Mazda3 VS Holden Astra
- Sedan's comfy and composed ride
- Hatch's beautiful styling
- Aussie tuning for sedan and hatch
- No AEB in sedan
- Hatch's storage could be better
- Sedan's rear headroom limited
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.
|Fuel Type||Regular Unleaded Petrol|
There are two types of people in this world*. Those who like hatchbacks, and those who prefer sedans.
We're not making any judgments. If you're a sedan fancier, it's your business, and hatchbacks have their leagues of loyalists, too. Whichever way you lean, Holden hopes it has something to please you with hatch and sedan versions of its Astra small car.
This is the mothership of Astra reviews, taking both the hatch and sedan into account to help you make a better decision.
|Engine Type||1.4L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Regular 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 Astra sedan is a different car to the hatch – but then it's really aimed at different people, perhaps more mature ones. I mean, one of the sedan's paint colours, 'Old Blue Eyes', isn't available on the hatch. This could be a hint.
Either way, the sedan could be a better pick for you because of its more comfortable ride, extra rear legroom and bigger boot.
The hatch is a much better looking car. It's also more refined and stylish inside and out. The hatch comes with a more powerful engine and better handling, but its ride is not as comfortable as the sedan's.
As for the sweet spots for each range. For the sedan it's the LS+ with its great safety equipment at a good price. For the hatch line-up, it's the RS because it comes with the larger 1.6-litre engine, advanced safety equipment, and many of the features on the top-spec RS-V, which is $4500 more.
*But wait, there really are more than just two types of people in this world. There are wagon people, too. And Holden will soon have that covered when the Astra Sportwagon arrives by the end of the year. And that one looks a lot like the hatch.
Are you a hatch or sedan person? Lets us know 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.
Holden has performed cosmetic surgery to bring them closer together, but they still look like distant cousins at best.
Let's focus on the hatch first. This seventh-generation car looks damn good, but it's near impossible to identify the different levels. The easiest way is to look at the wheels (design and size), while the RS has shiny metal blades on the grille, and the RS-V gets that, plus the same trim around the windows for a posher look.
The cabin is also good looking, but regardless of grade, doesn't have the premium feeling the car's exterior looks suggest. Don't get me wrong, the RS-V's interior is cool and stylish, but the use of glossy plastics and a lack of contrasting colour cheapens the vibe.
All Astra hatches have the same dimensions - 4386mm long, 1807mm wide and a height of 1485mm, which is a smidge longer than the Corolla and a bit shorter than the Mazda3. The RS-V auto is the heaviest at 1363kg.
Now the sedan. Holden has styled the front to look more like the hatch but I don't think it's fooling anybody.
The sedan's cabin is also different to the hatch's. We're talking completely different, from the steering wheel to the temperature controls. I'm more of a fan of the hatch's interior styling than the sedan's relatively basic look.
The sedan is 30cm longer than the hatch at 4665mm end-to-end, it's shorter in height though, standing 1457mm tall (-28mm), but is exactly the same width at 1807mm across.
This could be the clincher if you're wondering whether the hatch or sedan is roomier. And the answer may not be the one you expected.
So, in one sentence, the Astra sedan has more rear legroom, but less rear headroom than the hatch, while the sedan's boot is bigger, but I'd pick the hatch if I was using it to move house.
The first bit makes sense. The sedan has a longer wheelbase, meaning more legroom for passengers in the back. Even me, and I'm 191cm tall. In the sedan I still have about 5cm of space between my knees and the driver's seat set to my position, but I can only just squish my knees in when I'm in the hatch.
But in a cruel twist of design fate the roofline of the sedan is lower than the hatch's, and my head skims the ceiling.
The sedan's 445-litre boot is 85 litres bigger than the hatch's (360L), but I'd choose the latter to move house because it has a larger cargo opening. Fold the hatch's back seats down and you could slide a coffee table in, which is not going to happen in the sedan.
The sedan has better cabin storage areas, with four cupholders (two up front and two in the back), bottle holders in all the doors, and a decent-sized centre console storage bin. The hatch gets bottle holders in all the doors, and while there are two cupholders there aren't any in the back. The hatch's centre console bin is small, but there is a driver's side pull-out bin.
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.
Let's start with the hatchback. There are three grades of Astra hatch: the entry-level R lists for $21,990; then there's the mid-spec $26,490 RS, and at the top-of-the-range is the RS-V for $30,990. These are all prices with a manual transmission, and it's another $2200 on top if you want an automatic. There's a sort of bonus level, too – the 'R+' which is an R with advanced safety equipment, but costs $1250 more.
There are three grades to the Astra sedan range, too – but wait, they don't align with the hatch line-up, and even have different names.
The sedan kicks off with the LS spec at $20,490, if you opt for the manual gearbox, or $21,490 for the auto. Standard features at this level include 16-inch alloy wheels, auto headlights, a 7.0-inch touchscreen with reversing camera, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto support, as well as rear parking sensors.
There's an 'LS+' grade for another $1250 which adds advanced safety equipment, LED daytime running lights and a leather steering wheel.
The $25,790 LT gets all of the LS+ features and adds 17-inch alloys, an 8.0-inch touchscreen, proximity unlocking, auto parking, sat nav and rain-sensing wipers.
At the top of the pile, the $29,790 LTZ has all of the above, plus 18-inch alloy wheels, sunroof, climate control air con, and heated, leather-trimmed front seats.
Depending on the grade, the hatch costs $1000 to $2000 more than the sedan.
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.
The Astra hatch comes with a choice of two petrol engines. A 110kW/245Nm 1.4-litre four-cylinder turbo powers the R grade, and a 147kW/300Nm 1.6-litre turbo four sits in the RS and RS-V.
All Astra sedans come with just the 1.4-litre engine.
Buyers have a choice of a six-speed manual (when paired with the 1.4-litre engine torque is 240Nm) or six speed automatic.
CarsGuide test pilot Stephen Corby drove the Astra R grade and pointed out that Holden notes a 0-100km/h time for the base car of "n/a", which pretty much says it all, while our RS and RS-V hatch drivers, including me, found the 1.6-litre to have good acceleration (claimed 0-100km/h in 7.8s).
The six-speed auto in the RS-V hatch is slow and emotionless, while the six-speed manual's short gear ratios keep the turbo going hard.
When it comes to the sedan engine, that 1.4-litre, while competent, doesn't impress the socks off me. But (with socks still well and truly on) it does suit the nature of the sedan far more. The hatch needs a gruntier powerplant to suit its sporty styling and firmer suspension. Lucky there's a 1.6-litre that delivers more mumbo.
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.
First the hatch. Sure, the 1.4-litre engine is the least powerful but it also uses less fuel, with Holden's claimed combined cycle figure being 5.8L/100km in manual and automatic. The 1.4-litre also only requires cheaper 91 RON fuel. The 1.6-litre engine needs 95RON, and the official figure is 6.5L/100km in the manual and 6.3L/100km for the auto. You'll 52 litres of it to fill the tank.
These are low claims and the stop-start tech would help achieve those figures. Our own driving found real-world consumption is higher, with the RS recording 8.6L/100km on the dash computer, while the manual RS-V scored 7.1L/100km.
After 250km in the RS-V auto the trip computer was reporting 10.2L/100km. I also found the fuel gauge needle moved towards empty faster than rivals I've driven. I don't think the Astra's efficiency is the core issue here, more my driving style, and it could be down to the Astra's 48-litre fuel tank, which is three litres smaller than the Mazda3's, and two litres less than the Corolla and i30's.
The sedan returns similar mileage, with official (combined cycle) fuel consumption for the manual sitting at 5.8L/100km, and the auto at 6.1L/100km. The trip computer in our automatic LS reported 8.2L/100km after a little more than 100km of country road driving.
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.
Three CarsGuide reviewers drove three different versions of the Astra, and it's pretty clear the R didn't impress in the same way the RS and RS-V did. While the chassis felt great, the issue was put down to the 1.4-litre engine, which had to work hard while the automatic droned on.
I took the RS-V on my 150km country road test loop and found the chassis to be taut and well balanced, and by the feel of the firm dampers, set-up for more sporty driving and handling rather than comfort.
The RS-V's 18-inch rims, with low-profile 225/40 R18 92W Bridgestone Turanza rubber mean you'll feel almost every crack and bump in the road. Great grip, but the ride isn't comfortable.
The six-speed automatic doesn't match the 1.6-litre engine's perky personality, in that it's slow to change gears. Shift paddles on the steering wheel would add more connection to the driving experience.
Vani's RS-V was a six-speed manual and she loves how quickly that gearbox responds. All all our testers agree the steering is accurate, but artificial and light, although the sport mode gives it more weight, along with changing the throttle response to be sportier.
While the hatch has sporty styling and a firmer ride, Holden has tuned the placid-looking sedan's suspension to be comparatively supple. It's a far more comfortable drive.
I had seat time in each grade. The LS with the manual is the most enjoyable to drive - shifting is easy, the gear ratios are nicely spaced and I could get more out of that 1.4-litre engine.
Being tall and all arms and legs, I found I had to drive with the middle armrest up – my elbow kept bumping into it otherwise when shifting. The clutch also has a high return position.
The auto-only LT and LTZ ride just as comfortably as the LS manual. Steering on all grades has been tuned for Australian roads, and it feels accurate, well weighted and smooth. I've driven far fancier cars with steering that isn't anywhere near this good.
Cabin insulation is also impressive in the sedan – the hatch on the other hand has a fair bit of noise intrusion.
And that engine? Well, you're not going to win any drag races, but the comfortable ride and smooth steering, combined with looks that don't promise land speed records means it's far more suited to the sedan than the hatch.
Even with two well fed Holden employees and myself on board, the sedan didn't once feel like it was running out of puff, even on steeper hills.
The Astra sedan doesn't have the handling ability of its hatch sibling, it also has a ridiculously large turning circle of 11.9m (the Mazda3's is 10.6m), but it just skims in at seven out of 10 thanks to that great steering feel, and well-tuned suspension, keeping the ride comfortable and composed.
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.
The R+ hatch adds a safety pack which includes such as AEB and lane keeping assistance.
The LS+ sedan is $1250 more than the LS and comes with suite of safety gear including lane keeping assistance, lane departure warning and forward distance indicator.
You'll find two ISOFIX mounts and three top tether points for child seats across the back row in the sedan and hatch.
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.
The Astra hatch and sedan are covered by Holden's three-year/100,000km warranty.
Servicing is recommended every 15,000km or annually. The Astra also comes with Holden's life-time capped-price servicing. You'll pay $229 for each of the first four services, then $289 each for the next three before stepping up higher as the car ages.