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Australia’s small-car heavyweight has just been updated, with an all-new Mazda 3 freshly unveiled on the eve of the Los Angeles Auto Show, ahead of its arrival Down Under next year.
Yep, that long and complicated teaser campaign is at last behind us, those shadow-filled silhouettes swapped out for the ready-for-production images you see here. And it looks good, right? A sleek and swooping design in both hatch and sedan guise that shrinks the gap between mainstream and premium more than perhaps any Mazda to have gone before it.
In fact, ask the 3's chief designer, Yasutake Tsuchida, and he'll tell you that: "It's a unique form, you can't find it any other cars."
That shiny new suit it’s wearing comes courtesy of Mazda’s Kodo Phase II design language, a new take on a styling flavour that has been shaping the Japanese brand’s vehicles since 2010. But it has been reimagined this time out in an effort to inject new “elegance” and “seductiveness” to the marque’s most popular car.
The sedan shape stretches 4662mm in length, 1797mm in width and 1445mm in height, while the hatch measures 4459mm, 1797mm and 1440mm, and the general idea surrounding this new exterior design is to introduce a “less is more approach” (which is refreshing, no? Especially when you consider that some Japanese brands insist on a "more is more and is still not enough" approach to penning their cars).
Most obvious, then, is a new headlight design that has been simplified rather than complicated, with Mazda “shaving away” any useless elements to keep the front-end design simple and clean, leaving the lights living in a sharp, narrow opening that blends into the vehicle's bonnet. The hatch, too, which comes in its a unique colour not offered on the sedan (polymetal grey), has been penned for maximum cleanliness, and the rear view especially is impossibly smooth, the metal surrounding the glasshouse flowing seamlessly into the lower half of the car.
The interior has been reshaped, too, with a driver-angled dash display that continues the clean uncluttered approach taken with the exterior. In the centre, you’ll find a new 8.8-inch display screen, and the more expensive versions are trimmed in Mazda’s own leather, swapped out for fabric in the cheaper trims. A new centre console employs what Mazda is calling “two-layer moulding”, with a laser-engraved black base layer covered by a clear coating to give the effect of depth.
The X engine will likely arrive a little later in the year, and even then probably only in a single trim level.
Meanwhile, the entire cabin has been shifted and shaped to make the driver and passengers more comfortable - what Mazda calls human-centric design - with everything from the reach of the steering wheel to the location of the shift lever adjusted to ensure they’re in the most comfortable-to-reach position.
Even the stereo has been reconsidered, with Mazda studying cabin acoustics before repositioning the speakers to sit in areas that naturally amplify the sound. Standard fit is an eight-speaker stereo, while a 12-speaker Bose stereo lives in the more expensive models.
But perhaps the biggest change lurks under that newly shaped bonnet, with Mazda embracing its new Skyactiv-X technology to introduce a diesel-aping petrol engine (owing to its SPCCI, or Spark-Controlled Compression Ignition), which uses diesel-style compression and a supercharger to reduce fuel use by as much as 30 per cent, while boosting torque by between 10 and 30 per cent. The Mazda 3 might debut the clever tech, but it will be rolled into all new Mazda models.
The X engine will likely arrive a little later in the year, and even then probably only in a single trim level, with the rest of the range expected to kick off in June with two petrol engines - a 2.0- or 2.5-litre option. Internationally, the 3 will also be offered with a 1.5-litre petrol or 1.8-litre diesel engine, both of which are hugely unlikely for Australia. All, though, are paired with a six-speed automatic or six-speed manual.
Mazda 3’s equipped with all-wheel drive get an updated version of Mazda’s all-paw i-Activ system, with the brand introducing what it calls “four-wheel vertical load”. The system partners with the G-Vectoring Control - itself updated with yaw moment control to make the car more responsive in emergency manoeuvres - to manage the torque flow between the two axles, helping with power losses and fuel economy.
The new 3 rides on the brand’s SkyActiv Vehicle Architecture, and the clear focus this time around has been on reducing one of the key lingering complaints (not that it’s hurt sales...) surrounding older models, and that is of NVH - industry jargon standing for Noise, Vibration, Harshness, or how loud and rough the drive experience is - with cars of old criticised for the level of road noise allowed into the cabin.
As a result, the Mazda 3 employs a new “two-wall” system that builds a space between the underbody of the car and the carpeting of the interior, acting as a sound-deadening space. The 3’s headliner and floor matts are designed to suppress noise, while the tyres minimise road noise, too. Elsewhere, the chassis has been stiffened and strengthened, while the torsion beam rear suspension has been tweaked to focus on smoother progress.
The Mazda 3 is a big deal in Australia, where it is always in the mix for the title of our best-selling vehicle, traditionally going head-to-head with Toyota’s Corolla for the big prize. More recently, though, the true battle has been between the Ford Ranger and Toyota HiLux.
Globally, the 3 has sold more than six million units since its launch in 2003, making it the brand’s best-selling vehicle ever, but it’s also unique for Australia, in that we’re among its biggest markets - a rarity for our relatively minuscule market.