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Celebrating 20 years of the Mazda3

The Mazda3, also known as the Axela in some regions for the first three generations, has been a popular choice in the compact car segment since its introduction in 2003. As Mazda3 marks its 20th anniversary, take a look in to the story so far

The beginning

In 1999, Mazda began the project to replace the old Familia/323/Protegé models with new hatchback and sedan designs. This effort was led by chief designer Hideki Suzuki and involved collaboration between Mazda’s design centres in the USA, Germany, and Japan. In 2001, Hasip Girgin’s design was selected, and he spent six months refining it in Hiroshima before approval for production. The final product was unveiled in 2003 at the 60th IAA Cars Frankfurt Motor Show, and the first-generation Mazda3 launched in Japan a month later. It quickly gained popularity for being an affordable, fun-to-drive, and well-built car.

In 2006, Mazda introduced the performance oriented Mazda3 MPS (Mazda Performance Series) at the Geneva Motor Show. It came with a limited-slip differential and a powerful 2.3-liter turbocharged engine, the same one used in the Mazda6 MPS. The car received positive reviews from both the media and customers.

Evolution and innovation

The second-generation Mazda3 was unveiled in 2008, premiering at the Los Angeles Auto Show and the Bologna Motor Show. While it still used the ‘C1’ architecture developed jointly by Ford, Mazda, and Volvo, this model received updates over its life, introducing Skyactiv technology and performance versions to the Mazda3 line-up.

The MPS performance model made a return for the second generation, featuring enhancements like ECU adjustments, gear ratio tweaks, improved brakes, suspension upgrades, piston refinements, steering system improvements, and cosmetic changes. Once again, the MPS was a popular pick for media and customers alike.

In mid-2013, the third generation Mazda3 arrived with a more complete set of Skyactiv technologies and a shift away from the shared ‘C1’ platform, now sitting on a newly developed Mazda Skyactiv chassis shared with the first-generation CX-5. This Mazda3 was also the first to adopt the Kodo design language and introduced innovations like GVC and Skyactiv transmissions and engines.

Signifying Mazda’s commitment to Sustainable Zoom Zoom and the multi-solution approach, the third generation Mazda3 was the base for the Mazda3 ‘Skyactiv-CNG’ concept which runs on compressed natural gas and showcases the versatility of the Skyactiv-G engine. A ‘Skyactiv-Hybrid’ powertrain, which shared technology with the Toyota Hybrid Synergy Drive system, was also produced and sold to customers in Japan, showing Mazda’s commitment to electrification of its model line-up.

Using the Kai concept car as a design foundation, the fourth and current-generation Mazda3 was introduced in November 2018 at the Los Angeles Auto Show and was the first vehicle for Mazda that represents the ‘road to premium’ ambition, this generation was also the first Mazda3 to feature profound visual differentiation between the hatchback and sedan versions. The striking design won numerous industry awards – including 2020 World Car Design of the Year – as did the newly introduced Skyactiv-X Spark Controlled Compression Ignition engine (now updated to e-Skyactiv X), which in combination with a new 24-volt mild-hybrid system, offers a desirable blend of diesel and petrol performance characteristics.

The fourth generation Mazda3 incorporated more high-tensile steel into its structure, resulting in top-notch safety performance during international regulatory testing. It also introduced GVC Plus, an improvement over the GVC system in the third generation.

100th anniversary special edition

To celebrate the 100th anniversary of Mazda Motor Corporation in 2020, a special edition of the Mazda3 was released. This edition was based on the top-of-the-range trim and included design elements inspired by Mazda’s first passenger car, the R360 Coupe. With its Snowflake White pearlescent paint, rich burgundy interior, and commemorative badging, this limited-edition model truly stood out from the crowd.

Impact for Mazda

The Mazda3 has played a significant role in shaping Mazda’s brand image since its introduction, with cumulative global sales of over 6 million, it has been one of Mazda’s best-selling models.

As the Mazda3 celebrates its 20th anniversary, it is exciting to see what the future holds for the Mazda3. The journey so far is a testament to Mazda’s commitment to safety, design, innovation, and driver enjoyment. Here’s to another 20 years of the Mazda3!


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