Ross Kiddie discovers new hybrid technology in the Mazda3 Skyactiv-X Takami

Price: Mazda3 Skyactiv-X Takami, $51,995
Engine: Four-cylinder, front-wheel-drive, 1998cc, 132kW, 224Nm. 0-100km/h, 8.8sec
Transmission: Six-speed automatic
Fuel and economy: 5.5l/100km
Dimensions: Length, 4460mm; width, 1795mm; height, 1435mm

Overview

It was only a matter of time before Mazda developed hybrid technology.

I’m not surprised it has taken some time for that to happen, because as a company it has been concentrating on building fuel-efficient and low emission internal combustion engines, almost matching the benefits that hybrids represent.

What Mazda has done now is combine the gains it has made through their Skyactiv range of four-cylinder engines with mild hybrid technology.

So, forget the pioneering designs that Toyota and Honda have developed along with the systems of other mainstream manufacturers, Mazda’s hybrid isn’t quite so deep, instead it utilises similar elements to that of Mercedes-Benz and BMW, using regenerative energy to store power in a 24v lithium-ion battery bank.

The alternator and starter motor have both been replaced with an integrated starter/generator, it captures energy that would normally be wasted during braking. This energy is then used to power electrical systems and assist the engine under acceleration.

The power it develops is quite noticeable, but unlike other hybrids the petrol engine is operating all of the time.

That isn’t a bad thing, without being too technical Mazda has worked out-of-the-square with their internal combustion engine development, the Skactiv-X engine has a high compression design similar to what you get with diesel power, the result is even greater fuel usage benefits, more power and more torque. Add in the hybrid boost and you have a feisty, fuel efficient engine that is also amazingly smooth and quiet.

How Mazda has done it is beyond my technical understanding, but I can report that it works brilliantly and it would be the hybrid system that I would choose.

The Skyactiv-X engine is available in both the new CX-30 and Mazda3 hatchback as evaluated.

Bear in mind that Skyactiv-X is an option, the standard engines are still available through both line-ups.

Therein lies a bit of conundrum, you do have to pay a bit extra for Skyactiv-X, in CX-30 form it adds $4000 at the top end landing at $54,990, while the Mazda3 lists at $51,995, that’s $3200 more than Limited specification.

However, in Mazda3 form it does come loaded with fitment. Mazda have branded it Takami and that means high grade, it is fully loaded with kit, so in many ways not only are you getting a premium car, you are doing just that little bit extra for the environment as well as being rewarded with a fabulous driving experience.

In terms of figures, Mazda claims power outputs of 132kW and 224Nm from the 2-litre driveline (up 18kW and 24Nm), it also lists a 5.5-litre per 100km combined cycle fuel usage average, which are all pretty remarkable figures; and if you take into account that the torque figure represents a 12 per cent increase over the standard 2-litre unit, the development work is superbly beneficial.

During my time in the evaluation car, I couldn’t get near Mazda’s fuel usage claims, taking the car back to the dealership with it showing 7.6l/100km on the readout. However, that’s more to do with my driving style and inner-city commuting, both of which are never conducive to good economy. I can report, though, that at 100km/h on the highway the readout displays a 4l/100km instantaneous figure with the engine turning over at 2200rpm.

It’s those latter figures which are the most significant. If you are on a long journey, fill-ups will be infrequent, and a long-range between fill-ups is guaranteed. When I picked up the evaluation car it was showing a distance-to-empty figure of 550km. That would stretch on a highway trip.

That journey would be desirable, the Mazda3 is a beautiful car in which to drive, it shares all the characteristic attributes that Mazda has worked hard to develop, it’s an occupant-friendly interior that has a perfect driving position and ergonomic purity.

Bear in mind, though, that at just 1.4m it sits low, and for those on the tall side you do need to duck your head under the roof line on entry.

As mentioned, in Takami specification the Mazda3 wants for little, there are nice touches such as heated seats and steering wheel, keyless entry and ignition, satellite navigation, head-up display, and paddle shifters.

The latter work on a traditional six-speed automatic transmission. Between the engine and gearbox there is solid surge of power and fluid delivery. The mid-range electric boost is noticeable and it contributes to that feel of energy. For the performance-minded, the Mazda3 Skyactiv-X will reach 100km/h from a standstill in 8.8sec, and will lunge through a highway overtake (80-120km/h) in 5.9sec.

When pointed at a quick corner the Mazda3 has traditional front-drive handling qualities, grip is high through low profile Toyo tyres (215/45 x 18in) and body movement is negligible thanks to that low centre of gravity.

What’s more, steering feel is delightful. A howling nor’wester was blowing during my testing time, yet it didn’t bother the Mazda3, it just feels so right under all conditions.

The Mazda3 Takami drew a lot of attention during the time it was my care, both my daughter and her partner said it was a desirable car, especially with its black wheels and understated body design.

That’s no surprise, the Mazda3 is a smart piece of kit and the Takami hybrid lifts the entire series up a couple of notches.


- Ross Kiddie 

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