First Drive

First Drive: Mazda 3 Saloon

The story:
Mazda’s clever Skyactiv-X compression ignition technology is claimed to offer the performance of a petrol engine and the efficiency of a diesel, and debuts alongside the saloon version of Mazda’s new lower medium 3 model.
Category:Lower Medium
Key rival:Hyundai i30 fastback
Mazda 3 saloon 2.0 180hp Sport Skyactiv-X
MPG:52.3 mpg
On sale:Now

The new Mazda 3 has been well received as a serious competitor at the top end of the lower-medium segment, but the Japanese brand has further increased the car’s appeal with the two-pronged arrival of a saloon bodystyle and the much-anticipated new Skyactiv-X engine tech.

Skyactiv-X is a petrol engines that uses clever compression ignition tech (which is how diesels run) to cut emissions to just 96g/km for the saloon or 100g/km for the hatchback. And it develops 180hp. Which are pretty impressive figures.

First Drive- January 2020-Mazda 3 saloon-Image 2The saloon bodystyle costs the same as the hatchback and offers an extra 93 litres of boot space in a car that’s 200mm longer, but with the caveat that a hatchback shape and load access are more practical than the longer and narrower saloon style. But it’s a good-looking car that appears bigger than its hatch sibling, and the boot goes back a long way into the car, which is where the extra space comes from.

From a running-costs perspective, the saloon shape is slightly more aerodynamic, leading to a 0.9mpg efficiency advantage for the Skyactiv-X model, as well as the 4g/km difference that drops the saloon by one BiK band compared with the hatch. The saloon’s residual value is also a touch better, giving it a 0.8p-per-mile cost advantage, and for anyone wanting a saloon bodystyle, it’s only this car, the Honda Civic, Hyundai’s i30 Fastback or a Toyota Corolla.

The new engine’s numbers impress, even if it doesn’t feel quite as punchy as the 180hp figure might suggest. However, it’s still a much better performer than any other sub-100g/km petrol car in its segment. It feels a bit flat, but picks up nicely with higher revs and is pretty refined, along with the precise gearchange feel expected from Mazda.

Even on this entry Sport spec’s smaller-diameter wheels, the ride is on the firm side, but the 3 in saloon or hatch form is an entertaining drive.

Paul barker

The verdict

Skyactiv-X engine massively impresses for efficiency figures, although it’s not a high-performance unit despite the 180hp power figure. Saloon bodystyle is a niche addition, but looks smart.