As the world marches on in its quest for more sustainable and ecologically-friendly vehicle options, car manufacturers are scrambling to design more efficient engines. Gone are the days where guzzling V8s or high displacement engines were the norm, and in their place newer and smaller, more efficient engines have taken over the world by storm.
As such, hybrid engine cars are now more popular than ever. Hybrids have been around for more than a decade, but only in recent years have they started to gain proper traction. With cities offering huge rebates and benefits on cars with lower or no emissions, such as exempting cars from the road tax, more individuals are now more inclined to purchase a hybrid vehicle instead. Plus, technological advancements have enabled manufacturers to both increase performance of these cars, whilst still maintaining its high efficiency ratings. This in turn transformed cars like the Prius from boring and dull commuters into zippy city cruisers.
Ever since the introduction of SkyActiv technology in their cars from 2011, Mazda has been dominating the market in terms of reliability and fuel efficiency. In conventional internal combustion engines, only around 30% of the available potential energy from the fuel is used. SKYACTIV® engines enhances on this technology by being able to compress the air-fuel mixture in their cylinders to an entirely new degree, squeezing out far more energy.
For example, the SKYACTIV-G petrol engine boasts a record compression ratio of 14:1, an unprecedented figure for a mass production petrol driven engine. This helps the engine to deliver not only a greater fuel economy, but also improved performance. Through Mazda's testing, both fuel efficiency and torque figures are improved by around 15%. Furthermore, torque performance is especially enhanced at low and medium speeds. This in turn means the enhancements better serve real-world daily driving needs, as opposed to astronomically high speeds that most drivers will never realistically reach.
In the summer of 2019 Mazda started rolling out their latest Mazda 3 model, aptly named the M-Hybrid. You might be thinking "Environmentalists around the world rejoice! There is a new hybrid offering ready for purchase." But do not flock down to your nearest dealership just yet. Even though Mazda clearly stated the term 'Hybrid' in its name, the car is not exactly what you call... a traditional hybrid.
You see, in a traditional hybrid vehicle such as the Toyota Prius, Kia Niro or the Ford Fusion Hybrid, the cars are propelled using a combination of petrol and battery-powered systems. They work by switching almost imperceptibly between petrol and electric power while you drive. In most cases, for light cruising or acceleration from a standstill, the electric motor is used to provide instantaneous power. Should the need arise and more power is required, the petrol engine would kick in to take over. Hence, if you ever sat in a Prius commuting to work in an Uber, you would notice the car being dead silent while accelerating before the soft drone of an engine can be heard.
The new Mazda 3 is unique however as it does not utilise its hybrid system to drive the car, opting to instead delegate its electrical power to power onboard electrical equipment. Even though the system does power a motor to help assist the car while accelerating from a standstill, it cannot power the car independently much like other hybrids who can run solely on electrical power.
So how does the M-Hybrid system obtain power? Unlike traditional hybrids, where the petrol engines help generate energy for the electrical systems, Mazda's M-Hybrid system takes kinetic energy recovered during deceleration. This kinetic energy is then converted into electrical energy using an integrated starter generator (ISG), and stored in a lithium-ion battery. The belt driven ISG also allows the system to provide drive assist and to help the engine restart more quietly with its start/stop feature. Using these features, Mazda claims that this technology helps improves fuel economy and overall driving satisfaction.
Globally, there are four petrol engines and one diesel engine on the cards. The petrol engines are a 1.5-litre, 2.0-litre, a 2.0-litre with Mazda’s compression ignition Skyactiv-X technology, and a 2.5-litre. The 2.5-litre will be familiar to some as it is pulled from the current CX-5 and packs cylinder deactivation tech with 186BHP. All five engines are inline four-cylinder units mated to either a six-speed automatic or manual gearbox. Even though the 0-100km/h (0-60mp/h equivalent) times are not astronomically quick, with the 1.5L engine hosting 120BHP pulling the car just under 12 seconds, it makes up for it in terms of fuel economy, managing an astounding 5.5L/100km average. Let's face it, your middle-aged mum who would probably own this kind of car would rather have it save petrol than being able to out drag other commuters on the road.
There are other great innovations too in the new car. In other vehicles, the front wheelhouse would force the pedals to be asymmetrical, impeding natural leg extension and hence resulting in driver discomfort. In the Mazda 3, the front wheel is moved further forward to create the space required for correct pedal location. The result is a relaxed, natural driving posture allowing you to operate the vehicle just as you desire, with minimal stress and effort. There is also an Active Driving Display just below your line of sight on the windscreen, and it helps cycle through high priority information delivered in real time.
G-vectoring Control Plus (GVC Plus) is one more way Mazda's human centric engineering makes vehicle movement more responsive, more confidence-inspiring and just more comfortable. As you enter a bend, GVC Plus momentarily lowers engine torque to transfer weight to the front wheels and enhance grip. Then, as you make your way through the curve, engine torque is restored to shift weight rearwards for greater stability. Finally, as you exit the bend brake force is slightly applied to the outer wheels to help recover straight-line running. This seamless, behind the scenes control greatly reduces the need for mid-bend steering corrections and smoothes the effect of G forces to reduce body sway. All of this hopes to reduce stress and fatigue on drivers, allowing you to maintain comfort on longer drives.
Additionally, the Mazda 3 comes with a myriad of sensors that help monitor both the driver and the objects around the car. Dubbed the i-Activsense, the sensors provides assists such as Front Cross Traffic Alert (FCTA), which warns the driver of approaching vehicles round blind corners and Cruising & Traffic Support (CTS), which helps reduce driver fatigue when in traffic jams on the highway. When engaged, CTS automatically controls vehicle speed to maintain a suitable distance from the vehicle ahead, and also assists with steering torque to keep the car properly positioned through bends.
Other creature comforts includes a BOSE sound system, electric seats, an electric glass sunroof and a surprising amount of premium leather which gives the interior a much classier feel.
However, the greatest thing about this car is its looks. This is undoubtably a pretty car, and its looks gives other manufacturers a real run for their money. The Mazda 3's predecessor was really innovative but lacked flair due to its subpar styling. In this new alliteration, styling has definitely caught up and now we have a masterpiece that is both stylish and sensible.
Even though this current generation improves upon its predecessor, after testing them I still had some gripes. In the hatchback model, the boot space is only 295 litres with the seats folded up, an appalling size as opposed to its sedan's counterpart which boasts 444 litres. Even the previous generation hatchback had more space with the seats up, at 365 litres. This is a real shame, as the hatchback version is the nicer looking one of the two.
The rear legroom in both cars is also ghastly. I am about 1.8m (5 feet 9 inches) and I could not realistically find a comfortable position in the rear. Due to the styling, the B and C pillars are also arched inwards at quite an angle, resulting in lesser overall headroom in the rear too. You can still ferry two adults in the rear, however if you wanted to squeeze a third in the middle seat that would prove to be quite a daunting task.
The biggest gripe I have though is the price. Your mileage may vary depending on which country you reside in, but for me as I live in Singapore, this car's price is pretty steep. It starts at S$120,000 (Yes, car prices are frightening in our country). For that price, you could buy a Mercedes A200 or a Suzuki Swift Sport here. Would you buy the Mazda over these two lovely cars? I think the answer is obvious.
Overall, the new Mazda 3 is still an impressive feat of engineering. As the world spreads more awareness about climate change, stricter regulations on emissions and fuel economy are changing the automotive landscape. More laws are being enacted worldwide, with the production of new internal combustion engines looking less appealing. This has sent automakers scrambling to design new technologies for their cars, in a bid to reduce emissions. Mazda, however, is trying to push new boundaries, extending the life of the dinosaur-powered engine with new technology its engineers have been refining time and time again, and this recipe has so far been a resounding success.
November 3rd, 2019.
Written By: Sean Loo
Photos By: Courtesy Of Carmagazine UK, Driving UK
Mazda 3 m-hybrid