Friday, June 5, 2020

From Space-Efficient Coupes to Luxury SUVs: How Mazda Evolved the Family Car


The family car: while it has to be good at practical things like seating capacity and cargo space, style and performance too often end up taking a back seat. For Mazda, such compromises were never an option. From the beginning, Mazda has strived to set itself apart by building a tradition of family cars with unconventional designs and innovative engineering.

Today, that role goes to Mazda’s CX-family such as the CX-5, CX-8, and CX-9, With stunning exteriors, innovative cabins, and outstanding driving characteristics. Now trademarks of the brand, the company has actually been focusing on characteristics like these for as long as it has manufactured vehicles.


It all began with Mazda’s first mass-production passenger car. Launched in 1960, the cleverly designed 2.98-meter long Mazda R360 could seat four despite microcar dimensions. The two-door coupe gave the previously commercial vehicle only manufacturer a solid start in Japan’s burgeoning car market, dominating its segment in 1960. A long procession of appealing family friendly models would follow in the years and decades to come.


Arriving in 1963, the Mazda Familia’s name said it all. The Familia/800/1000 built on the success of the R360. The Familia fulfilled the demand for a blend of light van utility and passenger car comfort. And the carmaker supplemented this with sporty handling and distinctive styling by renowned Italian design house Bertone.

From 1977, the Familia would make its mark in the compact class through the remainder of the 20th century as the Mazda 323, and its progressive spirit lives on in the Mazda3, whose current fourth-generation model won 2020 World Car Design of the Year.


No history of family models from Mazda would be complete without mentioning MPVs or people carriers. Here as elsewhere, the company employed unique concepts to maximize space and comfort. Only 3.77-meter long but with seating for eight, the original Mazda Bongo’s low-floor design made it possible when the lightweight cab-over van was introduced in 1966.


Mazda launched its first true modern people carrier in 1988. The seven-seater Mazda MPV featured a four-wheel drive option and a fuel-efficient turbodiesel as well as a rear door on the driver’s side. Highlights of the 1999 second-generation included a front-wheel drive layout and a fresh exterior design with ‘Karakuri’ (a Japanese term describing clever, insightful mechanisms that are simple to operate) seating enabling flexible arrangement of the interior.


The smaller Mazda Premacy was practical in its own right, with a seven-seat option, folding and removable second and third rows, and convenient dual rear sliding doors. In 2005, the next generation – called the Mazda5 outside Japan, was equipped with an evolved Karakuri system allowing countless layout possibilities in the cabin with minimal effort. It and the final 2010 Mazda5 generation were arguably the sportiest compact MPVs on the market.


Today, the role of MPV at Mazda goes to the CX-8. Unlike other pickup-based passenger vehicles or PPVs, the CX-8 is designed with Japanese comfort and sensibilities in mind. It’s a proper three-row SUV, offering genuine seating for up to seven adults. Utilizing a theater-style seating arrangement, the driver maintains an ideal driving position while the third row can accommodate adults with a height of 170 centimeters with no difficulty. Moreover, the third row has 75 mm of space between the floor and the bottom of the second-row seat.

The rear doors open up to 80 degrees allowing easier ingress/egress to all rows or to allow the easy installation or removal of child seats. Other equipment includes triple-zone climate control with rear vents and power seats for the front occupants.

And as a family-oriented SUV, the CX-8 put emphasis on creating a refined, quiet cabin allowing a conversation to be made in all three rows. To suppress NVH, vibration damping materials in the rear fenders were used along with a reduction in the gap between the roof molding and roof spoiler as well as application of sound absorbing material at the base of the D-pillars.

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