At this point, Chevrolet’s departure from the sedan segment is well-documented. Following an industry-wide shift towards trucks and SUVs, Chevrolet has killed off the majority of its four-door, three-box offerings, including the Volt, the Cruze and the Impala. However, as Chevy exits the segment, other brands are moving in. Mazda is one of those brands, as it was recently revealed that the Japanese automaker is currently developing a new rear-wheel-drive platform and a new inline-six engine.
This latest development arrives courtesy of a recently published investor presentation. The latter indicates that Mazda is indeed planning a brand-new vehicle platform dubbed “Large Architecture,” which leads us to believe the new underpinnings will support vehicles in the D-segment and above. The future Mazda platform will most likely support rear-wheel drive, as evidenced by indications of a “longitudinal engine layout,” with all-wheel drive offered as an available option.
What’s more, the presentation reveals a new inline-six engine line, including a new diesel powerplant to boot. A 48-volt mild hybrid system and plug-in hybrid are mentioned, in addition to an EV powertrain. In fact, Mazda unveiled its first fully electric vehicle, the MX-30 crossover, at the Tokyo Auto Show last October.
The future Mazda platform and engine line will help move Mazda towards its stated goal of a more premium position in the market, and will come draped in a fresh evolution of the automaker’s Kodo design language. These next-gen models are expected to arrive between 2020 and 2025, most likely with the next-generation Mazda6 sedan leading the charge.
The timing of the future Mazda platform and engine line is critical. Mazda is not a huge company – in 2018, the automaker sold just 300,325 vehicles, which is peanuts compared to the 2,036,023 vehicles sold by Chevy. And yet, this relatively niche Japanese automaker is investing in a new rear-wheel drive platform and six-cylinder engine line, while Chevy offers no mainstream RWD platform and no mainstream six-cylinder engine is its remaining sedan lineup.
Mazda’s intended move towards the premium segment is also critical. While many outlets report that Mazda will evolve into a luxury brand capable of competing with the likes of Cadillac, Mercedes-Benz and BMW, we think Mazda will instead add premium features in a bid to up-charge its current vehicle line and outshine its current mainstream rivals, rather than step into a new segment altogether.
Indeed, Mazda almost needs a whole new sub-brand to compete with the likes of Cadillac, and we just don’t think that’s feasible for a company as small as Mazda, especially with Cadillac bolstering its luxury sedan lineup with new models like the CT4 and CT5.
And of course, anyone that sees the combination of rear-wheel drive and six-cylinder power is sure to think about performance. Mazda has built a reputation for instilling its lineup with crisp handling and solid driver engagement, but the only Mazda model currently offered with rear-wheel drive is the MX-5 Miata. As such, the future Mazda platform outlined in the presentation will likely cement Mazda’s brand perception as fun-to-drive and sporty, two characteristics sorely lacking from Chevy’s mainstream lineup.
Granted, the Camaro and Corvette are obviously high-performance leaders, but the rest of the Chevy lineup doesn’t soak up the sport associations quite like Mazda’s portfolio. Adding a Redline appearance package simply doesn’t do the job like performance-oriented chassis and suspension tuning.
At the end of the day, Chevrolet may find it hard to compete without a complete catalogue on offer, even with a general market shift away from the four-door sedan segment. And that’s where Mazda could very well shine with this new platform and engine.