1. The first-generation Mazda3, the car that replaced the little-remembered Protégé, was launched as a 2004 model. Based on the almost-legendary C1 platform that was developed by Mazda, Volvo (for the S40), and Ford (for the European Focus that knowledgeable industry people clamored for for years, only to hear why it would be too expensive to homologate for the U.S. market—a problem that Mazda and Volvo evidentially managed to overcome), the Mazda3 almost instantaneously had design and ride-and-handling credibility that put it in the same class as the Honda Civic, something that eluded not only the Focus, Chevy Cobalt, Toyota Corolla, and other compact models. It was offered both as a sedan and a five-door, with the last being a body style that U.S. consumers are often alleged not to like.
Which brings us to the 2010 Mazda3, which, like the first-generation, is available as a sedan and a five-door. About what they've done this time: Ruben Archilla, group manager, research and development, Mazda North American Operations, puts it clearly and simply, "We're proud of the outgoing product. When it was launched, it became a benchmark in the segment. We didn't seek to change the concept of the outgoing car, but to refine the concept where we could." Or, as he bumperstickered it: "It is evolution versus revolution."
As Jonathan Frear, the man responsible for the exterior design of both the sedan and the five-door, put it: "We wanted to make it instantly recognizable as a Mazda."
So visually it is not exactly the same, only better. It's more as though it is the same, but different.
2. How important is the Mazda3 to Mazda? Worldwide, the Mazda3 accounts for approximately one-third of all Mazda sales. In the U.S., not only did the Mazda3 sales increase each year for the last five years, but in 2008, the last full year of the first-generation car, the vehicle accounted for 44% of Mazda North American Operation's sales volume.
3. Frear says that he spent about three years working on the exterior design for the Mazda3. (Two of the three years were spent at the Mazda studio in Europe. Then he moved to the North American Office.)
One of the design attributes that he cited is that "the lines on the car never really end. They just disappear." That, he maintained, is evocative of emotion, and "emotional design is what Mazda is all about." The emotion is that of nature: "In nature, things aren't rigid and square." And while this might seem as though it is fanciful, it can also be purposeful, as, for example, how there is a strong beltline diving down toward the front of the car, which not only provides an athletic stance, but which, he noted, also provides better visibility for the driver.
He contrasted what they're doing with what some other vehicle manufacturers do with their designs: "Lines that end are more Germanic. I'm not saying that is a bad thing. But with Mazda, things naturally fade out to create tension in surfaces."
4. The four reasons why consumers buy the Mazda3, according to David Matthew, vehicle line manager for the car:
- Design. Dynamic styling.
- Performance. Not only does it look quick and nimble, it is. There are two four-cylinder engines, a carried over 2.0-liter with a new nylon-reinforced intake manifold with dual runners that facilitate low- and high-rpm performance, and a 2.5-liter engine that produces 167 hp @ 6,000 rpm and 168 lb-ft of torque @ 4,000 rpm, an engine that is also available in the Mazda6. (An interesting fact about the 2.5-liter, which replaces a 2.3-liter: the exterior dimensions of both blocks are the same size. According to Archilla, in order to get greater displacement from the same-size block it was necessary to modify the casting process so that the aluminum block is stronger, thereby maintaining bore centers. The use of steel-molybdenum alloy cylinder bore liners helps, too, as they provide strength and stiffness increases of 30%.) The unibody has had a 7% stiffness increase through the use of high-tensile-strength steel panels, gussets in loaded areas, and some metal gauge increases. Weld bonding—combining structural adhesive and spot welds—is strategically used, such as in the door apertures. These modifications help reduce the weight of the unibody by 24 lb. There is a new instrument panel support structure that uses two steel-reinforcement tubes that not only provides more solid support to the steer-ing column, but is 4.4-lb. lighter than the single-tube structure it replaces.
- Quality and craftsmanship. Matthew likens the interior execution as being more akin to European cars and less like other Japanese makes.
- Features. He notes that even though the five-door body style accounts for about a third of Mazda3 sales, the Honda Civic, Ford Focus, and Nissan Sentra are without that style. He also cites the availability of an array items ordinarily found on higher-level vehicles, such as navigation and xenon headlamps.
5. At the 2006 Los Angeles Inter-national Auto Show, Mazda revealed its Nagare design theme. Nagare is Japanese for flow. As in the flow of the wind over sand, tracing the surface; the flow of water in a stream. Subsequent to the Nagare vehicle, the overall dictionary of the design language, there were four other concepts: the Furai, Ryuga, Hakaze, and Taiki. And Frear said that the 2010 Mazda3 deploys Nagare throughout, whether it is close-up, inside the the headlamps or inside the vehicle, where the driver-oriented cabin echoes the interior of the Ryuga.
6. "We could have been a lot safer," Frear notes. In other words, whereas there is evident, almost exaggerated (comparatively speaking, as in comparing the exterior design to vehicles against which it competes) sculptural surfaces abounding, particularly on the five-door, they could have toned them down, making diffident gestures rather than grandiose sweeps. "Mazda is essentially a sports car company," he goes on to say, adding, "We wanted to get that feeling."
What's more, he goes on to say, "The previous-generation 3 and Mazda6 positioning in the market were too close. We wanted to make the Mazda3 more youthful in design, to put some distance between the 3 and the 6." So as the Mazda6 has grown into a larger, more stylishly sophisticated sedan, something that might, say, be mistaken for a Lexus ES 350 rather than a mid-market midsize car, the Mazda3, even in the sedan version, which is more mainstream than the five-door, smacks more of anime than portraiture.
"We could have been a lot safer," he said. And here is why safer isn't better: "Then after the first year, we would have been anonymous."