First it was CX-9, then CX-5, now the updated Mazda6 reinforces Mazda’s drive to become a premium mainstream player.
Beauty is more than skin deep for the updated-for-2018 Mazda6 that made its debut in LA last week, as the external enhancements pale in comparison to what’s been changed in the cabin and under the body.
Not only is there a more luxurious all-new cabin, the chassis has been treated to stiffer sheet metal in the rear wheel wells, extra bracing, and thicker trailing link mounts for the rear suspension. The steering rack is also now rigidly mounted to the chassis to improve driver feel.
This builds on the changes applied to the GT and Atenza trim levels in September 2016 which brought extra sound insulation and the 'G-Vectoring Control' steering stabilisation system. These elements trickled down from the acclaimed second-generation CX-9, and subsequently appeared in the second-generation CX-5 when it arrived earlier this year.
All these upgrades are aimed at improving refinement, perceived quality and ride comfort, without sacrificing the dynamics at the core of Mazda’s ‘Zoom Zoom’ marketing message.
Refinement and comfort have been common criticisms of Mazda passenger models since the ‘Gram Strategy’ weight-saving focus was introduced with the first Mazda6 in 2002.
Speaking with CarsGuide at the LA show, Mazda US boss Masahiro Moro explained that establishing itself as a more premium brand is key to improving Mazda’s market penetration in North America, where it is still a relative minnow compared to the number two status enjoyed in Australia.
Moro-san clarified that Mazda isn’t taking aim at the established premium brands like Mercedes, BMW, Audi and Lexus, rather it is aiming to be seen as a cut above the likes of Honda and Toyota. This is also similar approach to Volkswagen’s current ‘premium for the people’ message.
Moro-san also explained that the brand most often cross-shopped with Mazda in the US is Honda, which built a strong reputation for being the premium mainstream brand during the ‘80s and ‘90s, before throttling back on investment during the GFC between 2008-12.
However, Honda still has the Civic, CR-V and Accord among the top 10 best-selling cars in the USA, while Toyota has the Camry, Corolla and RAV4 also sharing the top six positions beneath the evergreen sales-winning Ford F-Series, Chevrolet Silverado and RAM Trucks.
Mazda on the other has barely a two per cent market share in the US, compared to the healthy 10 per cent the brand enjoys in Australia, ranked number two overall behind Toyota. He described the brand’s Australian success, almost exclusively made up of private buyers as ”just phenomenal.”
Moro-san confirmed that his US team is paying close attention to Mazda Australia’s relative success, describing the local arm’s performance as an “absolutely tangible example and inspirational for us.”
He attributes this success to a long-held reputation for customer service and the strong relationships between the distributor and its dealer network.
Keep an eye on CarsGuide to see if the new 6 lives up to its promises, when we drive it at its Australian launch towards the second half of 2018.