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First Drive: Mazda3 2.0 Skyactiv-X

The new Skyactiv-X petrol is clever, and the pick of the engines in the latest Mazda3, reckons Martyn Collins.

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SECTOR C-Segment   PRICE £23,555   FUEL 52.3mpg   CO2 100g/km

It might look like the standard, if stylish Mazda3 hatch, that impressed at launch earlier this year. But, under the bonnet and under a big plastic cover (needed for faster warm up), is Mazda’s idea of the future of the internal combustion engine – the 2.0-litre Skyactiv-X petrol.

So, what’s so special about this engine and why should we get so excited, you ask? Well, it’s the first production-ready petrol that uses compression ignition. Basically a 2.0-litre, four-cylinder petrol engine, Mazda says it borrows the fuel efficiency and low-down torque of a diesel. It does this by using something called SPCCI – or Spark Controlled Compression Ignition – a system that allows this engine to switch between spark and compression ignition as needed.

A conventional petrol ignites the fuel/air mixture via the spark from a spark plug, but in a diesel no spark is required. Instead, the bang happens after the fuel is squirted into a combustion chamber of hot compressed air, as the piston comes to the end of its compression stroke. This is a more efficient combustion process; you only have to look at the impressive fuel economy.

This 2.0-litre Skyactiv-X engine is designed to offer the best of both, as it can swap between both of these types of combustion, although for compression ignition, it uses a spark plug to time combustion and avoid knock. The rest of the time, the SPCCI system means this engine can run on a much leaner fuel/air mixture, thus giving efficiency gains. Completing the tech, is a 24v mild hybrid system, that uses a combined started/generator to save energy when slowing down.

On the road, despite all this clever tech, it all seems very normal – which is a good thing we think. Perhaps sounding more diesel-like at start-up and idle, there’s sadly none of the low-down diesel torque, although it feels more willing in the mid-range from 3,000rpm upwards where the full 165lb ft is available. The smooth operation and quick re-start of the start/stop system is impressive too. Peak power, which is 178bhp, is available at a heady 7,000rpm.

Despite the lack of low-down grunt, with more horses, it must be the pick of the engines available in the new Mazda3 range. The clever rev-matching feature, and another level of smoothness to what was already one of the slickest changes in the sector.

Although, what business buyers are going to be keenest on with this engine is the figures. With a Combined WLTP consumption figure of 52.3mpg, and emissions of 100g/km, with Sport models dropping as low as 96g/km (NEDC Correlated).

Prices start from £23,555 for the Sport hatch, which is a significant uplift over the standard 3. Sport Lux, GT Sport and Sport Tech trims, also available from launch this autumn.

Star Rating

The Lowdown
Key fleet model: Mazda3 Skyactiv-X Sport

Strengths: Frugal, smooth, styling, good to drive

Weaknesses: Skyactiv-X petrol engine lacks lowdown torque, expensive

The Verdict
The Skyactiv-X engine is clever, frugal and willing. It works well with the Mazda3’s keen drive – can it make its mark?

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Martyn Collins

Martyn has 18 years experience as a motoring journalist, working across a wide selection of B2B and consumer titles. A car enthusiast since his early years, Martyn has a particular interest in the latest models and technology and in his spare time enjoys driving his own Minis.