I'm happy that Mazda is still around and kicking. It could've gone the way of Saab so easily.
By that I mean bought by a larger brand, pilfered into oblivion, and either forced into badge-engineering its new master's products or, worse, dissolved.
Thankfully, that isn't the case. For a small brand, it's quite remarkable how much Mazda contributed to the automotive landscape. The rotary engine, something so complex that not even Mercedes-Benz could get it right, is one example of its engineering prowess.
The other is a beloved friend of mine, the MX-5. Quite simply, one of the best mass-produced cars to have ever graced this earth.
The only other car brand one could say has achieved similar success from the same cookbook is Porsche. However, I'd argue that the cost of entry into that territory proves Mazda's feat of keeping the MX-5 attainable, while kicking such goals with its evolution, is actually even greater than first thought.
So, needless to say, I became both very happy and intrigued upon hearing the news that I would be sampling Mazda's latest foray into unorthodoxy. That would be the new 2020 Mazda 3 Astina Skyactiv-X M Hybrid.
To keep things simple, this is Mazda's totally unique attempt at reducing the emissions from what we all know as a petrol engine, without corrupting the core recipe at all. This car functions, feels and drives like a regular petrol-powered car first and foremost.
The cleverness going on under the engine cover does not take away or alter the experience that we're all well vested in.
|Fuel consumption information||Mazda 3 X20 Astina Skyactiv-X||Mazda 3 G25 Astina|
|Fuel Consumption Urban (L/100km)||6.5||8.6|
|Fuel Consumption Extra Urban (L/100km)||4.9||5.4|
|Fuel Consumption Combined (L/100km)||5.5||6.6|
|Power (kW @ rpm)||132 @ 6000||139 @ 6000|
|Torque (Nm @ rpm)||224 @ 3000||252 @ 4000|
|Kerb weight (Kg)||1440||1380|
If you're interested in understanding the nitty-gritty of how Skyactiv-X works, then have a read here. For this review, however, we'll focus more on what it was like to live with.
There isn't much giving away the unique nature of this driveline. As it employs compression ignition, like a diesel, I was half-expecting some clattering and tappy noise during a cold start on a frosty morning. That wasn't the case at all.
While driving, I found it to be switching between Spark Controlled Compression Ignition (SPCCI) and the regular form of spark ignition incredibly frequently. So, this technology is most certainly not a gimmick.
Interestingly, it looks to be using SPCCI during acceleration and regular ignition during coasting. The changeover back to regular ignition appears to occur when the throttle is lifted upon reaching your desired cruising speed.
How do I know this? Well, you're able to see which ignition mode is currently being employed by the engine via the status menu found in the centre infotainment screen.
During a few days of testing and heavily scrutinising said status menu, the changeover between ignition types didn't happen during or in between any variation of throttle input or gear change. This is probably half the reason why the change is so imperceptible, as it always picks the right moment to cross over.
Even on wide-open throttle, it'll use SPCCI to get the car up to the redline. The motor revs cleanly and doesn't mind being strung out to the top end of the tachometer, either. If you tune in, you can just about discern some belt whine from the supercharger/air pump.
Performance is good for the package. The engine has 2.0 litres of displacement and makes 132kW of power and 224Nm of torque at 3000rpm. The Skyactiv-X version is offered with both a six-speed manual and six-speed auto, with our test car featuring the latter transmission option.
To give a sense of scale to its performance, expect it to feel no different from the regular G25 Astina, which does feature a larger engine. The 2.5-litre naturally aspirated engine in that car makes a similar 139kW of power and 252Nm of torque from 4000rpm. It only weighs 60kg less, too, which provides further reasoning as to why both of these cars feel awfully similar in terms of general performance.
As I mentioned before, the Skyactiv-X powertrain genuinely sounds and feels like a conventional combustion engine. The only slight clattering I noticed was once the car was warm and I was conducting a three-point turn in an underground car park, with the windows down. Consider noticing something similar a seldom occurrence.
Maintaining a Skyactiv-X engine over a five-year, 50,000km period will only cost you $118 more than if you were to opt for the regular, 2.5-litre model. That means the introduction of SPCCI technology doesn't burden on the wallet much at all. It's also covered by the same five year, unlimited km warranty as per the rest of the range.
|2020 Mazda 3 servicing||X20 Astina Skyactiv-X M Hybrid||G25 Astina|
|Warranty||5yr/unlimited KM||5yr/unlimited KM|
Quite impressive stuff from an engineering standpoint.
However, calling it a hybrid, even a mild one, is drawing a long bow. It isn't a pinch on the Toyota Corolla Hybrid, nor does it offer the same benefits as one, either.
Mazda globally does not refer to Skyactiv-X as a hybrid or mild hybrid technology. In fact, Mazda global mentions that its new Skyactiv-X engine technology can work "as a standalone power unit or in hybrid and plug-in hybrid vehicles".
As in, uses the technology to complement its genuine hybrids from the not too distant future, à la Toyota. Prematurely labelling this tech with the same moniker is a bit of a local misstep in my eyes.
By using the phase 'mild hybrid', you're instantly opening up a comparison to Toyota. Given that Toyota's tech has proliferated throughout its range for quite some time now, you're naturally going to get wised-up ex-Toyota hybrid customers rocking up to your dealership expecting something similar. Maybe looking for an upgrade, or something a little stylish, with the same sorts of benefits they're used to.
When they realise this isn't the case on a test drive, they'll walk away disgruntled. Even worse, however, is that they buy the car and not get the result they were expecting, and likely causing a worse headache for the brand.
I make a point of this because the test car returned an economy figure of 7.1 litres per 100km. That's against an official claim of 5.5L/100km. I also did my best to try to manage the economy figure, alas to no success. We've achieved a result of 4.6 litres with a Corolla Hybrid against its official claim of 4.2L/100km.
At 7.1L/100km, the Mazda is still decently economical. Calling it a hybrid, however, almost undermines the technology itself.
You're sort of stacking it up against unfair competition, and in turn potentially having issues with managing the expectations of customers who've come from such a product. Where the electric part of Toyota hybrid can function in place of the petrol engine, Mazda's implementation can only assist meaning the petrol engine is always running in tandem.
Thankfully, the introduction of a battery has not removed any usability from the Skyactiv-X version. Cargo capacity remains the same as the regular version at an acceptable 295L. For what it's worth, towing capacity remains the same with unbraked/braked at 600kg/1200kg, with towball download weight capped to 80kg.
The interior is also the same as the top-spec G25 Astina. Not only is it well assembled, but it's borderline premium in its execution.
The driver-focused dashboard is clad in soft, pretend leather that looks and feels as good as the real deal. This material then flows on to the doors at the same height, creating a nice sense of consistency to its design. There are other elements that feel luxurious, such as the fancy brushed-aluminium-finish speaker grilles that cover up elements of its 12-speaker Bose premium audio system.
Capping off the experience is a neatly recessed 8.8-inch widescreen infotainment set-up, pared-back air-conditioning controls, and Mazda's easy to use rotary dial for controlling the centre screen. It's beautifully simple but feels expensive, too. It takes the simplicity of, say, a current 7.5-generation Golf, but adds in a clever selection of better materials in the right places to lift it above that of its German rival.
Once comfortable in the seat, you do feel quite cosseted by the high centre console and high door line. I do love a good thin-rimmed steering wheel, and the one found in the Mazda is exactly that. The up-down rolling actuation of the buttons on the wheel can be a bit clumsy to use, and also feel a little wobbly, but that's me getting nitpicky.
As a top-line Astina model, every piece of advanced safety tech known to Mazda has been included as standard.
Unlike others in the segment, Mazda's autonomous emergency braking system works while travelling forward as well as backward, with the latter reverse auto braking firing when fast approaching an object, or when an object is fast approaching your planned trajectory, in rear cross-traffic situations.
More cars in this class need both of these reversing auto-brake options as standard, as they'll go a long way in helping to avoid driveway tragedies, which we see too many of in our country.
In the second row, there is a price paid for such an adventurous exterior design. The seat bench itself is decent with a well-proportioned squab being comfortable; however, it's more the overall cabin dimensions and small glasshouse that bring down the experience. Leg and foot room behind a driver of at least 183cm height becomes difficult to find, and head room too remains in shortage.
Then there's the lack of glass. Part of the Mazda 3's statement-making design is an upswept window on the rear door, which helps the sheetmetal of the area blend in with its rather dominant rear quarter panel.
It looks fantastic from the outside. However, on the inside it does create what is a quite dark, boxed-in environment for its occupants. When sitting in the back, you merely have a small pane of glass to peer out of, sort of like a pillbox. The darkness and tiny piece of glass magnify the lack of actual physical space there is, making the overall experience not as pleasant as others in the segment.
My son, too, did notice the lack of light and airiness in the rear of the cabin. He did note that he initially felt "stuck" while riding in the back. I've come to realise he uses this term whenever he's feeling claustrophobic.
Such a large style of child seat does mean that front passenger leg room is compromised with one installed, but not enough to raise serious concern. Consider fitting two large child seats across the back a mission, so forget a third altogether.
Which leads me into how I feel about this car. It's quite selfishly catered towards the driver, who's likely to be the owner. Maybe the front passenger, too, at best.
Its design certainly worsens the feel of the second row. If you own the car, fly solo or in a pair, you'll probably never use that area of the car. That means you'll probably not care too much about it, either, and that your mates can learn to 'deal with it'.
Not caring about the second row leaves your mind free to appreciate the flipside to that argument – its design. The Mazda 3 undeniably looks the part, with many wide-radius curves and complete lack of taut creases manifesting a rather dynamic and technical-feeling exterior vibe.
Throw on an excellent colour choice from the options list, like Mazda's wonderful Soul Red Crystal at a cost of $495, and you've got yourself a bona-fide head turner.
|Price information||Mazda 3 X20 Astina Skyactiv-X|
|Manufacturer list price||$41,590|
|Options as tested|
|Soul red crystal metallic paint||$495|
|Manufacturer list price + options||$42,085|
|Advanced safety systems availability|
|360-view parking camera||Standard|
|Keyless entry and start||Standard|
|Blind spot monitoring||Standard|
|Driver attention alert||Standard|
|Front cross traffic alert||Standard|
|Rear cross traffic alert||Standard|
|Automatic high beam assist||Standard|
|Lane departure warning||Standard|
|Autonomous emergency braking - front||Standard|
|Pedestrian and cyclist detection - front||Standard|
|Autonomous emergency braking - rear object||Standard|
|Autonomous emergency braking - rear cross traffic||Standard|
|Traffic sign recognition||Standard|
It's also enjoyable to drive. That means if you're the driver, you're in for another treat. Mazda has often placed significant importance on its cars remaining somewhat fun to drive, regardless of the product's family type.
The Mazda 3 follows that playbook, with great direct-feeling steering and a comfortable yet sporty suspension package that never feels out of its depth in varied scenarios, be it fast-paced country roads or mottled, tarnished inner-city bitumen. Road noise rarely interferes with cabin ambiance, and it feels worth the cost of entry in terms of noise, vibration and harshness levels.
The jury is out on this 'mild hybrid' system proving any short-term monetary benefit over the regular car. Its $41,590 manufacturer list price is a whole $3000 more versus the equally equipped G25 Astina model. It doesn't require a scientific calculator to work out that it'll take the average owner well over a decade to earn that money back in fuel savings.
If that's what you're looking for, wait until Mazda eventually sticks this power plant in with a real, full hybrid, or with a plug-in system. That's when it'll begin to pay short-term dividends for those fuel-miser bargain hunters.
It just isn't the case now, however. Nor is it a problem.
Interestingly, we all benefit from your decision of spending $3000 more upfront. As you pass on your car, sell it, and it continues to provide motoring for many others well outside of your ownership, it'll continue to be less harmful to the environment, and more economical than a conventional Mazda 3.
It also shines some light on the taboo topic of how a conventional petrol internal combustion engine, as we all know, and some love, can be given legs to go on into the future. It is more economical than a regular Mazda 3 G25 Astina, and manages to do so while being as quiet and with as much performance.
If you consider yourself an early adopter of technology, then chances are you probably already like Mazda as a brand. That means you may actually see value in the $3000 cost increase for a Skyactiv-X engine, given its technological fanfare and brilliant, interruption-free scope of operation.
Not just for you, but for others who will one day drive and own your very car.
Maybe it's the selfless choice, then.