There has a been a very slight upwards movement towards petrol engine cars in recent years and the latest motor industry figures show that petrol car sales increasing by 0.6% in 2016 compared with 2015. Petrol car sales are also being boosted by the arrival of efficient hybrid petrol cars, which are also helping to bring petrol engines back into favour.
Mazda gave me a petrol surprise towards the end of 2016 when I took the new Mazda3 with its equally new 2.0-litre petrol engine for a test drive in wintery Irish conditions. The Mazda3 is the Japanese brand’s most popular car in Ireland and up to now was dominated by diesel sales.
What a surprise it was for me to get behind the wheel of a new Mazda3 with a 2.0-litre petrol engine under the bonnet. This size petrol engine would be rare in some respects as car companies strive to downsize their petrol engine offerings by using new turbo-charging and fuel injection technology.
This bigger petrol engine uses what Mazda calls its Skyactive engine technology with claims to give new levels of fuel efficiency for mid-range family cars. This engine option is only available in the GT versions of the car, so it’s aimed at particular and niche market.
The Mazda3 is one of the more attractive mid-range hatchback cars on the market. Mazda has an enviable reputation in terms of paint quality and many older Mazda cars retain their good looks longer after others are displaying fading shades. The Mazda3 in Soul Red colour stood out, while externally at least, the GT specification was understated.
Out on the road the Mazda3 was lively and petrol engine was smooth in terms of acceleration. The six-speed gearbox and light clutch pedal made for easy driving. The engine push button start and start/stop system for city driving were both impressively smooth.
While I was driving I was trying to access the value of the petrol over Mazda’s new 1.5-litre turbo-diesel version. This latter car is much more economical, even if slower in terms of acceleration.
But it was the fuel economy performance that made me think deeper. While this petrol engine car is smooth and sweet to drive, it’s still not real world competition for the diesel version, which in truth I had expected to be driving. Mazda’s diesel engine performance is that good that I expect my preference would not sway me to petrol power.
While the Mazda message is that the Mazda3 with the 2.0-litre petrol engine is economical, the numbers simply don’t add up when you compare it with the diesel option. The officially rated economy figure is 19.6km/litre (5.1/100km or 55mpg), while in practice I found this very difficult to match. With a mix of city and longer national drives my performance was off by 40% relative to the quoted figure.
Modern family cars need to deliver a range on a full tank that’s close to 1,000km; that won’t be possible with this petrol engine Mazda3. Mazda’s other petrol engine option; the entry-level 1.5-litre car is no better in terms of economy so for me Mazda’s diesels are still the most practical option.
Rather than dwell solely on the Mazda3’s economy performance, even though that’s critically important, the car has some other very attractive driving features. There is an improved Active Driving Display in full-colour display that makes for easier driving and improved steering wheel ergonomics.
I liked the Multi-Media Commander system with its large centre console display and neat controlled placed between the front seats. I found it was easy to get comfortable with the system and setting my mobile phone to Bluetooth was also fast and logical.
The car scores well in terms of safety and it has two ISO-Fix couplings in the rear seats. The new Mazda3 marks the world debut of what Mazda calls G-Vectoring Control (GVC). This is an automated system that provides integrated control of the engine, transmission, chassis and body. GVC claims to vary the engine torque to optimise the load on each wheel, providing more precise handling as well as a smoother ride under virtually any driving conditions.
Mazda is fitting an advanced active and pre-crash safety system that includes Advanced Smart City Brake Support (Advanced SCBS) to the new Mazda3. With this a forward-sensing camera expands the speed range for detecting other vehicles and adds pedestrian detection capabilities. The new versions of the Mazda3 come with LED Headlights and an adaptive front lighting system that adjusts the angle of the headlights when cornering.
The Mazda3 is a mid-range family hatchback that compares well in space terms with the likes of the popular Ford Focus. The boot space is almost identical, but lacks a space saver spare wheel, which I consider a must have feature. The Mazda3 is marginally longer while narrower.
Entry prices for the Mazda3 range start at €23,295 and that’s more expensive than Ford’s entry price on the more economical 1.0-litre petrol powered Ecoboost model. For me the diesel option is the only choice with all of the style and most of the safety and driver comfort features of the GT model in a package that remains one of the most attractive in terms of hatchback style for the mid-range market.