The Mazda3 gains an additional string to its bow with the introduction of the company's innovative SkyActiv-X engine to the range. It mixes the best of diesel and petrol engine technology, resulting in respectable performance and fuel economy; in theory at least.
In the metal
We've already driven the Mazda3 in its SkyActiv-G M-hybrid petrol and SkyActiv-D diesel guises. The SkyActiv-X engine becomes the third powertrain to choose from. There are no visual differences to this over other Mazda3 models, aside from the SkyActiv-X badge on the boot lid. The exterior styling of the hatchback remains highly distinctive, especially from the rear three-quarter view. There will also be a saloon version that adopts a very different look from the A-pillars back.
At 358 litres, the Mazda3 won't claim any boot space capacity awards, though rear passenger space is comfortable - though we reckon some will find it a touch claustrophobic inside due to the shape of the back windows. Nonetheless, the quality of finish in the front of the car around the dashboard is approaching Audi and BMW levels. And Mazda's latest 8.8-inch infotainment system is far nicer to use and easier to navigate than its predecessor.
The look and feel of the surfaces inside the cabin are noticeably good. Whether it's the multifunction steering wheel, armrests or the centre console; any point where you're likely to come into contact with the car feels well made. Equally, the driver's seat and the steering wheel offer a good deal of adjustability, enabling most to find a comfortable driving position.
Although the SkyActiv-X engine adopts a new approach to combustion, it doesn't drive any differently to a regular petrol engine. It differs in how it creates combustion inside each cylinder. The engine operates in two different modes and switches seamlessly between conventional combustion and compression ignition. This process is called Spark Controlled Compression Ignition (SPCCI) and, for the majority of the time, it goes completely unnoticed. It is sometimes possible to hear a slight crackling sound from the exhaust, depending on mode, but most people probably won't notice, especially if the stereo is on in the car.
As with the SkyActiv-G, this engine features Mazda's mild-hybrid technology. It mostly serves to reduce the electrical load on the engine by deploying energy from a small battery to power the car's systems. It can transfer some torque to the powertrain through the Integrated Starter Generator (ISG), which smoothens out slowing to a stop or accelerating away from rest. The M-Hybrid system also helps with extended stop-start when at the traffic lights and the ISG restarts the engine more quietly and smoothly. Energy for the battery is recuperated during normal driving conditions. We averaged 6.7 litres/100km on our short test drive, which isn't far off the official combined WLTP figure, though the driving route was a mixture of fast roads and hilly terrain.
Smart engineering aside, the rest of the driving experience in the Mazda3 is quite a pleasant one, made even more comfortable by a six-speed automatic transmission. Its shifts are smooth and, if you toggle to the Sport mode and switch to changing manually with the paddle shifters, the upshifts arrive with a little more purpose. Having an extra 58hp over the 2.0-litre SkyActiv-G means you might feel like doing so when you get an open stretch of interesting road.
The ride quality is good for the most part and you can push on with confidence in this car. The suspension does an acceptable job of dealing with a variety of surfaces; only occasionally does it become a touch busy. On faster sections of road the body control is reasonable and consistent through bends, while the electrically assisted steering has a more involving feel than in other cars in this class. Although it doesn't feel overtly sporty, some will appreciate the way the Mazda3 is set up.
What you get for your money
Pricing for the SkyActiv-X powered Mazda3 starts at €30,495 as either a five-door hatchback or four-door saloon. It is available in six difference specifications, with the range-topping model starting at €34,995. In comparison to the SkyActiv-G petrol, in like-for-like specs, it commands a €3,200 price premium.
The GS Sport specification includes 18-inch alloy wheels, premium cloth upholstery with heated front seats, blind spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert. Other standard items include a head up display, electric front and rear windows, radar cruise control, an 8.8-inch infotainment system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, hill launch assist and lane keep assist.
Considering that the SkyActiv-X engine will carry a price premium over both the regular petrol and the diesel version, it's unclear just how much of a draw this engine will be for Mazda3 buyers.