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Future models - Mazda - CX-3

Mazda CX-3’s sleek styling a priority

Looks matter: Mazda's chief designer says good looks and a strong muscular stance were essential for the new CX-3 SUV, which takes on the company's Kodo design language.

Avoiding the box with a quality eye-catching design drove Mazda’s design of CX-3

Mazda logo24 Nov 2014

By BYRON MATHIOUDAKIS

MAZDA’S upcoming CX-3 was designed expressly to energise the fledgling global B-SUV (compact SUV in Australia) segment with elegant styling.

According to Mazda Motor Corporation chief designer for CX-3, Youichi Matsuda, it was felt within the company that there was a distinct lack of design quality among smaller crossovers at the time design work commenced in early 2012.

“We have the Kodo design philosophy… that a vehicle does not have to be a chunk of metal,” he told the Australian media through an interpreter at the Los Angeles Auto Show last week.

“For the CX-3 we wanted to incorporate life and vitality.” Mazda achieved this goal several ways with the CX-3, including with the adoption of blacked-out pillars for a more flowing look.

Not seen in any of the brand’s previous SUVs such as the CX-7 and CX-5, this Range Rover Evoque-esque ‘floating roof’ design is a clever way of masking bulk in a boxy vehicle that is less than 4.3 metres long.

Larger wheels and tyres have also aided the newcomer’s proportions.

“The roof is a unique design treatment with the CX-3,” Mr Matsuda said.

“We wanted to hide the pillar because the vehicle is compact so we tried to visually make it sleeker with that type of design treatment. If you apply the body colour to the D pillar it looks too… condensed.

“It is also important to have big wheels and tyres appearance-wise… it helps make the CX-3 look very strong with a muscular stance.” Mr Matsuda added that the rising waistline and smaller-than-usual side windows (DLO - Day Light Opening) helps with a “sportier” look to differentiate this car from its more mundane and orthodox B-SUV rivals.

“We wanted to make this crossover the most stylish you’ve ever seen,” he said.

“And if you make the DLO quite big it is something already quite familiar in bigger SUVs.” Rejecting the notion that a sleeker DLO undermines functionality and practicality in what is ostensibly an urban-based vehicle, Mr Matsuda said that the CX-3’s ‘airy’ packaging has not compromised visibility or a sense of roominess.

Executed in Japan concurrently with the latest Mazda2 on which it shares some 70 per cent of its parts with, the CX-3’s exterior design process included strong input from Mazda Europe right from the beginning, though in the end it was the initial Hiroshima proposal that won.

Note that Mr Matsuda was in charge of the crossover’s design only and not the light car’s.

“This is quite unusual, but the first design was chosen and produced and translated into the clay model – and this is very rare,” he said.

“And that is because our pure intention was very well translated into the design.

“As a result, the process took just two years because we got the first idea right from the beginning, and so it was translated straight into the model.” Though there are distinct visual similarities between the CX-3 and the current crop of Mazdas ranging from the latest Mazda2 to the CX-5 and Mazda6, Mr Matsuda said his team had plenty of scope to experiment with fresh design elements.

“There were no restrictions based on the Kodo design philosophy. We tried to add life into the vehicle with various interpretations, so the design evolved. And Kodo design will keep evolving.” Asked which part of the CX-3 is his favourite, Mr Matsuda said that the proportion is what speaks to him most.

“I rather you look at the form rather than the small details when assessing the CX-3. The proportion is the part I like the most.” There was no design influence from rival B-SUV models such as the Nissan Juke, whose unexpected success in Europe helped sparked off a rash of new entrants into the segment. From an interior point of view, Mr Matsuda said that cost pressures prevented his team from designing a unique dashboard treatment for the CX-3, necessitating the adaption of the Mazda2’s fascia – but with a couple of key tactile and visual differences.

“As a designer I wanted to try various ideas of course,” he admitted.

“However we share the platform with the Mazda2 and so we tried to share common parts – we had to share many hidden parts.

“Based on this assumption, we only had a flexibility of 10mm to try to make the two look different… so we didn’t try to make a difference with that little amount of space to play with.

“So, instead, we paid attention to the quality of materials and colours. The quality in the Mazda2 is already high, but we tried to exceed it in the CX-3, so where you look at the two (interior) designs you can see the differences there.” Mr Matsuda added that the crossover offers more headroom and a higher seating position than the light car that begat it.

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