Just as rear-wheel drive die-hard BMW prepares its first front-wheel drive models, Mazda could be plotting a return to the layout for future passenger vehicles.
Mazda has never let go of rear-wheel drive for its sporty MX-5 and its light commercial BT-50 range, and Edmunds reports that there is a push from within the Japanese brand to revert to rear-drive for more mainstream models as a means of differentiation.
Mazda, along with most other brands, abandoned rear-drive for its mainstream models in the early 1980s due to inherent cost, packaging, weight, and efficiency compromises. The last Mazda passenger car to send power to the rear wheels only was the top-line HE-generation 929 model, which bowed out in 1997.
Nowadays, the mainstream Mazda2, Mazda3, and Mazda6 models are all front-drive, with the CX-5 and CX-9 SUVs also using a front-biased transverse engine layout.
Rear-drive remains the accepted choice on a purely dynamic basis, with the likes of Porsche, Ferrari, and Lotus maintaining the layout as a design fundamental.
A Mazda rear-wheel drive shift could enhance the brand’s appeal to enthusiast drivers, but the inherent challenges would need to be overcome to maintain mainstream appeal.
Premium brands BMW and Mercedes-Benz have managed to remain successful with rear-drive mainstream models, and look to continue limiting front-drive options to the smaller, more cost-conscious ends of their respective ranges.
Significantly, BMW and Mercedes’ big-selling rear drivers sit well up the price scale from any Mazda offering – helping to justify their expensive development. The Mazda push is reportedly coming from within its engineering department, but top management is said to be cold on the idea due to the cost of rejigging platforms to suit.
Justification could come thanks to Alfa Romeo’s own desire for more rear-wheel drive models, considering the two brands’ existing relationship for the upcoming Alfa Spider/next MX-5 duo.
It’s a long shot at this stage, with no official confirmation of such a strategy, but the rumoured replacement for the defunct RX-7 and RX-8 sports coupes would be a logical first step.
This reporter is on Twitter: @Mal_Flynn