Other than using less fuel we haven’t seen any real need to buy turbo-diesel engines in small or midsize cars – until now. That sudden change of mind happened within seconds of us getting behind the wheel of a Mazda3 with a 2.2-litre SkyActive-D diesel engine. The engine is smooth, has minimal lag and revs far more readily than diesels from all other marques. A sports diesel? Yes, it certainly is.

The big-grille that’s such a feature of Mazda’s latest styling theme plays a major part in its sales success on every model on which it’s used. The all-new Mazda3 is the best iteration yet of this interesting style, at least in my humble opinion.

While it’s lower than its predecessors, the third generation Mazda3 is longer overall and in its wheelbase. The resulting shorter overhangs to give it a sportier look. The longer wheelbase makes for more interior space.


The sleek new body not only looks good, but also provides best-in-class coefficient of drag, at 0.28 for the hatch. Part of this low number is due to an ‘active’ radiator grille shutter that opens just enough to provide just the correct amount of cooling no matter what the outside air temperature.

The exciting new Mazda turbo-diesel engine puts out 129 kW of power and 420 Nm of torque, numbers that are well above those we normally see in an engine of this type.

Response is spread throughout the rev range by using twin turbochargers. A small unit operates at low engine speeds, it then works with a large turbo at mid-range speeds. At higher speeds the large unit takes over to supply boost to the greater mass of air the engine demands.


This, coupled with a very low compression ratio, it’s just 14:1 compared with conventional units that require at least 17:1, to give a nice balance between performance and economy.

The new turbo-diesel shows an improvement of up to 12 per cent in fuel efficiency over the previous diesel engine. Mazda’s brake energy regeneration system plays its part in this drop in fuel use and emissions.

The i-stop system automatically cuts out the engine after the vehicle comes to a stop. When the brake is released, fuel is injected into the cylinder to make for a smoother restart of the engine than is normal in other four-cylinder units, petrol or diesel.

Six-speed manual and automatic transmissions are offered, our test car had the automatic. Tagged SkyActive-Drive, the auto has a computer link to the engine and cuts engine torque during changes so the car has quick gear changes with minimal shift shock.

In addition to crash protection items this Mazda three does its best to stop you crashing in the first place. Major features included Dynamic Stability Control, Anti-lock Braking and Electronic Brakeforce Distribution. Then there is Blind Spot Monitoring, Rear Cross Traffic Alert, High Lane Departure Warning, Forward Obstruction Warning and City Brake Support. A reversing camera cuts the risk of running over someone or something in the driveway.

Mazda3 has a head-up display that projects driving information onto the windscreen directly. We are told the focal point is about 1.5 metres in front of the driver’s eye point, we can certain report that it requires minimal eye movement to focus. The display includes vehicle speed, automatic cruise control speed settings, and navigation.

Also aboard a Mazda3 for the first time is ‘commander control’, with a central knob and cluster of switches, it’s linked to the 7-inch display screen on the central dashboard. Operation requires minimum hand and eye movement and some of the functions also come with voice control. As usual, voice control is in its early days and seldom works well.

Body rigidity on the third generation ‘3 has been increased by 30 per cent compared to the previous Mazda3. This shows in a solid feel that’s almost to the standard of the best Germans in this class. Indeed, you could slot the Mazda into the next size up in sophistication and luxury.

However, on some surfaces tyre noise intrusions – a longtime problem in some Mazdas –spoils cabin ambience. Try for yourself if you’re going to be doing a lot of work on coarse-chip surfaces.

Handling is sharp and positive, a further benefit of a stronger chassis on which the suspension components are mounted. You wouldn’t call this diesel Mazda3 a sports sedan, but it comes a lot closer than anticipated.

Mazda says the XD is capable of getting fuel consumption as low as 5.0 litres per 100 kilometres on the combined urban / highway cycle. However in real life driving we found the figures to be around eight to nine litres per hundred during around town driving, while five to sixes were the norm on the open road. Not bad numbers when you keep in mind this is a sporting vehicle, not an economy special.

Attractive to look at, with good handling and plenty of engine performance, the Mazda3 XD turbo-diesel hatch showcases the amount of technical skill coming from the Japanese maker of quality small-medium cars.


XD Astina Diesel 2.2-litre diesel five-door hatch: $40,230 (manual), $42,230 (automatic)
Note: These prices do not include government or dealer delivery charges. Contact your local Mazda dealer for drive-away prices.

ABS Brakes: Standard in all models
Automatic Transmission: Optional in all models
Cruise Control: Standard in all models
Dual Front Airbags: Standard in all models
Front Side Airbags: Standard in all models
Electronic Stability Program: Standard in all models
Rear Parking Sensors: Standard in all models
Reversing Camera: Not offered in Neo, standard in all other models
Auxiliary Audio Input: Standard in all models
Bluetooth: Standard in all models
Steering Wheel Mounted Controls: Standard in all models

SPECIFICATIONS (Mazda3 XD 2.2-litre diesel five-door hatch)

Capacity: 2.191 litres
Configuration: Four cylinders in line
Head Design: DOHC, four valves per cylinder
Compression Ratio: 14.0:1
Bore/Stroke: 86.0 x 94.3 mm
Maximum Power: 129 kW @ 4500 rpm
Maximum Torque: 420 Nm @ 2000 rpm

Driven Wheels: Front
Manual Transmission: Six-speed
Automatic Transmission: Six-speed
Final Drive Ratio: 4.105:1

Length: 4460 mm
Wheelbase: 2700 mm
Width: 1795 mm
Height: 1455 mm
Turning Circle: 10.6 metres
Kerb Mass: 1262 kg
Fuel Tank Capacity: 51 litres
Towing Ability: 1200kg with braked trailer
Boot Capacity: Not supplied

Front Suspension: MacPherson struts
Rear Suspension: Multi-link
Front Brakes: Ventilated Disc
Rear Brakes: Disc

Fuel Type: Diesel
Fuel Consumption – Combined Cycle (ADR 81/02): 5.7 L/100km

Greenhouse Rating: Not available
Air Pollution Rating: Not available

Three years/unlimited km

About Ewan Kennedy

Ewan Kennedy, a long-time car enthusiast, was Technical Research Librarian with the NRMA from 1970 until 1985. He worked part-time as a freelance motoring journalist from 1977 until 1985, when he took a full-time position as Technical Editor with Modern Motor magazine. Late in 1987 he left to set up a full-time business as a freelance motoring journalist. Ewan is an associate member of the Society of Automotive Engineers - International. An economy driving expert, he set the Guinness World Record for the greatest distance travelled in a standard road vehicle on a single fuel fill. He lists his hobbies as stage acting, travelling, boating and reading.
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