Cars > Peek

The all-new Mazda 3 looks so much better in the metal than in photos

Especially the hatchback version, which we absolutely like

One of those cars that look a lot prettier in the metal. PHOTO BY MARK JESALVA

As a watch fan, I have this habit of browsing through online photos of the latest timepieces—specifically those of Seiko, a brand I truly admire. When the Japanese watchmaker launched a “modern reinterpretation” of its 1968 automatic diver last year—SBDC063 in Japan and SPB079 elsewhere—I was beyond excited. I liked the idea of a blue bezel insert around a simple black dial. Until I started seeing more photos and videos on the Internet.


For one, I learned that the case diameter was a huge 44mm (51mm lug to lug). Then I realized I hated the in-your-face arrow-style hour hand. Finally, I felt the piece would look nicer on a steel bracelet (which was, unfortunately, only available on the black-bezel SBDC061/SPB077 variant). These few small niggles were enough for me to completely forget about the watch. I don’t like it. That’s it.

Ah, and then I spotted one at a mall store two weeks ago. I was totally smitten.

Turns out the Seiko SPB079 looks much, much, much better in person than it does in pictures. Like…wow. How do I explain it? In very basic terms, the case is so brilliantly designed that it sits perfectly on the wrist. It actually looks like a 41mm on mine—more like the SKX007 in dimensions. And the hour hand? Doesn’t bother me one bit. In fact, it kind of grows on you the longer you stare at it. Plus, the thing is so elegantly chiseled that it will definitely go well with any strap or bracelet you throw at it.

A crucial lesson in aesthetics: Photographs don’t always do justice to their subject.

Kodo design language is more refined here. PHOTOS BY MARK JESALVA

I tell this story in light of the recent ASEAN reveal of the all-new Mazda 3 hatchback in the country, courtesy of Bermaz Auto Philippines. The connection? Well, some background is in order.

When I attended the 45th Tokyo Motor Show in 2017, one car particularly caught my attention with its stunning design. It was the Mazda Kai, a compact hatchback concept that appeared to be the precursor of the upcoming 3 model (though Mazda executives would neither confirm nor deny it at the time). Back then, I told myself that if the production version could retain even just 80% of the Kai’s design, it was game over for the competition.

A year later, the production 3 sedan and 3 hatchback arrived. Gotta admit: I was a little underwhelmed. So much so that my title for our article was:

We want to ask you: Do you like the all-new Mazda 3?

If you knew me or this website, that was my subtle way of finding more people who shared my sentiment—that the new-generation 3, either in sedan or hatchback form, was anything but gorgeous. Not saying I found the cars ugly. Just that they were disappointing, design-wise, after the high expectations I had placed on them as a result of my Kai encounter.

Several of our readers were of the same opinion. Their comments on our Facebook page indicated that they were equally unimpressed. One even said the car looked like a “humpback whale.” Unless you’re a marine biologist, that’s probably not a compliment.

You’d be surprised if you also thought the all-new 3 hatch was bland. See it to believe it. PHOTOS BY MARK JESALVA

So I’ve finally seen the all-new Mazda 3 in the metal. My verdict? The fourth-generation 3 is beautiful, period. And achingly so, if I may add for emphasis. I was especially drawn to the hatchback in Soul Red Crystal. Not trying to exaggerate, but these vehicles can pretty much hold a car show on their own. You have to see them up close to understand what I’m trying to say.

Mazda’s Kodo design language has evolved on these compact cars. The Hiroshima-based automaker says the design direction has matured. To my eyes, it has simply become cleaner, sleeker, more refined. I love it. The hatchback may not be as arrestingly attractive as the Kai concept, but it’s such a joy to visually examine just the same. The oft-abused “work of art” seriously doesn’t sound like PR fluff here. For once, the idiom feels legit.

Even the chic interior is a conversation-starter. PHOTOS BY MARK JESALVA

The sedan was also presented, of course. Together with the hatchback, it will hit local Mazda showrooms within the year, as promised by Mazda Philippines president and CEO Steven Tan. Asked why they chose to show off the cars months ahead of the actual market release, the executive told me: “Just to get the conversation rolling.” And I agree. Car buyers need to be told that something great is coming their way. It’s almost criminal not to notify them this early—especially if they end up settling for a mediocre, egregious alternative.

In this paint job, the sedan looks more sedate than the attention-grabbing red hatchback. PHOTOS BY MARK JESALVA

And here’s my second takeaway from the Mazda 3 reveal: Seeing it is one thing; experiencing it is another matter altogether.

This came to me during my chat with Bermaz Auto Berhad CEO Dato’ Sri Ben Yeoh. His firm is the exclusive Mazda distributor in Malaysia and also the parent company of Mazda Philippines. He told me: “You have to drive this car. It’s truly an excellent vehicle. That’s the only way you will understand the passion that went into designing and building it.”

Translation: You won’t be able to really tell how good the all-new 3 is just by ogling it.

So right away, I felt shallow and stupid, because in my head I was principally evaluating the car’s lines and curves. And here was a well-respected industry executive (and mechanically inclined car nut) essentially saying that the latest 3 is special not for its exterior design but for what’s underneath its sheet metal. In other words, the styling is not the main course—it’s just the hors d’oeuvre to whet your appetite.

Bermaz Auto Berhad CEO Dato’ Sri Ben Yeoh wants people to drive the all-new 3 first. PHOTO BY VERNON B. SARNE

Part of the car’s special attributes is the much-awaited Skyactiv-X gasoline engine, which boasts the so-called Spark-Controlled Compression Ignition technology. The Malaysian big boss shared that bringing this engine to our market could present some challenge, as it requires Euro 5 fuels to operate optimally.

I’m not in the least worried, to be honest. That’s Mazda’s problem. My personal issue with the new-generation Mazda 3—my initial perception that it looked bland—has been addressed. I’ve seen it in the metal and I’m a fan again. The only thing left to do now is to drive it.

Vernon B. Sarne

Vernon is the founder and editor-in-chief of VISOR. He has been an automotive journalist for 26 years. He became one by serendipity, walking into the office of a small publishing company and applying for a position he had no idea was for a local car magazine. God has watched over him throughout his humble journey. He writes the ‘Spoiler’ column.