Review: what does Mazda's high-tech SkyActiv-X engine offer in the real world?
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- World-first status appeals to tech-heads
- Better driveability than sister SkyActiv-G engines
- Takami kit takes pain out of price premium
- Modest fuel economy gains over SkyActiv-G 2.0
- Not quite as grunty as SkyActiv-G 2.5
- Can be murky in mid-range
Mazda’s SkyActiv-X engine is an astonishingly complex engineering achievement that yields incremental real-world benefits. So it’s easy to be cynical.
We’ve discussed SkyActiv-X in detail so many times that I fear my head will go into a 13B rotary-style spin if we do it again. If you want to see the detail, watch the video below – or click on the Read More links further down.
But basically, it’s a world-first engine fuelled by petrol that works like a diesel most of the time, meaning you theoretically get the best of both worlds. Hence the “X”: it’s a crossover of the two technologies.
It’s tangible evidence of Mazda’s confident (some might say bloody-minded) assertion that the internal combustion engine still has much more to give in the face of the current car-industry obsession with electric vehicles.
But there we go, getting all theoretical again. The real-world face of X is the Mazda3 hatchback you see here, which is one of the first production models to feature the new 2.0l engine (there’s also an X-powered CX-30 SUV).
Mazda still offers SkyActiv-G versions of the 3: a 2.0l and a 2.5l. So to get the salient metrics out of the way, the X makes 132kW/224Nm compared with 114kW/200Nm (G 2.0l) and 139kW/252Nm (G 2.5l). Overall fuel economy is 10 per cent better than the same-capacity G, or about 15 per cent etter than the 2.5l version.
So… is the Mazda3 X a more grunty alternative to the 2.0l G that maintains fuel efficiency, or is it a more thrifty alternative to the top 2.5l G that keeps most of the power? It’s neither of those strictly, yet a bit of both.
The potentially negative spin is that there’s not a massive difference in the power and especially fuel economy figures between the new Mazda3 X and either of the G models. So what’s the point of the extra $3200 you have to fork out for the new engine?
Well, it stands to reason that new technology costs – especially world-first technology many years in the making. Doesn’t help when the finance agreement is ballooning upwards, I know.
But Mazda partly gets around the issue by offering the X-engine only in the top Mazda3 Takami model, which also adds higher-quality leather upholstery, gloss-black alloys, a swish frameless rearvision mirror, heated steering wheel and 360-degree parking cameras. It’s not out of the question that’d you pay that premium even without the clever engine.
SkyActiv-X is part of a wider and longer-term picture of course, so if you’re bothered by its modest on-paper achievements right now you can rest assured that there’s much more to come from the technology, in many more models.
For the here and now, this is still absolutely the best Mazda3 hatchback you can buy. After driving Mazda3/CX-30 X and G back-to-back and then a longer test-period with the Mazda3 Takami, I’m convinced this technology makes for a more satisfying and efficient mainstream Mazda.
The X-engine can operate either in Spark Controlled Compression Ignition (SCCI) mode – which is the clever bit – or standard spark ignition when required. There’s a graphic that can show you which is happening when on the infotainment screen and it’s clear from our test time that it’s doing the SCCI thing most of the time. It works.
The theory of X is that you get the low-down torque and efficiency of a diesel with the same high-rev performance as a petrol. And so it proves in practice, with a noticeably more muscular character in urban driving and plenty of enthusiasm in the upper reaches – although it still can’t match the ultimate power, torque and perkiness of the G 2.5l.
The low-speed performance is helped by the fact that the X is a mild hybrid, the battery system doing its best to reduce load on the engine. There’s also a part-time supercharger on call to force-feed air when required.
The calibration of the 6-speed automatic gearbox, which I’ve sometimes found wanting in the G-engined Mazdas, also seems much better resolved in the X.
If there’s opportunity cost it might be in the mid-range, where the X-engine can sometimes seem to go off the boil a little. Whether that’s endemic to the X technology or just the hybrid system stepping back is hard to say.
It doesn’t hurt that the X-engine comes wrapped in what’s surely the coolest small-car around. The Mazda3 hatch still looks sensational, the steering and handling are sweet without being aggressively sporting and the interior quality rivals some premium-brand models.
The SkyActiv-X option will no doubt appeal to tech-heads who appreciate what an incredible engineering achievement it is – and how significant it might become in future models. But there’s plenty to please buyers looking for more tangible talents as well.
ENGINE: 2.0-litre petrol four with mild hybrid system
GEARBOX: 6-speed automatic, FWD