In the 21st century, common knowledge dictates that a car brand has to please everyone in order to succeed. Thankfully however, Mazda appear to disagree with this assessment.
Mazda’s most recent concept cars don’t photograph well.
What may sound like a negligible statement has, in fact, significant subtext. For in this day and age, photos are everything. In terms of marketing, appearances have never been of greater importance. In the age of the internet, social media et al, the word has lost most of its value to the image. So when food is judged by its looks rather than taste, car makers could be forgiven for making their cars, and concept cars in particular, not so much eye as phone camera candy.
Against this background, Mazda’s most recent tangible statements of intent, the Vision Coupé and Kei concept cars, are nothing short of a revelation. For their aesthetic quality is only truly visible in three dimensions, in the real world. Or, more specifically, it was at last year’s Geneva Motor Show, where I myself tried to capture the deep, substantial beauty of Mazda chief designer, Ikuo Maeda’s most recent creations – in vain.
While unquestionably attractive in pictured form, the Vision Coupé and Kei both possess a visual quality that requires proper examination in order to be appreciated in all of its facets. For that reason, the lighting at the show stand highlighted how changing illumination informed the cars’ appearance – consciously taking into account that this wouldn’t facilitate brilliant snapshots.
This eschewing of the industry’s consensus, of ‘how it’s done’ isn’t just praiseworthy in itself, but highlights how Mazda in general go about the business of designing cars in a different way to the rest – which doesn’t just extend to concept cars.
The new Mazda 3 is the production version of the Kei concept. Not having seen it in the metal, any appraisal of its design obviously comes with a distinct caveat – particularly given aforementioned limited photogenic qualities of Mazda’s most recent Kodo designs. Yet it seems highly unlikely that the reduced graphics of the new 3 have resulted in blandness à la Sensual Purity v2.0. That regrettably massive (from a practical & safety perspective), yet charismatic c-pilar – with its abstract Alfasud flair -, the delicate, intriguing surfacing and the simple and simply sublime graphics should see to that.
What we are dealing with here is a mainstream car executed in distinctly idiosyncratic a fashion. Rather than trying to appeal to some abstract median clientele with this 3 (‘like a Golf, but a bit cheaper’), Mazda have chosen to create a product that will be excluded by some putative customers on the grounds of being too unusual, too distinctive, yet truly aspirational to others. In that sense, it won’t necessarily be ‘premium’, but certainly exclusive – just as an Alfa Romeo or even a BMW used to be, back when both brands stood for something other than a glorious past.
That this stylistic determination is backed up by unusual engineering choices (normally aspirated engines, a focus on driver engagement, rather than electronic nannying) also serves to illustrate how Mazda have sharpened their focus since having regained independence from the Ford Motor Company empire.
Trying to please everybody is a recipe for mediocrity. Mazda, due to a combination of necessity and ingenuity, have obviously realised that they cannot afford this. And that pleasing actual observers, rather than Instagram, is a luxury they must afford.
Eventually, more automotive brands will come to realise too that there is no pleasing everybody. Either that, or they’ll face vacuity first – and then extinction.
The author of this piece runs his own motoring website, which you are welcome to visit at