Crossovers like the CX-5 and CX-3 that the company is becoming better known and it is fighting hard to nudge into the bottom of the premium market, while not losing touch with a decent level of affordability. But, now with a market share here of less than 1.5pc, the brand is a long way from when cars like the Mazda 626 and 323 were two staples of our national car park in the 1980s and 1990s.
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After that, the brand in Ireland wasn't best served with quite a few changes in distributors, direction and commitment. However, I believe, it did leave Mazda's saloons with better driving dynamics which various models, including the 6, really capitalised on.
I have always had a soft spot for the marque. My great friend Jim Rowe was responsible for its PR at one time; the first car with which I could really impress my eventual son-in-law was the RX-7 sports car; and the brand's development of Felix Wankel's rotary engine was something for the mind to conjure with and put the little bit of engineering knowhow in my brain into a spin.
Yet Mazda has come through its tribulations well. There is a new energy about the marque. Last year it sold 286,000 units in Europe, up a very respectable 6pc in a very challenging market. The recently relaunched Mazda 3 range should help it to do even better.
So it was with a lot of interest I got up at 4.30am 10 days ago for an early morning flight to Frankfurt to spend 24 hours with two of the marque's latest developments: firstly the CX-30, a compact SUV sitting between the best-selling CX-5 and the CX-3, the latter however was hampered by lack of luggage space which would especially affect people with young families; and, secondly, the company's four-cylinder Skyactiv-X engine, which claims to be the world's first to combine the spark ignition of a petrol unit with the compression ignition of a diesel.
This aims for better consumption while still giving rapid, smooth acceleration.
Mazda, as it has repeatedly shown, tries to be innovative with its engines and is never scared of the challenge, but for the moment I am not convinced about the Skyactiv-X despite the hipster Mazda experts talking excitedly about it. I will come back to it at a later stage when I have tested it over here under normal conditions. It will be first offered in the Mazda 3 Sport hatch for €30,495.
However, I do understand the CX-30, it's the sort of car my partner desires. However its name is confusing. The CX-3 is a development of the Mazda 2, the CX-30 is a mix of the Mazda 3 and the CX-5, with much of the room of the latter squeezed on to the platform of the former.
That's no bad thing in either case, although it does look rather like a Mazda 3 given steroids and sometimes it was difficult to see the difference. However, both drive well, in fact the SUV had the preciseness of the hatchback.
Around the forests and hills surrounding Frankfurt the car behaved impeccably, however, I preferred the automatic while my younger colleagues liked the response from the manual box.
Last week at home, I was testing the new Mazda 3 GT Sport version, again very good driving. It looked like a lower, tighter version of the CX-30 which I had seen in Germany. It was €31,495 and incredibly well-equipped with safety equipment. The Mazda 3 has 36 variants on its price list, starting at €26,495 and going on to €36,495. Prices for the CX-30 will start at about €2,000 more when it begins to be seen in showrooms here around October.
It was hard not to be impressed by the good-looking car as it delivers really excellent space in a relatively compact size. The CX-30, like its big sister and assorted siblings, will be turning heads next year especially when dressed in that stunning Soul Red Crystal.