As more automakers rush to downsize their engines, Mazda just went the opposite direction. Instead of building a new small, turbocharged engine, their latest powertrain is a rather large inline-six. It's a bold move, but it's great to see straight-sixes staging a comeback.
But why is Mazda adding cylinders instead of removing time? It seems that it's all about moving upmarket. Yes, Mazda wants to go from mainstream to luxury, and there's a good reason for that, at least according to the Japanese automaker. They call it the Premium Strategy, and they believe the only way for them to stay independent is to go for luxury, and it's because there are higher profit margins up there. Just take a look at Daimler, BMW, Lexus, and Audi. They may not sell as much as mass-market brands, but they've been in the green for years.
A six-cylinder engine is something one would typically find in top-spec luxury vehicles. If Mazda wants to be taken seriously in that market, they need an impressive powertrain. The engine likely is more of a halo product to establish themselves, rather than sell cars with this engine in the millions. Various reports say the six-cylinder mill will see duty in the next-generation Mazda6.
That said, Mazda isn't banking everything on the new inline-six engine. They also introduced a new four-cylinder engine that is likely to feature next-generation SkyActiv-X technologies. They are rolling out more plug-in hybrid models along the line. A lot is riding on these new engines and technologies, as Mazda won't be launching all-new models until 2022.
This isn't Mazda's first dive into the luxury car market. In the late '80s, they were close to launching a separate luxury division just like what Toyota did with Lexus at that time. Dubbed Amati, it was an ambitious endeavor. Like Lexus, they wanted to take the fight straight to the Germans with a range of luxury sedans that can go up against the BMW 5 Series and Mercedes-Benz S-Class. Unfortunately, Mazda put the brakes on the project when the Japanese economic bubble burst, and subsequently canceled in 1992.
The new six-cylinder engine represents Mazda's second attempt in the luxury stakes. But the question now is this, can they pull it off? At the moment, it looks promising with the redesigned versions of the CX-5 and Mazda3 posting high sales figures abroad. Mazda says those two models represent their push upmarket, and if they keep that momentum, they might succeed with the Premium Strategy. Who knows, they might even fight Lexus, and the German establishment, in a few decades.