Like Unto Being Two Souls In One Heart

The third Mazda 3 had a curiously short life: six years only. No wonder it only seems like yesterday when it was introduced.

2019 Mazda 3: source

And now a new one is upon us, revealed at the LA Motor Show which is in LA this year. God bless them, Mazda have seen fit to grace the car with a comprehensible engine line-up of 1.5 and 2.0 litres plus a super-efficient diesel for those markets not scared witless by DERV. Mazda, like Honda, do still seem to be interested in engines and so the new diesel “uses multi-hole piezo injectors to smooth performance and reduce noise” (Autoexpress). At last, engine progress I can understand. Mazda are also making a supercharged Spark Plug-Controlled Compression Ignition (SPCCI) engine available. You can read more of the details at AutoExpress.

Here I will look at the styling which, on paper, looks to be frighteningly elegant and manages to be something new and also carry over character from the outgoing car too.

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Here’s a closer look at the side profile.

The dominant impression one gets is of large areas of relatively calm bodywork and a smaller than usual DLO. Unlike quite a lot of recent designs, the panel gaps and graphics are in harmony. One small niggle stands out and I know why it is there, I think.

If you look at the trailing edge of the window chrome you’ll see the rear door shutline meets it with a little visual bump. To make it line up nicely would have involved putting a much smaller radius on the chrome – visually it would be a corner at medium distance – and that would have made for a pointy shape even more disturbing to the eye. Or they could have moved the two apart; rearward as Lexus once did or forward as others did. In both cases you’d be left with odd bits of body-colour or window hanging in space.

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The four-set here (above) shows the problem. While making the images I noticed the delicious fluency of the surfaces over which the trailing edge of the door runs. Goodness, that is exquisite.

Here now is a slightly more detailed look at the car:

2019 Mazda 3 design review

I have some humble pie to eat here. Some while back I expressed doubts that Mazda’s latest design theme (I don’t say “language” any more, note) would translate into something meaningful when prepared for series production.

2017 Mazda Coupe Vision: source

Well, if anything, the production 3 is even better than the 2017 concept car, perhaps in part because it also has to made in large numbers. Kant says that aesthetic moments don’t involve such reflections; maybe they do if you are quick enough in thinking about it all.

You’ll notice the yellow curves in my marked up image. These show some effort expended to convey both motion and landing. It’s rather impressive and the graphic and surface development all work towards supporting the same effect. If you look closely you’ll notice a nice management of the shadow as the roof meets the bodyside. Is that a studio effect? Or is there a subtle tangential break there?

The A-pillar line does not shoot through the front axle. Not in side view. I expect that in 3-D this won’t be apparent, working in the same way as on the Opel Astra F.

I have the suspicion that the smaller-than-usual DLO is there partly to offset the rather long front overhang. It makes the car almost seem suggestive of an 1960s GT. The wide and drawn-back lamps help conceal the overhang and, in front view, emphasise the width.

2019 Mazda 3: source

And lo, the front overhang disappears in front-three quarter view. Note the way the lamps slant down and inward and seem to melt into the chrome of the grille. This is looking like some first rate car design. Mazda is, of course, kicking into an open goal. A lot of other marques have been working with elaboration and Mazda have correctly dialled it right back but with a great deal of subtle surface and line activity. The front bumper does without a mess of fog-light and air-intake action. The lower air-intake is hidden discretely in the shadows.

2019 Mazda 3 rear view: source

Walking around the back there is quite a lot of visual weight over the rear wheel. So, why does it work? Received wisdom says cut a slice of black on the C-pillar and add some feature lines above the wheel arch. Mazda have simply poured out some smooth surfaces and one bold wheel arch lip. We will doubtless be hypnotised by the lush reflections of light playing on the metal. I can not wait to see this car in street lighting.

There will also be a Mazda3 saloon. From this view notice the crease over the front wheel which falls as it extends rearward. The photo also shows the fine high-lights on the lower door.

2019 Mazda3 saloon: source

And this is the back:

2019 Mazda3 saloon: rear

Again, a better-looking and more interesting thing than the 2017 concept coupe. There is a crease over the front wheel that fades by the time it gets to the rear which you can see more clearly; and the chrome trim on the trailing edge of the DLO is thicker. Which leads us to the boot, almost but not quite gone.

Would I be way off the mark if this is what a small Jaguar could look like? That’s a compliment, by the way. Since there is no justice, BMW will not be among those shamed by the clarity of vision and the confidence in old-fashioned values of good surfacing, careful detail and restraint.

I’ll have to eat another slice of humble-pie because Ford have also leaned more towards the kind of values shown in this car than others have. Perhaps I have misjudged the new Focus.

To summarise then, Mazda have unveiled a tour-de-force of contemporary vernacular design. There is much here to satisfy aesthetes but also nothing that I think will scare the average buyer of mid-size cars. I also expect the form will remain fresh for the next six years. I have no idea what they are going to do to follow this…

Post Script:

Following comments on the DLO, here´s a rough sketch of the difference it might make:

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Author: richard herriott

I like anchovies. I dislike post-war town planning.

27 thoughts on “Like Unto Being Two Souls In One Heart”

  1. Predictably, I am mesmerised by these cars. The surfacing and tight shutlines create an almost liquid look to the metalwork. The frontal elements all meld so smoothly, it makes a joke of recent efforts by BMW, Audi and just about anyone else. If the A-Class was meant to have ‘Sensual Purity’, how far have Mercedes missed the target if this is now the benchmark?

    There’s a video of the launch presentation on the net which features the designers and it really helps to make sense of the design – particularly the DLO on the hatch which is divisively bold. I think it will render the car damagingly unappealing as a family car and can’t help feeling that a slightly larger version of the same form would not have hurt the impact of the design.

    The saloon has no such problem, although the window-line is probably still a little too high for comfort. It’s a cracking looking car, more formal and less thuggish than the hatch. A shame that it won’t come with the burgendy interior and the polywhatsit grey paint job that will make the hatch look even more funky than it does in the signature Soul Red.

    On the technical front, it’s a bit worrying that Mazda is risking compromising its reputation for making cars that drive with verve and panache by dropping the mult-link rear set up for a torsion beam, albeit many others are doing similarly. It won’t help them improve the poor levels of road noise either.

    Overall, though, I feel Mazda has shamed most other, larger manufacturers with these stunning designs and I’m even more engaged with interest in how the company progresses than even I was before.

    1. If that DLO was bigger I think the car would lose the GT look they were after. Mark James below suggests a reason why.
      Can an entire class of car, the mid-size C-class be destined for the same fate as the top hat and saloon?

    2. Couldn’t agree more, S.V. The new 3 is a great looking car in both versions. It absolutely makes sense to adopt a more formal, handsome style for the saloon but, for me, the hatch is an absolute cracker. I love it for its fluidity and simplicity, and in particular for the way it shuns current design clichés such as hidden rear door handles and an aggressively sculpted front bumper. The way the headlamps flow into the grille is a beautifully resolved detail. Yes, rear three-quarters visibility is likely to be poor, but specify a rear parking camera and send the kids to boarding school, then q.e.d., problem solved!

      Thanks, Richard, for an excellent critique, as always.

    3. Here’s the launch video (16 mins):

      I think an awful lot of careful thought has gone in to the design, much of which goes against current trends, which must have resulted in some lively debate within Mazda. I really like the idea of using reflections to create interest, and I’m delighted it doesn’t have the usual fog lights / fake grille mess at the front, or fake exhausts. It’s just a pity that the front grille will have to have a number plate slapped on to it.

      The interior also appeals – simple but attractive, with a relatively slim dashboard. That isn’t a touch screen by the way – it’s operated by a rotary controller, which is better ergonomically. Both hatch and saloon have rear armrests.

      Interesting that the car is available with 4-wheel drive, too

      There’s a detailed static review, below, which shows the interior (27 mins). Rear seat space doesn’t look huge, but it’s not as claustrophobic-looking as I had feared. I hope other manufacturers copy the approach, and not just the design.

  2. I think the high and small rear windows are an acknowledgement that the idea of a family hatchback is gone as actual families with young children are gravitating in herds towards CUVs and SUVs. This sort of car along with larger hatchbacks like the new Peugeot 508 are being sold more as coupes than practical hatchbacks.

  3. At the Frankfurt show, vis-á-vis the Vision Coupé, I asked Mazda Europe’s Jo Stenuit about the chances of such luscious surfacing making it onto a production car intact – particularly as Mercedes had just attempted to and failed at something remarkably similar (in theory). ‘We know how to productionise this look – trust me on that!’ was his reply.

    It appears as though he wasn’t lying.

  4. My initial reaction upon seeing the first photo was that it’s a hunchback rather than a hatchback. The blindspot visibility will be terrible. I think Mark’s comment about the direction family hatchbacks have taken is very perceptive.

    The headlights pouring into the grille makes me think this is the look Mercedes were trying to achieve with the new A-Class, but instead they failed spectacularly and ended up with a rather mournful-looking visage. The rear puts me in mind of an Alfa Romeo. I’d like to see the interior.

    I think this is a much more interesting and accomplished design than the new Ford Focus.

    1. Hmmm. Yes, I can see the “hunchback” thing but still feel it´s within the bounds of acceptable. I quite enjoy the tension between lovely and not-lovely on this car. Mark´s the first person I know to have articulated that point about the family hatch. We read it here first. And finally, yes, it´s the front end Mercedes tried to achieve and didn´t. The way the grille is recessed suggests a shape in transition and isn´t that one of the core Japanese aesthetic values?
      Torsion axle … the little fly in the ointment. ‘

      The Focus us growing on me. Yes, it isn´t a Mk1 but I can see that today that´d be commercial suicide.

    2. There is a new Focus quite close to where I reside. Not only is it simply huge, but it appears to my eyes as the sort of generic contemporary shape computer modelers create for non-brand specific advertising purposes or perhaps architectural renders. Utterly anonymous and devoid of charm, wit or visual interest. At least the Fiesta is a handy size.

      The Mazda, on first glimpse at least is a surfacing masterclass. I would never have believed they would remain so faithful to the concept, or take the saloon in the direction they have. I can only imagine the reaction at design studios across the wider industry. There will be a lot of shouting I suspect.

    3. I agree with Eóin, the Focus is both huge (and looks it) and blandly generic. It’s the Fiesta’s gangly and flubby older brother.

  5. I’ve seen my first new Focus today, in Malaga. It just looked generic and rather flabby, with absolutely nothing to delight the eye. I can’t wait to see a new 3 IN the metal and really hope it lives up to my high expectations.

    1. I have too.

      It’s not impressive, but I prefer its androgynous inexpressiveness to the overstyled mess that was its immediate predecessor.

    2. Once you see the Tipo/Egea hb rear lights you cannot unsee it.
      It looks like an exact copy

    1. That’s a great spot! I kind of think it’s a coincidence, but, if it is, it’s a convenient one.

  6. The Focus is a very good car with a lot of old and new virtues, but Ford forgot to make him look like a car that makes fun to drive.
    Maybe the Mazda is the opposite of the Focus. I am afraid, the new mazda has the same problems like the old one. Not very sporty or very comfortable, missing imdividualisation possibilities and no estate version. Is this little screen a touchscreen ? Looks a bit oldfashioned in size and position.
    In Germany, mazda are very eypensive in terms of insurance rates.

    1. We have the first signs of dissent. The lack of sportiness is the biggest surpise on Markus´ charge sheet. I for one have accepted Mazda as a car with driving appeal, somewhere north of Citroen, Toyota and Opel but not quite reaching Alfa Romeo levels. I´d put them with Ford and Peugeot for having that extra bit of sensory pleasure in the control. Honda ought to be there too but are currently out to lunch. Take a look at their German website. It´s very impressive. It didn´t let me easily check the engine range though… there´s was a 2.2 litre in the outgoing car along with a 2.0 which sounds good. It seems to have got good notices being up there were the Ford Focus and BMW 1 series.
      Thus informed I am curious about Markus´ opinion here because he´s usually quite a sharp observer!

  7. To be honest i only drove the CX-3 of the last Mazda Generation, and it was not that fun to drive i expected. By comparison, the Peugeot 2008 was much more pleasing in terms of agility and was giving me (!) the feeling to be a skilled driver. The CX-3 engine was a lazy one,no chance against the PSA Puretech. Tthe biggest advantage of a big petrol engine without turboboost is that you are using a lot of parts of this engine in the Mazda Diesel engines too.
    The new mazda 3 has nothing special in terms of chassis architecture. So i don´´ t expect too much. I think he cannot match the benchmark-qualities in terms of roadholding of the Focus, Civic and 308.

  8. While I’m impressed with the surfacing and the (relative) restraint, my question still is: what for? Mark gives us a hint: ah, it’s actually a coupé! What I’m missing today is the same sort of accomplishment in a useful package. No, useful, not SUV! It must be possible, don’t you think? And please, with a centre console that’s a bit below shoulder level, that would be nice. Other than that, the interior is actually quite nice. The shapes are simple and slim on the dashboard, and I like that little retro touch in the way the radio is incorporated. It reminds me of American cars of the fifties.

    Regarding the A-pillar not aiming on the front axle and the long front overhang: I actually think it’s not a fault, but a feature. I like this kind of look, if done correctly, which is what they did. Together with the yellow lines in Richard’s analysis, it makes for a very dynamic stance without trying to go for fake RWD proportions. Perfect!

  9. Good to see Richard excited about a new design. DTW’s recent justified slams on DTW at the pomposity of Mercedes and BMW’s blatherings on how wonderful they feel themselves to be, and of course how backward everyone else is, have been wonderful. Now finally the frothy talking heads are counterbalanced by Mazda designers who don’t talk self-serving nonsense. The artisanal clay carvers they feature in Mazda brochures can feel proud – the engineers who worked out how to actually stamp out the sheetmetal with precision should pat themselves on the back. Mazda got physically battered by a huge storm in July that washed out the road to their plant and flooded it. Lost production amounted to 44,ooo vehicles, so it’s good to see they didn’t lose hope.

    That said, the new Mazda3 hatch hasn’t a hope of selling much in North America. The current one is rare to see around here, while the sedan sells reasonably well. People’s justifications for not buying hatches in general are purely societal. Nobody’s much interested because women aren’t. Too low for usefulness, and trying to put child’s seats in the back of the new one looks like an exercise in even greater frustration than the present one. Of course, deploy the stilts for that butch crossover look and higher eye point and all is forgiven. The CX-5 outsells all the other models combined! My sister-in-law bought one, and is completely uninterested in normal cars. Has been since the mid 1990s, and she’s typical.

    Surely part of design is fitness for purpose? Tiny windows, low ground clearance for our inevitable snow, such raked-back windscreens that glancing out the window merely gives a birds-eye view of the B-pillar, these are all major demerits for many potential purchasers who may not be able to put it into words but feel claustrophobic. The continuing exaggerated differences between cars and SUVs we’ve seen for the last 15 years seem to be coming home to roost. The Civic sedan, Accord, Corolla, Camry, Altima – all are lower than previous models, which is the opposite of logic. Cynics, and I’m one of them, argue that companies are trying to move people to crossovers, because spec for spec, they sell for at least 10% more while costing much the same to build.

    The current Mazda3 has lovely steering, but a clompy, thuddy ride around town over our winter-ravaged road surfaces. It seems elbow-challenged as well. On our wide open highways the din from road and tire noise is just barely acceptable. The engines are unenthusiastic lumps – the 2.0l petrol is overgeared for a start, especially the first three gears, so not much fun there. It’s simply not nippy. Upping that to the 2.5 automatic improves matters tremendously, and indeed the 2.0 is being ditched here on the new model. The 2.5 has cylinder deactivation and runs on two cylinders until more than 50 nm is needed in the higher gears.

    The only Mazda I can contemplate, and I do like it, is the Mazda6 turbo. Then the new sound-deadening measures, quietness and slight imperiousness make for relaxed progress with a wallop in reserve. If they had made that AWD, there’d be one sitting in my driveway now. Instead they put AWD in the new Mazda3 with its wimpy powertrain! Logic? I see none. I cannot diss Mazda for at least bringing decent aesthetic to a modern car, but frankly I feel they miss the obvious for true success. This effort does not challenge crossovers for the normal buyer. And a designer delight that doesn’t sell helps no one.

    1. Interestingly, there actually is a Mazda 6 with AWD. However, it only seems to exist as a Diesel estate, which makes it a double non-seller in North America.

    2. Longer, lower and wider is how you sell cars, said Harley Earl a long time ago. It seems despite the lush shapes, the Mazda3 is not going to tickle the fancy of N US buyers. That said, they are offered a nice tall CUV instead. The Mazda3 has been shaped with that in mind, I would suppose. Mazda would probably like to sell some 3s but probably reckon the ROW is where it´ll see, not the US – any sales there are icing on the cake. It´s good to hear the N US perspective. As it has been a long time since I was there I have forgotten the daily fact of lousy roads and snowy winters. Do N Americans still like the MX-5?

  10. Let me say that I’ve comprehensively drank the Mazda Kool-Aid, having bought (and modified) a new MX-5 and staying up late reading their press releases and watching moose tests and so forth. I showed one picture to my boyfriend, and he’s ready to swap his 370Z (remember those?) for the new Mazda3 hatchback.

    If we take that as good news, the styling absolutely works on the masses. On the other hand, there’s a chance it’ll only work on the 370Z owners’ club, which… isn’t much.

    If we take the hatch as a family vehicle, they have failed to design something for actual people to use. But maybe they want the family to get a CX-5 or the sedan, and we can think of the hatch as a coupe like some of you mentioned. Blind spot monitoring is an absolute must, and thankfully seems included on all but base models. Personally, I’ve crashed my MX-5 due to the insane blind spot, and added mirrors to prevent it happening again.

    They claim that they’re addressing noise, aiming less for silence than for linear, natural ambient noise. There’s blocks of magic goo (I picture bushings) strategically placed on the unibody which they claim brings the sound to your ears in (a) the correct direction of travel, and (b) volume directly proportional to proximity. My 2018 MX-5 is delightfully loud but never invasive in terms of ambient noise, with a proper roof and front wheel drive I’m sure the Mazda3 will be brilliant. Admittedly the Miata had tons of rattles but that’s what happens when you fail to install a metal roof, and the drivetrain has a bunch of noises that go into and out of phase as revs rise, but they’ve basically admitted the 2.0 was a crude last-minute install and all is fixed for 2019.

    I didn’t know the outgoing model had IRS, but it makes absolute sense that they’re using torsion-beam. For starters, it’s very on-brand of Mazda to rely on fine calibration to make up for a simple design – the styling of this car, for one; the sensorless TPM system they used until 2017; their active-g vectoring software; their 4WD setup which pays attention to virtually every sensor in the car (including EPS current and wiper switch position) to actuate a simple transfer case. Also I’ve discovered that, although my car lacks LSD, it will quite happily do donuts thanks to some torque vectoring software. Also note: 4WD/Torsion Beam!

    It’s funny that the front springs seem identical, their guy Dave Coleman was very proud of having one clockwise and the other counterclockwise on their updated CX-5, and the idea seemed good enough that the new Fiesta and 3-series have done it too.

    Wonder how efficient that super hybrid motor is going to be?

    1. That’s heartening to hear, Lee. 370Z? Thin on the ground I would say. The vast majority of Nissans I see round these parts (NW London) are Qashqai’s, Jukes and Leafs (or should that be Leaves? There are lots of those as well…) If your other half does push the button on the 3, do let us know how he finds it.

      I must say I’m inclined to agree regarding the notion of the twist beam. Mazda engineers tend to know their onions and like Lancia in their heyday, who appeared to work wonders with leaf springs, I see no reason why one cannot get decent results from prosaic hardware with a little intelligent application. I would (perhaps incorrectly) posit the notion by the way that the twist beam is the leaf spring of our time.

      I genuinely wish Mazda well with this one. My admiration for them only grows, alongside my fears for their medium-term future as the industry enters a decisive state of contraction. The Miata sounds like a blast by the way…

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