Road tests

New Mazda 3 e-SkyActiv X 2021 review

The stylish Mazda 3 e-SkyActiv X hatchback joins the electrification party with a 2.0-litre mild-hybrid engine

Overall Auto Express Rating

4.0 out of 5

Verdict

Subtle improvements to the Mazda 3’s powertrain with this new e-SkyActiv X unit have helped. The engine still has some inherent drawbacks, but at least Mazda has made the most of the package with its technological tweaks. The 3 hatch still rides and handles as sweetly as ever, while the interior is one of the more premium-feeling cabins in the class. It’s a shame it isn’t more practical, though.

Mazda is a solid example of a company improving its offerings through constant evolution, and the latest round of updates focuses on the brand’s 3 family hatch.

The car was launched in 2019 sporting a super-sharp design, with Mazda’s clever SkyActiv X engine technology that uses a compression-controlled spark ignition process adding to the package. This tech basically combines some characteristics of a diesel engine for extra torque, with the cleanliness and revvy nature of a petrol unit.

Now with mild-hybrid power and even more updates, the engine is being branded ‘e-SkyActiv X’ to reflect the revisions. These include an extra 6bhp and 16Nm more torque, up to respective outputs of 183bhp and 240Nm here from the 2.0-litre four-cylinder naturally aspirated motor. This is partly down to revised intake valve timing, which also improves efficiency.

The Mazda’s mild-hybrid system has been recalibrated with new software to help improve response and smoothness under acceleration as well, while also cutting CO2 emissions by 5-11g/km depending on spec.

It’s a useful round of tweaks, then, that coax a little more from what on the face of things seems like a fairly conventional powertrain. Despite the clever ignition process and the mild-hybrid tech, it feels like it when you’re on the move as well – but that’s a compliment.

As Mazda claims, the acceleration throughout the rev range is smooth, even if the 2.0-litre unit is a bit more vocal than a modern downsized turbo engine. It needs revving, too, because its maximum torque is produced at 4,000rpm, so despite the small electrical boost lower down (which you’ll not notice) it’s still a unit that needs working, and this means the downsides are still the same. It could do with more mid-range shove to improve the car’s flexibility.

It is fun when you do work it, with a sharp throttle response and a free feel, but in a family hatchback the occasions where you want to drive the car like this are few and far between.

Still, you can appreciate the excellent six-speed manual gearbox all of the time, with a light and precise shift, which makes it really pleasant to use. It’s not even a drag in traffic really, because the clutch is light.

The 3’s steering is also a great weight and there’s enough feedback to make it genuinely engaging. This is what Mazda does so well, and it’s allied to a chassis that offers a good degree of comfort, but plenty of grip and a fun-to-drive feel. Few family hatches combine such a strong sense of poise with this level of comfort.

In many ways it’s a good job, because the engine isn’t quite a match for the best in the class, and things are a bit cramped inside. This isn’t helped by the 3’s striking exterior design; it feels a little claustrophobic in the rear due to that chunky C-pillar, even if legroom is okay – but nothing more.

Boot space stands at 334 litres, so even the Volkswagen Golf offers around 15 per cent more boot room. In the front it’s far more impressive. The 3’s interior design was just as important as its exterior when it arrived, with a high-quality feel and a much-improved infotainment system.

Both elements of the package have stood the test of time; the cabin quality feels as high as it did a few years ago, and compared with the latest Golf, which now packs more harder plastics, it’s a more premium offering.

The 8.8-inch infotainment is the focal point and is controlled by an intuitive wheel. The system is fine, but Android Auto and Apple CarPlay are fitted and are better to use.

GT Sport is priced from £28,005, but features heated leather seats and a heated steering wheel, all-round parking sensors with a reversing camera, a 12-speaker Bose stereo, adaptive LED lights, dual-zone climate control, keyless operation, 18-inch alloys and plenty of safety tech. This includes autonomous braking, lane-keep assist, blind-spot monitoring with cross- traffic alert and lane-departure warning.

Model:Mazda 3 2.0 e-SkyActiv X GT Sport
Price:£28,005
Engine:2.0-litre 4cyl petrol MHEV
Power/torque:183bhp/240Nm
Transmission:Six-speed manual, front-wheel drive 
0-62mph:8.1 seconds
Top speed:134mph
Economy:53.3mpg
CO2:121g/km
On sale:Now

Most Popular

New 2021 Vauxhall Astra teased for the first time
Vauxhall Astra teaser 1
Vauxhall Astra

New 2021 Vauxhall Astra teased for the first time

The new Vauxhall Astra will get electrified powertrains and a more premium image
8 Jun 2021
New 2021 Tesla Model S Plaid launched with 1,006bhp
Tesla Model S facelift - front
Tesla Model S

New 2021 Tesla Model S Plaid launched with 1,006bhp

Range-topping version of the Tesla Model S officially unveiled, with a sprint time of 0-60mph in less than two seconds
10 Jun 2021
New 2021 Volkswagen T7 Multivan replaces Caravelle
Volkswagen T7 Multivan - front
Volkswagen Caravelle

New 2021 Volkswagen T7 Multivan replaces Caravelle

The Volkswagen T7 Multivan MPV switches to the MQB platform and adds plug-in hybrid technology
10 Jun 2021
'Factories are at a standstill because they can’t get the parts to finish cars'
Car manufacturing
Opinion

'Factories are at a standstill because they can’t get the parts to finish cars'

Steve Fowler points out the fresh issues facing global car manufacturing
9 Jun 2021
'The hydrogen underdog disruptor is back in town'
Toyota Mirai opinion
Opinion

'The hydrogen underdog disruptor is back in town'

Mike Rutherford says hydrogen-powered cars could still be a frequent sight on UK roads
13 Jun 2021
‘Our switch to electric will soon make driving manual cars a lost art'
Gearknob
Opinion

‘Our switch to electric will soon make driving manual cars a lost art'

Want to drive a manual car? You need to take your test in a manual car. So what happens once all driving-school cars are automatic EVs?
8 Jun 2021
Volkswagen Golf GTI Clubsport vs Cupra Leon 300
Volkswagen Golf GTI Clubsport vs Cupra Leon 300
Car group tests

Volkswagen Golf GTI Clubsport vs Cupra Leon 300

The capable Volkswagen Golf GTI Clubsport goes up against its new Cupra Leon 300 sibling in this hot hatch battle
12 Jun 2021
New 2021 Lexus NX arrives with firm’s first plug-in hybrid drivetrain
Lexus NX - front action
Lexus NX SUV

New 2021 Lexus NX arrives with firm’s first plug-in hybrid drivetrain

The new Lexus NX 350h features a standard hybrid set-up, while the NX 450h+ gets a plug-in hybrid powertrain capable of 40 miles of pure electric powe…
12 Jun 2021
LEC launches affordable EV conversion for classic Mini
LEC MINI Electric
MINI

LEC launches affordable EV conversion for classic Mini

The conversion sees the Mini’s A-Series engine replaced with a dinky electric motor and a 20kWh battery for a range of 70 miles in the city
10 Jun 2021
Audi updates line-up for 2022 with new tech and trim features
Audi S5
Audi

Audi updates line-up for 2022 with new tech and trim features

Almost every car in Audi’s line-up has received a tweak, with major updates including Amazon Alexa integration and a Sonos stereo
11 Jun 2021
New Skoda Enyaq iV 2021 review
Skoda Enyaq iV 80 Sportline - front
Skoda Enyaq

New Skoda Enyaq iV 2021 review

The new Skoda Enyaq iV is the Czech firm’s first bespoke electric car and we've tested the full range on UK roads
10 Jun 2021
'GM taking over Honda would be a disaster'
Honda opinion
Opinion

'GM taking over Honda would be a disaster'

Mike Rutherford is worried about Honda's future, despite its recent motorsport success
6 Jun 2021
Mustang Mach-E: your next company car?
A red Ford Mustang Mach-E parked
Advertisement Feature

Mustang Mach-E: your next company car?

Thinking of getting a new company car? Here’s why you should consider putting the Mustang Mach-E on your shortlist
11 Jun 2021
New Volkswagen T-Cross Black Edition 2021 review
Volkswagen T-Cross Black Edition - front
Volkswagen T-Cross

New Volkswagen T-Cross Black Edition 2021 review

The small Volkswagen T-Cross SUV turns on the style in new Black Edition trim
11 Jun 2021