( www.autonews.com ) - A sneak peek reveals Mazda's next-generation small car that is expected to add more power and more style for 2009.
It may look more like a mobile tent than a car, but underneath all that camouflage is the new Mazda3 sedan.
Insiders say the new Mazda3 is due around mid-2009, bringing some fresh metal to the intensely competitive small-car class.
Although the drab camouflage is effective at masking the new Mazda3's styling, it's possible to see a large set of projector headlights at the front, aggressively angled tail-lights, and dual exhaust pipes. The exhaust set-up suggests the Mazda3 could follow the lead of the Mazda6 in having an exhaust on each side of the car.
Mazda is expected to continue its two-pronged bodystyle line-up, with unique styling for the sedan and hatch (unusually, the Mazda3 sedan and hatch that launched in 2004 don't share any panels, even at the front of the car).
Don't be surprised to see some design cues from the stylish, new Mazda6 that launched recently in Australia.
The current Mazda3 and Ford Focus share the same underpinnings, and the new 3 is expected to sit on the slightly longer, next-generation C1 platform that will underpin the all-new Focus to be built in Australia from 2011.
Under the bonnet of the new Mazda3 expect a revised version of the successful 2.0-litre engine, bringing improvements to power and, crucially, slight reductions in fuel consumption. The sportier version of the Mazda3 is likely to adopt the 2.5-litre engine from the latest Mazda6, in the process picking up the SP25 moniker. A range-topping MPS hot-hatch is again likely to feature in the range, launching in 2010.
Although the photos don't show the new 3's interior, our spies snagged a look inside the new Mazda3 and saw buttons for heated seats, as well as a six-speed manual gearbox and a sound system with a built in hard drive. There was also a satellite radio - the car was sprung testing in America - but it would not feature on cars coming to Australia due to the lack of satellite radio service in this region.
As reported by Drive, the Mazda3 is the most popular privately purchased car in Australia, outselling the Holden Commodore, Ford Falcon and Toyota Corolla.
Mazda will be looking to a sportier and more stylish 3 to maintain popularity with a host of forthcoming rivals, such as the next-generation versions of the Volkswagen Golf and Holden Astra (both 2009) and Ford Focus (2010).