Sports cars and reliability. At its most basic, they are a contradiction in terms. Sports cars are built while walking the tightrope of achieving light weight and ensuring durability.
When engineers think of the least possible weight for a car’s components, they make them thinner, smaller, or construct them using materials and methods that will not incur excessive costs. And yet, they must ensure that these components do not break down under reasonable use and must still perform at a very high standard.
So when Consumer Reports, an American nonprofit consumer organization that provides people with credible, and trustworthy information to make informed choices, last year declared that the Mazda MX-5 was the most reliable car in the United States for 2020, and that Mazda itself as the brand that makes the most reliable new cars, you can not help but be in awe as to how the small Japanese car company was able to bring together two opposing schools of thought.
And with the consumer organization’s announcement this February that Mazda is the Best Overall Car Brand in the US, rising three points higher than last year’s results, it is hard not to think that maybe Mazda is on to something here.
Now before you say Mazda’s PR prowess skewed the results in their favor, it is worth to note that Consumer Reports prides itself with its “unbiased product testing, investigative journalism, consumer-oriented research, public education and consumer advocacy.” It assesses cars using more than 50 rigorous on-road and on-track independent tests, scores predicted reliability based on 17 trouble areas, collates satisfaction survey results from actual vehicle owners, cross-references from the brand’s own vehicle lineup as well as similar vehicles in the market, and considers safety and green initiatives of the brand. In short, no reading of catalogue or brochure claims in the guise of a “review” here, just honest actual user feedback from the real world.
As a true-blooded sports car, the fourth generation Mazda MX-5 ND is an unlikely example of the lengths Mazda will go through to ensure long-term reliability and use. But behold, here it is. And for Consumer Reports to rank it as the most reliable car, besting 420,000 vehicles in its 2020 Annual Auto Survey, is a clear testament to the brand’s dedication to quality.
According to Nobuhiro Yamamoto, the Program Manager of the MX-5 ND when it was introduced in 2015, and now the MX-5 Global Ambassador, it is a great honor for the MX-5 and Mazda to receive such recognition. “Mazda cars are built to ensure durability and reliability in all areas so that customers can use their vehicles with peace of mind for a long time,” says Yamamoto-san.
Having led the team that designed and engineered the current MX-5, he claims that the overall performance and reliability of the car as a whole was their focus. “It is worth noting that the MX-5 is an open car, unlike other vehicles. Also, there are times when owners race the cars on the circuit. We paid particular attention to such points in order to ensure durability.”
Did we mention Yamamoto-san is a licensed race car driver himself? Seeing how other top-level executives of Mazda race MX-5s themselves on the track on weekends, it is clear that reliability is just as crucial to the management as performance, and even design.
“It is important not to create a complicated structure in order to continue riding the MX-5 for a long time,” explains Yamamoto-san. He adds, “I think that it is an important design point to have a naturally aspirated engine instead of a turbo engine and to put value on the driving feel of the car. In addition, a structure that can be easily customized is also important. For example, the ND inherited from the original Miata the suspension arm design that has an adjustable mechanism which can adjust the alignment.” And with this philosophy, it is hard to imagine why many current owners of the MX-5 would not want to own one again. A consideration that Consumer Reports factors in to determine which carmaker gets its best overall brand seal of approval.
The Consumer Reports’ brand report card is as extensive as they come. For Mazda to breakthrough and top the list over BMW, Subaru, Porsche, and Honda in the Top 5, and even Lexus, Toyota, Chrysler, Buick and Hyundai in the Top 10, speaks highly of the Hiroshima grit and determination that characterizes Mazda’s focus and resiliency. With seven out of seven Mazda models tested by Consumer Reports attaining the “recommended” status, it is obvious that build quality, reliability and appeal are now integral in the rest of the brand’s model lineup.
Not only has the Mazda MX-5 led the way in this report, but it has also served as an inspiration for Mazda on how to do things right. “The MX-5 is a car that has been loved by customers for a long time. I think the MX-5 is no longer just a Mazda car, but a car that belongs to all MX-5 owners.” adds Yamamoto-san.
Whether the rest of the models in the premium Japanese car brand’s lineup achieve this hallowed status, only time, and perhaps a few more years of topping brand rankings, will tell.
Motoring and motorsports are two of Mikko’s greatest passions. Combining more than twenty years of professional automotive photography and videography experience with years of touring car racing competition, and a deep understanding of the car industry, from both the manufacturers’ and consumers’ points of view, have given him a unique and insightful perspective in the motoring beat.