We drove the Mazda 3 SP20 SKYACTIV for 3000km, mainly in the city, and found it's pretty good, with some relatively minor compromises on comfort and economy compared to other fuel-saving vehicles.
- The acceleration on the Mazda SP20 SKYACTIV is active enough to get you around town and it's a bit quicker than the Volkswagen Golf BlueMotion we drove recently.
- Its brakes were very effective when we put them to the test on a wet road.
- The steering is light, positive and has good feedback, so the driver knows what's happening on the road. The steering wheel in the luxury version we drove is leather-bound and quite comfortable, but not as thick as the Golf's and that may detract from the sporty feel for some drivers.
- The ride is a little harsh on rutted or corrugated surfaces, however the car feels responsive and agile.
- It's limited to a six-speed automatic gearbox, but does have a manual override option for those who want to feel they are more in control. There is a slight delay in the gear change before it switches up to fourth, fifth or sixth after acceleration, which may annoy some drivers. Selecting gears manually would override this.
What makes it green?
Mazda claims it has a more efficient engine overall with some additional weight and friction changes to both the engine and body. The six-speed automatic gearbox uses a lock-up system that Mazda claims makes gear changes smoother in auto mode and saves fuel.
The i-stop system shuts down the engine under certain conditions (for example, if the car is fully stopped, the brake pedal is pressed firmly, it's not on a hill and the steering is not turned past a certain point) and restarts as soon as the brake is released.
Unlike the Volkswagen Golf BlueMotion, the Mazda SKYACTIV uses engine combustion to restart. When we trialled it, the system went for periods without working, but a recent software upgrade appears to have made it more stable.
- The leather seats are firm with plenty of support.
- There is a fair bit of road noise entering the cabin from the road, which is not uncommon for all Mazda models we've driven.
- The dashboard has soft plastics.
- The instruments and controls are laid out well. It looks modern, but some may find the instrument lights a bit bright.
We've measured the fuel usage to be around 7.2L/100km (in the hatch version we tested) on a mixture of city and motorway driving, including our braking and acceleration tests, although the dash-mounted display gave an average of 6.5L/100km.
The i-stop system should save fuel in city driving, but is probably best turned off if you're in a line of crawling traffic (it will turn the engine on and off every few seconds as you inch forward).
Although fairly expensive and not quite as fuel efficient as a diesel or hybrid, this is a responsive, comfortable car. We can recommend it if you're looking to reduce your fuel bill without compromising on comfort and drivability.
However, there are better options if you're just interested in saving fuel.
Cost: from $31,674 (we tested the luxury hatch version, priced at $34,764 in NSW)
Fuel usage claim vs measured per 100km: 6.2L (hatch version) & 6.1L (sedan version) vs 7.2L
Acceleration to 100km/h: 10.7s
Braking distance from 50km/h: 10.5m
ANCAP safety rating: 5 out of 5 stars