New York City
Ten years after unveiling the first-generation Mazda3 compact, and with no corporate love lost for its smiley-faced, second-generation model, the small, independent Japanese automaker Wednesday revealed its all-new 2014 Mazda3, which goes on sale in September. The car was also unveiled Wednesday in Melbourne, St. Petersburg, Istanbul, and London in anticipation of a public unveiling Wednesday evening in Manhattan via Xbox Live. The global rollout is apt since Mazda sells the car in more than 130 countries, and the Xbox Live medium is also appropriate given the 3's target demographic. The compact accounts for 40 percent of Mazda's U.S. sales, some 110,000 cars, and 50 percent of its sales in Canada.
Like the Mazda CX-5 crossover and the 2013 Mazda6 mid-size sedan, the 2014 Mazda3, which will again be offered as both a conventional sedan and a hatchback, is a story about design. Tuesday night, before we'd seen the car, design chief Derek Jenkins smilingly assured us that "there's no more smile" on the 2014 Mazda3, referring to the grin created by the outgoing model's grille and headlamps, a look that undermined the basic goodness of the second-generation vehicle. " 'Mature' is not a bad word for it," he said about the new car, "but it's still sporty, and it clearly follows the Kodo design language that we've introduced on the 6 and the CX-5."
"At Mazda, we don't think affordable has to be boring," Jenkins elaborated Wednesday morning. "Kodo to us means the 'soul of motion.' For the Mazda3, we got rid of the smile in favor of a slightly narrower and taller version of our signature five-point grille from the Mazda6, plus a very prominent lower bumper." Placing his hand on the Mazda3 hatchback's front flank, Jenkins continued: "We pulled the A-post way back, nearly four inches, so it's a couple of inches farther back than on the Ford Focus, which creates a coupe-like cabin and improves visibility. The front fender line is so key to the tension that gives the car its overall dynamic look. You also see the tension in the rear fender, which creates the nice shoulder that highlights the rear lighting feature."
To emphasize the traditional Mazda Zoom Zoom sportiness claim, Jenkins walked his audience through a brief history of Mazda sports cars that were assembled on stage, starting with a 1967 Cosmo Sport, then an early RX-7, and then a first-generation MX-5 Miata. He ended his tour at a first-generation Mazda3 and recalled that, when it debuted a decade ago, "I was working at VW design in Germany, and our engineers had at least three Mazda3s to tear down and try and figure out how this little car company from Hiroshima had made such a great car." Automobile Magazine shares the VW engineers' opinion of the 3, which won our comparison test last summer against the Honda Civic, Dodge Dart, Hyundai Elantra, and Ford Focus.
The 2014 Mazda3's powertrains feature Mazda's much-ballyhooed SkyActive technology and include the carryover 2.0-liter that produces 155 hp and 150 lb-ft of torque, as well as the newest version of Mazda's 2.5-liter that we've come to know and like in the Mazda CX-5 and Mazda6. It produces 184 hp and 185 lb-ft. Both engines, we're happy to note, are offered with either a six-speed manual or six-speed automatic transmission. EPA numbers "will be best in the segment" when they're released in a couple of weeks, Mazda North America product planning chief Tim Barnes assures us.
Mazda is making no promises that it will bring the diesel planned for other markets to North America. A high-performance Mazdaspeed version of the Mazda3 is surely in the cards, but officials for now issue only the predictable "no comment."
The 2014 Mazda3 sits on a 106.3-inch wheelbase, 2.4 inches longer than the 2013 model, while overall length, at 175.6 inches, is nearly two inches shorter. The car sits about half an inch lower than before, and cargo and passenger volumes are largely unchanged. Rear headroom is fractionally lower as a consequence of a more raked rear roofline, but the seats have been restructured and now, as vehicle line manager David Matthew explains, "you feel like you're sitting in the seat rather than on it, as in the 2013 model." In our brief time sitting in both the front and rear of the 2014 Mazda3, the seats indeed felt supportive and enveloping, especially in the front. There is sufficient rear headroom for a six-footer. The seats also look great, with slender profiles and handsome stitching on the optional leather.
The outgoing Mazda3's cabin suffered from a tiny, poorly located navigation screen and a haphazard array of secondary controls. That's been swept away with this comprehensive redesign, which results in a new instrument panel that looks like it would be at home in a car costing ten grand more. Punctuated by a handsome steering wheel with carbon fiber style accents, it's all part of an ambitious interior redesign headed up by Julien Montousse of Mazda's California design studio.
"It was a huge challenge going to Hiroshima and convincing them to break away from Mazda's traditional way of designing interiors," the Frenchman and former General Motors designer told Automobile Magazine. "Mazda is used to a T-shaped IP, but I wanted to envelope the driver in a cockpit-style shell. This interior is the first one where we've truly succeeded in defining a cockpit zone and a separate passenger zone. I first worked on cockpit-style themes when I was at General Motors, in the early stages of development for the Chevy Corvette C7." He brought the C7 experience with him to Mazda three and a half years ago and designed the interior of the seminal Mazda Shinari concept that introduced the Kodo design language. He makes it clear the 3's interior points the way toward other future Mazda cabins, and it seems a natural for the next MX-5 Miata.
The cabin also features a head-up display and a new Active Driving Display pop-up screen above the main instrument pod that will feed navigation directions, text messages, vehicle speed, and other information to keep the driver's eyes pointed toward the road. Twitter and Facebook updates will be read aloud to the driver, who can verbally respond. The center stack is now available with a choice of two available display screens, a big upgrade over the previous screen that was about the size of a wristwatch face and was buried in the IP. A twist dial between the seats gives equal access to both driver and passenger to control the optional navigation system and the stereo.
Mazda is pushing hard for the Mazda3 to be not only the sportiest, most fuel-efficient, most stylish compact sedan in America but also the safest, and to that end is introducing the optional i-ACTIVSENSE package, which uses a variety of radar sensors and cameras to provide blind-spot monitoring, lane-departure warning, forward-obstruction warning, headlight dimming, braking intervention, and radar cruise control. Package pricing has not yet been announced.
Pricing for the 2014 Mazda3, which Mazda says will be "fully competitive and in the heart of the compact-car segment," likely will be announced the week of July 8, the same time we drive the hatchback and see the sedan for the first time. Check back for our drive report and full specifications.