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Hatchback is alive and well

 
Created on 08/01/2020 @ 10:23
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Road test by Steve Rogers

Right. I was ready to put the mockers on Mazda3 now that its muscle bound partner has joined the range.

Well, who wants a common or garden hatchback over a bigger, stronger crossover SUV, and the car that nearly everyone is buying. These all conquering warriors come in all shapes and sizes - Mazda has two, CX-3 and CX-5 and has added a third, the CX-30. This is a taller, wider version of Maz3 and is so good it convinced me the family hatchback is redundant. Or so I thought. 

A couple of weeks later a Mazda3 turned up and I realised I was wrong the moment I got behind the wheel. There is plenty of life left in a good hatchback.

There was such a good feel about this car; the fit was perfect just like a comfortable pair of slippers. You are reminded how satisfying it is to sit low behind the steering wheel, closer to the road, soaking up every bit of information coming up from the wheels. Sweeping through twists and curves with the sort of ease and excitement you don't get from an SUV, no matter how good it is.

Calm down Rogers, it was just a car.

The main reason for this road test was to give the new SkyActive-X petrol engine a good workout. It was not ready in time for the launch of the fourth generation Mazda3 last May but UK boss Jeremy Thomson made it clear there is a lot riding on the engine as customers switch from diesel to petrol power.

The trick is to develop a petrol engine with the something like the same power and economy of a diesel, and Mazda believe it has cracked it.

The new engine has spark controlled compression ignition which, we are told, is ground breaking. The key is the use of a highly lean mixture of fuel and air fired by compression rather than a spark plug which has been the norm.

So here is the challenge. A modern 2-litre diesel pumps out around 180bhp, 350Nm of torque and can average 50mpg. SkyActive-X has 177bhp, is said to average 50mpg and has 224Nm or torque. How does it perform?

On paper that deficit in torque is worrying but in practice the gap is not as wide as you might think. Even the best turbo diesels have a small amount of lag but that is not a trait of the Mazda engine. Under 2000rpm the Mazda response is seemless and brisk, not quite as strong as a diesel, but good enough.

It is the same story in the mid range, another strong area for diesel, and the Mazda can be revved until the cows come home which adds to the fun. Not something that can be done with a turbo diesel.

Of course the big test is economy and I gave it a big one, a 400 mile trip through hilly mid Wales to Pembrokeshire and back. At journey's end the computer showed 47.3mpg, a brilliant return and only a little shy of similar trips in a diesel. That's good enough for me.

Those roads really brought out the best in the Maz3. They call for quick response steering and razor sharp handling, so that is both boxes ticked.

But there is a lot more to the Maz3. For me it is the best looking hatchback bar none, a good layout for the driver and a noticeable improvement in the quality of trim and fittings. There is a good range of equipment from the start and the colour head up display is excellent with speed, speed limit and navigation instructions all shown along with the blind spot warning which is normally only shown in the door mirrors. These are all little things that make driving much safer.

Heating controls are separate from the 8.8in touchscreen which looks after everything else but at least it is operated via a rotary controller which is far less fiddly than dabbing the screen when on the move. 

I was told by a couple of female passengers to give a special mention for the heated front seats which are roasting in no time even too hot on the high setting. 

There was a minor moan from people in the back who found it a bit dark. The car has a rising waistline and not a lot of glass, and a rear camera is a must for reversing because you can't see much out of the slim back window.

The CX-30 is my 2019 car of the year but I still got more pleasure driving its slightly smaller brother.

Key facts

Sport Lux SkyActive-X

£25,575 (starts £23,555)

2-litre petrol; 177bhp

0-62mph 8.3secs; 134mph

48.7mpg combined

103g/km. 1st year tax £150

Insurance group 22

Boot 358 litres

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