With last week’s unveiling of the new Mazda3 sedan, the small automaker from Hiroshima, Japan will soon begin its truest test of whether it can succeed in its efforts to be a mainstream player in the automotive landscape. The Mazda3, offered as a 4-door sedan or 5-door hatchback, as well as a turbocharged Mazdaspeed3 performance model, has been the brand’s highest-selling vehicle since replacing the Protegé in 2003. After 10 years and two model generations, the latest version of the brand’s most popular car comes with an all-new “Kodo: Soul in Motion” design language, “SKYACTIV®” technologies, and perhaps most importantly, the burden of higher expectations than ever before.

Mazda has been very busy in recent years, fervently reinventing itself since gaining its independence from Ford Motor Co. in 2010. At the Paris Motor Show that year, Mazda debuted its new Kodo design language with the Shinari concept car, providing a glimpse of the company’s future styling direction prior to key product launches over the next few years. During this time, the organization also introduced its latest innovation, SKYACTIV®, which was designed to raise engine output while increasing fuel efficiency. This series of technologies – applied to engines, transmissions, body, and chassis – would soon be rolled out in future models, beginning in 2011.

In the process of revamping its product line-up, the Japanese automaker discontinued production of the CX-7 SUV after the 2012 model year to eliminate overlap with the larger CX-9 and the all-new CX-5, which debuted as a 2013 model. Next, the brand then turned its focus onto its freshest Mazda6, the automaker’s newest and most formidable challenger yet in the very competitive mid-size sedan segment. Having been warmly received since its launch early this year, the Mazda6 has a legitimate chance to become a formidable player in the segment and reach sales heights that previously eluded it. The difference between that car and the Mazda3, however, is that the compact sedan has been the perennial sales leader for the carmaker over the past decade, which is why the upcoming model generation of the Mazda3 is so important. 

Amidst much anticipation ahead of its official launch later this year, Mazda recently began revealing glimpses of the new 2014 Mazda3, the third vehicle to utilize the entire range of the SKYACTIV® platform following the CX-5 and Mazda6. Like those other two models, the compact sedan also sports the company’s new sleek Kodo styling that is said to convey a sense of power and speed caught in motion. Enhancements such as these suggest that the Japanese automaker has transformed its Mazda3 – one that sold a record 123,361 units last year – into a true volume model. Since the Mazda3 was first introduced in 2003 as a replacement of the Protegé, it has sold over 3.5 million units, which underscores how critical the model is to the automaker’s product portfolio and overall business. Just in 2012 alone, the carmaker relied on its older 2nd-generation Mazda3 to make up 45% of its total vehicle sales, but with its 3rd-generation model about to be released, the stakes are high for Mazda to deliver the goods if it is to successfully take its brand to the next level.