Mazda3 VS Hyundai Sonata
- Much improved looks
- Cutting edge interior tech
- Full-size alloy spare
- No AEB available, at all
- Big price jump to Premium
- Still not a match for Mazda6 or new Camry
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|
Australia’s love for SUVs is a lot like our embrace of Netflix. EVERYONE seems to be getting on board and people love to boast that they never watch traditional free-to-air TV anymore, while fewer and fewer people are buying once-dominant sedans in favour of their boxier alternatives.
But, there's still a good chunk of the population that prefer good old telly, and the shape of car most of us grew up with. Yes, many regular TV voters and sedan fans will be in the same camp, but that's okay.
So if you're considering a sedan like the Hyundai Sonata, you're not alone. And like most mainstream brands, Hyundai is committed to building a range of cars to suit everyone. This commitment is so strong that you can choose between two mid-size sedans in the Hyundai stable, with the Sonata vying for your attention alongside the i40.
|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 new Hyundai Sonata gets big marks for the Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, the Premium’s sweet turbo engine and the fact that both variants have full size spare tyres and run on regular fuel. Oh, and Hyundai’s five year warranty.
It’s a pretty good car overall, but it’s a shame to see AEB missing from the spec sheet in 2018. The Premium is the clear pick between the two in terms of an overall package, but the Active’s $14,500 cheaper price tag makes it the sweet spot in our eyes. The new Camry and the Mazda6 do seem to right the Sonata's wrongs though.
Would you look past the lack of AEB to buy a Sonata? 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.
For 2018, the Sonata has been completely restyled ahead of the A-pillar to bring it in line with more recent models like the i30 and Kona. This means the new cascading corporate grille, sleeker headlights which are mounted lower due to a reshaped bonnet, bumper and front guards.
The rear end has been similarly sharpened, with new rear quarter panels and tail-lights, while the number plate has been moved from between the lights to within the bumper. The bootlid has also been reprofiled to accentuate the Sonata’s fastback roof profile.
On the inside there's an updated dash with metallic buttons under the multimedia unit, and both versions get bespoke steering and alloy wheel designs.
The Sonata was already one of the more spacious mid-size sedans around, with heaps of legroom for rear seat passengers, enough cabin width to manage three adults across on short journeys, and a surprising amount of rear headroom for its sloping roofline. The Premium does lose 40mm of headroom because of its sunroof, but rear passengers only lose 15mm.
This ample rear legroom also means more cabin length than most mid-size SUVs, which makes fitting a rearward-facing baby seat without compromising front passenger legroom a lot more likely.
There are two ISOFIX child seat mounts back there for optimum fitment as well, and the Premium’s retractable door blinds are a far more elegant solution than the window socks that have become a fundamental of modern parenting.
Front passengers get a cupholder each in the centre console, while rear occupants get the same in the fold-down armrest and there’s a bottle holder in each door.
The back seat folds 60/40 to expand beyond the generous 462 litres/510 litres VDA (even though conventional wisdom suggests the VDA figure should be smaller). The split-fold can be actioned via the cabin or boot pulls, and you’ll be able to impress your friends with the hidden boot release button within the top of the H in the Hyundai badge.
One definite highlight is that both Sonatas get a full-size alloy spare wheel instead of the more common spacesaver under the boot floor.
A maximum braked tow rating of 1300kg for both versions is rather modest, however.
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.
Nobody likes higher prices, but Hyundai claims to have met the $400 rise for the base Sonata Active (now $30,990 MSRP) with an extra $2000 of value.
Extra features for 2018 include an 8.0-inch multimedia screen with in-built sat nav and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. It also gains dual-zone climate control, push-button start, a hidden boot release button, and chrome door handles.
Other equipment highlights include a leather steering wheel and gear selector, auto headlights, a reversing camera and rear parking sensors, plus 17-inch alloys.
The previous mid-spec Elite has been dropped from the range, which creates a sizeable $14,500 gap between the Active and the $45,490 MSRP Premium (which carries the same price tag as before).
Hyundai claims the new Premium brings $1000 more value though, with the addition of LED headlights and a wireless Qi mobile phone charger on top of the updates applied to the Active.
Beyond the Active’s spec list, the Premium also adds features like leather trim, a panoramic sunroof, proximity boot opening, heated and ventilated front seats with power adjustment, plus memory settings for the driver’s seat and side mirrors. There’s also active cruise control, front parking sensors, rear cross-traffic alert, auto wipers and 18-inch alloys.
While the Premium’s extra features (and drivetrain advantages detailed below) are numerous, we’d find it tough to make the $14,500 jump over the Active. Hyundai sales expectations also reflect this, with the Active tipped to make up around 70 per cent of Sonatas on the road.
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 biggest news under the new Sonata’s bonnet is the eight-speed torque converter auto fitted to the Premium. Stepping up from the six-speeder used before, Hyundai claims it improves fuel consumption (more detail below) from the 2.0-litre turbo-petrol four-cylinder unit that still makes a very healthy 180kW of power and 353Nm of torque.
The Active’s drivetrain is unchanged though, with the same 138kW/241Nm 2.4-litre petrol four-cylinder engine, paired with a six-speed torque converter auto.
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.
The Sonata Premium’s new automatic knocks 0.7L/100km off its official combined figure, which now stands at 8.5L/100km.
The Active’s simpler but less peppy drivetrain is still the better of the two, with an unchanged 8.3L/100km combined.
Neither figure may appear particularly frugal, but this would be offset to a large degree by the fact that both engines still deliver their best sipping regular old 91RON unleaded fuel.
Considering 91 is a full 13.2c/L cheaper than premium 95RON on average across Sydney this week, the Sonata goes some way toward balancing key rivals’ lower windscreen sticker numbers at the hip pocket.
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.
Given the unchanged engines and suspensions, the Sonata drive experience is largely the same as before.
Which is no bad thing. It steers and handles better than you’d expect from a car developed primarily for the Korean and US markets, cabin noise is well contained and generally just does a good job.
It lacks the sporting edge of the Mazda6, but it’s not hard to imagine most buyers in this segment would probably prefer it that way. The Australian-tuned suspension also does a better job of maintaining comfort over rough roads.
The Premium’s new eight-speed auto does a good job, too, and really helps the engine come alive when you put it in Sport mode.
It’d be really nice to have the Premium’s turbo urge in the Active, but its drivetrain is par for the course in its price bracket and more than enough to keep up with traffic and handle the open road.
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 previous version of the Sonata was awarded a maximum five-star ANCAP safety rating in 2015, but we’re surprised to see that AEB still doesn’t appear on either version of the updated model, even as an option.
Most of the Sonata’s main rivals have this key crash avoidance tech fitted standard these days, and it’s even available on US-market versions of the Hyundai.
Hyundai Australia explains that the Korean plant that builds our Sonatas doesn’t equip them with AEB for their home market, and the numbers just don’t add up for Down Under.
Aside from this omission, both versions come fitted with all other current status quo features, including front and side airbags, with curtain airbags covering both rows, ABS, as well as traction and stability control.
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 Sonata is covered by Hyundai’s generous 'iCare' ownership program that includes a five-year/unlimited kilometre warranty, including free roadside assistance for the first 12 months.
Service intervals differ between the trim levels, with the Premium’s turbocharged engine requiring a visit to the mechanic every 12 months or 10,000km, while the Active’s simpler drivetrain stretches out to every 12 months or 15,000km.
The Sonata comes with a lifetime capped price servicing program, with the Active’s pricing during the warranty capped at $265 (each) for the first three services, a $365 major service, with the final reverting to $265.
The Premium is not dissimilar, with its first three services capped at $275, then a major service for $355, before dropping back to $275.