Mazda3 VS Audi A1
- Brilliant, integrated tech
- No compromise to refinement
- Benefits might be too subtle to justify price premium
- Aus set to get less effective Euro-spec
- Great design
- Interior roominess
- Some interesting styling touches
- Could be more fun to drive
- Engines unknown for Australia
- Expect a price rise
We all know that X means buried treasure in the world of children’s book pirates, but it’s looking like it could hold similar relevance for what lies under the bonnet of future Mazdas.
We first officially heard about Mazda’s industry-leading Skyactiv-X technology at the brand’s Global Tech Forum in Germany two years ago, but now we’ve ventured back to Germany to drive it in production form ahead of its Australian arrival aboard a new flagship version of the Mazda3 early next year.
No other manufacturer has managed to productionise compression ignition for a petrol engine, and with an underlying intention to make the combustion engine work better for everyday driving, in the face of the electric-focus of all other global brands, this could be the most exciting technological development of my career.
Why invest so much in combustion engines if every other major brand is beginning to treat them like yesterday’s news? While the Japanese government predicts that 52 per cent of new cars sold in 2030 will use some form of electrification in their drivetrain, the same data suggests 90 per cent will still use an internal combustion engine as at least an element of their drivetrain. That’s 90 per cent of the market, more than a decade from now.
We first published this story on 21 November 2018, but the Audi A1 2019 model has still not launched in Australia.
The good news is that the Audi A1 2020 model is due to launch in Australia in October 2019. At the time we’re publishing this update, the company still hasn’t confirmed its plan for the new-generation A1 here.
Stay tuned for our detailed review coverage and all the pricing and specifications information you need to know.
As originally published, 21 November 2018:
Like a scrawny kid that reappeared after the school summer holidays with stubble, a deeper voice and newly bulging biceps, the second-generation Audi A1 isn’t how you remember it.
Sure, it’s still based on the same underpinnings as a Volkswagen Polo, but it has been designed to appeal to a different market to that car, and also to its predecessor.
This time around, almost 10 years after the original Audi A1 launched, it’s no longer a cute little city car - instead, it’s a compact muscle man, a far more angular and menacing looking little tyke. Still city-sized, but with a far more aggressive stance than the car it replaces.
But is it any good? I travelled to Spain as a guest of Audi Australia to find out.
|Engine Type||1.8L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Premium Unleaded Petrol|
Unlike most big technological advancements, this isn’t about extra performance or reinventing the wheel, it’s about Mazda’s bigger picture approach to deliver the best mobility solutions for right now, while still planning for electric and fuel cell vehicles in the future.
That may sound like a line straight out of the Skyactiv-X press release, but Mazda’s realistic approach to our continued dependence on combustion engines is commendable.
My final judgement will have to wait until we know how much more it will cost over a regular Mazda3, but I can say the technology works really well and should really suit Australian conditions.
Note: CarsGuide attended this event as a guest of the manufacturer, with travel and meals provided.
The new-generation Audi A1 has gone a long way to appeal to a whole new market of customers, and while it may look more fun than a Mini Cooper to some, it isn’t as fun to drive.
That said, there is no doubt that it will lure younger shoppers in - provided it is priced and specified competitively.
Are you a fan of the new Audi A1? Tell us what you think in the comments section below.
Aside from the stunning good looks of the new Mazda3, the only visual distinctions the Skyactiv-X version scores over a regular high-sec model are bigger exhaust tips like those seen on the latest version of the Mazda6, and a Skyactiv-X badge in place of the regular models’ Skyactiv-G.
It’s hard to put into words just what a departure this new-generation version of the Audi A1 is compared to its predecessor.
It’s keener, more athletic, more energetic. The new physique is so aggressive it’s bound to agitate the compact luxury segment. It could even agitate some Audi owners, because it’s arguably more stylish than many of the models above it.
The company is at pains to point out that a lot of styling elements for this new model were borne of the iconic and gorgeously sharp Ur-quattro and Sport quattro models of the 1980s. I can see that - just take a look at some of the form language on show here - you could forget you’re staring at a five-door hatchback based on a compact VW.
There are angular headlights with LED daytime running lights, a big grille with three little slats above it (looks similar to the Hyundai Kona, right?), and the body has a less rounded, more edgy look to it. Tucked under the (yummy, RS-inspired) squared-off guards are wheels ranging from 15- to 18-inches in size, and at the back there’s a set of LED tail-lights, which can perform a sort-of theatrical illumination sequence at start up and shut down.
There are going to be 10 exterior colours on offer, an the roof can be had in two dark finishes, which are said to pull the roofline down and make it look flatter than it really is.
With such sharpness on show, it’s obviously a bit more masculine than, say, a Mini Cooper or Mercedes-Benz A-Class, and it arguably looks even sportier than those cars. There’ll be S line packages on higher-grade models sold in Australia, so expect no shortage of gills and fins and black vented sections when the car launches locally.
On that topic, Audi says it wanted to achieve “the sportiest interior in the compact class”, and to my eye, the brand has nailed it. We all know that some sports people offer admirable competitiveness and eye-catching form, but has it got interior smarts, too?
This is a car aimed at a digital-savvy customer and, as such, every version of the A1 comes with a 10.25-inch digital instrument cluster, plus a multi-function steering wheel. There’s a further step beyond that - Audi’s ‘virtual cockpit’ sees additional abilities for the driver to make use of.
A few different sizes/types of Audi’s MMI system are to be offered globally, including a 10.1-inch touchscreen. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto phone mirroring are standard, and thankfully it looks as though there won’t be any model with a rotary dial controller rather than a touchscreen (as there is in the Audi A4). It’s not clear what we’ll get in Australia yet.
Of course there’ll also be Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, not to mention two USB ports and available wireless phone charging (Qi inductive charging - expected to be offered on higher-grade models). The MMI system also has DAB radio, and some models will be sold with a Bang & Olufsen sound system made up of 11 speakers.
The sat nav GPS system offers a 3D urban display, and there’s the ability to download up to four map updates per year using the ‘Audi connect’ sim-based connectivity. That system can predict traffic jams and suggest alternatives based on cloud-stored, real-time information.
More important than all the tech, though, could be the interior styling - with a fish-scale/crocodile-skin finish running the width of the dash, plus bold colour-matched plastics up front in the cabin, including around the instrument binnacle, the lower dash and even inside the angular door-handle housings. This isn’t mirrored in the back seat, sadly, with simple finishes reflecting a cost-cutting effort.
In fact, there’s a bit of that going on. The door trims are hard plastic, where the dashboard gets a soft texture. Call me odd, but I’d prefer a soft patch on the doors than the dash, because I don’t often rest my elbow up on top of the dashboard, personally.
And one other annoyance - the front seats have height adjustment, but they don’t get low enough - so if you’re taller than average you might find it a little high-chairish.
There are decent storage smarts, though, with cup holders up front, and an additional large cubby in front of the gear selector. Plus there are big door pockets with bottle holders in all four doors (but they aren’t lined, like in some other VW Group products) and there’s a set of map pockets in the back, but there are no cupholders back there, nor is there a central arm-rest. In fact, it feels pretty sparse in the back.
There are dual ISOFIX child-seat anchor points, as well as three top-tether points.
In terms of space for adults, it’s considerably more roomy than the previous version, with decent knee and headroom for people my size (182cm), but fitting three adults across would be a tough ask. It’s a compact car, after all.
The new model sees the boot capacity increase notably: luggage space is now rated at 335 litres, some 65L more than its predecessor. That figure increases to 1090L with the rear seats folded down. All Audi A1 models sold in Australia will come with a space-saver spare wheel under the boot floor, too.
Price and features
This is probably the biggest question mark above the Mazda3 Skyactiv-X’s head for now, with all we know being Mazda Australia’s plan to launch it as a new top-spec version, so sit above the existing $36,990 G25 Astina flagship.
How far above will be the clincher, and given it’s not likely to quite match the performance of the G25, it will depend on what value you place on outright driveability and a marginal fuel saving over the base 2.0-litre engine.
Expect the entry point to the range to be close to $30,000 (up from the auto base model of the current generation, which lists at $28,990 plus on-road costs, although the new model will be more comprehensively kitted out than before), while the highest grade version at launch will likely cost more than $40,000.
Customers can expect a fairly strong standard equipment offer, but there’s nothing confirmed as yet.
What we can tell you is that the brand will follow the new naming strategy for the model range, meaning we could see the base model demarcated as the 30 TFSI, a mid-grade 35 TFSI and a high-spec 40 TFSI, the latter of which is expected to brandish the S line styling package as standard.
An educated guess would suggest push-button start and keyless entry across the lineup, alloy wheels on all grades (17-inch expected on low grades, 18s on the range-topping model), and an array of paint colours and interior trim packs.
Stay tuned for a full, detailed pricing and spec breakdown closer to the car’s launch in around April 2019.
Engine & trans
What’s compression ignition again? It’s basically how a diesel engine works, by using extreme pressure instead of spark plugs to burn fuel. Skyactiv-X still uses spark plugs, but only to kick off the ignition process and act as a safety net for cold starts and other edge cases, while extreme compression makes for much more effective combustion, which means improved efficiency.
This combustion efficiency means the engine can use a much leaner fuel-to-air mixture, and make more power and torque with less fuel and even less wasted fuel out the exhaust. Mazda describes it as delivering diesel-like torque and fuel consumption, with the power, responsiveness and refinement of a petrol. Or in other words, one step away from turning water into wine...
Mazda is calling the process Spark Controlled Compression Ignition (SPCCI), and the extreme pressures required to make it all happen are created by higher static compression ratio (but less than a typical diesel), much higher fuel pressure and boosted air pressure entering the combustion chamber.
Key to managing all these heightened parameters (and the very technological advancement that makes it all possible) is an ultra sensitive in-cylinder pressure sensor that has been developed specifically for this task.
Delivering the boosted air pressure is a Roots-type supercharger - or what Mazda describes as a high-response air supply - which was chosen over other air pump designs like a turbocharger or the Miller-cycle supercharger previously used in Eunos models because of its instantaneous boost delivery and breadth of efficiency.
Speaking of breadth of efficiency, perhaps the biggest plus for average motorists is that the engine’s efficiency zone has multiplied, meaning the difference between city and highway consumption, leadfoot drivers and my Dad, heavy and empty loads etc will be far less than a typical petrol engine.
This all represents a continuation of core principles we’ve seen from the start of Mazda’s Skyactiv era. That is, to make an existing engine type work better under everyday driving conditions rather than targeting outright performance.
The Skyactiv-X era starts with a 2.0-litre based on the regular Skyactiv-G engine, with the same 1998cc capacity. Other capacities are planned, with the eventual reborn rotary looking increasingly Skyactiv-X along with a straight-six version for a new CX-9 in a couple of years. Smaller versions are unlikely due to the economies of scale involved with such technology in a smaller and therefore cheaper car.
Mazda is making two versions of the Skyactiv-X 2.0-litre for now, one with 16.3:1 compression designed for Europe that favours Premium unleaded petrol, and one 15:1 version aimed at the US with their abundance of lower grade unleaded.
Unlike conventional engines, it’s the lower compression version that will deliver the biggest benefits, because Skyactiv-X relies on the usually “bad thing” pinging to do its best.
We’re set to get the Euro-spec one in Australia, which unfortunately means we won’t quite be getting the very best Skyactiv tech again.
The Euro-spec engine puts out 132kW at 6000rpm and 224Nm from just 3000rpm, which on paper sounds about halfway between the existing Skyactiv-G 114kW/200Nm 2.0-litre and 139kW/252Nm 2.5-litre petrol engines.
The engine also incorporates a mild hybrid system, but don't be confused by the H-word, there's no electric drive element. It simply means its got a cleaver alternator that only engages when needed and on deceleration to reduce efficiency-sapping drivetrain friction,
Pop the bonnet and you’re confronted by the biggest engine cover you’ve ever seen, but unlike most, this one is equipped with labeled latches that encourage you to have a look underneath. This encouragement continues with a clever little retention hook to hold the cover up against the bonnet while you’re poking around.
Unless you’re a Mazda engineer you’re likely to be baffled by the array of hoses, ducts and wiring, but you might get a kick out of spotting the supercharger.
There’s less to be said for the transmissions though, with versions of the existing six speed manual and torque converter automatics deemed up to the task, with the new engine’s increased efficiency zone negating any increase to the ratio count. The ratios have been adjusted to suit the new output characteristics, and while the ratios are yet to be published, there’s a narrower spread across the six with what feels to be taller first and sixth gears.
It’s difficult to say what we’ll get in Australia, because the engines fitted to the European versions we tested in Spain mightn’t be wholly representative of our offer.
That’s because all models sold in Europe fall under the strictest emissions legislation, meaning each is fitted with a petrol particulate filter. Australian cars won’t get those powertrains, because our fuel has too much sulphur in it, and the petrol particulate filters aren’t able to digest it. So, we could get older, lower-tech engines, and can theoretically expect higher-than-European-models fuel consumption.
All that said, the way the range is structured in Europe suggests we will see a line-up along these lines:
It’s expected the base model version in the A1 line-up (30 TFSI) will be sold with a 1.0-litre three-cylinder turbo-petrol engine producing 85kW/200Nm. It will have a seven-speed dual-clutch auto transmission. We drove this engine at launch, but it was paired to a six-speed manual, and we won’t be getting that.
Next up the range is the 35 TFSI 1.5-litre turbo four-cylinder with 110kW/250Nm, which is said to offer decent performance - both in terms of acceleration speed (0-100km/h will take less than 8.0 seconds) and fuel use, because it can shut down two cylinders under light loads. Again, it’ll come with a seven-speed dual-clutch auto.
There’ll also be a turbo four-cylinder engine that’ll live up to the angry look of the new A1, with 147kW/320Nm (the 40 TFSI). This is essentially the Audi version of the Polo GTI, and it will have a standard-fit six-speed dual-clutch auto, with a claimed 0-100km/h time of just 6.5sec.
Will there be a second-generation S1? I wouldn’t bet my house on it. All indications we’ve had from Audi suggest there will be no second-generation hot-hatch version, as the first one was expensive to develop and didn’t sell well. That means there’s very slim chance of any model in the A1 line being sold with the brand’s hallowed quattro (all-wheel drive) system.
All this hooha about fuel savings, and Mazda is yet to confirm an actual figure for Australia. We do know the hatch is rated at 4.5L/100km in manual and 5.3L/100km in auto according to the NEDC, which is historically close to the figures generated by the ADR 81/02 test we go by in Australia.
If it comes close to matching the NEDC figure it will be a win, sitting comfortably under the 6.4L/100km (manual) and 6.2L/100km (auto) figures currently applied to the Skyactiv-G 2.0-litre Mazda3 hatch.
While the Australian-spec Skyactiv-X engine is expected to align with Europe rather than the US, and therefore be tuned to deal with Premium 95 RON unleaded, it’s still unclear if it will accept the cheaper Regular 91 RON unleaded.
Fuel consumption is said to be as low as 4.8 litres per 100 kilometres for the 1.0-litre three-cylinder 30 TFSI model, but there are no details on the fuel consumption of the 35 TFSI and 40 TFSI versions as yet.
What’s probably most amazing about Skyactiv-X is that you can’t really tell there’s anything special going on under the bonnet.
Push the start button and it gets going like any other petrol Mazda, although perhaps quieter.
Move off from rest and there’s no significant difference to the way it feels.
When I drove the prototype version of this drivetrain, there was a slight pinging under light throttle as it transitioned from spark to compression ignition, but I’m pleased to confirm that the extra two years of calibration has tuned this down to the tiniest occasional diesel sound, and it all feels a bit like a smooth diesel that’s more responsive than you expect.
The European-spec Skyactiv-X 2.0-litre’s outputs suggest it should be closer to the existing 2.5-litre in terms of performance, but in reality it feels closer to the 2.0 litre.
My perception is likely to be clouded by the Skyactiv-X’s specific transmission gearing, but it could also be because it’s able to do the same job with less revs and therefore not sound like it’s working so hard.
First gear feels quite tall with either transmission, and we also found the auto and manual were only sitting on 3500rpm in sixth at 160km/h on the Autobahn.
Mazda doesn’t specify performance figures, so it would be handy to put all three alongside each other from a standing start. But then, that’s not what Skyactiv-X is all about, it’s more about performing better under light throttle and incidental bursts of acceleration.
We can’t wait to put it to the test over some hilly terrain and familiar territory when it hits Australia early next year.
The A1 comes across as a more convincing attempt at a compact luxury car than an outright fun car, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
Over our time in the A1 in Spain, we drove the (predicted) 30 TFSI base model, with its charming and characterful three-cylinder engine, which seemed to fit the bill of being a bit more entertaining to drive than the model above it, the 35 TFSI.
The 1.0-litre had the typical rumble and vibration at lower speeds, and fell victim to turbo lag more than the bigger-capacity four-cylinder engine. But in some ways, that made it feel a little more engaging to drive.
The 1.5-litre was perfectly refined and nice to drive, with enough punch for the vast majority of people’s needs. Its steering was light and a bit lifeless, but the ride comfort (on 17s) was good.
The sportiest version of the mix was easily the 40 TFSI, with its punchy 2.0-litre engine offering zesty acceleration and decent refinement. The shifts were quick and crisp, though it wasn’t quite at the level of a ‘proper’ hot hatch in terms of dynamics. It was fitted with the performance package with bigger brake discs, adjustable dampers, a sound actuator and Audi’s ‘drive select' system (with auto, dynamic, efficiency and individual modes).
There was some torque-steer noticeable under hard acceleration, and because the platform isn’t set up for a more agile chassis (there’s MacPherson front suspension but all models come with a torsion beam rear suspension set-up), it wasn’t a point-to-point weapon. But it’s not really designed for that.
Even so, the steering of the 40 TFSI model was better when dynamic mode was selected, and in general it felt more involving than the rather remote, light tiller action in the other models. The dynamic mode in this car also adjusted the adaptive dampers to feel more tied-down, but - unlike some of my Australian colleagues - I didn’t find the ride to be too hard or harsh.
The sound actuator mightn’t be to all tastes, but I appreciated the wailing warble pumped through the speakers under hard throttle. Oh, and the Bang & Olufsen sound system is really good, too.
The biggest complaint I had with the drive was the amount of noise in the cabin, which pulls the A1 back from pint-sized luxury car into the realm of regular city hatches. On coarse-chip road surfaces the tyre roar was annoyingly loud, and there was some wind noise at 110km/h from around the A-pillar area, too.
The existing Mazda3’s maximum five-star ANCAP safety rating will almost certainly be carried over, and the high level of safety gear fitted to the existing G25 Astina is also likely to be matched.
There’s a very strong chance the Audi A1 will achieve the maximum five-star crash test safety rating from Euro NCAP and ANCAP. It hasn’t been tested yet, but it has all the right gear to manage the feat.
Standard equipment includes ‘Audi pre sense front’, a radar-based auto-emergency-braking system with pedestrian and cyclist detection, which can also pre-tension the front seatbelts, wind up the windows and flash the hazard lights if it thinks impact is unavoidable.
There’s a standard lane-keep-assistance system (above 65km/h) and a speed limiter for the cruise control.
Other tech available includes adaptive cruise control (0-200km/h for auto models), and finally - after nearly nine years of not having one - all models will be sold with a standard-fit reverse camera in addition to parking sensors.
Some models will be offered with front parking sensors and side sensors, along with a semi-autonomous parking system that can perform parallel and perpendicular parking moves. Not a confident parker at all? Worried about nudging bumpers? The system can even exit a parallel spot for you.
It doesn’t appear that Audi will offer blind-spot monitoring, nor is there a rear cross-traffic alert system - but models fitted with radar cruise control will get front cross-traffic alert, which is super handy in tight city streets.
Service pricing is also yet to be confirmed, but Mazda engine development boss Eiji Nakai assures CarsGuide that the new engine will not need servicing more frequently or cost any more to service than existing Skyactiv-G engines.
So expect the same 12month/10,000km intervals, with five year/50,000km capped servicing plan totalling just under $2000 over that period.
Like all new Mazdas, the recently upgraded five-year, unlimited kilometre warranty will apply to the 3 Skyactiv-X.
If nothing changes between the international launch drive and the local launch of the new Audi A1 in the second quarter of 2019, it will be covered by a three-year/unlimited kilometre warranty, which is okay, but mainstream brands could offer more appeal to city-car customers - some offer up to seven years warranty...
Audi will offer a reasonably priced service pack that can be bundled into your finance. It will include required maintenance every 12 months/15,000km, and you can bank on it adding about $1500 to the purchase price for a three-year/45,000km plan.