Hatchbacks used to bore people to tears. It's what you had to buy because your bank account was too shallow, and you worked for peanuts. But times have changed, and the Mazda 3 is part of that shift towards truly great cars that just happen to be hatchbacks. What you now know as the Mazda3 got its humble start back in 2004. It replaced the GLC/323/Protege, and the Mazda3 took the Japanese hatchback and made it into a driver's car instead of just an affordable car. 

Mazda Kai Concept profile

Drive the 2017 Mazda3 like we did, and you'll see what an incredible car it is for the money. But Mazda wants to do more with the little hatchback. Case in point, the Mazda Kai Concept that just showed up at the Tokyo Motor Show. It clearly takes what could be the next Mazda3 to the next echelon of style and sophistication. If this comes to fruition, you'll no longer be able to categorize it as just your run-of-the-mill hatchback.

2004 Mazda3 blue driving
The 1st-generation Mazda3 started the trend towards an exciting hatchback for the masses.

The Kai Concept takes the already very attractive Mazda3 and smooths out the creases in favor of sweeping contours and elegant light reflection. It also borrows some design cues from the new Mazda CX-5 crossover, which has also evolved into one of the most fetching crossovers on earth. The slimmer headlights and the more fluid tail section give the Kai a stronger presence, almost like a European shooting-brake style wagon. We're completely in love. 

2017 Mazda3 grey
Nimble, attractive and spacious, the 2017 Mazda3 5-Door is one of our favorites.

Under the hood of the Kai is Mazda's newest engine, a next-generation Skyactiv-X, which uses Mazda's proprietary compression ignition system to provide the fuel efficiency, torque and low end throttle response of a diesel motor. Where every other automaker is focusing on hybrids and EVs, Mazda is finding ways to improve the venerable combustion engine. Talk about thinking out of the box.

Mazda Kai Concept front wheel

The interior follows the same path as the exterior, towards simplification and style. The cabin is far more refined with a more driver-centric dash. It's actually based on Mazda's Skyactiv Vehicle Architecture that utilizes a human-centered design philosophy. There's streamlined and muted chrome trim, ergonomic seats that follow the curvature of the human spine and increased sound deadening for a more hushed environment. The trend towards busyness is shunned with elegant simplicity instead.

Mazda Kai Concept cabin

Mazda has said it plans to put this vehicle into production, and it seems the Mazda3 is the right place to slot it. If the next Mazda3 looks like this, we're in for a serious automotive treat. Mazda doesn't deviate too much from their concepts, and that's a good thing, and this looks like without too much modification, it could see production, in which case the Mazda3 could truly become a premium hatchback and part of Mazda's plan to go upscale.

Mazda Kai Concept interior 2

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