Mazda CX-7 First of a Family
Mazda has unveiled its first entry into the fast-expanding crossover segment, one that will share its roots with the new Ford Edge and Lincoln MKX. Like many crossover vehicles, the CX-7 falls into a hard-to-define niche that’s part sport-ute, part wagon, and part sports sedan. The styling is intentionally aggressive, according to Mazda’s chief of design, Moray Callum, with a windshield as steeply raked as the RX-8 sports car. “This is, to us,” he says, “the four-wheel-drive vehicle Mazda should have already had.” The CX-7 borrows elements of the sporty MazdaSpeed6 and the functional Mazda3. Its turbocharged and intercooled 2.3-liter four-cylinder direct-injection gasoline engine produces 244 horsepower, while delivering 23 mpg in combined city and highway driving. It also features sport seats and a high-mount shifter, emphasizing its performance heritage. The CX-7 was designed specifically for the U.S.
market, according to Callum, who adds that it is one of four new products Mazda will launch in 2006.
Toyota Expanding Yaris Lineup
Toyota ’s edgy Scion models have more than met company expectations when it comes to attracting influential, young buyers. With the Yaris, the Asian automaker is going after those who put a premium on price. The pint-sized Yaris Liftgate will come in at $10,950, Toyota General Manager Jim Lentz announced in Los Angeles on Wednesday. A performance edition, featuring such things as a tuned exhaust and sporty seats, will raise the base to $13,325. Meanwhile, the automaker also unveiled a four-door version of the B-segment Yaris. Expected to be the big seller in the lineup, the sedan will start at $11,825. All these prices include standard air conditioning, though other niceties, like power windows and mirrors as well as side airbags, are options. Toyota expects to see Yaris volumes reach about 50,000 this year, and 70,000 in 2007. The figures might even go higher, according to Lentz, if Toyota can come up with more production capacity. In Europe , the Yaris is now the automaker’s top-selling model. That’s easy to understand in a market where fuel runs up to $6 a gallon, but Toyota is betting that rising prices in the U.S. will increase the appeal of the Yaris, which gets an EPA-estimated 34 mpg city, 40 mpg highway.
To “B” or Not to “B”
The Yaris is just one of many new compact B-segment vehicles, in industry parlance, to hit U.S.
highways. High mileage is part of the appeal, according to Toyota Division General Manager Jim Lentz, with an affordable price tag another compelling factor. Nissan will shortly enter the market, and a number of other manufacturers are weighing their options. “That segment is going to be very important here in the American marketplace,” contends Mark Fields, head of Ford Motor Co.’s “ Americas
” unit. A U.S.
version could show up within the next three years, he hinted. Less sure is Volkswagen brand boss Wolfgang Bernhard, who believes that U.S.
motorists would still prefer to get larger cars, if possible. Mazda’s Jim O’Sullivan said the big challenge for companies like his is to come up with a design that not only appeals to potential buyers, but which can translate for Mazda into a profitable business case. Those who believe the B-segment will grow from today’s levels, about 300,000 annually, see big changes in the works. Like other mainstream segments, Toyota
’s Lentz expects to see these small vehicles “morph” into a variety of styles and shapes. Price might be a compelling factor, but younger buyers, he argued, “want to be in a car they don’t have to apologize for. Design, for them, is especially important.”