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

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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.

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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

Sean’s been writing about cars since 2010, having worked for outlets as diverse as PistonHeads, MSN Cars, Which? Cars, Race Tech – a specialist motorsport publication – and most recently Auto Express and sister titles Carbuyer and DrivingElectric

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