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Mazda’s relentless pursuit of driving pleasure

We meet the all-new 3 hatchback and sedan in Japan

That grille will soon be a common sight on our roads. PHOTO BY MIKKO DAVID

The all-new Mazda 3 will be breaking cover very soon in the Philippine market, but we’re lucky enough to have already tested the car at the automaker’s Mine Proving Grounds in Japan’s Yamaguchi Prefecture. There’s a lot going on for this car: It represents the first of Mazda’s next-generation vehicles that will hit the global market soon. Everything is new, save for the powertrain. And even that will be augmented with Skyactiv-X.

The all-new Mazda 3 looks totally stylish from every angle, whether in hatchback or sedan form. PHOTOS FROM MAZDA

The Kodo (Soul of Motion) design language is taken to its next evolution, focusing on a cleaner, simpler and more fluid design minimizing all visual noise and distractions to give the car a sleeker appearance. Perhaps the biggest talking point is the hatchback’s slab-sided C-pillar. It is the most polarizing aspect of the design. But I love it. It looks sensual and exotic, like the curvy hips of an attractive female, perfectly framing the equally sensual rear end with the sleek LED taillights. The hatchback is sporty and excitable street wear, while the sedan is a junior executive Mazda 6 (somber, restrained but very handsome, like a well-cut Italian blazer). Two distinct personalities, but you know they’re from the same parents.

The author, in case you are not familiar with him, is big. Which says a lot about the interior. PHOTOS BY MIKKO DAVID

The impressive design carries into the cabin. Chief designer Yasutake Tsuchida is proud of the new Mazda 3’s interior as much as he is proud of the exterior. By simplifying the dashboard architecture—removing all clutter especially from the driver’s line of sight and using new soft-touch materials—Mazda has made the new 3’s interior capable of looking perfectly at home inside a premium luxury vehicle. The 12.3-inch central display for the infotainment system has been moved back, and the heads-up display appears further ahead than before, lessening visual obstruction.

The new Mazda font is easy on the eye. Good for us. PHOTOS BY MIKKO DAVID

Mazda also designed its own font for the infotainment system, the few knobs and buttons around the dash, and the owner’s manual. The same Mazda font will also be used in all official Mazda communication.

Unless you’re an obsessive audiophile, you won’t need to upgrade the stock audio setup. PHOTO BY MIKKO DAVID

The audio system has also been rethought: Mazda repositioned the speakers to help give a proper listening-room sound stage. The main speakers have been moved to the front fenders, and the tweeters to the doors, with a center channel on the dashboard. The result? In driver-seat listening mode, the driver feels like he or she is at the very center of a listening room. Digital wizardry that works, not some marketing bullshit.

The multimedia system should provide a better, more seamless user experience for owners. PHOTOS BY MIKKO DAVID

Mazda even reworked the multimedia system’s engine: There are now two processors, the main one that controls almost all major in-car functions, and a sub-processor that starts up faster, allowing the GPS system to sync more swiftly and get you started moving sooner. Even the radio tuner has been moved to the back, minimizing interference as it receives analog signal before converting it to digital signal and playing it through the speakers.

The all-new Mazda 3 ebbs and flows beautifully from corner to corner around the track. A single, fluid and sweeping motion best describes driver input

The platform is new. The basic chassis is 15kg lighter, but with Mazda adding more safety features and equipment, actual curb weight will be similar to the outgoing model. The wheelbase has been stretched by 25mm, helping to give more room and high-speed stability. Key joint, pinch and connection points in the chassis benefit from special rubber dampers that absorb noise, vibration and harshness. The previous industry standard was to liberally slather some form of gel or foam-type dampening material all over. Effective but heavy and inefficient.

The exterior styling just becomes truly hypnotic the longer you stare at it. It is a head-turner. PHOTOS BY MIKKO DAVID

The switch from a multilink rear axle to a simple torsion beam might seem like a downgrade, but the increase in rear space—especially for cargo space in both the hatchback and the sedan—outweighs any perceived loss in performance for normal day-to-day driving, which is something Mazda focused on. The idea is to give more pleasure to regular owner-driver clients who use their cars for all occasions. The sedan has also grown by 80mm in overall length, most of which went to extending the rear trunk, which is now massive (considering how sleek and streamlined the car looks).

We bet Mazda Philippines president and CEO Steven Tan can’t wait to bring in these babies. PHOTO BY MIKKO DAVID

So, how does the new-generation Mazda 3 drive? In a word: beautifully.

By that, I mean the all-new 3 ebbs and flows beautifully from corner to corner around the track. A single, fluid and sweeping motion best describes driver input—accelerating, braking and especially steering. Mazda paid careful attention to eliminating unnecessary excess chassis movement by reducing unsprung weight, playing with the length of the front suspension arms such that they transmit force on a horizontal plane immediately rather than on a vertical plane. This equalizes spring and damper rates as close as possible from front to back with respect to weight distribution, and reduces weight particularly in the front and rear overhangs. It’s a very subtle sensation. There’s no slight movement to the opposite direction of your steering input before you feel your weight shifting to the outer side of the turn. The same goes for acceleration and braking. But it is consistent and repeatable.

Botchi may not have Schumacher’s wet-weather driving skills, but he managed well enough. PHOTOS FROM MAZDA

The minimization of excess chassis and body movement helps deliver a more refined, more composed and more mature driving experience, especially when compared with the previous model. Over a long period of time behind the wheel, you feel less tired, more alert and more energetic. The added refinement also helps give the car a more premium feel. Of course, driving position is excellent. Steering wheel and column align perfectly with your shoulders. Your feet have adequate space, and they land in a natural position on the floor. You also have a clear view of the road ahead thanks to well-positioned and responsive controls. All in all, the driving dynamics is jinba ittai taken to the next level.

The waiting game intensifies. The new Mazda 3 is just around the corner. Mark your short list. PHOTO BY MIKKO DAVID

Mazda remains to be a low-volume seller in a market obsessed with Toyota, Honda and Nissan. But the company’s small size, knack for breathtaking design and sheer engineering genius define the brand and the customers that are attracted to it. It’s not for everyone, but those drawn to it are keen driving fans who see cars as emotional extensions of their will rather than rolling appliances.

Botchi Santos

Botchi is your friendly, walking car encyclopedia. He loves helping people choose the right vehicle for themselves as much as he enjoys picking the right one for himself. Expect him to write about car culture, test drives and car-shopping advice. His regular column is called ‘Car Life’.