WILL it or won’t it? Mazda has given yet another hint that a firebrand, Volkswagen Golf GTI-fighting MPS-badged passenger car is still on the company’s radar – it’s just a question of timing.
Mazda director and senior managing director Yuji Nakamine – in Australia to open the Japanese brand’s Australian headquarters in Melbourne this week – said he was asked “a lot” about whether passenger cars such as the MX-5 roadster, or even the mid-size Mazda CX-5 SUV, could one day wear a MPS badge, and pop and crackle with the exhaust note of a high-octane turbocharged powerplant.
“I know many people are excited about MPS,” Nakamine said. “But we offer SkyActiv [fuel-efficient, normally aspirated] engines and we’re trying to upgrade the SkyActiv technologies for the future products, and so we’re really focussing on that one.
“But I don’t reject the possibility of MPS in the future.”
The future of the MPS badge was cast into doubt in 2014, when Mazda said it would halt the development of performance models and instead concentrate on its core volume models – the ones that make the most money for the Japanese brand.
Nakamine’s refusal to write off the badge suggests the brand is rethinking its strategy in the wake of the launch of its latest halo model, the Wheels Car of the Year-winning MX-5 roadster that will soon expand to include a folding hard-topped version.
However, Nakamine said Mazda would need to be “careful” about how it would roll out its engineering resources, and think about its customers first, before considering a revival of the MPS badge.
“If there is an opportunity, or if we can make MPS into a kind of business that’s feasible in the future, then maybe we can study, and we should study,” he said.
Providing incentive for Mazda to roll out the MPS badge, he admits, is the potential for buyers to shift their new-car preferences towards more premium versions, as luxury car manufacturers move the price points for their entry-level models lower.
“I think that kind of strategy [using the MPS badge to shift Mazda into more premium territory] is a feasible one,” Nakamine said.
“I think that MPS may be something which may or might help us to improve the brand further.”
The turbocharged 2.5-litre unit that will power the upcoming Mazda CX-9 seven-seat SUV, due on sale in Australia in July, has always been considered the likely powerplant around which to build an MPS-badged model.
Mated to a six-speed automatic transmission, the only turbocharged SkyActiv engine in Mazda’s powertrain line-up produces 169kW and 420Nm.
That’s less power than the peaky 190kW turbo 2.3-litre Mazda 3 MPS that last sold here in 2013, but the CX-9’s engine produces significantly more torque than the 2.3’s 380Nm, and from much lower in the rev range.
“Maybe 2.5 litre [engine] plus turbo, I think that’s a really good part of our powertrain, in terms of the torque, power and fuel economy,” Nakamine said.
“We’re really excited about this engine, because this engine generates the performance, clearly.
“So I think, maybe, it would be fantastic to take advantage of this 2.5-litre turbo engine for the performance options for the future..
“But first we really want to see the reaction [to the 2.5-litre turbocharged engine in the CX-9] from the market about this powertrain,” he said.
Judging by those words, the revival of Mazda’s MPS badge could all down to us.