2019 Mazda3 Overview - Styled To Move

 

Mazda has unveiled its biggest seller, the 3, in its biggest market, the US. It might not be quite the sales star here, but the Mazda3 with its striking new design and upmarket appeal is now even a better argument against compact SUVs. We attend the reveal in L.A.

Words: Kyle Cassidy   |   Photos Tom Gasnier
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At last year’s Tokyo Motor Show, Mazda rolled out the Kai Concept, a curvaceous hatch that foretold of a boldly designed five-door for the mass market. And just over a year later, the company has thrown the covers off the new Mazda3, which sports a strong resemblance to Kai.

This is the first production Mazda to feature the evolution of the firm’s design language, known as Kodo. It’s all about breathing life into the from, making inanimate objects come alive. But the new design tack does away with character lines to define the body shape. Instead it is the subtly curving panels working with the light that gives the car its form.

According to the chief designer, Yasutake Tsuchida, it was all about getting the ideal state right first with the Kai Concept. They’ve been working on perfecting this method of design for some time, the RX Vision Concept of 2015 got the ball rolling and the Vision Coupe of 2017 moved the design theme along further, as did Kai. So with these learnings, the stylists knew how to manipulate the curves of the body panels to create the optimal form.

The signature of the design is the reflection in the doors. This is said to create ‘visual mass’ and deliver ‘a strong stance’ for the car. The new way of designing does create a few manufacturing issues as panel gaps need to be tight with a tolerance of no more than 0.5mm. And the stamping process for some of the body panels was particularly challenging according to overall project manager, Kota Bepp.

The new sedan wears a sleek look for a car of its class, and this is because Mazda has stretched its overall length in order to achieve ‘perfect proportions’. It’s now only 200mm shorter than a Mazda6 at 4662mm, but is 200mm longer than the hatchback as the two variants are designed to appeal to different buyers; the hatch is the dynamic one of the duo, the sedan they tell us has a dignified but individualistic streak.

The two models are so distinct they only share a few major body parts between them; headlights, bonnet and the windshield. Tsuchida-san says these proportions, with a long, low bonnet, have been won by the engineers and designers working more closely than they have in the past, particularly during the early development stages, to achieve a common goal of elegant design.

The 3 will be the first Mazda to offer the new Spark-Controlled Compression Ignition Skyactiv-X engine

The Mazda3’s form flows in one motion from the front to rear as there are no character lines to disrupt the motion. Tsuchida-san tells us that this not only helps express the shape, but as light hits the curves, it helps alter the form of the car slightly, giving the owner a new impression of the car each time they see it. It’s this aspect which he hopes will ‘move them’ and help create a bond with the car.

He says it’s this emotional design ethos that will help Mazda compete against the more established players in the market, such as Golf. He says Mazda can’t make a similar car in this space, it needs to stand out, and this they’ve achieved; the Mazda3 is certainly a standout design in it class. The hatch is styled with seductive appeal in mind, which is why it has a shapely rear end while the subtly flared guards are filled with 18-inch wheels. The spoiler is blacked out which Tsuchida-san says is to increase the sense of centralised mass while giving it a fastback appearance.

Mazda’s new design language is all about stripping away the unnecessary details (there are no driving lights, cosmetic scoops or extra air intakes littering the front end). Yet it has gone ahead and designed a body kit for the hatch.

Tsuchida-san says that customers like to add bodykits to the 3, so they’d rather be in control of how it looks than leaving it up to the aftermarket crowd.

X-appeal

The 3 will be the first Mazda to offer the new Spark-Controlled Compression Ignition Skyactiv-X engine, alongside the usual 2.0- and 2.5-litre petrol offerings, the latter with a few refinements for efficiency. There’s no word on whether the 2.5 turbo will make the line-up just yet.

The X machine will be offered as an engine option on multiple model grades, and is likely to serve up around 138kW and 222Nm of torque from its 2.0-litre capacity. No fuel consumption claims are forthcoming but Mazda promises petrol-like performance with diesel-like consumption. Inside, the company has added a dose of premium with an upmarket feel to the cabin. There are more soft surfaces and crafted seams. The dash has a horizontal symmetry about it but the focus is the driver.

Like the exterior, they’ve gone with a less-is-more design ideal and an easy operating layout to allow the driver to concentrate on the task of driving. They’ve added more seat and steering wheel adjustment to ensure a better fit behind the wheel, while the seat itself is designed to promote a more ideal posture. This is said to support the pelvis and spine better so that the upper torso is more stable, which they reckon helps deliver a more refined, comfortable journey.

There’s a new 8.8-inch wide centre display for the improved infotainment system. The audio speakers have been repositioned for optimal performance and Mazda says noise levels have been reduced thanks to a few tricks, including the move to a torsion beam rear end.

This, project manager, Kota Bepp, says is a simple structure so is easy to control with newly developed bushes, while the design of the beam in terms of its shape and thickness in key areas helps dissipate the forces between the left and right wheels more effectively. We guess with fewer mounting points and moving parts, it would help reduce the transfer of road noise to the chassis.

They say they have evolved the dynamic performance of the car, though comments made by Mazda’s North American President, Masahiro Moro, suggests this is less about ultimate road slaying performance and more about delivering a vehicle that responds intuitively to the driver’s inputs to achieve a more comfortable and less tiring drive.


New is G-Vectoring Control Plus (GVC Plus) which adds yaw via the brakes to keep you online in corners. Torsion beams are good for luggage space too although the hold of the new hatch is about the same as that of the old one we were told. They say the sedan’s capacity is greatly improved, helped by the additional body length.

Apart from overall dimensions, Mazda is withholding all the other details until its market launch in a few months’ time. The hatch has a uniformly shaped hold, and a low floor, but we weren’t able to open the sedan boot at the show. Seated in the rear of the hatch, it seems to have lost some headroom, but there’s still decent leg room, a lot more than in the new Corolla. Improved aeros will contribute to lower noise levels.

Although no Cd figures have been divulged, Bepp-san says that thanks to simulation technology, they were able to hone the design for optimal aeros as well as elegance.

He says it’ll weigh about the same as the old car, as it has more equipment onboard. The new chassis is more rigid with ultra-high-tensile steel making up 30 per cent of the body, and it has been beefed up to meet more stringent crash testing regimes. The i-Activsense safety technologies include a new Driver Monitoring system with a camera used to detect a sleepy pilot, and there’s Front Cross Traffic Alert to detect other vehicles approaching from blind spots at the front of the vehicle.

The active cruise has a newly developed traffic jam assist function. While they’ve added equipment and raised the quality of the car, helping offset rising cost is the fact the chassis is evolved from the previous generation, and the common platform is shared by all models. Bepp-san says Mazda has worked with its suppliers to find ways to reduce costs without affecting quality.

The new Mazda3 will dot down in New Zealand midway through 2019.

Mazda to put driver first

During the reveal of the new Mazda3 there was talk of a move toward something called Mazda Premium.

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That could be taken as a desire to drive the brand upmarket and start charging premium pricing but according to Akira Marumoto, President and CEO, Mazda Motor Corporation, this won’t be the case.

He says it’s more about the way Mazda connects with customers through its cars, technology and service. It’s more about forming a lasting bond with the customer rather than charging them more, and he wants to reassure Kiwis that we will still be able to afford Mazda cars in the future.

Like most Japanese car companies, Mazda has said it will cut emissions significantly over the coming years. The firm is targeting a 50 per cent reduction by 2030 compared with 2010 levels. You’d imagine that would mean a slew of EVs are in the planning, but Marumoto reckons pure BEVs will still only represent five per cent of Mazda’s overall mix by that point. The rest will be made up of hybrids; mild, conventional and plug-in, as Mazda has stated all of its cars will add some form of electrification by 2030.

But in the interim, Mazda is already working on evolving the yet-to-be released Skyactiv-X, or Skyactiv-XX as Marumoto jokes. Mazda never rests, and won’t be putting a bullet into the internal combustion engine any time soon. Marumoto says that while there is a need to protect the earth by reducing CO2 emissions, driving pleasure shouldn’t be sacrificed. Hence Mazda’s pursuit of the Skyactiv-X engine programme.

On the hybridisation front, Mazda will develop its own systems for future products. Mazda has a technical partnership with Toyota around electrification, but why change tack on the hybrid strategy? Are Toyota’s hybrid systems too boring to drive?

Marumoto-san chuckles and says that’s not the case but rather with the increasing efficiency of the Skyactiv-X engines, the type of hybrid system required to deliver the desired results can be made more compact so they will be developing it themselves alongside their engines.

Mazda it seems is in no great rush to join the EV ranks. Marumoto-san says that while most automotives are offering EVs, or promising them, he is still cautious regarding customer acceptance, with much of the push driven by politics and incentives.

He also wonders about the well-to-wheel emissions equation of some EVs, particularly in countries which rely on coal-fired electrical generation. He says while EVs are a good fit for a country like ours with a high renewable energy content, he notes we have high electricity bills compared with other markets.

We also pay lots for gas but as he rightly points out, it is political will, particularly in Europe, that is driving the EV buzz at present. Mazda it seems is prepared to wait until the customer is demanding more EV cars before committing further.

Any more SUVs coming our way then? While they don’t comment on future product he says the demand for cars is on the decline and they need to look at other opportunities.

Along with increased hybridisation, expect more safety features on Mazda cars, and not just on top models but across all lines and variants. Marumoto-sans says while the company is about delivering driving pleasure it must also help resolve issues for society, like traffic accidents, so all future models from Mazda2 to CX-9 will benefit from all the iActiveSense safety tech.

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