Rumors of Mazda’s shift to rear-wheel-drive platforms have been circulating for almost five years now. To many, Mazda is thoroughly a sporty driving enthusiast’s brand that’s held back by a lineup that was mostly front-wheel-drive, aside from the Miata. Now, those rumors have been confirmed by Mazda. It seems like the Japanese company is pulling out all the stops to march upward and fight luxury brands like Genesis, BMW, and Mercedes-Benz.

Welcome to Headlight. This is a new Car Bibles daily news feature that lights up one current event in the car world and breaks it down by three simple subheadings: What Happened, Why It Matters, and What To Look For Next. We’ll be refining this over the coming weeks, but look for it in the morning (Eastern time) every workday.

What Happened

Mazda announced that it is introducing a BMW-like rear-wheel-drive platform, and the new architecture will house several crossovers. The replacement for the CX-9 will be called the CX-90 and will use the new rear-wheel-drive, inline-six architecture. A two-row version called CX-70 will also accompany the CX-90. In foreign markets, slightly smaller and narrower variants of the CX-70 and CX-90 will be sold (marketed as the CX-60 and CX-80, respectively). Also, this new architecture will include support for plug-in hybrids.

Why It Matters

Mazda has been angling for a more upscale, luxury-fighting presence since the introduction of the latest Mazda 3. Drive wheels aren’t necessarily the end-all, be-all to establishing a luxury brand, but it could give Mazda some serious enthusiast cred. A rear-wheel-drive-based platform could be just the ticket to distance Mazda products away from the typical front-wheel-drive-based crossovers. Rear-wheel drive could transform Mazda products from very good to drive to absolutely spectacular.

Even without the drive wheels, Mazda promises more electrification and more power out of the CX-70 and CX-90. The CX-9’s current turbocharged 2.5-liter four-cylinder has been accused of being a bit underpowered for some consumers. The plug-in hybrids could make Mazda’s offerings more attractive to buyers in search of cleaner transportation. Currently, no Mazda marketed in the US (except the MX-30) offers any sort of electrification.

If Mazda’s push upward and shift to rear-wheel-drive is successful, maybe it could persuade other automakers to adopt a similar course, but don’t expect a bunch of others to follow suit.

What To Look For Next

No matter the drive wheels, look for a new set of crossovers coming soon. Mazda also said the CX-5 would be replaced with a front-wheel-drive-based crossover called the CX-50. The CX-70 and CX-90 will be two new entries in the mainstream or maybe near-lux categories to challenge the likes of the Chevy Blazer, Ford Explorer, or maybe even the Lexus RX350.

The Mazda 6 sedan is officially dead, but there’s now a real possibility that a rear-wheel-drive sedan could be in the cards. The platform exists, hopefully, Mazda throws us a bone.

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