Recognition of great design does no harm to Mazda’s fine repute
At a time when the motor industry is free thankfully of mainstream mundanity, Iain Robertson is utterly delighted that his tip-for-the-top from May 2019, the new Mazda3, is now officially the ‘2020 World Car Design of the Year’; it deserves it.
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Yet, it is a far from objective quality. We can be influenced psychologically by shapes and forms that may possess some deep primordial significance. In the automotive scene alone, national references can be reflected in a wheel-arch outline, although they can also be intensely cliched, when German BMW incorporates the Union Jack within the Mini’s taillamp units, which is particularly irksome, when that aforementioned Mini may have never touched UK soil.
Peugeot employed a pouting upper lip to the radiator aperture outline of its 207 model, in a reference to its tenuous links to Formula One at the time. More recently, Suzuki applied a similar elongating approach to the radiator inlet of its Swift Sport model. On the other hand, when Jaguar created the XF luxury saloon, its designer, Ian Callum, borrowed a Moulinex electric kitchen knife to ape its shape with a chrome fillet in its lower front bumper. Both Volkswagen (on its sassy T-Roc model’s supplementary lower front bumper lamp surround) and Citroen (on the rear window surround of its C5 Aircross) use a near-identical hexagonal shape for quite different reasons on their models. In all cases, they are design elements with intriguing appeal.
Volvo, thanks to Peter Horbury, grew the ‘Horbury shoulders’ on all of its models, with a simple L-shaped trim fillet in the rearmost side windows of its estate cars differentiating between the Cross-Country and conventional variants. Meanwhile, despite several designers weighing heavily on the overall shapes of successive series of BMWs, the company has retained the ‘Hofmeister Kink’ (a small but noticeable cut-out in the C-pillar glazing) as a style reference point. Peugeot has done similarly with the shape of its rear side windows throughout the ‘20-’ series of models (from 205 to 208 but also applied it to others in its range). Peru-born Belgian, Luc Donckerwolke, styled the original 1999 Skoda Fabia but carried its front fender line onto the first Bentley Coupe of the modern era.
Although each of these is related to one, or more design elements, appreciative observers need to fill their boots with the outstanding forms that emerge from the Italian styling houses, such as Pininfarina, Bertone, Ital Design and Zagato, each of which can be engaged, or commissioned, to build complete rolling models of such unerring gorgeousness that they can leave you breathless in admiration, heart pumping through your chest, as you pore over all the angles of their latest supercar renderings. You see? It is entirely subjective.
While Mazda has been an almost unwitting design influence in brand terms, gifting us such standouts as its rotary-engined models (RX2, RX3, RX7), ever since the seminal 2002 Mazda6 saloon and later estate variant broke cover, it has adopted a distinctive Euro-Jap style for many of its latest cars. It is unsurprising, as the company operates styling studios both at home in Japan, as well as in Frankfurt, Germany.
Crowning the company’s centenary celebrations in this difficult year, the latest Mazda3 has lifted the 2020 World Car Design of the Year honours, one of the special categories of the World Car Awards (WCA). The Mazda3 is the second Mazda to be named World Car Design of the Year, following the Mazda MX-5 in 2016.
Japanese car designers are always keen to clarion and name their latest design language and, introduced in 2010, Mazda’s Kodo philosophy, with its ability to breathe vitality into a car, has been the driving force behind the multi-award-winning styling of the current compact Mazda range. The Mazda3 was the first vehicle to showcase the latest developments, with a more mature rendition targeting greater styling prestige, through the elegance and rigour of a minimalist, less-is-more aesthetic that was inspired by traditional Japanese art and the beauty of space between objects.
Only through hundreds of hours of painstaking clay sculpting and painting work has it been possible to hone the Mazda3’s unique design ethics that create subtle undulations of light and shade gliding over the car’s smooth body, giving birth to a natural and powerful expression of vitality. Creating a form that includes both beauty and simplicity demands time, discipline intensity and craftsmanship. Yet it is fundamental to Mazda’s next-generation design vision, in which the ownership experience is further enriched by the presentation of the car as art.
Mazda has enjoyed several successes at the World Car Awards (an annual contest adjudicated by an 86-member jury of automotive journalists from 25 countries). The Mazda2 won overall in 2008, the current-generation MX-5 was the first car ever to win both the World Car of the Year award and a second category, the World Car Design of the Year award.
In the UK, the Mazda3 range features 27 models across the combined hatchback and saloon line-up. Available in five trim levels (SE-L, SE-L Lux, Sport Lux, GT Sport and GT Sport Tech), the well-equipped Mazda3 is offered in the UK with a choice of two petrol engines, both of which feature the 24v Mazda M Hybrid mild-hybrid system.
The 122ps 2.0-litre Skyactiv-G engine features cylinder-deactivation and is matched exclusively to front-wheel drive, with a choice of automatic, or manual transmission, across all five trim levels on the hatchback version. Likewise, the ground-breaking Spark Controlled Compression Ignition (SPCCI) Skyactiv-X petrol engine is also offered across all grades with a choice of transmission. Additionally, for the first time since the Mazda 323 AWD, Mazda offers an all-wheel drive car in this sector with the GT Sport Tech Skyactiv-X hatch available with Mazda’s latest advanced i-Activ all-wheel drive system.
The Mazda3 Saloon is matched exclusively to the Skyactiv-X engine with front-wheel drive and offers a stylish saloon alternative to established mainstreamers. Apart from a generous standard equipment tally across the entire model line-up, every Mazda3 features a colour windscreen projecting head-up display, radar cruise control and LED headlights.
Conclusion: Mazda is leading an interesting mainstream design direction at this time and this accolade is a just reward for taking a distinctive, elegant and different approach to vehicle design dynamics.