Mazda 3 1.5 SkyActiv review

24 Oct, 2013 5:30pm Tom Phillips
Smooth power delivery, great handling, stylish design
Less mid-range power than rivals, interior plastics

The new Mazda 3 1.5 SkyActiv ignores the recent trend for small-capacity turbos


Even at the entry point to the range, the Mazda 3 1.5 SkyActiv is a fine car. The ‘right-sized’ engine is smooth, revvy and helps maintain the newcomer’s reputation as one of the best drivers’ cars in its class. The design is a big step forward inside and out, while the practical and well equipped cabin should help Mazda’s move into the mainstream.

This is the new Mazda 3 1.5 SkyActiv, and unlike so many of its rivals, it doesn't use a small-capacity turbo engine. Mazda believes downsizing engines to boost efficiency rarely gives the real-world benefit other makers claim, so while its new ‘right-sized’ 1.5-litre SkyActiv petrol replaces a 1.6 in the latest 3 hatch, there’s no turbo to boost power – although it’s cleaner and more powerful than the old engine.

• Full Mazda 3 review

By sticking with a naturally aspirated set-up, the Mazda 3 1.5 SkyActiv's power delivery is smooth and linear – something you just don’t get with a small-capacity turbo. The engine isn’t exactly powerful, but it revs sweetly when you’re driving enthusiastically, plus it allows smooth, quiet cruising.

However, the 1.5-litre’s 150Nm of torque means you miss the mid-range thump of a turbo, so you have to work the slick gearshift more often.

The new Mazda 3 is one of the best-handling cars in its class, and this entry-level version doesn’t let the side down. The engine is light, so this car weighs just over 1,100kg – as a result, it corners with agility, while the ride on the 16-inch alloys is comfortable.

The SE model’s interior is a big step forward over the old car’s, although some of 
the plastics used don’t feel quite as classy as in rivals.

Choosing a Mazda is a step away from the mainstream. But even in entry-level form, there’s a lot to like about the new 3, with its sharp drive and smart cabin.

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Personally I think you are as well opting for the 'low power' 2 litre engine which offers similar economy with more grunt.

The emmissions and claimed economy figures for this car are startling good, considering its a n/a petrol. Why oh why is there not comment from the reviewer on the mpg achieved during the test. Rubbish motoring journalism.

For a non-turbo unit the MPG and emissions are class leading - shames smaller cars like VW Polo and the new MG3.
An impressive offering from an interesting brand. Upgrading to the bigger unit costs little and makes sense.
A credible challenge to the mighty Golf which is hamstrung by its rather introvert and repressed styling.

Near 1100kg. That's impressive and very welcome.

Because the time of proper "road tests" is long gone, this is a short drive and "creative" rewriting of the spec sheet that anybody can find on official website.

I don't buy Mazda's reasoning for not having a small capacity turbo. Even if the real life economy isn't what is claimed why would Mazda be bothered by that? All that matters to manufacturers is churning out the best official mpg and CO2 figures as this is what most buyers will use for comparison. Also most buyers aren't bothered about linear power delivery and would prefer the power delivery of a small capacity turbo, giving power in the midrange where it is most useful for overtaking manoeuvres and getting up to speed when joining faster roads. It will be very interesting to see how the real world figures stack up though.

Key specs

  • Price: £17,295
  • Engine: 1.5-litre 4cyl, 99bhp
  • Transmission: Six-speed manual, front-wheel drive
  • 0-62mph: 10.7 seconds
  • Top speed: 115mph
  • Economy/CO2: 56.4mpg/118g/km
  • Equipment: 16-inch alloys, seven-inch touchscreen, sat-nav, air-con
  • On sale: January