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.