Although Mazda officials don’t openly say that it is the basis of the next generation of the Mazda3, it’s already widely known that the KAI Concept car on display at the 2017 Tokyo Motorshow is indeed a preview of the model. Officially, Mazda will only say that the compact hatchback ‘heralds a new generation of Mazda cars’ (‘KAI’ is a Japanese word for ‘pioneer’). But while the large Vision Coupe concept is purely a design exercise (not the ‘RX-9’), the KAI Concept looks like it’s production-ready.

According to Yasutake Tsuchida, who designed the KAI Concept (and presumably will also work on the new Mazda3), the styling shows ‘Stage 2’ of Mazda’s KODO Design language which is more mature. KODO Design replaced the Nagare design language in 2010 and made its first appearance in the Shinari concept. Where the Nagare language was inspired by nature’s movements in wind and water, KODO Design has the vitality of a living being. The design language brings art into vehicle design and creates forms which are distinct and provide the brand with a strong identity.

Shinari concept introduced KODO Design – Soul of Motion – to the world

Although KODO Design has now been incorporated in every current model of the Mazda range, it is not going to be replaced the way the Nagare language was, hence the explanation that it is now evolving into ‘Stage 2’. In fact, Ikuo Maeda, Head of Mazda Design, says that KODO Design will not be ‘retired’, suggesting it will simply become part of the DNA of Mazda. “Perhaps it will remain for as long as I live!” he told Motor Trader. Incidentally, the 58-year designer is the son of the man who designed the first RX-7.

As the pictures show, the hatchback has muscular, solid proportions and its form is brought to life by a delicate flow of reflections over the body sides. Mazda designers spend a lot of time studying how light and reflections move over the body panels so the shape becomes like a moving object even when it is standing still.

The styling is characterized by clean, honed shape free of extraneous elements, creating a strong and solid image. The design aims to artistically embody Japanese aesthetics, condensing them into an ideally-proportioned hatchback form. While there will almost certainly be a new Mazda3 sedan in future, the designers chose to show a hatchback because people worldwide love hatchbacks for the highly practical packaging. So Mazda set its sights on bringing the brand’s unique value to the universal presence and tradition of the hatchback.

The interior design establishes a connection between driver and car with a natural-feeling environment that gently embraces cabin occupants without feeling overly restrictive. This embodiment of the ‘less is more’ ideal further refines the Jinba-ittai experience Mazda is constantly working to achieve. It used to be that Jinba-ittai (oneness with a horse or machine) was for the sports models but now Mazda is putting it into every model.

The KAI gives a preview of SKYACTIV Vehicle-Architecture. For now, the description is somewhat abstract and basically, SKYACTIV Vehicle-Architecture was developed with an intensified focus on its human-centered design philosophy to maximize the human body’s inherent ability to balance itself. It offers more comfortable and less tiring driving and enables all occupants to respond quickly to environmental changes. With the human body easily able to balance itself in response to driving inputs, the new vehicle architecture provides responsive driving and the ultimate Jinba-ittai driving feel.

To realize these advantages, the development team reviewed every aspect of the car platform from the viewpoint of comprehensive vehicle optimization. SKYACTIV-Vehicle Architecture takes SKYACTIV technology further with fine-tuning. More than on individual components systems such as the seats, the body, the chassis, the tyres, etc, the engineers have focused on vehicle-total coordination, reallocating functions and creating an architecture that works together as a coordinated whole.

The resulting innovations include redesigned seats that keep the pelvis upright to maintain the spine’s natural ‘S’ curve, a body with multi-directional ring structures to transmit inputs without delay, a chassis structure with each part interacting to smoothly control energy transfer to the sprung mass, and NVH (Noise, Vibration & Harshness) lowered by analysing vibration energy characteristics and the mechanisms by which humans perceive sound.

The KAI Concept also features the next-generation SKYACTIV-X petrol engine (shown above), an advanced internal combustion engine with forced induction. The SKYACTIV-X engine is still a year away from introduction as it is now undergoing endurance testing and other processes before being committed to mass production. It is not a replacement for the current SKYACTIV-G engines and will be an additional variant in the powerplant series.

Featuring Spark-Controlled Compression Ignition, a never-before-seen combustion method, the engine represents the second step in Mazda’s quest to develop a petrol engine with the ideal internal combustion mechanism. Developing compression ignition for petrol engines has long been a goal of engineers and though there is still a sparkplug present, its function is more to control compression ignition, resulting in dramatic improvements across a range of important performance indicators.

The SKYACTIV-X is a groundbreaking new engine (which is likely to have a 2-litre displacement) that you will get only in future Mazda models. Coming after the SKYACTIV-G engine and SKYACTIV-D turbodiesel engine, this third SKYACTIV engine has been given the designation of ‘X’ in recognition of its dual role. It will offer the benefits of a spark-ignition petrol engine (expansiveness at high rpms and cleaner exhaust emissions) combined with those of a compression-ignition diesel engine (superior initial response and fuel economy) to produce a unique engine that delivers the best of both worlds.

When will we see the new Mazda3? If they wait till the SKYACTIV-X engine is ready for production, then it would probably be in late 2018. It would see likely that Mazda will want to maximise the impact of the new model with the newest and most advanced technology available rather than launch it without the SKYACTIV-X and then introduce an additional engine variant later on. So our money would on a launch date in the fourth quarter of 2018 which would mean 2019 when it appears in Malaysia.

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