Mazda revives iconic Spirit name – with a twist


Customers in Japan can once again purchase a Mazda wearing the Spirit badge – but it’s nothing like the limited-edition rotary-engined RX sports cars enthusiasts have come to love.


Mazda has resurrected one of its most iconic nameplates, famous for its use on the boot lids of iconic rotary-engined sports cars – but not in the way you might expect.

Introduced earlier this month, owners of Mazda 3 and CX-30 vehicles with 1.8-litre turbo-diesel engines in Japan can now order a factory-backed engine retune, branded as the ‘Spirit Upgrade D1.1’ – reviving a nameplate not seen on a Mazda product since the rotary-engined RX-8 Spirit R sports car of 2011.

Along with boosting power from 85kW to 96kW (at an identical 4000rpm), the Spirit Upgrade improves throttle response from a standstill, and extends the torque curve between around 3000-4500rpm for quicker acceleration at high speed.

Prices for the upgrade start at 46,200 yen (AU$565), including tax but excluding dealer installation costs.

Similar upgrades were offered in February 2021 for Mazda 3 and CX-30s with the 2.0-litre SkyActiv-X engine – albeit without the Spirit Upgrade badging – though these focused on improving engine calibration and response (rather than increasing power), and also brought improvements to the adaptive cruise control and Cruising & Traffic Support assistance systems.

While the lack of diesel engines in the Mazda 3 and CX-30 locally rules them out for the Spirit Upgrade D1.1, the SkyActiv-X and safety system updates could feasibly be brought Down Under, given their fitment in locally-delivered X20 Astina models.

However, they won’t make the trip, with a Mazda Australia spokesperson telling Drive: “At this stage the Spirit Upgrades and other product updates [mentioned] will not be available in Australia.”

The Spirit badge rose to prominence among global Mazda fans in 2002 on the RX-7 Spirit R, the final iteration of the brand’s RX-7 rotary sports car, with just 1500 units destined solely for the Japanese market. Additions over lesser RX-7 models included items such as 17-inch forged BBS-designed wheels, red brake calipers, and, on some models, larger ventilated brakes, Bilstein dampers and Recaro bucket seats.

The nameplate returned in 2011 on the final Japanese-market version of Mazda’s next rotary-engined car, the RX-8. Additions over Type RS (manual) and Type E (automatic) models on which the Spirit R was based included black headlight surrounds, red brake calipers, piano black exterior trim, and the addition of side airbags.

Manual RX-8 Spirit R vehicles gained bronze 19-inch alloy wheels and Recaro bucket seats, while over the donor Type E model, automatic Spirit R cars added black leather upholstery with red stitching, sports suspension (likely shared with the manual cars), larger brakes and 18-inch gunmetal alloy wheels.

In July 2021, Mazda filed to trademark a new ‘R’ logo in Japan, which bears a close resemblance to the badging worn by the RX-7 and RX-8 Spirit R – though it’s expected the new emblem will be used for Mazda’s upcoming rotary-engined range-extender hybrid vehicles, rather than a reborn, limited-edition rotary sports car.