Last week I spent two days in Berlin with Mazda getting an intensely detailed low down on the mechanical building blocks that will underpin the vast majority of its future models. We even managed to spend two hours sampling Mazda’s new engines and transmissions on the German roads, which were bolted into an early version of Mazda’s clever new platform.
And yesterday I returned from an intense briefing on Mazda’s new design philosophy and the unveiling of the stunning Shinari concept car - which is a clear hint at the shape of the all-new, 2012, Mazda 6.
Mazda’s long relationship with Ford is being slowly unwound and the car maker’s finest minds have sat down and thought very long and very hard about how a comparatively small independent company (which makes a varied 1.2 million vehicles per year) can survive in the global market.
I’m convinced that Mazda’s design and engineering teams have cooked up a solution that’s so clever and so brilliantly engineered that the rest of the car industry will look on in admiration.
Mazda’s future is based around just a single scalable steel spaceframe platform, two basic (but completely re-thought) petrol and diesel engine designs, and manual and auto transmissions.
The programme kicks off with a 2.2-litre diesel engine that not only has an low 14:1 compression ratio, but can also meet super-strict Euro 6 pollution regulations without a NOx trap and is even cheaper to build than today’s Euro 5 diesel engines. Hooked up to a six-speed manual ‘box, this engine - when fitted in the next-gen Mazda 6 - promises a CO2 output of just 105g/km. And that’s without any of the clever fuel saving devices fitted to, say, an Efficient Dynamics BMW 3-series.
The new 2.0-litre petrol engine is (unusually in these days of forced induction) normally aspirated and runs an unusually high 14:1 compression ratio. Mazda has been aiming for a beefy torque curve, smooth manners and impressively low consumption.
It has also thought outside the box with the new platform, which makes use of simple box-section pressings under the floor and super-strong ‘ring’ structures for the upper part of the platform. This relatively simple construction will be able to be scaled down to the Mazda 3 and up to the US-market CX-9.
Mazda engineers are also working hard to make the chassis much more in tune with European tastes, tuning out the high-pitch road noise and resonance that the Japanese ear doesn’t find a problem with, and giving the chassis a much firmer and more stable feel at motorway speeds.
Having sampled both engines and both transmissions in the new platform I’d say - even 20 months out from production - that Mazda is a long way towards achieving its goal.
Of course, all this superb effort needs to be clad in an eye-catching skin. Typical contemporary Japanese styling won’t do.
Which is why Mazda showed us the Shinari concept, a very strong hint towards the form of the new Mazda 6. In the late summer light of Milan, this car was a genuine stunner. The interior (led by an ex-Audi designer) is exceptional, especially the cockpit and switchgear design.
Of course, a production version of this car would have to have at least a taller glass house and real bumpers. But if Mazda can get near turning this 6 mule into something approaching the Shinari, it will have pulled off an engineering and visual coup.