Mazda is entering a new chapter in its history with its next-generation product line-up, and the first model to lead the charge is the new Mazda 3 (followed by the CX-30). First revealed back in November 2018, the C-segment model features the very latest that the Japanese carmaker has to offer in terms of design, technology and ideology.

As you are already aware by now, the new Mazda 3 is slated to be launched in Malaysia in July this year, but before that takes place, we were given the opportunity to get better acquainted with the model as part of an ASEAN sneak preview in Japan.

There’s plenty to get into here, which is why we’re dividing this post into segments to examine some of the highlights aspects of the new Mazda 3. And we’ll begin with the basis of the car, namely the SkyActiv-Vehicle Architecture.

SkyActiv-Vehicle Architecture and NVH – why a torsion beam instead of a multi-link?

To develop the platform, Mazda first examined the human body’s ability to balance itself unconsciously when walking, whereby it discovered there is limited movement of the head. From its research, the carmaker discovered two important points to maintaining this state of balance, with the first being the pelvis remains in an upright position that maintains the spine’s natural “S” curve.

Secondly, the reactive force from the ground when walking is transferred smoothly from the legs to the pelvis, which itself moves regularly and continuously.

With these discoveries, the carmaker opted for a holistic approach that involved designing seats that meets the requirements of point number one. Not only do the new seats help to keep the pelvis upright, and in turn, maintaing the spine’s “S” curve,” they have a more rigid internal structure so that the forces from the road is transferred from the sprung mass (car body) to the human body in a straight line.

This bring us neatly to the new Mazda 3’s body (SkyActiv-Body as they call it), which now features front-to-back connections (between the rigid front and rear damper mounts), creating multi-directional ring structures to improve diagonal rigidity. This structure, along with the use more high-strength steels rated at up to 1,310 MPa, reduces the delay in the transmission of input energy from the front to rear dampers by 30%.

As for the chassis (or SkyActiv-Chassis in Mazda speak), the company looked at how it can make the energy transfer from the road to the body smoother over time, rather than changing the size of the energy.

To do so, the suspension arm angles faces downward (inverted V shape) so the inertial force of the sprung mass pushes the tyres down to the ground. Mazda also considered the tyres during development, opting for softer side walls with reduced vertical stiffness for vibration absorption and damping.

Another aspect of the suspension is the use of spherical bushings for consistent energy transmission with no slippage, which also makes it easier for the attachment of the suspension arm and link to rotate smoothly.

Of course, we can’t talk about the new Mazda 3’s suspension without mentioning the torsion beam that replaces the outgoing car’s multi-link setup in the rear. There’s a good reasoning for it, and it involves something that has been deemed an issue for Mazda cars in the past: NVH.

With a multi-link setup, there are a lot more moving parts and associated pivot points that can cause stray vibrations to be transmitted to the car’s body (sprung mass). A torsion beam, by comparison, is simpler with a single diagonal input, allowing it to be better fine tuned for a variety of road surfaces.

The design of the torsion beam for the Mazda 3 is totally different from what is used on the current Mazda 2 and CX-3. The patented design sees the transverse beam expand wider from the centre, and project manager Kota Beppu explained the stamped sections near the ends help to minimise compliance-steer, eliminating rear wheel toe-in for a more neutral steering characteristic.

There are other benefits too, as the simpler torsion beam takes up less space, allowing for more rear seat and boot space, which is certainly something that is welcomed.

Beppu did concede that on a race track, a multi-link setup has its advantages. However, the reality is, the Mazda 3 isn’t a time attack machine but a daily driver, and the company believes this to be the ideal solution for a vast majority of its buyers.

Mazda’s focus on reducing NVH goes beyond just the above-mentioned measures, as it also considered another aspect of the human body, or more specifically, how people perceive sounds. Through its research, it discovered that drastic changes in sounds and vibrations are unpleasant, and looked to “linearise” this by changing damping characteristics.

As a result, epoxy damping nodes and bonds have been introduced to certain areas of the vehicle frame to absorb vibrations, taking up one less spot weld instead of the conventional four. That’s not all, as the frame has also been designed with fewer holes to minimise places where sound can enter.

This rethinking even extends to the doors, which now lose their large speaker holes at the base, requiring the bass speaker boxes usually in that position to be placed in the front cowl – the new platform allows enough space for this to be possible.

Katsuya Shimizu, who works in the NVH performance development department, added that there a total of 49 revisions from the current Mazda 3 to help combat wind and road noise, which examples like larger floor mats that use a finer fibrous material to better absorb sound reflecting within the cabin, along with additional/enlarged sound insulation in various areas, thicker windows, a lower wiper position, new seals, the addition of sound absorption tubes, among many others.

Styling – sedan and hatchback get distinct exterior; driver-centric interior with new layout

As with the outgoing model, two body styles – sedan and hatchback (live gallery here) – are being offered, both styled according to Mazda’s updated Kodo design philosophy that follows the theme of “beauty through subtraction,” as Mazda chief designer Yasutake Tsuchida explained.

Without needing prominent creases, the Mazda 3 draws inspiration from the Vision Coupe by playing on light and shadow (utsorai) to create dramatic reflections along the vehicle’s sides. Tsuchida noted that the company decided to give each body style is own distinct character, with the hatchback being the more dynamic of the two. Beyond the bonnet and side mirrors, the body panels are different between the two body types.

Placed side by side, you can see the differences, as the hatchback’s diamond-pattern grille mesh, curved back side reflections and strong haunches help to make a stronger visual presence. A dedicated colour – Polymetal Grey – and the bold C-pillars further add to this, and Tsuchida said this overall design of the hatchback is deliberate to attract attention and create a “love at first sight” scenario.

Indeed, with many spectators having a thing or two to say about the hatchback’s C-pillar, the design has done its job, and you’ll either love it or hate it, but you will talk about it, which is the point. As beauty is a subjective matter, we’ll leave it to you to share your thoughts in the comments section below.

The new body also sees changes to the dimensions, with hatchback now measuring 4,459 mm long (-1 mm compared to its predecessor), 1,797 mm wide (+2 mm) and 1,440 mm tall (-10 mm). The sedan now spans 4,662 mm long (+82 mm), 1,797 mm wide (+2 mm) and 1,445 mm tall (+5 mm). Both body types also have a longer wheelbase at 2,725 mm (+25 mm).

One aspect that is identical on both body styles is the interior, which also follows the “beauty through subtraction” approach. With the aim of reducing “visual noise,” the new layout is much simpler, with less items on the dashboard to distract your eyes.

This driver-centric setup also sees two dedicated air vents and a widescreen infotainment display angled towards the person behind the wheel. Over on the passenger side, there are two more vents, while rear vents are available (depending on the market) for those seated in the rear.

Attention has also been given to the centre console to promote better ergonomics and practicality, as the centre console lid/arm rest now adopts a “karakuri” mechanism that involves sliding the lid back before it is lifted up so the elbow isn’t excessively raised.

The lid is also much larger here, and there’s more space underneath to accommodate an iPad, smartphone and sunglasses comfortably. Further up is where you’ll find the infotainment controls followed by the gear lever, covered cupholders and a small storage cubby.

Other ergonomic changes include a telescopic steering that has a wider range of adjustment of 70 mm (+10 mm), and there’s a front seat cushion tilt adjustment to ensure the best possible seating position.

In terms of displays, there’s a seven-inch TFT-LCD unit (with multiple display functions) in the instrument cluster, and the head-up display (Active Driving Display) now projects onto the windscreen rather than having a supplmentary pop-up screen as before.

Finer details include unifying the car’s interior illumination, which requires Mazda to ensure every LED white light source inside the cabin illuminates according to a tight colour tolerance of just one thirds of the usual. It explains that proper light quality is important to showcase the beauty of the interior, much the same way you seek out good lighting for that perfect selfie.

Mazda Connect and sound systems – no more touchscreen, premium audio experience

The Mazda 3 is the first to get the seventh-generation Mazda Connect infotainment system, which has been completely overhauled as part of a new HMI interface. Kazuhiro Ikeda, who is the technical leader of infotainment development at Mazda, points out that the new system aims to reduce cognitive distraction, minimising the amount of time your mind is focused off the road.

As a start, the controls on the centre console has been simplified with a rotary dial being surrounded by quick access buttons to the media and navigation menu, as well as the home and back button. The favourites button that was previously bundled together is now isolated, while the volume/quick mute dial doubles as a forward/previous switch as well.

Upon first usage, there’s an uncanny resemblance to BMW’s iDrive system, including the split-view mode that is available. With the new system, the main screen now displays various functions horizontally with easy-to-read text and accompanying symbols. It certainly looks much neater compared to the previous system, which featured a row of icons at the base of the screen.

Accessing each menu is done by depressing the rotary dial or just pushing it right, and for further functions, you’ll need to depress the button again. As an example, where the media menu of the previous system has a row of icons at the bottom for various functions like changing media sources, they are now tucked away in an additional menu instead.

A side effect of reducing cognitive distraction is the total omission of touch interface from the display, which itself is placed further forward as a result. That means you are required to use the rotary controller for character input into the navigation system, which may put a damper on things, depending on the user.

However, the carmaker says its new interface offers a more intuitive experience that over time, will basically be muscle memory to the user. This plays into its target of ensuring you spend less time figuring out the infotainment system, and more time paying attention to the road.

For those who are curious, Android Auto and Apply CarPlay support is present, with Mazda acknowledging that some customers prefer these system instead. The integration extends so any media playback is shown in split-view mode, should you ever want to use the car’s own navigation function at the same time.

To go along with the infotainment system, the Mazda 3 also gets the Mazda Harmonic Acoustics sound system as standard, which comprises of eight speakers placed strategically to “reproduce sound true to its sources.”

As mentioned earlier, the bass speakers have been repositioned to the front cowl, which was done to prevent door rattle, improving NVH. These are joined by a pair of 2.5 cm tweeters placed at the base of the A-pillars, along with 8-cm units catering to mid-range sounds on the front and rear door cards.

Cars with the optional Bose sound system gain two satellite speakers in the rear (C-pillar on the hatchback and parcel shelf on the sedan), plus an 8 cm centre speaker under the dashboard and an additional subwoofer in the boot to bring the speaker count up to 12.

Mazda claims this setup provides the best sound clarity possible, and is so proud of it that there’s even a dedicated “Driver’s Seat” listening position that retimes the speakers’ outputs so the sound arrives at the driver’s ears at the same time and volume. A brief demonstration lent promise to these claims, but it’s something that has to be experienced to be believed.

Engine line-up – no SkyActiv-X for Malaysia; two SkyActiv-G petrol engines only

For the Malaysian market, we’ll only be getting two engines from the SkyActiv-G petrol range, which include a 1.5 litre (118 hp and 153 Nm) and 2.0 litre (162 hp and 213 Nm) unit. Both come with a six-speed SkyActiv-Drive automatic transmission as standard with drive going to the front wheels.

These engines, along with a larger 2.5 litre unit that we won’t get, feature new intake ports and piston shape, split fuel injection, and a coolant control valve to deliver better performance and fuel economy.

The much-hyped SkyActiv-X engine has been given a miss here (likely due to pricing concerns), and we never got the chance to sample one during our recent trip to Japan. However, we have written about the compression ignition engine at length in an earlier post you can read about here.

A SkyActiv-D 1.8 litre turbodiesel (114 hp and 270 Nm) will also not come to our part of the world – the mill replaces the 1.5 litre and 2.2 litre diesel units previously used, and comes equipped with a single, variable geometry turbocharger and NOx Storage Catalyst (NSC) system.

Safety advancements – more airbags and driver assist systems

In terms of passive safety, the ratio of high-stength steel rated of 980 MPa or higher has been increased from the 3% used on the previous model to 30% for the new car. There’s also a new perimeter beam and rear side frames to create a body that more effectively absorbs energy.

Additionally, a new driver’s knee airbag brings the total count up to seven, and Mazda stays this will be a standard fitment worldwide. The hood also adopts an energy-absorbing inner structure to more quickly absorb the impact energy from a pedestrian’s head, while the front bumper mitigates the degree of injury to the knees in the event of a collision.

Depending on the market, Mazda’s i-Activsense suite of active and driver assist systems now includes a Driver Monitoring system, Front Cross Traffic Alert (FCTA) and Cruising and Traffic Support (CTS) system – the last item being an active cruise control system with stop and go functionality.