A focus on clay is to thank for the swoopy new Mazda 3 design.

Mazda says its design language is focused on originality and the art of human creation, eschewing the current trend for a more digital design process, which it says leads to most modern cars looking similar.

Speaking with CarAdvice at the Los Angeles motor show, Mazda design boss, Ikuo Maeda, said continuous focus on becoming a more premium offering in the mainstream market has forced the brand's design team to raise its game.

“[The concept of] premium, we define slightly different from German premium.” Maeda said.

“Because first, we have to raise the level of craftsmanship and quality, but on top of that we have to debut the standalone originality unique to Mazda.

"In that sense I think that our biggest weapon is the beauty of the form and design, so we would like to sharpen this more and more, and I am hoping that people will say this is premium, looking at this [level of] beauty.”

According to Maeda, Mazda doesn’t follow today’s car design trend of full digitisation early in the development process, instead starting primarily with slower, more time-intensive hands-on clay modelling.

“One of the reasons is that todays car designers, how they are educated and the tools they use are more focused on the efficiency. So for the mainstream design maybe tilting in that direction is rather reasonable," he mused

"Maybe it’s because those designers grew up with TV games and familiar with digital tools... we would like to go up in a different direction than mainstream.”

Ultimately, Maeda says Mazda is ‘less of a digital’ design company, instead employing ‘more of a handcrafted’ approach.

“If you design a vehicle using a digital tool... digital is about the numbers, so we don't want to do complicated things using digital tools," he said.

"It’s about the numbers, so when you create some form using a digital tool, the end result is very simple form. But if you look at our vehicle design like that [new Mazda 3], there is no two same sections, even if you try and find it.

"So if you really want to create this kind of design using digital tools you really have to be a master of it to be able to do it.”

Nonetheless, Mazda does of course digitise its clay models, as that is the only way to get them ready for mass production. However it uses the clay models that have been digitised to create yet another clay model to further enhance the form.

“When we create a clay model, the first thing we do is to think about how the light is captured on the vehicle surface, and how it is reflected on the vehicle surface. However the hand made clay models alone cannot achieve this design still.

“So what we do is first we handcraft the clay model and after that we get digital data and do the digital simulation and check out how the light is reflected on the vehicle surface and then we make this data reflected in another clay model and we repeat this laborsome cycle.”

All in all, there were more than 30 clay models of the new Mazda 3 produced before the final form was okayed for production.

Do you see the design of modern Mazda vehicles as more unique and ‘premium’ than its Japanese rivals?