Special Coverage

Greater L.A. Auto Show

LOS ANGELES – Despite bearing a close resemblance to the first-generation car, the new Mazda3 bowing at the auto show here represents a “fully reengineered and completely redesigned” model for ’10, Mazda Motor Corp. officials say.

“Chief Designer Kunihiko Kurisu’s mission was to remain faithful to the Mazda3’s existing visual identity, while evolving its appearance with richer, bolder design strokes,” the auto maker says, adding the car now boasts Mazda’s “family face” seen worldwide on new models.

Mazda’s conservative approach on redesigning the Mazda3 is understandable. The current car has helped to resurrect the fortunes of the Mazda brand in the U.S. in recent years, and it now is the auto maker’s best seller worldwide. One in three Mazdas sold is a Mazda3, and 1.8 million have been delivered in the first-generation car’s five years on the market.

A choice of two engines is offered for the ’10 Mazda3, a 2.0L 4-cyl. making 148 hp and 135 lb.-ft. (183 Nm) of torque and or a 2.5L 4-cyl. shared with the new ’09 Mazda6. The larger 4-cyl. makes 167 hp and 168 lb.-ft. (228 Nm) of torque in the Mazda3, the auto maker says.

Both engines use Mazda’s torque-based control technology to provide “a highly linear acceleration response to every change of throttle pedal pressure.”

Two trim levels will be available: Mazda3 i and Mazda3 s, the former with a standard 5-speed manual transmission and the latter with a 6-speed manual. A 5-speed automatic is optional in both.

The switch from a 4-speed automatic in the 2.0L Mazda3, plus changes made to better aerodynamics, improves highway fuel economy 10%, Mazda says.

The auto maker estimates fuel economy to range from 21 mpg (11.2 L/100 km) city with the 6-speed manual in the Mazda3 s to 33 mpg (7.1 L/100 km) highway when mating the 2.0L to the 5-speed manual or automatic in the Mazda3 i.

Mazda says it was able to cut precious metals usage in the new Mazda3 by employing advanced single nanotechnology in the vehicle’s catalytic converter. Platinum and palladium use was sliced 70%-90%, the auto maker estimates.

Mazda says lessons learned from the Mazda6 were applied to the Mazda3, primarily in the area of structural stiffness.

Through the reengineering of unibody joints and increasing metal thickness in certain areas, Mazda says it was able to limit the amount of road and powertrain noise inside the cabin.

Also like the Mazda6, welding and adhesives were employed strategically to “increase rigidity and collision deformation resistance at door opening locations,” the auto maker says of the new Mazda3.

To lessen vibrations when driving on rough pavement, Mazda engineers added a third mounting point for the electro-hydraulic-assist-rack-and-pinion steering gear.

Other changes from the current generation to the ’10 Mazda3 include the addition of a new vacuum booster for the braking system; stiffer lower-control arms, subframe and mount bushings at the front of the vehicle; and lighter but stiffer rear-suspension crossmember.

And in what it touts as a first for a compact passenger car in the U.S., Mazda says the Grand Touring trim of the Mazda3 will receive adaptive front lighting with self-leveling bi-xenon headlamps as standard equipment.

Inside, the Mazda3 mimics a design seen first in Mazda’s Human Machine Interface concept, featuring a slanted instrument panel and knobs and switches positioned within easy reach of the steering wheel and shifter. A “Multi-Information Display” in the center stack provides the interface to navigation and audio controls.

Features include a Bose 10-speaker sound system, connectivity for cell phones and media players, advanced keyless engine system that includes push-button engine starting and an optional dual-zone climate-control system.