The Next-Gen Mazda 3 has hit Australia and it's a styling tour-de-force!
Just the appearance of the new 3 acknowledges the strength and depth of the company's design talents and its ability to make a statement.
Although Next-Gen Mazda 3 comes complete with a long list of highlights and improvements over the outgoing model, it also comes with a corresponding price ‘bump’.
However despite obvious quality upgrades, on closer inspection many of the improvements are counter-balanced by some downsides and significant compromises.
Reading notes by the G20 Program Director Kota Beppu it is clear that Mazda had clearly-defined aspirations, most of which were achieved, but sadly it’s in driveability, and detail where the downsides become most obvious.
The biggest compromise on this striking new model is that its launch precedes the availability of Mazda’s impressive SkyActiv-X engine family.
The two engines offered on the G20 are a 2.0L, and 2.5L four cylinder, and appear to be little changed.
The G20 Touring version here uses the 2.0L version (right).
The power and torque is adequate, but the calibration of the six-speed auto is poor, and this becomes especially obvious when using the cruise control on long journeys. The Cruise Control cannot easily hold a constant speed without regularly changing up and down gears. And, it is really annoying.
There’s also a poor relationship between the engine and transmission when ‘Sport’ mode is engaged. The transmission holds gears for far too long, and occasionally does not shift up when you slightly lift off the throttle. I found that the most satisfactory cruising solution in undulating country, was to leave it in ‘Comfort’ mode and drive it using the ‘paddles’.
This aspect is especially disappointing when compared with the impressive achievements in build quality, handling, comfort and equipment levels.
Also, as I mentioned in a previous post, the redesign meant 30L less space in the trunk, and a very tight rear compartment.
Apparently, the interior redesign also had to allow space for a battery pack in a future hybrid model.
On a positive note, I will quote Program Manager Beppu, who has eloquently outlined the team’s targets:
“The design team strived for the removal of character lines, and ensured all body panels featured beautiful curves to accentuate changes in light and reflections whether static or in motion.
“Operating under the law that ‘less is more’, we stripped away excessive ornamentation, which resulted in a shape which looks like it was drawn with a single brush stroke. The bonnet (hood) line has been lowered and special attention was paid to grille, lights and the lower valance.”
Inside the car is where Mazda paid a lot of attention to seating, technology and elegantly simple design surfaces.
In my mind the drivers’ view delivers a fluent, uncluttered appearance with no distractions. I found this effect completely changed my opinions of the car when on the road.
Despite the powertrain and performance shortcomings, it is a supremely comfortable car, and Beppu-san's description accurately sums up the team's approach:
“We conducted an extensive study of the human body. “We take all this for granted, but when we walk or run we never experience motion sickness because we are subconsciously controlling our legs, feet, pelvis and spine to minimise head movement using only a small number of muscles.
“We developed front seats that naturally straightens the driver’s pelvis, which helps drivers naturally use their core for seating stability.
“Our approach to the new body architecture ensured the chassis and car body receive input from the road surface and alleviate bumps and dips.
“The cabin itself was designed to assist in controlling the audio system’s output - the time it takes for a sound to be transmitted, and its direction, ensuring cabin quietness is perfect for the occupants.
“We then redesigned the speaker layout to directly transmit the sound to the driver, which has resulted in a clear and expressive sound system. Assisted by the right amount of quietness, the cabin feels like a quality audio studio on wheels.
“Interior styling strips away clutter and minimises visual distraction, with instruments, displays and controls aligned horizontally and facing the driver, optimised for easy, ergonomic use.”
Mazda has upgraded the Mazda Connect system, and both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are offered for the first time, however the interconnect between the Mazda system and the audio apps needs some attention.
Especially the radio, which on several occasions during my driving changed stations with no input from me. One minute I was listening to classical music, and next I was listening to a talk show – very mystifying.
It’s clear that Mazda has achieved a lot with the G20, but there are quite a few areas that need to evolve, and improve to ensure complete satisfaction with the overall package.
The ride and handling of the G20 is exemplary. The attention paid to reducing NVH has borne fruit, because this is a much quieter car than its predecessor, and the handling and steering is pin-sharp.
I am still knocked out by the design package, however when I raised the issue of the close similarities between the concept car and the production version with a very close friend who is also a very senior design director, he pointed out the possible reasons for the similarities.
“Often the production car is designed and signed off first. Then the design team creates the concept, but stretches the envelope to show ‘what might have’ been. The consequence is that the viewer associates the similarity of the two styles as a positive when assessing the ‘new’ shape.”
In this instance I think I agree. The overall shape is a standout and for me takes the ‘Kodo’ design language to a higher level.
I love the way this car looks, but until the SkyActiv-X engine comes along, I’m not sure I could happily live with it on a day-to-day basis.