What It Is: The next-generation Mazda 3 being tested. Although this mule is cloaked in a fairly complex vinyl wrap of camo, we can clearly see the A-pillar, the hood, and the roofline are right in line withan image of the next-gen 3 we discovered last fall. The fascia has been blacked out and taped up, but the signature of Mazda’s Kodo design language, the grille, is instantly recognizable—gone is the smiley grille of the current car. The language extends to the wheel arches and the shelf-like haunches.
Why It Matters: The new 3 will be built in Mexico, allowing Mazda to sidestep some of the currency imbalances that affect the profit margins of the rest of Mazda’s Japanese-built North American lineup. The 3 is Mazda’s bestselling model, and draws an audience from several different demographics: first-time buyers, coupon-clipping young families, boy racers who don’t mind trading a little acceleration for a tight chassis, and those who want a practical car that doesn’t fall into the stereotypes of a Civic or a Focus or a Corolla. Whatever the reason, Mazda needs to provide these customers with a satisfying owner experience to ensure return business, and keep the profits flowing.
Platform: What the next 3 uses as a platform is up for some discussion. Initially, it was believed that Mazda’s new compact entry would make use of the CX-5’s lightweight architecture, but there’s speculation that the new car may utilize a heavily redesigned version of the current 3’s aging C1 platform. Based partially on Mazda’s cost-based decision to use a massaged version of a previous platform in place of an entirely new one in the recent redesign of the 2014 Mazda 6, the theory makes sense financially; the question is whether or not Mazda can achieve its goals in terms of weight savings and chassis stiffness with the C1.
Powertrain: The 155-hp, naturally aspirated 2.0-liter four-cylinderSkyactiv-G engine currently was added to the 3 lineup late in the current car’s life, and it will carry over. However, the 167-hp, 2.5-liter four-banger likely is too thirsty and too lethargic to continue on, even in a volume capacity—don’t expect to see it in the new 3. It’s possible that Mazda could add its new 184-hp, 2.5-liter, which sees duty in the CX-5 and the 6, to the 3 lineup, too. Dropping the brand’s 2.2-liter turbo-diesel into the engine bay would make an oil-burning 3 one of the more-exciting options in the compact segment, and we hear it’s under consideration, but we’re not holding out breath for such a thing. It would be unthinkable for the zoom-zoom brand to pull its manual option, so six-speed transmissions of both manual and automatic varieties are likely to continue. Word on the next-generation Mazdaspeed 3 is quiet at the moment, but with a growing marketplace, we’d expect one to be in the plans.
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