Does Mazda Have A Luxury Brand?

Mazda has been on a tear in recent years, building a range of stylish, comfortable, practical and well-performing vehicles in key segments like the SUV space (with such popular cars as the CX-5 and CX-9).

It is good to see Mazda having this brand revival, after sitting somewhat in the doldrums in the mid to late 2000s – the glory days of the 1990s behind them, with the obvious exception of the MX-5/Miata which is still the world’s best-selling sports car. 

The decline of Mazda can be attributed in part to the increasing influence and control of Ford in the late 1990s, which led to many Mazda cars basically being rebadged/tweaked Fords (not to say that Ford hasn’t made some superb cars over the years, and is clearly a successful company – but oftentimes these kind of arrangements are done for bean-counting reasons and not with a passion or dedication to automotive excellence) 

Mazda has never been the biggest Japanese car manufacturer – falling to a less than 2% market share in the United States in 2016 – but they have always strived to build interesting, quality vehicles. 

In recent years, Mazda has also worked hard to establish its perception as being a more luxurious brand.

Here in New Zealand, for example, Mazda dealerships are typically some of the nicest and most well-appointed that you’ll walk into, and the cars themselves are generally a bit more expensive “pound for pound” than the competition but also better in terms of fit and finish and luxury touches.

But does Mazda have a luxury brand in the way that Toyota has Lexus, Nissan has Infiniti and Honda has Acura?

In this article, we will answer the question of whether or not Mazda has a luxury brand.

Mazda Failed Miserably At Launching A Luxury Brand

Here’s a fun fact you might not be aware of – Mazda actually tried (and failed at vast expense) to launch a proper luxury brand in the 1990s.

The brand was ‘Amati’, and there’s a reason you might not have heard of it – because it never really got off the ground.

The idea was to try and replicate what Toyota had done with Lexus and improve existing vehicles with more luxury and upmarket features, and then export them to markets such as the United States under the Amati brand. Amati was also going to have its own unique models and lineup to boot. 

The problem is that Mazda came to the party late, and then left early.

Amati was announced to the public in late 1991 (by which time Lexus was already selling up a storm with the LS400, and both Acura and Infiniti had established presence as well).

In early 1992, the Japanese economy fell out of bed owing to the popping of the Japanese asset bubble  – and never really recovered.

Mazda was caught “overextended” owing to the development of the Amati brand, and also a whole host of other sub-brands they had developed in the previous years e.g. Eunos, Autozam and Efini. 

We are working on a more detailed piece on the origins and failure of the Amati brand, but for now suffice it to say that Mazda soon realised they didn’t have the money to continue the project, and that owing to weakness in the US economy at the time, sales would not be strong enough to warrant continuing.

Amati was canned by late 1992, and the cars that had been planned were then sold into export markets under different names.

For example, the Mazda Millenia of the 1990s was meant to be the Amati 500. Instead, with the Amati brand folding, the car was re-badged as the Mazda Millenia for the United States, the Xedos 9 for Europe, and the Eunos 800 for Australia.

Following the failure of Amati – and subsequent financial challenges at Mazda that resulted in Ford taking an increasing stake in the company – Mazda never tried again to launch a dedicated luxury brand.

Mazda Is Trying To Become A Luxury/Premium Brand

To answer the question posed by this article (does Mazda have a luxury brand?) the simple answer is a resounding no.

But the real truth is that Mazda is trying to position itself these days as a luxury brand in its entirety, rather than going down the Toyota/Lexus or Nissan/Infiniti path.

In this way, Mazda is trying to become more akin to luxury European brands like BMW or Mercedes-Benz – where every model is perceived to be more upmarket (just some are more upmarket than others).

The approach seems to be working.

Mazda has done a good job of making its cars more premium in fit, finish and feel than the Japanese competition (and in some cases Mazdas match – if not beat – European equivalents).

Step inside a Mazda CX-5 – particularly a higher spec one – and compare it to a Toyota RAV4; the Mazda is the nicer place to spend time, and has the more premium appearance and feel.

The same applies to other vehicles across the range, for example the current generation Miata feeling far more premium than its price tag (read our Mazda Miata/MX-5 buyer’s guide and model history here for more information)

Even the paint finishes on Mazda cars look more “boujee” (to use that zoomer phrase) – particularly their signature finishes such as Soul Red.

This effort has not gone unnoticed.

If you read/watch reviews of modern Mazda cars – whether from professional motoring journalists or enthusiast bloggers/vloggers – a common theme that shines through many review is that for any given vehicle, Mazda’ option is typically more luxurious and well-appointed than the competition. 

It’s not a scientific measure by any means, but this response to a question on Reddit about whether or not Mazda could benefit from launching a luxury brand acts as a good barometer for the brand’s perception:

Does Mazda Have A Luxury Line?

In some markets – such as New Zealand – Mazda does have specific luxury line within the range of existing vehicles.

The “Takami” badge denotes the highest level of any given Mazda model, and Takami-badged Mazdas are typically equipped with nicer interior finishes, unique paint jobs, and superior engine choices.

This badging is not universal, however. For example, the Takami badge is not used in the American market. 

Conclusion – Does Mazda Have A Luxury Brand?

No, Mazda does not have a specific luxury brand.

Mazda tried – and failed – in the 1990s to launch a dedicated luxury brand with the abandoned Amati line (along with some of their other “interesting” brand approaches such as Eunos, Efini and Autozam). As mentioned earlier, the history and eventual failure of Amati is something we are working on creating a more detailed article about.

What Mazda seems to be trying to do – with a definite degree of success – is producing cars under its mainstream brand that are more luxurious than the competition, and then positioning itself as a premium brand in its own right.

Japanese car brands – with the exception of the “luxury export” ones like Lexus and Infiniti – have tended to struggle with brand perception for anything other than economy and reliability (maybe Subaru with its reputation for off-road prowess thanks to ubiquitous AWD tech is the only real exception).

Rather than going down the tried and tested path that Toyota, Honda and Nissan have taken in the past of packaging existing Mazda cars – adding a few more bells and whistles – and then slapping on a different logo and selling via a premium channel, Mazda is trying to position itself as a whole as a luxury brand – or at least an upmarket and more premium one.

It’s still relatively early days, but so far Mazda does seem to be doing a solid job of positioning itself as a genuine player in the “affordable luxury” market.


  • Ben

    From his early days playing the original Gran Turismo and with his Hot Wheels car set, Ben has had a long interest in all things automotive. His first foray into the world of automotive journalism was way back in 2009 and since then he has only grown more interested in the industry. Ben also runs and heads up the video production side of Garage Dreams, focusing on small informative documentaries about some of the world's most legendary cars.

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