To say the next-generation Mazda 3 is a critical launch for the Japanese manufacturer is putting it lightly.
The current model accounts for a commanding one-third of the company's global sales, with previous generations notching up well over 3.5 million units.
So how do you follow up a model that’s garnered universal acclaim for its emotive design, build quality and general driver enjoyment? You throw out the blueprints, apparently.
The all-new Mazda 3 is a clean-sheet design based on the brand’s current ‘Kodo’ design philosophy that has already spawned the popular CX-5 SUV and more recently the Mazda 6 mid-sized sedan and wagon.
The exterior look is impressive, if not more daring than the outgoing model, while the interior appears to take a quantum leap forward in design and technology.
We recently sat down with the chief designer of the new Mazda 3, Koji Tabata, to talk about the philosophy behind the car.
CA: What is the biggest influence for the Kodo design theme? Was it inspired by a particular car or object, or did it come from nature, as the Cheetah marketing campaign depicts?
KT: Since around the 1980s, Mazda has tried to design emotive vehicles, creating the impression of solid body mass or using elaborate light reflections. With Kodo design, we are aiming to express the image of life, with vitality emanating from the vehicle’s framework. We looked at cheetahs and athletes as examples for the beauty of dynamic motion.
CA: Was it harder to create the same level of drama and tension with the compact Mazda 3 than with the larger Mazda 6?
KT: The body size of the Mazda 6 allowed us to create a more dynamic vehicle with a long, sleek line. But the same expression of movements looked dissatisfactory when applied to Mazda 3. [Instead] we studied movements that express Kodo design regardless of body size and found forms that expressed the feeling of releasing power. We came upon ‘Accelerating motion’, which has become the theme of the new Mazda 3.
CA: What were the most difficult elements to get right with the exterior and do you think the new Mazda 3 looks more balanced than the Mazda 6, given its smaller proportions?
KT: The difficult thing for us was to find a way to express a stable and strong stance, a feeling of gripping the ground, which was as important to the design as was the expression of movement. We introduced the biggest tyre size in the C segment, along with 18-inch wheels. The wheelbase and the tread were expanded, which was in effect a change of the bone structure itself. In order to make the cabin look firmly sitting on the tyres, we elaborately designed the silhouette of the cabin and the shape of the side windows as well.
With regard to the difference from the Mazda 6, the car has got a dignified stance, with an expression of elegant and dynamic movement. On the other hand, we aimed to express an athlete-like motion with a sense of speed for the new Mazda 3, and what we aimed to express in design is totally different from that of the Mazda 6. I believe they both achieved the best balance in their respective areas and you cannot compare them.
CA: Inside, the new Mazda 3 seems like a big step up in design, material quality and technology. Did you benchmark cars such as the Volkswagen Golf, or did you simply want to create the same level of quality in the Mazda 3 as you had in the Mazda 6?
KT: We did not develop the new Mazda 3 by looking at a reference model or comparing it with other cars. We first drew the ideal image of what we want our customers to feel, and made the maximum effort to incorporate what we could to achieve that goal. As a result, if the model makes you feel there is a big step up, it certainly is a great pleasure for me.
CA: It must have been expensive to design and develop the new Mazda 3. Is Mazda putting more money into the design of the new cars created under the Kodo design theme?
KT: Most of the design-related parts for the new Mazda 3 were newly developed. But I would like to refrain from answering questions about the development cost.
CA: Did you get to do all that you wanted with the design of the new Mazda3, or did you have to concede some aspects due to budget constraints?
KT: I believe we were able to achieve everything we had envisioned when we initiated the development. Not that I conceded, but there are a number of things that I wanted to do more of, though.
The new-generation Mazda 3 makes its motor show debut in Frankfurt next week ahead of its Australian launch in January.