Back in June, we talked about five cars that could benefit from the Mazda-Toyota partnership, where we laid out what the new arrangement means for both parties, and how this could influence the brands in forthcoming years. While some may argue that Mazda has more to gain from this relationship than Toyota, surely there’s something in this for the bigger partner, or they’d never agree to a deal like this.
After spending several hours behind the wheel of the new Mazda-based Scion iA, it’s apparent that Toyota does indeed have a lot to gain from working with Mazda, both in the interior department, and in the clutch department, as a manual Mazda is great to drive, even when it’s an economy car. Mazda also trumps Toyota in the excitement department, with cars like the MX-5 Miata and Mazdaspeed3 besting anything the world’s largest automaker has to offer.
It may surprise you, but the Mazda6 took first place in Car and Driver’s review of the best mid-size sedans thanks to its optional manual gearbox, sportier appearance, and modest, sub-$25,000 base price. Toyota’s Camry remains America’s best selling sedan, but it ranked an unimpressive eighth in the comparison. The same can be said for the Corolla versus the Mazda3, which upon scrutinizing we claimed that “the Mazda makes the Corolla look like a penalty box.” Hopefully, Toyota can learn from its new partner, and add some excitement to its lineup, while keeping reliability and safety at the forefront. It will continue to outsell Mazda no matter how bland it may be, but there’s a lot to be learned from the smaller, sharper Japanese automaker, as not all of us want to own a car for more than just the daily commute.
Mazda has quite a bit to gain out of this as well, as it desperately needs to refresh some of its line-up, starting with the CX-9, which still relies on nine-year old Ford Edge engineering, and could use a splash of the Highlander’s modern hybrid powertrain. Most importantly, this partnership offers a level of stability to the smaller company as it continues to grow in size and popularity, and both automakers are sure to learn from one another, as they play off the other’s strengths.
But we seem to be forgetting someone. As Scion FR-S models continue to come up short in the sales department, and Toyota execs grumble over the inefficiency of the sports car’s flat-four engine, it becomes obvious that Subaru might soon be left out in the cold. As excited as people were over the “Toyobaru” partnership some years back, sales of their joint offering flatlined super quick, with critics and consumers alike bitching over how the FR-S/BRZ is criminally underpowered, even when its world-class handling is enough to make anyone smile.
So where does the Toyota/Mazda party leave Subaru? While there’s no immediate plan to pull the plug on their rear-wheel drive, six-speed sports car, there’s an underlying sense of insecurity surrounding the situation. Both parties talk about new projects independently of the another, so there probably isn’t a joint project in the works while they wait out the BRZ/FR-S sales drought.
Meanwhile, Subaru teased us with a full-blown STI BRZ back in April at the New York Auto Show, then sat on its haunches while we waited for any news, because we all know that a turbocharged WRX engine will fit perfectly under that hood and won’t cost the company that much more than the naturally aspirated model. But even if Subaru outfitted a BRZ with a WRX engine, or a 2.5-liter STI motor, there’s one big dilemma: what would Scion get? There’s no STI variant in the Scion line, and while the FR-S has its own TRD line, it doesn’t offer much more than an air induction system and a performance exhaust for power gains, which is to say, not much. Its flat-four responds really well to a supercharger, and while Toyota’s TRD branch does make belt-driven blowers, there doesn’t seem to be any interest in outfitting the car with one, as even the limited RS1 model didn’t come with it.
This all leaves us wondering what happens when it comes time for a FR-S/BRZ refresh. Will both companies start with a clean sheet of paper and go their separate ways? It certainly isn’t impossible, as a turbocharged Mazdaspeed engine would give a re-imagined FR-S the performance enthusiasts crave, while the MX-5’s gearbox and suspension would keep the righteous little roadster a true corner-carver. Sure, Scion would want to handle all things in the external styling department, but if they were able to keep the interior mainly Mazda we’d be thrilled beyond words.
To date, Subaru hasn’t taken offense to Toyota’s partnership with Mazda, nor should they, as the little iA has little weight on the joint venture they already have with the automotive monolith. While sales of their multi-faceted offspring may not be stellar, the FR-S/BRZ is by no means a flop, as it continues to harbor one of the best manual gearboxes for the money. But without another joint project on the radar, and Mazda in the mix to cover to all things motorsport, there’s little doubt that we’ll be seeing sporty “Maz-yota” cars on the market soon, while Subaru goes back to the drawing board with the BRZ.