Mazda3 VS Hyundai Elantra
- All variants fun to drive
- Sensible spec levels
- Standard multimedia set-up
- Optional safety on Go & Active
- No radar safety on Sport
- Polarising looks
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|
Is there a place for the humble sedan in 2019?
Hyundai seems to think so. And so for 2019 it has overhauled its Elantra range, with a polarising new look and interesting new trim levels.
Is the price right to push the Elantra to the forefront, though? Or is the i30’s less-famous sedan sibling destined to be overlooked?
We’ve spent some time in each of the Elantra’s four variants over the past few months to find out. Read on to see what’s what, and which one is our pick of the range.
|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 Elantra might be overlooked compared to its famous i30 stablemate, but it shouldn’t be. It’s every bit as entertaining to drive and just as well equipped.
It’s a shame active safety is on the option list for lower trim levels, and there’s no radar features on higher ones, and the unnecessary styling changes might polarise buyers. But the Elantra is otherwise a well-equipped and rewarding-to-drive package across the range.
Would you consider the Elantra over a Japanese competitor? Tell us what you think in the comments 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.
Despite being a facelift of the rather good looking 2016 Elantra, the 2019 car has taken a hard turn into the domain of triangles and right-angles.
The new styling has proved controversial in the CarsGuide office. The Go and Active seem to have largely abandoned many of the styling points which Hyundai has invested in over the past few years, with their vertically lined grilles and abundance of triangle light fittings.
All the extra space on the big, flat rear is taken up by the big-font ‘Elantra’ text and Hyundai logo, which is '90s-style in design.
The Sport and identical-from-the-outside Sport Premium are angry looking cars, with frowning LED light fittings, giant alloys and an abundance of angular black highlights.
The side skirts, rear diffuser and spindle grille give the Sport variants an impressive amount of presence on the road. There’s no spoiler to be found, though.
Inside, the Go and Active are a fairly basic offering, with the Active scoring a leather wheel and some extra niceties. The dash is a sea of grey, however, and the nice touchscreen is humbled by its old-school in-dash positioning.
The Sport grades add some more sophisticated touches, with sporty leather-trimmed seats, a flat-bottomed steering wheel and a more subtle climate-control console rather than the clunky air-conditioning one used in lesser variants.
All cars have a sensible trip computer and simple gauges in the instrument cluster.
Missing from any variant is a digital dashboard as seen in the Honda Civic. There’s also the argument that the Elantra’s cousin, the Kia Cerato, has a more forward-thinking cabin design.
Up front, the Elantra offers decent room. The Cabin feels a smidge more spacious than its i30 hatch sibling, and there’s plenty of leg and headroom on offer in every variant - except for the sport premium, which has a cropped roofline due to the sunroof. While there’s a decent centre console box, the door lacks a bit of padded trim for your elbow.
Like the rest of Hyundai’s range, the Elantra has a slew of generous cubbys and cupholders throughout the cabin. Underneath the air-con console is a deep trench which houses a 12v output, USB port and, in the Sport Premium variant, the Qi wireless phone charging pad.
Rear passengers are granted great legroom and decently sized cupholders in the doors, as well as a drop-down arm rest with two more cupholders.
The Active and Go lack rear air vents, whereas the Sport and Sport Premium offer two for back-seat passengers.
The available boot space should serve as a reminder why sedans shouldn’t be overlooked for practicality reasons, with 458 litres VDA on offer. Still, it is bested in this segment by the luggage capacity of the Cerato (520L), Civic (517L), and Impreza (460L). A rubber cargo liner and fabric bumper protector are available as genuine accessories.
In an annoying niggle, the Sport variants ride quite low around their midsections due to the flared bodykit bits. I found these would quite easily scrape if you weren’t careful over speedbumps or shopping centre ramps. Go and Active variants were fine in terms of clearance.
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.
The Elantra range is made up of four variants split into two price points. But there are also a few small catches to look out for.
Kicking off the range at $21,490 is the Elantra Go. That money buys you a six-speed manual gearbox. An automatic can be had for an extra $2300, and from there you can add the must-have ‘SmartSense’ safety pack for an additional $1700.
Standard features on the Go include 15-inch steel wheels, halogen headlamps, a 7.0-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay & Android Auto support, Bluetooth connectivity, a reversing camera, central locking, and a six-speaker audio system.
Next up is the Active. It starts from $25,990 and is offered exclusively as a six-speed automatic. Again, the must-have SafetySense is an extra $1700. The Active includes a larger 8.0-inch multimedia screen with built-in nav and DAB+ digital radio support, a premium audio system, 16-inch alloy wheels, body-coloured auto-folding wing-mirrors, as well as LED indicators and DRLs.
Then there’s a price-jump to $28,990 for the Elantra Sport manual. The Sport gets a significantly overhauled drivetrain and exterior treatment, with a full bodykit, bumper and grille. It also gets a leather interior with slightly sportier seats, aggressive 18-inch alloy wheels clad in Michelin Pilot Sport 4 tyres, ‘smart key’ keyless entry with push-button start, full LED front lighting with high-beam assist, and some (but not all) active safety items… More on that in the ‘Safety’ section.
The Sport can be had with a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic at a $2500 premium. The other optional extra is red leather interior ($295), which can be had only when the car is painted white, grey or black.
Speaking of which, all colours (including blue, orange, red and silver) are optional and will cost you $495. White is the only free shade.
At the top of the range is the Elantra Sport Premium ($31,490 manual/$33,990 auto), which adds a sunroof (not the panoramic kind), front parking sensors, a power-adjustable driver’s seat, Qi wireless charging pad, auto-dimming rear mirror and a luggage net in the boot. Not a lot extra for a premium package, but it’s not wildly priced either.
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.
There are two engines in the Elantra range. A dated 2.0-litre non-turbo engine which has hung around for a long time in Hyundai’s stable, and a much newer 1.6-litre turbo engine in higher variants.
Unlike the i30, there’s no option for a 1.6-litre turbo-diesel. Any EV and plug-in hybrid versions are still beyond the horizon (perhaps pending the success of the Ioniq).
The Go and Active variants share the 2.0-litre engine which produces 112kW/192Nm. The Go is available as either a six-speed manual or a six-speed traditional torque converter automatic. The Active is six-speed auto only.
The Sport and Sport Premium are powered by the excellent 150kW/256Nm 1.6-litre turbo. Aside from the Kia Cerato GT, which shares the same engine, the next closest competitor at this price point is the outgoing Mazda3 SP25 (139kW/252Nm).
The Sport and Sport Premium can either be had with a six-speed manual gearbox or a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic, and can cycle between ‘normal’, ‘sport’ and ‘eco’ drive modes.
The Elantra range is a strictly front-wheel-drive affair, as there’s no option for all-wheel drive.
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.
All 2.0-litre Elantras have claimed/combined fuel usage figures of 7.4L/100km. Against this claim I scored a very reasonable 8.0L/100km in my road test of the Active.
The 1.6-litre variants have a marginally better claimed consumption figure of 7.0L/100km against which I scored 9.0L/100km in my test of the Sport. If you’re having fun, expect at least 9.0L or above. That’s a compliment.
All Elantra variants happily consume regular 91RON unleaded and have 50-litre tanks. Good stuff.
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.
All Elantra variants are great to drive. They share excellent suspension and steering characteristics, lending them a rewarding experience in the corners while not being too stiff or too soft over bumps.
The 2.0 litre variants offer, well, acceptable power, even if they're a little on the thrashy side, and their ride comfort is boosted by sensibly sized alloy wheels and soft rubber.
Sport variants are genuinely a blast to drive. The 1.6-litre turbo has small amounts of lag, but is otherwise strong through 1500-4500rpm. Torque steer is present but manageable, and even adds a little to the excitement.
Thick (and pricey) Michelin Pilot Sport 4 tyres (225/40R18s) help keep the Elantra Sport planted and surprisingly grippy through the corners.
Road noise is acceptable but not stellar across the range. The same goes for the 10.6-meter turning circle.
Truly gone are the days where you should question whether Korean cars can be fun; the Sport and Sport premium do a better job of channeling the characteristics of Japanese sports sedans of the '90s and '00s better than most current Japanese nameplates.
On the downside, the silly flared body kit on the Sport variants limit ground clearance on ramps or speedbumps and can be prone to bottoming out. This combines with the easily scratched giant wheels to make for some nervous driving.
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.
Here’s where it gets a little tricky. Go and Active variants have no active safety features as standard, but can be equipped with the very worthwhile $1700 safety pack.
Included is auto emergency braking (AEB), which detects pedestrians and works up to freeway speeds, blind-spot monitoring (BSM), rear cross-traffic alert (RCTA), active cruise, lane departure warning (LDW) and lane-keep assist (LKAS).
Most of these features come standard on the Sport and Sport Premium grades, with the omission of active cruise control and pedestrian detection. This is because the Sport grades lack a radar system.
Standard safety includes six airbags and the regular suite of electronic stability and traction controls, as well as two ISOFIX and three top-tether child seat mounting points across the rear seats.
The Elantra carries a maximum five-star ANCAP safety rating as of 2016.
As a bonus, Go and Active variants have matching full-size spare wheels under the boot floor. Sport and Sport Premium cars have space savers.
The Elantra is built in South Korea.
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.
Hyundai covers its range with an on-par five-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty promise offered by most of the competition. It is outdone by its mechanical twin, the Kia Cerato,with its seven-year warranty.
Hyundai’s fixed service program is one of its strong suits, with service pricing on turbo Elantra models locked between reasonable $273 to $460 costs per visit, locked all the way out to 168 months/210,000 kilometres. And even beyond that there's the optional pre-paid ‘iCare’ packages. Costs are slightly less for 2.0-litre cars.