Mazda’s upmarket move will spawn straight-six RWD chassis, provide a beacon of hope to future enthusiasts

It’s next to impossible to get genuinely excited about a new car these days, but if there’s one that gets our loins burning, it is the next Mazda 6. That’s because it will ride on an all-new FR platform and have a straight-six powering the rear wheels. That’s right, everyone’s favorite underdog company from Hiroshima is going to do what much larger automotive giants are unable — or unwilling — to.

We’ve known about what we at JNC have been internally calling the FR6 since May 2017, and have been dropping hints here and there since then. It’s why instead of choosing the 90s FF coupe to headline news about the MX-6, we chose a RWD race car. We didn’t do more than that for fear of leaking Mazda’s plans or getting our source fired until the existence of the FR6 was basically confirmed via an investor presentation in May 2019. But since Car and Driver published another story about it yesterday with some new details such as the on-sale date and hybrid option with up to 350 horsepower, we figured it was time to connect the dots.

For years, Mazda has been talking about moving upscale. We’re not talking about the stillborn Amati experiment or any number of Japanese dealer networks. The more recent, post-Ford push resulted in stellar interiors, world-class design, and cutting-edge technology has put Mazda on par with the likes of Audi — and in many areas surpassing them — but for the badge on the hood.

Many have looked at Mazda’s ambitions to go premium with derision. We could see that argument if Mazda were to continue peddling front-drive compacts and crossovers with an occasional outlier like the MX-5 in the portfolio. However, the FR6 is part of a decades-long plan to transform the meaning of the Mazda name.

So far we consumers have only seen the initial stages of the plan, which began with first Kodo designs. It’s understandable if the upmarket shift seemed unrealistic in that context. Car and Driver states that the FR6 will be out in 2022, putting it 12 years since the first Kodo CX-5. Looking at the larger timeline, the premium move makes a lot more sense.

By then, the 2 (at least in the US where hatchbacks are synonymous with cheap) and 5 will be distant memories, and the only Mazdas will be powerful and large FR options and small but stylish FF offerings. It would probably be too early to call the 2022 FR6 the culmination of the climb upscale, but it’s the biggest indisputable leap there.

Of course, Mazda isn’t going to develop an all-new FR chassis and inline-six just for a single car. Think about the other models that could result — perhaps a large crossover like the Infiniti FX to replace the CX-5 (the last two generations have been 6-based), unless they change the name to CX-50 or something, or maybe a coupe, hence the resurrection of the MX-6 trademark. In short, the FR6 will create waves of product that will obviate any need for those who love driving to ever consider Nissan again.

Any talk of an I6, FR car should be sweet, sweet music to car enthusiasts’ ears. Not only is it the preferred layout for a proper driver’s car, many would say it is the ideal configuration. There are many performance advantages to RWD, but the gist is that it allows the driven wheels to do the work of powering the car while the front tires reserve their grip for steering. RWD cars are more balanced, handle shifts in weight better, and are more controllable at the limits. There’s a reason why all drift cars are RWD.

As for the straight-six, it has been called the optimal engine because it is inherently balanced. The firing of corresponding cylinders on opposite ends of the engine cancel each other out, making it far less prone to vibrations than engines of other sorts. While they used to be common, companies have shied away from them in recent decades. V6es are preferred nowadays for their compact packaging, but there’s a reason why Toyota swore by the I6 for the new Supra even at the expense of its Toyota-ness.

Speaking of which, how insane is it that Toyota, whose annual US Corolla sales outnumber that of all Mazda models combined, could not make their own inline-six? And yet perpetually struggling Mazda, whose global sales are less than a tenth of Toyota’s (the Aichi company is also sitting on one of the world’s largest corporate nest eggs) is building one. With Toyota and Mazda growing ever closer, it might not be too big of a stretch to see this motor in the A100 Supra if the current one’s poor sales don’t tank the possibility of a sixth gen.

Granted, Mazda’s straight-six is almost certainly two cylinders added onto their SkyActiv inline-four. Any number of SkyActiv technologies, whether it’s the 14:1 compression direct-injection, variable-pulse turbocharging, or sparkless ignition, could be extended by two pistons without much additional work.

Currently, Mazda is in a bad situation with plummeting sales (almost a 50 percent drop) due to the coronavirus. They must also focus on bringing an electric car to market to satisfy global fleet emissions laws. Meanwhile, the specter of cars no longer driven by humans looms large. Hopefully, Mazda can hang on long enough and put the FR6 into production.

It’s a line in the sand, saying that Mazda won’t give up on building cars for the enthusiast long into the future, regardless of fuel type. We might be in the waning days of the automobile, but there’s at leas one carmaker willing to pursue a layout long abandoned by its peers and go for broke.

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15 Responses to Mazda’s upmarket move will spawn straight-six RWD chassis, provide a beacon of hope to future enthusiasts

  1. MikeRL411 says:

    A truly beautiful car ! And with the ideal straight six engine.

  2. legacy-san says:

    To the Mazda Senior Leadership, please do not name this new car the Luce, 929, Capella, Atenza or Amati.

    All new platform…all new beginnings.

  3. I sincerely hope that Mazda makes it to the other end of the current turmoil, strong enough to actually build this.

    Ever since BMW turned their vehicles from the ultimate drivers cars into bling machines for lovers of hollow brands, I was waiting for somebody to fill the gap. Having driven 15k km in the 2.0 MX5 RF last summer and almost as many in the new 6 during the winter, I can honestly recommend Mazda as the go-to manufacturer for drivers who actually care about driving cars with properly tuned suspensions and naturally aspirated engines. Straight six and RWD is going to be a long lost dream come true. Count me in.

    Best regards from Germany

  4. Ant says:

    With Toyota the use of a BMW I6 rather than developing its own was motivated I think by speed far more than anything else. It strikes me that Toyota wanted to get the Supra to market as quickly as possible once the project had been greenlit – not least because relatively traditional performance cars like the Supra may not be long for this world.

    I do have another theory though. Sports cars are a very, very small part of a manufacturer’s overall business and obviously developing one from scratch is very expensive – hence the collaborations with both Subaru and BMW for their front-engined rear-drive cars.

    But Toyota has done one “sports car recently” entirely from scratch: the GR Yaris. It’s a proper homologation special, only ever likely to sell in relatively small volumes.

    My suspicion is that to make its three-pillar sports car strategy work (we’re assuming the GR Yaris is the third pillar, right?) it had to economise slightly on the Supra project in order to do the GR Yaris “properly”.

    And given the GR Yaris is the car with the greatest marketing potential (there’s a WRC effort behind it), it makes sense for that to be the money-no-object project. Given it’s going to be priced fairly competitively too I imagine the profit margins aren’t huge on that one – so the Supra needed to be more cost-effective.

    Like I said, all just educated guessing, but along with expediency it would explain to me why the Supra had to be a joint project.

    • Ant says:

      (Obviously the entirety of “sports car recently” didn’t need to be in quotation marks, just “sports car” – I need to self-edit before hitting publish…)

  5. Lee L says:

    Ok, Nissan…your turn. RWD I-6 Z Car….go!

    I won’t hold my breath

  6. Steve says:

    If this or the Toyota variant comes to pass, with a three-pedal six-speed (pleeeeeeeeease?? I’ll even take a five speed), then my Lexus LS will have to wait…

  7. Negishi no Keibajo says:

    Why is it that Mazda is the only marque that I really get excited about? They don’t assemble cars. They are a coachmaker for the common man. Simply gorgeous designs.

  8. Brian Underwood says:

    The proposed Mazda6 for 2022 looks awesome but with this new shape and new engine,would the price be too high for faithful Mazda owners like myself (I have bought the brand for over 30 years and I’m a Kizuna member) to contemplate and should a different shape make all the difference to the finished product

  9. Jake S says:

    “On par with Audi”, (VW) the lowliest German automaker? What a disappointment to see this delusion of German car superiority, which was already becoming invalid 30 years ago, alive in this community. We get enough of this from the general public and average journalists. Also, when talking about an inline-6, RWD sports sedan, there is only one legitimate comparison here. They have been building excellent examples continuously throughout their history.. B M W.

  10. Christian R says:

    The article in Car & Driver does not suggest any of Mazda’s engines will be used in a Toyota/Lexus.

    Quoted from the article:
    “There’s even a chance that Mazda will mimic Lexus and put the inline-six into both four- and two-door bodies.”

  11. potato says:

    either get in line or get outrunned by the europeans, and maybe chinese.

    front wheel drive brought new life to japanese auto industry by providing cheaper manufacturing but nothing lasts forever.

    • Brian Underwood says:

      As I mentioned previously, I am a Kizuma member and currently drive a 2017 Mazda6. This car has given me great pleasure and I have had no issues with the vehicle. I believe I paid in the region of 50K drive away for the Atenza model. the proposed 6 however, looks in the $80K region,which would put it well beyond my price range and I would think other customers too. Please Mazda, price this car in the same range as the current Mazda6!

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