FIRST DRIVE – MAZDA 3
YOU may wonder what a £15 million floating pleasure palace and a range of technologies called SKYACTIV have in common.
The first, a giant three-hulled yacht built by British boat designer John Shuttleworth and named Adastra, looks like something from a science fiction movie.
SKYACTIV is the title given by Japanese auto manufacturer Mazda for the lightweight, fuel-saving, processes being introduced to its newest car ranges.
The link between the two is efficiency with a capital E. Adastra, for instance, has been shaped and developed to cut effortlessly through the waves, and can travel 4,000 miles without needing to refuel.
SKYACTIV, introduced on the CX-5 crossover model and Mazda6 saloon and estate, will infuse the compact Mazda3 line-up due to hit UK streets next month.
In Mazda’s eyes the Shuttleworth yacht, which can be controlled via an Apple i-Pad from a range of 50 metres, reflects much of what the car maker has been doing with SKYACTIV.
In fact the company believes it has the technology base to make buyers really sit up and take notice with a range of attractive, high quality, technically advanced and cost effective cars.
The all-new Mazda3 is one of those vehicles, with SKYACTIV – a fresh take on everything from engines and gearboxes to dynamics and fittings – as its heartbeat.
The Mazda3 choice on offer is substantial, with a line-up of 21 hatchback and 16 fastback – or saloon – models and five trim grades. Aerodynamic and stylish from the side with a wide, slightly flared, but not too low rear end and long bonnet, the newcomer is a car with real presence.
Climb inside and there’s an instant feeling of uncluttered simplicity. The dash is made from soft-touch materials, the switches fall easily to hand, the seats are comfortable and there’s space for three in the rear.
The range is powered by a choice of three SKYACTIV-G petrol engines – the new 1.5-litre unit that develops 100PS and a 2.0-litre powerplant with either 120 or 165PS. Diesels are limited to a 2.2-litre 150PS SKYACTIV-D unit and buyers will have a choice of six-speed manual or some 13 variants with auto transmissions.
As for economy, the four-door Fastback diesel with manual transmission has a Combined fuel figure of 72.4mpg and low emissions of 104g/km, while the 120PS petrol-powered five-door hatchback manual returns 55.4mpg and 119g/km.
Three versions were available for testing on the UK press launch on the north coast of Scotland – challenging at the best of times but especially so with an Arctic storm hammering John O’Groats.
Mazda expects the 2.0-litre 120PS petrol model to prove the top seller, and while it is clearly an accomplished motor the 1.5 petrol, which kicks off the line-up at £16,695, is a cracker. Fun to drive and fair on fuel it should appeal to the 75 per cent of retail customers expected to buy the ‘3’ as opposed to the fleets who will make up the other quarter.
Marginally the most superior car to drive was the diesel, which in flagship Sport Nav trim is a real tour de force, though prices for the oil-burner start at £19,245 for SE rising to £23,345 for a top spec hatchback auto.
All Mazda3s come with kit like Smart City Brake Support – which helps prevent low-speed collisions by automatically applying the brakes – an i-stop idle-stop system and Hill Hold Assist, and the car has also received a five-star safety rating in the latest Euro NCAP tests.
A standout feature of the Mazda3 is a sophisticated new connectivity system which brings online social media and internet radio – with a choice of 40,000 channels – to the touchscreen if you dowload the free Aha app onto your smartphone. And adding the Stitcher app, also free, opens up 20,000 radio shows and podcasts.