Waxing nostalgic about Mazda’s premium car history at America’s raddest car show.

– Anaheim, California

During a recent visit to the Motor1 Detroit office, I spent some time behind the wheel of a 2017 Mazda CX-5 Grand Touring. It’s the one Jake Holmes wrote about in a recent comparison test, where he said many of the interior bits “would not be out of place in something with a German luxury badge.” It’s true, Mazda makes a very nice car these days.

But really, you shouldn’t be surprised. Mazda may enjoy space on the sportier side of mainstream here in the U.S., but the company’s foray into luxury isn’t anything new. In fact, in the early 1990s, Mazda intended to launch a dedicated premium brand, called Amati, squarely aimed at then-emerging luxury marques like Acura, Infiniti, and Lexus. What we know as the Mazda 929 was supposed to be the Amati 1000. Its successor, the Mazda Millennia, should’ve been sold alongside the 1000 as the Amati 500. Mazda even began development on a premium Amati coupe, based on the Eunos Cosmo sold in Japan.

Radwood With Mazda
Radwood With Mazda
Radwood With Mazda
Radwood With Mazda

In the early 1990s, Mazda intended to launch a dedicated premium brand, called Amati, squarely aimed at then-emerging luxury marques like Acura, Infiniti, and Lexus.

Twenty-five years after the aborted luxury launch, I find myself holding the keys to the very Eunos Cosmo that Mazda USA imported from Japan in order to develop the Amati coupe. It’s got around 7,400 kilometers on the odometer – about 4,600 miles – mostly because Mazda doesn’t mind bringing it up from the basement every now and then. Why keep such a glorious piece of automotive history hidden away? Cars this good deserve the spotlight.

The spotlight, in this case, being the second-annual Radwood car show in Anaheim, California. Think Goodwood, but rad. Any car built between 1980 and 1999 is eligible for display. It’s a sea of pop-up headlights, chunky design elements, digital dashboards, car phones, and post-malaise nostalgia. And just like Goodwood’s annual Revival event, attendees dress the part. Big hair. Wild prints. Neon colors. That ‘80s prom queen you see in the lead photo? That’s Motor1 contributor Lyn Woodward, who won Radwood's prestigious Best Dressed award. And as for me, well, I don’t think my Space Jam t-shirt and knockoff Members Only jacket would’ve been appropriate on Lord March’s lawn, but at Radwood, my attire is spot-on.

In fact, my maroon jacket matches the deep red hue of the 1992 Eunos Cosmo. This is a gorgeous coupe, and its elegant design has aged gracefully. I know it’s capturing a lot of attention at Radwood simply because it’s one of only a handful in the U.S. But make no mistake, the Cosmo is definitely rad.

Radwood With Mazda
Radwood With Mazda
Radwood With Mazda
Radwood With Mazda

Any car built between 1980 and 1999 is eligible for Radwood display. It’s a sea of pop-up headlights, chunky design elements, digital dashboards, car phones, and post-malaise nostalgia.

Luxurious, too. The three-rotor engine starts up with a pronounced whirr. I set off toward the freeway with a relaxed wave of torque, thanks to a pair of turbochargers. Nothing happens immediately in the Cosmo, all movements are done with a refined grace. The ride quality is on par with modern luxury cars I’ve tested – never floaty, but never too firm. There’s progressive roll during cornering. Braking is smooth and solid. Steering inputs are met with ample weight and feedback through the leather-wrapped helm. The best way to drive this car is to sink into the comfortable driver’s chair, rest an elbow on the window sill, and enjoy. It’s easy like Sunday morning. A short drive from Mazda’s R&D center in Irvine to the Radwood venue in Anaheim has me absolutely smitten.

It’s a treat for the senses. Nestled behind the wheel, you get a great view of the expansive, backlit dash. (Everyone kept asking me to turn the car on, just so they could see the instruments light up.) There’s room for four adults, a generous storage cubby between the front seats. It’s even got space for an optional CD player and GPS navigation – features that were ahead of their time in 1992, remember. As far as design, comfort, and driving dynamics are concerned, this would have given the original Lexus SC a huge run for its money, had it come to market as an Amati. Onlookers pore over the rare Eunos, and are just as shocked to learn it’s the work of Mazda as they are to even see it in the first place.

And that’s before they notice the rest of Mazda’s wares on display at Radwood. Of course, it wouldn’t be a proper ‘80s and ‘90s showing without a pair of RX-7s (from the FC and FD generations), an absolutely pristine 929 (another almost-Amati), and the one-of-a-kind (and totally driveable) 1996 Miata M Coupe Concept. The assembled group represents a historic take on things we currently associate with Mazda: great powertrains, bold design, and yes, luxury.

Radwood With Mazda

Amati may have never seen the light of day, but Mazda never forgot how to make a luxury car.

That last bit is in my mind again on the drive back to Irvine. But I’m not in the Eunos this time. Despite being reluctant to hand over the keys to my dear Cosmo, I’m enjoying a similarly relaxed experience behind the wheel of the 929. This car only has 2,400 miles on it – a Mazda representative tells me it was originally used for advertising and marketing purposes, mostly as a photo car. Mazda recently fired it up again after sitting dormant for two decades, and you’d never know it went unloved for that long. It’s as smooth and refined as something brand new. Nothing rattles. Nothing squeaks. The throttle sticks a bit, but that’s my only complaint. It’s so comfortable. It’s so easy and effortless to drive. It’s absolutely perfect. The 30-minute drive to Irvine ended too soon. I could spend hours in this 929, even in hellacious Los Angeles traffic, and be perfectly happy.

On the way to park the 929 inside the confines of Mazda’s R&D garage, I drive past a parking lot filled with spanking new cars. There’s a Soul Red Mazda6 sedan, its big wheels and graceful lines looking elegant under the glow of the parking lot lights. There’s a Mazda3 hatchback, with one of the nicest compact car interiors you can buy today. There’s a three-row CX-9 crossover, with open-pore wood and Nappa leather surfaces. And you know, I’d rather drive and live with one of these new Mazdas than a majority of the products offered by Acura, Infiniti, and Lexus.

Amati may have never seen the light of day, but Mazda never forgot how to make a luxury car.

 

Photos: Steven Ewing / Motor1.com

Radwood With Mazda