Mazda found immediate success in 2003 with the release of the first Mazda 3 in Japan (where it's known as the Axela), with the car offering performance, handling, styling and an interior that belied its budget price. Mazda is looking to continue that tradition with an updated Mazda 3 kitted out with a new torque vectoring system and more exciting, efficient diesel engines.
This might be a mid-life refresh, but Mazda's changes start with the chassis. The new 3 is fitted with GVC, or G-Vectoring Control, a system designed to improve handling by gently reducing torque to the driven wheels when it detects a steering input. In doing this, the system puts more weight over the front wheels, making for better turn-in grip and fewer steering corrections. As the driver makes their way out of a corner, the system feeds torque back in, sending power rearwards for greater stability.
According to Mazda, fewer steering corrections makes for a smoother ride in the cabin, both for the driver and their passengers. It also improves traction, especially in wet or snowy conditions.
Diesel is well-and-truly out of vogue with some companies, but the Skyactiv-D motors in the new 3 have been given a complete working over. One of the biggest criticisms leveled at Mazda's cars is about refinement, or lack thereof. That criticism has been addressed in a number of ways, including a new damper incorporated into the piston pin to reduce knock at the specific 3.6 kHz frequency. There's also a fresh, high-precision boost controller for better throttle response under light or medium engine loads.
As well as an updated version of the 2.2-liter Skyactiv-D, there's a 1.5-liter Skyactiv-D on the table. If you're keener on gasoline power, there are 1.5 and 2.0-liter Skyactiv-G options.
They might enjoy the extra power underfoot, but most buyers won't be swayed by the changes made under the skin. Instead, they're more likely to enjoy the 10-way adjustable seats or full-color heads up display. They'll also be grateful for the (optional) traffic sign recognition system, which is capable of recognizing speed signs and warning the driver if they've missed a new limit.
As a car used primarily in busy cities, Mazda has worked hard to improve the 3's active safety features. Rather than sticking with an infrared laser for the auto-emergency braking system, the new 3 has a forward-facing camera fitted. It's able to detect pedestrians and vehicles, and it now operates up to 80 km/h (50 mph) instead of 30 km/h (18.6 mph) on the old car.
On the outside, a focus has clearly been placed on subtle evolution rather than outright evolution, with slightly different lights over that familiar Mazda grin. There are also new paint colors and finishes available to differentiate the updated model from its predecessor.
The car goes on sale from today in Japan, where pricing starts at ¥1,760,400 (US$16,800). The Japanese pricing sheet includes all-wheel drive and hybrid options, but there's no word on whether they'll make it to global markets.
The video below demonstrates Mazda's GVC system, but on a Mazda 6.