Mazda3 is laying down Mazda’s future
The Mazda 3 sedan and hatchback represent a crucial period in the Hiroshima-based manufacturer’s history. The 3 remains to be a crucial volume seller for the brand, and the latest generation is the fruit of Mazda’s goals of creating a modern automobile that has striking design, cutting edge technology, and crucially, a very human centric machine with the goal of delivering a truly enjoyable vehicle to drive that interacts harmoniously with man and his environment, thereby maximizing our human abilities. Think Jinba Ittai Version 2, with even far better seamless integration of man and machine.
The all-new Mazda 3 is the first of Mazda’s latest generation of vehicles. Mazda’s SkyActiv technology lives on, further refined with more safety & efficiency. The highly anticipated SkyActiv X remains to be seen if it will be introduced to the local market anytime soon, unfortunately. But the SkyActiv G 2.0 engine and 6-speed automatic are the only two main components carried over from previous Mazda vehicles. Everything else, according to Mazda, is practically all-new.
The new chassis is 15kg lighter than its predecessor, and has a longer wheelbase by 25mm, aiding in interior space, and delivering better high-speed refinement. Crucial pinch points, joints and connections in the chassis box sections benefit from thick rubber damper pads designed to absorb NVH, delivering more comfort, but without adding excess weight. The old approach was to liberally apply heavy dampening foam, rubber or tar / asphalt / bitumen layers to absorb NVH but at the cost of weight. The sedan in particular is longer by 80mm, particularly in the trunk section, which gives the Mazda 3 sedan superior trunk space while retaining the rakish (for a sedan) profile.
Next up is the design. The hatchback and sedan, though sharing the same face, have hugely different silhouettes especially from the B-pillars and back: the sedan has a traditional 3-box design, while the hatchback has very thick C-pillars that seem to be the focal design point. It has hints of Alfa Romero Brera from some angles, but ultimately very unique. Given that the hatchback segment is shrinking globally, Mazda wanted a very unique design easily identified with the brand. It works, and though very polarizing in opinion, Mazda has succeeded in this regard. The only complaint we find are the steeply raked A-pillars; a few of the larger guys smacked their heads or shoulders when getting out of the stylish cars. The sedan looks like a junior version of the formal & elegant Mazda 6: flowing lines, excellent athletic proportions & lots of very subtle accents. Overall the design is very clean, somber yet stylish, like a properly-cut Italian suit. It will easily be the most handsome sedan in its segment once launched in the Philippines.
Good design carries onto the interior: the dash architecture is cleaner, buttons minimized, the large 12.3 inch central LCD display has been moved deeper onto the dash, the heads-up display also appears further ahead, and interestingly, Mazda has created its own all-new font style that is liberally used on their infotainment system, instrument cluster and owner’s manual. This new font is also the official font used on all official Mazda communications. The goal? Reduce clutter, and any other visual noise that can distract the driver.
The aforementioned multi-media system now utilizes a faster main processor, and a smaller sub processor to make GPS location faster upon start-up. The tuner has been moved to the rear of the car, closer to the antenna to reduce interference, particularly when receiving analog radio signals and converting them to digital audio into the infotainment system. The vehicle speakers have also been repositioned to give a more natural ‘theater effect’ which surprisingly works, especially with the optional Bose surround sound system.
On the road, the new Mazda 3 feels all grown-up: smooth, refined and sophisticated. Accelerating, braking and especially steering all happen in one very smooth & very linear motion: there are no extra sudden unnecessary movements on car and driver as you make your driving inputs. We drove it back to back with the older model and noticed that while the predecessor subjectively felt more aggressive, it wasn’t objectively faster or better handling around the Mazda Mine Proving Grounds. The new model just felt smoother & more comfortable, but in reality was just as fast. Mazda engineers were quick to point this out and were happy that we experienced the difference.
The secret? A loss of unsprung weight, careful adjustment of the control arm length to transmit motion on the horizontal plane rather than an initial vertical axis, reduction of weight in key areas (particularly the front & rear overhangs), and of course careful suspension tuning. Though the rear suspension changed back to a more archaic twist beam axle instead of the multi-link design of its predecessor, engineers were still able to deliver an excellent ride and handling compromise with bigger trunk cargo space and better rear packaging. Yet the rear end remains as responsive and composed on the track.
And the final result yields a car that is dynamically stable, composed, relaxed & yet still responsive on long drives. What the joy of driving Mazda seeks is the joy that makes you keep wanting to drive their cars, over and over again, regardless of reason, road or weather conditions. Mazda hopes their future products, starting with the all-new 3 becomes an integral part of our everyday lives precisely because of the joy it brings to you.
Indeed, Mazda has succeeded in all fronts they set out to achieve.
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