The 2014 Mazda 3 isn’t just another look-alike compact car. We think it’s one of the trendsetters in its class, and its ‘cab-back’ design, with proportions that are more like that of a rear-wheel-drive car, really stand out among other small cars.
The new 3 adopts the company's Kodo "soul of motion" design language, first seen on the CX-5 crossover and Mazda6 mid-size sedan launched over the last two years. The new design improves aerodynamics and cuts drag. The front end might look blunt, but Mazda says both the five-door and sedan achieve drag coefficients of 0.275 and 0.255, respectively, which it deems best in class.
In front, the new Mazda 3 has lost the creepy smile of the previous-generation car (or was that a smirk, we never quite knew). The top corners of the characteristic five-point grille lead into thin, slanted, swept-back headlamps. The cabin is set further to the rear, making the profile dramatically different than the previous version, and other compact cars. The hood and engine compartment are stretched out, with the windshield pillars moved almost 4 inches rearward—in part to accommodate the specially tuned exhaust system of the SkyActiv four-cylinder engine. A sweeping shoulder line along the body side and a more slanted, fastback roofline on the hatchback ends in what Mazda terms "provoking" taillights with pointed ends.
At its best, this combination of the aggressive front grile, crisp edges, and gentle curves, and hunkered-back cabin altogether makes the car look taut and sports-car influenced. At its worst, the Mazda 3 looks a little long-hooded—as if the hoodline of the Mazda 6 sedan had been grafted to the front of what’s otherwise a smaller car.
For all their distinctiveness in front, both the sedan and the hatchback ended up a little too rounded and generic in back, we think. The design, and the proportions in general, definitely work better for the sedan than the hatch; although at the same time, more than one of our editors thought that the hatchback 3 nods to some classic fastback designs.
Inside, Mazda has redesigned the cockpit to focus on the driver, with pedals and manual controls arranged symmetrically around the driver's centerline. Among the design features toward that end are what Mazda calls the Active Driving Display. It's a clear panel that pops up from behind the instrument cluster when the car is turned on to show speed, turn-by-turn directions, and other critical information. The goal is to direct the driver's focus beyond the instruments and closer to the road ahead, while maintaining the best driving posture.
The instrument cluster itself uses a large central analog gauge, with a wing-shaped digital display on either side. Regrettably, Mazda has succumbed to the use of glossy piano black trim pieces for the center console and door accents, set off by satin chrome highlights.