Mazda3 2019: When the form follows the function | Special Design

I have to make a confession: I fell in love with the new Mazda3. Maybe because in theory, I am a designer and therefore I am naturally inclined to get passionate about cars that, like this Mazda3, focus so much on the exterior style. It will be because when I happen to have a vehicle on trial for a few days I study it so much, I use it and drive it as much as possible to understand how it is and how it goes, to the point that then I become attached to it and I don't want to give it back . The fact is that this Mazda3 left me after about two weeks of sensations that no other car has been able to transmit to me, and someone who has never been particularly fascinated by Japanese cars tells you.

Mazda3 2019: When the form follows the function | Special Design
Mazda3 2019: When the form follows the function | Special Design


But here the Japanese of Mazda has launched a real declaration of intent: to create "an object of universal desire," which was not merely a vehicle to go from point A to point B. The design - needless to say - is Mazda3 ace up its sleeve. Let's find out why in this first Special Design signed by HDmotori.


First of all, as a designer, let me clarify once and for all a concept: design does not merely mean the shape of a product. The term English design indicates, more generally, the project. Quoting the Treccani.

The English term design, which literally means "project" or "design," refers to the process of designing any object: a piece of furniture, a machine, a coffee maker, an electronic device. The designer, very often an architect, is, in fact, the one who is in charge of planning the realization of a product, studying it carefully, through drawings on paper or on the computer, through simulations and analysis of materials, efficiency, and utility but also the pleasantness of the forms. The concept of design is today closely linked to industrial production, as it refers more often to mass-produced objects thanks to mechanical processes.

When we say that a piece of furniture or an appliance is a design object, it means that we have recognized some features: that they are not hand-made but industrially, that they are functional, that is, suitable for the purpose for which they were conceived, and that have a original form, sometimes imaginative, sometimes simple and free of superfluous decorations.

And it is precisely here that I want to dwell: "form without superfluous decorations." Mazda3 is the first Mazda series produced after the Vision Coupé and Kai concepts, presented in 2017. These are two models that evolve the Kodo design language - Soul of Motion of the Japanese House, distinguishing itself by a philosophy that consists in removing all the elements superfluous to express the essence of Japanese aesthetics, or "serenity, comfort, and luxury."

Removing the superfluous does not mean falling into minimalism, it does not mean creating sterile and unexciting forms, even if for an industrial product, this philosophy could actually work. But the difference between product design and car design is precisely the emotional component. Because a car is not bought only to go from A to B, a vehicle is purchased first of all because we like it aesthetically and because it communicates, in part, our personality. And then, from the aesthetics of a car, we can often have a preview of the driving sensations that will be able to convey to us.

Let's start with proportions: the Mazda 3 does not hide its nature as a front-wheel drive and transverse engine hatchback. We especially notice it from the very pronounced front overhang, which makes the front section less harmonious and more unbalanced concerning the collected rear forms.

A side B that divides, there is nothing to do: with the C pillar deliberately exasperated and completely smooth and a hint of the tail, Mazda has created an apparent reference to past hatchbacks like the Alfasud and the first Seat Leon, so much criticized but equally loved. Admittedly, it does not leave indifferent and to me, personally, this "big ass" (forgive me the poetic license, but I could not define it otherwise) like it from crazy.

There are no localized bulges, but it is the whole side that widens in a way I would say almost sensual, emphasizing the width of the roadways. Citing an expression dear to car designers, this car is reminiscent of an athlete with a sculptural and muscular body, dressed in an elegant evening dress. You may like it or not, but there is no question that it is a coherent and studied aesthetic choice, capable of arousing emotions in the observer. This has also led the well-known photographer and director Rankin to create a portfolio of images that celebrate the essence of the lines and the light effects of the new Mazda3.

The absolute protagonist is the Soul Red Crystal paint, a metallic tint that is a bit like Mazda's business card as is the Rosso Ferrari or the Rosso Alfa. Red is deeply rooted in Japanese culture as a symbol of strength and passion, so much so that in the national flag, it represents the sun. In its latest evolution, the Soul Red Crystal shade is designed to emphasize the shapes of the bodywork, with greater depth, higher brilliance, and higher saturation. The internal structure has aluminum flakes with uniform dimensions, which helps to increase the feeling of fluidity of the metal on which the paint is applied.

Soul Red Crystal is innovative for two other reasons: the first is the Aqua-Tech painting system, which reduces the duration of the process by reducing the use of water and lowering CO2 emissions by 17%. The second is the Takuminuri application technique, which reproduces, through machinery, the manual laying of the paint on the surface, returning a result worthy of a craft bodywork.

The dimensions are essential, with a length of 446 cm, which is more than ten cm higher than the average of the competitors, but this has created a car that appears decidedly larger than it is. This emphasis is given in particular by the width of 180 cm and the reduced height of 144 cm. In terms of perception, the choice of adopting thin and horizontally-developed light clusters and a window with a reduced surface contribute to making the Mazda3 even lower and more full. The penalty for paying is a dimly lit and perhaps a bit claustrophobic interior for rear passengers.

Let us dwell on the headlights, an essential element in defining the car's personality: if we look at the car head-on, lights are always associated with the eyes and the nose and mouth grille. The Mazda3 LED matrix headlights are real eyes because the designers have chosen to keep a single fiber-optic LED-backlit ring, which is the pupil, which gives the car an almost human expression.

The thin headlights are instead the half-closed eyelids. The same applies to the rear, where to emphasize the width, two rings have been placed side by side instead of one, a solution perhaps less personal but still coherent and pleasing to the eye. The result? Mazda 3 is absolutely unmistakable even from afar, both day and night.

The front of Mazda3 is a further starting point for reflection on another concept that makes car and car design enthusiasts so much talk about: consistency between form and function. Before talking about driving pleasure, which deserves a separate chapter on Mazda, I wanted to point out some elements that make the Mazda3 one of the few honest cars on the market today.

Let's start with the muzzle. On a traditional thermal car, the internal combustion engine needs some air intakes to cool the mechanical parts. On the Mazda3, these air intakes are all grouped behind the large grille: the remaining surface of the front bumper is in fact totally closed, smooth and polished. Banning those vulgar and useless air intakes that nowadays we find more and more often even on cars that have nothing to do with sports: sportiness is in the treatment of the surface.

Consistency, therefore, between form and function, and we see it also behind, where the aesthetics are lightened by a two-tone bumper (no fake extractor) and above all where we find two chrome exhausts, obviously true. Once again, it is the form that follows the function, and not vice versa.

But the Mazda are cars to drive, so let's get into the cockpit to understand how Mazda designers managed to convey that sense of union between man and machine on which brand communication is played. Jinba Ittai - the driver and his car are one, like a rider and his steed.

Under this guideline, Mazda men have designed the new Mazda3 to achieve what is called Kan Sensation, or "that series of sensory experiences from which people take pleasure and enjoyment while driving their cars." If you want to learn more, I leave you to my day in the company of the MX-5 kept in Maitland and to the complete review of Mazda MX-5 made by Luigi last year.

The images are worth a thousand words: the driver descends into the cockpit, where a wraparound seat welcomes him, designed to offer maximum lateral and lumbar support without being too rigid but not too soft. The feeling of union with the vehicle continues with the large central tunnel, the horizontally developing dashboard, and the enveloping door panels.

The almost manual attention to materials is found in the soft plastics of the upper part of the dashboard and of the door panels.

And by the soft eco-leather covering of the central part of the dashboard, and of the side panels of the central tunnel, which echo the very soft faux leather used for coat the seats and the steering wheel.

This is also a small masterpiece of style and ergonomics, with a thin crown that facilitates gripping, three spokes in the right place and all the controls at hand. The chrome trims that embellish the dashboard, steering wheel, and air vents are excellent, and the tactile feedback of the wheels is precious, with a click that shows the high build quality of this Mazda3, to the point that it quickly flies over the rigid plastics in the lower part of the dashboard. The only shiny plastics are not black as it might seem at first sight, but they have a lower layer engraved laser that generates particular reflections based on the light.

Like outside, even inside the Mazda designers opted for the “less is more” philosophy.

Reducing the number of physical elements with which the driver must interact to a minimum: in addition to the buttons on the steering wheel and the easy physical buttons for climate management.

We find the by now classic rotor for the management of the MZD Connect system, whose interface is constituted by a large screen with a horizontal development of 8.8 inches.

Here too the attention of the designer is in obtaining a form at the service of the function: the technicians have moved the gear lever and the infotainment knob forward so that they can be operated with a more natural arm angle, and also the armrest is longer than before, to adapt to all seat positions. Among other things, the height of the armrest now corresponds to that on the door panel.

The cup holder is also positioned further forward to prevent the driver from being distracted when he has to reach or place the drink. And to reduce distraction, a sizeable head-up color display projected at the base of the windscreen allows the driver to have essential information under control without having to take his eyes off the road. And you can also see it with polarized sunglasses.

No touch screen for the infotainment display: much more practical and safe while driving the central rotor, clickable to select and confirm a choice and equipped with four physical keys for the main shortcuts and for the back function.

Not satisfied, Mazda engineers have redesigned the thickness and shape of the front uprights to reduce the surface that is obscured from view, all while maintaining a natural position for the driver. Not only that: to improve the field of view, the windscreen wipers have also been redesigned to continually change their angle of action: the result is that they manage to clean well up to the edge of the glass, close to almost up to the front pillar on the driver's side.

A curiosity I came across when I looked at the Mazda3 press kit is the attention with which the smallest details have been studied:

1. The operation of the switches, for example, was unified based on cognitive psychology research,
2. Which influenced how these buttons have been designed and designed: for maximum usability, the steering wheel controls combine the use of snap and pressure switches, and
3. The surface of each switch is cantilevered so that it is immediately identifiable by touch.

Dulcis in Fundo: the gear lever. When I said that Japanese cars never particularly liked me, I partly lied. If there is one thing that the Japanese can do well, they are the manual gearboxes. The Mazda3 6-speed is no exception: the gear lever is a small jewel of engineering and design. Engineering because it is concise and easy to operate, with well-contrasted grafts and that pleasant mechanical sensation, all with maneuverability worthy of that of the MX-5.

It almost feels like putting a knife in the butter, and it is a pleasure to use all the gears to get the best out of the naturally aspirated engine. And it's a small design jewel because the lever is beautiful to look at and ergonomic to use, easy to reach and never tiring. We see that it was designed with the sole aim of offering driving pleasure.

At the test of the nine, or driving, the Mazda3 convinces. Only, without special effects, without artifices, without too much electronics (but not too little ...). The Skyactiv-G engine is a naturally aspirated 2-liter, a solution that apparently takes us back 10-20 years when these engines were the norm, and the turbodiesels were only at the beginning of an upward flight that is starting its inexorable descent. The reference to what is old and "out of fashion" ends here. None of this 2 liters can be defined as old: it is a new concept engine, which rejects the concept of downsizing in favor of "rightsizing": the right driver for the right car (according to Mazda).

The mild-hybrid 24V system tries to put a patch to the lack of torque at low speeds, present, thanks to the turbos, on the 1.0 / 1.2 / 1.4 with 3 or 4 cylinders that are increasingly spreading under the hood of the main Mazda3 competitors.

We are not talking about a full-hybrid system, so let's not forget to feel the extra thrust of the electric or to travel in total silence for a few km.

Instead, the presence of the small zero-emission engine (powered by a 0.16 kWh battery recharged during deceleration or braking) ensures a more fluid gait, with smooth and natural transitions when the car starts, accelerates or stops.

Only in part, the electric motor supports with its torque that of the heat engine, guaranteeing the same acceleration (not burning) but consuming less fuel.

Not only that: when shifting up a gear, the engine speed is quickly adjusted to improve clutch operation. This feels, and how, the gear shift is always precise and immediate, and despite the presence of the manual gearbox, the circulation in the city with continuous "first-second" gear changes is not at all stressful as you might think.

And then there are the consumptions, which in real life (and not strongly altered by numerous unfavorable conditions as in the case of the preview test drive of Mazda3.

Which Luigi participated in last February) do justice to the solutions adopted by Mazda to increase the overall efficiency: in addition to the mild hybrid, there is also the deactivation of two of the four cylinders when maximum performance is not required.

The result? After about 1,000 km, in the most varied driving conditions (highway, suburban, city, fully loaded and in the mountains), the onboard computer signaled an average petrol consumption of 6.5 liters per 100 km. On the motorway at 120 km / h with a lot of traffic, I was able to consume 5.5 l / 100 km. Horses are few, but it's still a 2.0 petrol.

The electric is not enough to make Mazda3 snappy at the traffic lights: the delivery is fluid, but the thrust arrives only when the gears are pulled, say over 3,500 rpm. Needless to ask for performance below this threshold, and the same happens when we are in sixth gear at 80 km / h: the recovery is there, but only if we climb to the fourth. 122 bhp is not few in absolute (the 0-100 km / h is covered in 10.4 seconds), but if we consider the setup of steering, gearbox, suspension, and chassis, then yes there is the lack of the 180 hp of the revolutionary Skyactiv-X (the gasoline engine with compression ignition that promises high performance and fuel consumption similar to those of a diesel). This is why I can't wait to try it soon.

And there is one last thing that confirms this tendency to prefer manual driving to autonomous driving: the ADAS are there, they are many, and almost all are standard (HERE the equipment and the Mazda3 2019 price list), but they are calibrated in my opinion a smart way: they never give you the illusion that driving is theirs. For example, the lane change warning system is active but does not keep the car in the center of the lane, it merely corrects the trajectory when we approach the borderline. However, lane centering does exist, but it is active only at low speeds, acting as an assistant in driving in the column, or when driving pleasure is zeroed.

Two things I would have improved on the Mazda3:

1. the possibilities of customization (the white leather for seats and dashboard is reserved for the sedan version not imported in Italy; there is only one design for the 18-inch alloy wheels;
2. it is not possible to have the grille with chrome but only black frame) and rear habitability (there is a sense of general claustrophobia and no air vents).

In short, aesthetics can also divide, but when we talk about design, we talk about the coherence between what we promise and what we do in reality. And this Mazda3 absolutely manages to keep its promises, so much so that last April the car was awarded the prestigious Red Dot Best of the Best award for product design. Wouldn't you fall in love with a car like this?
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