Hollywood: the home of the Oscars and the global blockbuster. Where dreams do come true. Well, that’s what the scriptwriters would have you believe. So settle back, and let me tell you a story.
In the shadow of the iconic, but rather tired-looking ‘Hollywood’ sign, Mazda chose California and the LA Auto Show to launch the car it believes will mark the start of a new era for the Japanese carmaker.
Unquestionably, the latest Mazda3 sets new benchmarks in design, quality and technology for the company. And you can have the choice of two very different bodystyles in the very grown-up four-door saloon, or the sporty five-door hatch.
So far, then, so good. But any dreams I might have harboured of driving the new car were knocked on the head, despite me getting exclusive access to one of the saloons. More of that later. What to do next?
The world’s first and only Wankel-engined Rotary Pickup
In the Land of Hollywood, make believe is everything, so why not have a Back to the Future moment? Perfect. Okay, I didn’t have the eccentric input of Dr Emmet ‘Doc’ Brown or the adventurism of Marty McFly, but innovative McGill could surely do his own time travelling.
So, 45 miles and 45 years later, I’m cruising down the freeway, arm resting casually in the open driver’s window, towards Newport Beach in the world’s first and only Wankel-engined Rotary Pickup (REPU) truck.
Built by Mazda, and sold only in the US and Canada from 1974 to ’77, the REPU is about as far in styling and design as you could get from the 2019 Mazda3. But boy does it leave an impression. Even burger-munching American heavyweights in their humungous Ford F150 trucks put down their almost gallon-sized buckets of Coke to acknowledge the cute wee REPU.
It’s estimated only about 15,000 were built over the four years, and my ‘test’ truck was one of only 700 fitted with the five-speed manual. And that, combined with the four-cylinder 1.3-litre, 110bhp rotary-powered Wankel engine ensured the pickup could more than hold its own with modern-day traffic.
Pulling strongly through the gears, its peppy performance (even today, it’ll hit 60mph from standstill in around 11secs) was accompanied by the most unexpected sporty rasp from the exhaust. The whole experience was a blast.
A timeless design for the new Mazda3
Returning the pickup to Mazda North American Operations HQ in Irvine – where I’d been given exclusive access to ‘secret’ areas of the facility, which also houses the Mazda Design Centre America – I was catapulted back to the present and parked the REPU next to the latest Mazda3 saloon tucked away in a garage.
The contrast in styling is severe. The upright, angular lines of the REPU contrast sharply with the latest evolution of Mazda’s KODO design philosophy. Interesting too to note the scale of both vehicles. But it’s the sweeping, smooth shapes of the latest Mazda3 which dominate.
And for Ken Saward, director Automotive Design at Mazda America, it’s those lines he believes will ensure the Mazda3 will continue to be one of its bestsellers, while introducing a whole new design concept into the marketplace.
“The size of the previous Mazda3 was right, but as an engineering-driven company we wanted it to be lighter in weight, and not get too big and bulky,” he explained.
“A lot of our competitors in that segment are getting big, so we were conscious of that.
“We did the Kai Concept — from which this latest Mazda3 evolved — to show what could be achieved with this really tight, simple, clean-lined, one movement form.
“We wanted the new Mazda3 to have this purity. But we also wanted to ensure the saloon and hatchback were two different creations. One is more elegant, the other more sporty.
“We also wanted to go back in a sense to the first-generation Mazda3 where both cars were very different. They didn’t share any sheet metal. These two new cars only share the windscreen and bonnet. Of course they have the same underpinnings, but they are separate in identity.
“We put a lot of design philosophy into what we do. We think about what the essence of the vehicle needs to be; we want the car to be beautiful; we want it to be emotional; we want the surfaces to be very well evolved.
“We’re not about putting a lot of little bits and pieces on our cars. It’s really about its pure form, and that results in more of a timeless design; one which doesn’t age quickly.”
New models for £20,000 – and a possible electric version
In 45 years, will someone else be driving this latest generation Mazda3 and parking it next to whatever mode of transport Mazda has designed in 2063? Who knows?
Before that, we focus on the 2019 Mazda3 which will be available with the choice of two Skyactiv-G petrols (a 1.5-litre and 2.0), plus a 1.8-litre diesel. A six-speed manual or automatic gearbox will also be available.
The range will also see the introduction of Mazda’s revolutionary new petrol engine, Skyactiv-X SPCCI, which promises to deliver petrol-like performance with diesel fuel economy, and lower CO2 emissions. Plus there will be an all-wheel drive Mazda3.
With prices for the new model expected to start around £20,000, order books will open late February, with first deliveries scheduled for May.
Don’t, however, expect to see an electric Mazda3. Yes, Mazda has plans for an electric car, but at the moment they’re intriguing.
“We have thought, ‘Does it have the Mazda feel, or does it have some kind of its own identity like BMW’s electric car range?’ So there’s a couple of different ways to approach it at this point,” Saward explained.
“Personally, when it comes, I think it will have its own identity.”
We should expect to see the first Mazda electric car in 2020. Now, how do I get this time machine to take me forward two years?