By Manny N. de los Reyes

A VISIT last week to Mazda’s home proving ground in Mine, an hour’s coach ride from Fukuoka City in Japan, brought me face to face with the young and fashionable designer of the all-new 2020 Mazda3.

Mazda has been producing some of the most evocative designs in automobiledom, and both the current and soon-to-be-launched Mazda3 models are among the Hiroshima-based brand’s design leaders.

Which is why the opportunity to pick the brains of its designer was a huge treat. Here are a few insights from Yasutaka Tsuchida, chief designer of the all-new Mazda3.

Q: What was the first objective you set when working on the new Mazda3?

The biggest thing we wanted to accomplish with the new Mazda3 design was to once again redefine the meaning of C-segment hatchbacks and sedans. The general belief with mass-marketed C-segment models is that since it’s such a huge market with a wide variety of customer needs, the products and their designs tend to be modest for general appeal, and automakers have to make the vehicles efficiently. This is also true of the current Mazda3.

That being said, I kept asking myself, “Has our approach really been providing customers with the cars they want?” Customers wanting a sedan demand a car with fine quality and in good taste. In contrast, drivers looking for a hatchback want a car that’s sporty and feels more personal. Basically, they want completely opposite things.

The challenge for us, then, to meet those needs, was to set aside any constraints and try to make an ideal C-segment car while ensuring the hatchback and the sedan each had a unique appeal.

Q: In terms of design philosophy and direction, how did you differentiate the hatchback from the sedan?

I think of them as twins who carry the same DNA, but with each having their own quirks. If we think of them as people, they may both be athletic, but the hatchback is an active guy who likes outdoor sporting events, while the sedan is a brainy girl who does track and field. They have different expressions and physiques, but they’re twins born from the same DNA. That’s how I imagine them.

Q: What is the hatchback’s design concept?

The hatchback has always been sporty and personal. Whereas the sedan has to have a certain style, the hatchback is about being free and active. However, because of the current global shift to crossovers, it seems the hatchback’s value is being taken over by these vehicle types. I wanted to give new expression to the sporty, active value inherent to the hatchback and revive that allure through the design, so the concept was about it being “condensed and emotional.”

This car will steal your heart and shake your foundations at first sight. Imbuing the vehicle with this sort of sensuality creates an impact that pierces the heart, no explanation needed. Specifically, the powerful, distinctive C pillar and rear design make a statement and express a certain concentrated mass, embodying the innate value of the hatchback that tells you it’s a zippy car with a low center of gravity.

Q: What about the design concept behind the sedan?

The sedan’s concept is about “sleek elegance.” Our goal was beautiful proportions in a proper sedan. Clearly representing the three “boxes” a sedan needs to have — the hood, the cabin and the trunk — was a prerequisite. The new Mazda3 sedan unmistakably expresses that style, while also possessing a graceful dignity. To give an analogy with clothing, think of a quality suit. It’s got that authentic shape, plus nice materials and attention paid to the inner lining and details. In other words, it’s a representation of mature, premium quality that doesn’t rely on ostentatious displays.

Q: What kind of driver or lifestyle did you have in mind during the design process?

We designed the hatchback for ourselves. I’ve always driven a hatchback or hatchback coupe. The reason is that they’re sporty but still have a convenient amount of trunk space, so you can use them for lots of different activities. My hobby is surfing, and for me, laying down the backseats, loading the boards and driving to and from the beach is all part of the fun. You can’t use a sports car like that. There are too many sacrifices in terms of passengers, luggage and so on. I think many hatchback drivers, myself included, are greedy. We want a car we can use in various settings, but that’s still sporty and stylish. Since I’m one of those drivers, I approached the design with the pride that I know better than anyone else how hatchback drivers feel.

For the sedan, our models were women who work as color designers in the same place as me, the Design Division. They’re incredibly sophisticated and they’re exactly the target drivers I had in mind for the sedan. They’re independent, working women who are strong-willed and pursue self-growth through their work. The new Mazda3 sedan’s design embodies that full dose of self-confidence.