Mazda creates holy grail of engines
IS MAZDA'S much-hyped Skyactiv-X engine as efficient as they say? It will be months yet before Australians can buy a new-generation Mazda3 equipped with the company's most advanced engine and find the answer for themselves.
In Britain, where a litre of unleaded currently costs about $2.50 and new-car buyers really care about consumption, the Japanese brand didn't delay introducing its groundbreaking 2.0-litre four. It went on sale there, and elsewhere in Europe, in the latest Mazda3 late last year.
For now, the versions of the same car in Australian showrooms come only with less advanced engines.
With a little help from Mazda Australia, we borrowed a manual Mazda3 hatch with the new engine for a fortnight in the UK. After covering more than 1000km in it we know the answer to the octane-burning question …
Before the reveal, first a little background on what's so special about the Skyactiv-X engine.
In short, it burns petrol but works on the same compression combustion principle as a diesel. The reality is rather more complicated (see YouTube video below).
The aim of Skyactiv-X is diesel-like fuel efficiency without diesel-like exhaust pollution, yet with petrol-like power and driving feel. This combination is something of a Holy Grail for engineers working to further improve internal combustion.
Other car brands, much bigger and richer than Mazda, have tried to develop a similar engine for production. Without success.
In our time in the Mazda3, the Skyactiv-X returned 6.4L/100km. This is an impressive number, taking into account the mix of conditions and style of driving.
The car was driven normally, avoiding the fuel-saving strategies that would maximise economy.
There were plenty of short trips of 10km to 30km, longer cross-country expeditions that meant frequent crawling through congested town centres (Britain is a crowded country) and some quick motorway journeys.
In all, it was a pattern familiar to many Aussie drivers. A car of similar size car with a modern turbo diesel could have done better but it seems unlikely any comparable petrol-powered model could have bested it on our long-distance test.
From behind the wheel, there's nothing unusual about the engine, which revs happily to 6500rpm, as with many other petrol 2.0 fours.
It also seems quieter overall than the older 2.0, with an occasional faint diesel-like combustion rattle at about 2000rpm.
The Skyactiv-X comes standard in Europe with a 24V belt-drive motor-generator, making it a very mild hybrid. This add-on technology obviously contributes in a small way to the Mazda3's efficiency - how much, exactly, is impossible to say.
This electrical gear also functions as the starter motor and delivers super-quick restarts after idle-stop shutdowns.
Acceleration is lively and throttle response satisfyingly prompt. It is more powerful than the current 2.0 (outputs are 132kW v 114kW) available in Australia.
Mazda Australia chief Vinesh Bhindi has signalled the Skyactiv-X is likely to power only top-spec models here.
He won't be more specific with timing than the second half of the year.
The equipment grade of our test car, Sport Lux in the UK, brings 18-inch wheels and the full set of safety, convenience, driver-assist and infotainment tech. The Astina would be the closest Mazda3 spec in Australia.
Even with an exterior design that compromises driver vision and makes the rear seat seem cave-like, the new Mazda 3 is among the best contenders in the small car segment.
Fun to drive, it also impresses with its elegant instrument panel, spot-on driving position and fine front seats, typical Japanese quality, up-to-date tech and value for money.
The Skyactiv-X, when it finally arrives in Australia, will add another item to the list of reasons to choose a Mazda3.
Mazda3 Skyactiv-X hatch vitals
Price: From $35,000 (est)
Safety: 5 stars
Engine: 2.0-litre 4-cyl with 24-volt mild hybrid system; 132kW/224Nm
Transmission: 6-speed manual; FWD
Thirst: 6.4L/100km on test