By George Polgar

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – This week Toyota and Mazda entered into a business relationship that executives described as an engagement rather than a marriage. Though definitely not a rescue by a bigger rival, it is a key move in Mazda’s tenacious drive to remain relevant among the giants.

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Because of its relatively small size and the volatility of global production, Mazda operates on super tight margins, and yet finished off its last fiscal year with a 12.7 percent sales increase and a 17 percent jump in net income.

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But the most significant reason for Toyota seeking this deal is Mazda’s standout record for design, product development and flat out fun and impressive on-road performance.

In recent years, Mazda has also won industry-wide acclaim for its SKYACTIV engine efficiency and fuel savings system. Toyota CEO Akio Toyoda has been quoted saying “Mazda is ahead in many areas” … and specifically way ahead in high-compression engines, transmissions and weight saving chassis designs.

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For consumers, the latest $20,000 Mazda3 – sharp looking, comfortable and family friendly inside, and smart on the road – is still one of the best automotive values on the market!