For a long time, Mazda has been using BMW as a benchmark for its handling and driving engagement. And if you’ve driven the MX-5, you’d understand that. Of all the Japanese brands, Mazda produces, by far, the most engaging driving cars. And do have steering, handling and driving characteristics of older BMWs. Key word there is “older”. In fact, for its sedans at least, Mazda has decided to benchmark the new Toyota Camry.
While the new Camry is impressive, we’ll table that for a moment and get back to it in a bit. When we tested the Mazda MX-5 RF last summer, Mazda specifically told us that it was benchmarked off of the E36 BMW 3 Series (music to my ears). So Mazda never really benchmarked modern BMWs, as it’s not secret that the Bavarians have slowly been getting further away from what made them so great (even though we think they’re making a comeback).
If you’ve driven the new MX-5, you’d know that it does actually feel like an older Bimmer. Its steering has one setting and it’s the right setting. There are no configurable steering modes like in modern BMWs, all of which feel wrong, with no Goldilocks mode. Also, the MX-5’s steering is direct, weighted perfectly (if a bit lighter than the E36’s) and razor-sharp. It also has perfect suspension tuning, with just a bit of body roll to let you feel what the chassis is doing and the perfect amount of rear-end squirm out of corners. It feels fluid and organic, like a proper sports car.
Now, Mazda needs a car to benchmark for its upcoming Mazda6 sedan. Rather than benchmark an older BMW, though, Mazda is looking at the new Camry. Admittedly, the Camry is very impressive for what it is. It’s no E46 3 Series but it’s far better than any other Camry before it and, according to Mazda, good enough to benchmark.
“If the Camry sold so well before when it was so boring to drive, they now actually have a good handling car on their hands,” a Mazda engineer told AutoGuide. That might indicate two things: A) it might be that Mazda wants to become a bit more mainstream and make the Mazda6 more competitive with the Camry and Honda Accord, in terms of sales. B) It might be that Toyota has learned a thing or two from its joint venture with BMW. While the truth is more likely the former, it’s nice to think it’s the latter.
Either way, BMW isn’t looked at as the industry benchmark in terms of handling and dynamics, at least universally. And that’s unfortunate. We do think BMW is getting back to business, as the new X3 has the most enjoyable steering and handling feel of any modern BMW and feels like BMWs of old. But this is still a bit of a blow.