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Moving towards luxury
THE Mazda 3 is the culmination of the brand's efforts to become a premium version of itself on a number of levels.
At a design conference in November last year, Hiroshi Inoue, managing executive officer, in charge of Asia & Oceania, and New Emerging Markets of Mazda Motor Corporation, and president of Mazda South-east Asia, told The Business Times that Mazda is seeking to move towards a more premium position, the better to differentiate it from its Japanese rivals such as Honda, Nissan and Toyota.
The Mazda 3 is a crucial first piece of the puzzle, and many of the features on board, both obvious and subtle, are things car buyers would expect to find on a car with a more upmarket position.
As mentioned, the overall design approach focuses on "reducing visual noise", according to Mazda's chief designer Yasutake Tsuchida.
"Sharp lines are not seen on this car, to encourage the reflection of light and shadow on the body," he says.
Coincidentally, Mercedes-Benz pursued a similar elimination-of-lines approach with its new CLA four-door coupe, saying better proportions allowed for a bigger focus on the car's surfaces.
The appearance of a single, cohesive form has obvious luxury connotations. It's exactly the same thing smartphone manufacturers have spent millions on in order to make a device's screen devoid of camera peepholes, bezels or buttons.
Besides a more unified-looking interior, Mazda claims to have taken extra steps to elevate its interior quality experience as well.
This includes making sure all of the buttons and switches have the same tactile and aural feedback. It even claims to have reduced the variance of the white backlighting of the entire cabin, so that it appears more uniform and harmonious.
Infotainment systems on mainstream cars are sometimes a weak point, but the new Mazda Connect system wouldn't look out of place on a Lexus. It has an 8.8-inch screen, which is very large for this segment. It even packs extra hardware to ensure a lag-free, crisp user experience, with one processor for the main system itself, and a sub-processor for navigation and a quick bootup process.
There are still signs of the Mazda 3's inexpensive roots, though design ingenuity helps minimise this. Harder plastics can still be found on the underside of the dashboard, for instance, so the glovebox is nothing to look at.
But it's been cleverly hidden in shadow, making the cheaper plastic there inconspicuous even in daylight.
If the Mazda 3 is a harbinger of those to come, then the Mazdas of the future will not only push the brand's traditional rivals to be on their toes, but luxury brands, too.