Long-term report: Does new engine technology give our Mazda3 the Skyactiv-X factor?
Mazda is a company committed to the combustion engine. Sure, the Japanese company has announced that it is bringing an electric model to market, but it’s a firm which has often stated that it believes there’s a fair amount more development left to do with the good ol’ combustion engine.
Enter Mazda’s Skyactiv-X engine. It’s a complex unit, we’ll admit, but the basic idea is this – it’s a petrol engine which should deliver the efficiency and refinement that we associate with a diesel, yet with the sharpness and eager response you can only get from a car powered by the green-pump liquid.
Mazda is planning to roll out this powertrain in a multitude of models, but we’ve got it in our latest long-termer – the new Mazda3 – which is one of the firm’s first recipients of this all-new powertrain.
Our car pushes out 178bhp and 224Nm of torque from a 2.0-litre petrol engine while returning up to 48.7mpg and emitting just 103g/km CO2. Power is sent to the front wheels and it’s controlled by a six-speed manual gearbox.
And what is it like when it’s up and moving? Not bad, actually. The engine is pretty grumbly when cold, but quietens down as it warms up. It’s smooth in operation, too, and the six-speed manual is an absolute peach (as we’d expect from Mazda). There’s not too much road noise, either, and the whole experience is far more refined than you’d expect.
Our car comes in Sport Lux trim, and that means you get loads of kit as standard. A highlight are the heated seats – they’re lava hot and an extremely welcome feature at this time of year. Adaptive headlights have been added as an optional extra too, and these are another addition which is very well received in the dark and gloomy winter. They’re brilliantly effective and put to shame other systems from more premium manufacturers.
The front seats are comfortable though lacking in some support and, when driving at night, the cabin is blissfully uninterrupted by light; quite often in modern vehicles a myriad of displays and readouts can make driving in darkness tricky, but that’s not the case in the Mazda. It’s quite refreshing, in fact.
Despite being quite a compact car it’s practical, too. The boot is big and square and you can fold the rear seats down should you want to extend the area. So that’s another box ticked.
Mazda has been pushing towards more premium rivals and it shows. The fit and finish is top-notch and the material quality is excellent too. Our test car weighs in at £25,425 with options and, though that is quite a lot of money off the bat, it undercuts how much you’d pay for a car with a ‘premium’ badge fitted with the same amount of tech.
But is this brand-spanking engine worth it? To begin with, that answer appears to be yes. It’s efficient, clean and quiet (when up to temperature, of course). There does seem to be quite a lack of low-down grunt, with peak torque coming in at 3,000rpm. It means there’s a bit of a dead spot when accelerating in higher gears, which is more noticeable when you’re on the motorway and want a quick burst of acceleration.
However, in all other areas it’s capable. Plus, when you want to drive a little bit quicker the ability to rev the engine out means that you get to enjoy your favourite roads more. It would appear that it’s shaping up to be a great all-rounder, then.
I’m sure that as time progresses the Mazda3 will shine even further, and it’ll be great to investigate how this Skyactiv-X changes as it loosens up. Stay tuned.