The Mazda3 is now available with a new Skyactiv-X petrol engine, which promises improved efficiency and performance, and there’s also the option of all-wheel drive.
We were big fans of the previous generation Mazda3, which felt more sporty to drive than most rivals. We’ve also tested the new Mazda3, which we think looks amazing, but the Skyactiv-G petrol engine only developed 122PS, so performance wasn’t great. Now there’s a new Skyactiv-X petrol engine which promises improved efficiency and performance, and the new model also has the option of all-wheel drive, which we’ve tested here. So is this latest engine the huge leap forward that we’ve been promised?
The new Skyactiv-X engine is a 180PS, 4-cylinder, 2-litre petrol unit. It features Mazda’s Spark Controlled Compression Ignition (SPCCI) technology and is the world’s first production petrol engine with compression ignition, in fact it features the highest compression ratio for a production petrol engine in the world, while its lean burn capabilities promise improved fuel economy and reduced emissions.
Like the Skyactiv-G petrol engine, Mazda’s Skyactiv-X engine is matched to the Mazda M Hybrid 24V mild-hybrid system that recycles recovered kinetic energy. A belt-driven integrated starter generator (ISG) converts the energy in the 600kJ lithium-ion battery, while the DC-DC converter supplies it to the car’s electrical equipment.
Our test car had a 6-speed manual gearbox, and all-wheel drive – the first time this has been available on the Mazda3.
We think the Mazda3 looks amazing, but it’s certainly better in the red colour of our previous test car rather than the dark grey (and black wheels) of this car.
The interior is well designed and functional, but the boot, at 358 litres, isn’t huge.
The latest Mazda3, like the previous model, is basically good to drive. The steering is direct, the 6-speed manual gearbox feels similarly slick to that in the MX-5, and the suspension feels like it’s tuned for a sporty feel – which means that ride quality is on the firm side (the 18-inch wheels and 215/45 tyres aren’t likely to help with ride comfort). Take the Mazda3 down a twisting B-road and it feels as much like a drivers’ car as a front-wheel drive car can – but of course our test car had all-wheel drive, so improving the driving dynamics.
So what about the new Skyactiv-X engine? Well, there’s now 180PS of power rather than 122PS – but it still doesn’t feel enough. Unlike virtually every other rival, the Mazda3 doesn’t have a turbo. This results in a linear power delivery, but it doesn’t deliver the shove for overtaking that turbo engines do. Combined with the all-wheel drive system, which has lots of grip, there’s more grip than performance – even in the wet.
Motorway driving results in some road noise – more than you would get from some premium hatches. Around town the ‘I-stop’ stop-start system should be cutting the engine at standstill, but it didn’t seem to operate much of the time, and during stop-start driving, the handbrake would really benefit from auto release to save you having to release it manually every time.
The infomedia system is evidently modelled closely on BMW’s iDrive system and it works very well because of this. There’s a rotary controller and shortcut buttons so you don’t have to mess around with touching buttons on the screen. The head-up display is also effective, including changing the display of the speed limit as soon as you drive under the overhead gantries on smart motorways. However the satnav map is in a letterbox proportion on the central screen – it would benefit from being deeper so you can see further ahead on the map.
One issue that was experienced on a motorway drive back from London to Manchester on a winter’s evening was that the headlights became caked with grime, with no washer jets, so they effectively ceased working, and the satnav screen remained on daytime brightness setting, so there was massive glare and no light from the headlights. Just to cap it all, the windscreen washer fluid ran out, so it really was like driving with your eyes closed.
And we’re still not sure why the button on the dashboard to select where the ventilation comes from has no markings to tell you what it is, perhaps it’s some form of initiative test.
The official WLTP combined fuel economy for the Mazda3 2.0 180ps AWD is 45.6mpg, with CO2 emissions of 109 g/km. The emissions are only slightly higher than the 103 g/km for the front-wheel drive model. However it’s worth noting that the AWD model with automatic transmission has much higher emissions of 125 g/km CO2. The new engine can achieve combined economy of up to 52.3mpg with a manual ‘box and front-wheel drive.
So bearing in mind the 45.6mpg official economy figure, it’s interesting that at 70mph motorway speeds we averaged 53.1mpg, and during the 20 mile 50mph limit stretches we achieved a highly impressive 73.0mpg. Overall, after a week of mixed driving (but around 80% long motorway journeys), we averaged 47.5mpg – which slightly beats the official combined WTP figure, and is a good result for a sporty all-wheel drive petrol hatchback.
The Mazda3 2.0 180PS GT Sport Tech AWD costs £30,475. Our test car had the option of Machine Grey metallic paint (£670), taking the total price of our test car to £31,145.
There are two engines, the 122PS Skyactiv-G petrol, or the 180PS Skyactiv-X as tested, with manual or automatic transmission options. There’s a hatchback and a saloon body style. Trim levels are Sport, Sport Lux, GT Sport and GT Sport Tech. Prices start from £23,555.
i-Activ all-wheel drive is available only with the Skyactiv-X engine, high-grade GT Sport Tech trim and hatchback body.
We like Mazda as a brand, and we like the Mazda3. When we tested the 3 with the 122PS Skyactiv-G petrol engine we felt that it needed more performance, and so the 180PS Skyactiv-X engine sounded ideal. However it still doesn’t feel as though it delivers the performance that was expected. And the all-wheel drive system delivered lots of grip on wet and cold winter roads, but there’s more grip than performance. As our real-world results show, the one benefit of the new engine seems to be potentially better economy, but you’re left with the feeling that if this is the ultimate development of the non-turbo petrol engine, electric propulsion is the way forward – although Mazda has been slow to embrace this change, and is now going down the route of small batteries/short range. In the meantime, until Mazda brings its first EV to market, the Mazda3 2.0 180PS GT Sport Tech AWD gains a Green Car Guide rating of 8 out of 10.