In 2004, the Mazda3's arrival on the compact car scene was a huge breath of fresh air; equipped with competent handling, performance and standout styling, it made a striking point of difference compared to its competitors and the mundane Protegé/323 that it replaced. Even in comparison to the European Ford Focus that shares its platform, the Mazda3 in my eyes set a design benchmark that still looks fresh today.
Now fast forward to 2013, and the Hiroshima based manufacturer is applying final touches to the yet-to-be officially revealed 3rd-generation Mazda3. While expected to break cover later this year, we feel that waiting is not going to satisfy our curiosity. So here it is; the all-new Mazda3, painstakingly rendered using visual clues from the many Zebra-coated prototypes spotted driving out and about. Stunning isn't it?
Immediately one will notice that it looks more mature yet dynamically aggressive than the out-going car. This is due to Mazda's continued application of its 'Kodo' design language - a styling genre previewed by the CX-5 crossover and well-received Mazda6 sedan.
Arguably the next Mazda3 looks to be the best interpretation of Kodo design to date, and anyone with a dislike for clowns will be suitably relieved as the car does away with its controversial smiling grill - instead opting for a psychologically friendly alternative.
The chrome-framed grill and headlights share most of their DNA with the bigger Mazda6, yet where this improves is with better proportioning (I've felt the high hood profile and shoulder/window line on the latest '6' does not gel the best).
Another area of enhancement is with the prominent rear haunches; helping to increase visual stance, they are now even more exaggerated with the sheet-metal flowing up into the wider C-pillars. Speaking of the latter, those rear quarter windows behind the rear doors of the 1st and 2nd generation versions have now disappeared, making the greenhouse appear a fraction more unique.
Around the back, the view is more CX-5 than Mazda6 - though it translates well with shaper surfacing and taillight detailing compared to the compact crossover.
Peering through the more rakish rear window is expected to show a higher quality interior. Whilst the cabin styling of the current car carries a certain flair, it suffers in furnishing with hard plastics and questionable material choices - the 2014 (or 2015MY) version is expected to rectify these issues. Also under the skin, a vast suite of safety technologies will likely appear; like blind spot assist, smart break support, lane departure warning and radar-based active cruise control.
At the business end, the formula is SkyActiv-G driven with a 2.0L four cylinder aided by either six-speed auto or manual transmissions driving the front wheels. However, SkyActiv is much more than a power train - it's a philosophy of fuel saving technologies like i-stop (engine stop-start), high compression ratios and structural weight savings to create a nimbler, more potent package.
In terms of other packaging, expect cabin space to be better utilized (anyone that has sat in the back of the current Mazda3 sedan will know how tight things are), so cue increased legroom front and rear. At this stage, just sedan and hatch configurations will be offered, with the latter being potentially offered in MPS (Mazdaspeed) guise later down the track.
So, will all of this make it the new compact segment leader? Arguably so in an aesthetic sense - compared to the Chevrolet Cruze, Honda Civic, Ford Focus and Volkswagen Golf it is a sculptural delight. What do you think - should the other compact main players be worried or look away unfazed? Let us know in the comments below.
By Josh ByrnesPhoto Renderings Copyright: Josh Byrnes / Carscoops