Speaking with CarAdvice in Hiroshima, Japan, Mazda Australia managing director Martin Benders said while the company takes a great deal of interest in finding the ideal set of suspension and steering parameters for its Australian-delivered products, it doesn’t need to go the same lengths as the likes of Hyundai and Kia, which have started a very specific localised tuning program for our market.
“They had a perceived problem that their cars didn’t ride and handle quite so well,” Benders told CarAdvice. "We don’t have that problem.”
“Whenever we get any criticism it’s on the margin of being [not] quite as sharp or tight as they like and really most criticisms we get, model over model, is not whether we handle better or worse than the competition.”
“It’s a bit like them bringing out longer warranties because of perceived quality problems. We prefer to deliver the right product and just concentrate on delivering the right product.”
Australia’s most popular car so far this year, the Mazda 3, has sold 18,465 units (January to May), compared with 12,449 for the Hyundai i30 (plus an additional 3448 sales for the sedan variant, the Hyundai Elantra).
Mazda’s popularity in Australia continues to soar as the brand brings another generation of class-leading products and creeps its market position to a more premium offering.
The Mazda CX-5 continues as the best-selling SUV in the country with 8795 sales so far this year, leading the Toyota RAV4 (7976) and Hyundai ix35 (7275).
The Japanese brand has sold 42,536 cars in Australia so far this year – only 1905 units behind second-placed Holden. Toyota remains dominant with 80,297.
Benders says that tuning for the sake of tuning is not what Mazda is all about in Australia.
“You can tune and tune and tune until only the one percentile can recognise the difference. I don’t know if we really need to get to that for our broad appeal models.”
Nonetheless, Mazda Australia does take all customer and media criticism on board, and with its importance growing in Japan has an ever bigger say in future model development.
“If we have a valid criticism, if it’s handling or NVH (noise, vibration and harshness), we will go back and slam as hard as the next guy, but its normally a marginal fix, a marginal requirement, it’s not a huge requirement.”
Benders said he doesn’t think Mazda runs the risk of eventually falling behind the Koreans in terms of ride and handling with no Australia-centric tuning.
“I have seen the perception graphs on the difference in tuning on Mazda 3 between USA, Europe and Australia. It’s so fine [that] you have to be a guy that’s really into it [to tell the difference]. The average customer will recognise that it feels ok and it feels good. We aim at that level.”
The Mazda 3 tune is a mixture of European and US requirements, with the North American tune given more preference thanks to the region's speed limit and road quality similarities.
“In Europe, it’s all gauged around the autobahn experience, because someone is going to drive 150-160km/h and you can tell the difference when it starts to get light at the front end and it’s not all that comfortable. In the US, it’s the Los Angeles freeways, so you tune the dampers and handling differently.”
“In the old days we use to say ‘give us the European tune’, but in fact the European tune is a bit too extreme for us, because who drives like that? The average punter doesn’t drive that fast in Australia. We have to be more tuned in to how sharp it feels in the range of speeds we are doing which is 60-120km/h”
As the fourth-largest market for Mazda, its engineers visit Australia regularly to get a better understanding of our roads and Australian-delivered Mazdas do actually carry a unique Australian tune, which is based on Mazda’s data of our road surfaces and driving habits, but the specific models themselves are not generally tuned on our roads.
The suspension and steering tune that makes it to cars delivered to Australia is set for local conditions based on a set of adjustable variables developed for the global market.
With the local manufacturing industry set to shut up shop in the coming years, the importance of local tuning is going to come into question as more importer-only manufacturers aim to appeal to the Australia-centric requirement.
Should more manufacturers perform localised tuning for our market?