Mazda3 VS Kia Optima
- Very roomy
- Great ownership plan
- Decent price
- Removed some good stuff to lower price
- Not as good looking as pre-facelift model
- A bit basic inside
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 plenty of reasons why you should still consider a mid-sized sedan like the Kia Optima. I’m sure there are… just let me think about this for a sec…
Okay, so this part of the market is dying. A decade ago, sedans like this were really popular, but now there are heaps of alternative options. Yep, people are going for mid-sized SUVs rather than mid-sized sedans like this.
But that doesn’t mean models like the just-updated 2018 Kia Optima are without their reasons for being. I’m just not sure the facelift has made it more appealing to look at…
|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.
Kia Optima 7.6/10
If you travel long distances, want a good amount of space and don’t want to pay big bucks for a new car, then yeah, maybe there is a reason sedans like this will hang around for a while longer.
Sure, the appeal of sedans mightn’t be as strong as it once was, but models like the Kia Optima prove they still have a reason to exist.
Is a sedan on your shopping list? Let us know 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.
Kia Optima 7/10
Cosmetic changes for the facelifted 2018 Kia Optima include new headlights and tail-lights with revised LED signatures (but still halogen lamps in the base model), and there are newly sculpted bumpers and new wheel designs across the two-model range.
We had the base model Si, which doesn’t look as good as the GT model, because it has smaller wheels, the sporty body kit and misses out on the LED headlights, but the LED daytime running lights are still present.
The GT has a more aggressive look, and the side skirts, front spoiler and rear diffuser fit it better - there are dual exhausts, but not sporty quad exhaust tips.
In fact, this model is a bit like the old-man version of the Optima. No offence intended to old men, of course. The GT is just heaps sportier, and I reckon it’s considerably more attractive as a result.
Still, the inherent sleek styling of the Optima remains - the chrome highlighting along the window line is a bit too sheeny for me, but the angles and stance of this model are quite gracious. I really dig the fact the top of the windscreen mirrors the ‘Tiger Nose’ grille shape.
I'm no exterior designer, but I liked the existing Optima more - it just looked a bit neater, even though it had a decent amount of bling with its Mercedes-like diamond-pattern grille, as opposed to the cheese grater look seen here.
There’s not quite as much bling inside the cabin of the Si, either, but it is still a well-designed space - just not as special as the premium package offering of the GT (which gets leather trim - not nappa leather, but still a quality cowhide finish, and more). Check out our interior photos to see if you agree - but size and interior dimensions of the Optima are hard to argue against.
Kia Optima 8/10
I really like the way Kia designs its cabins. Sure, there’s a lot of black in here, but there’s also a lot of thought put into the usability of the space.
The high-mounted 7.0-inch infotainment and multimedia touch screen in the Si is simple to use, and for 2018 the Optima range gets Apple CarPlay and Android Auto - you couldn’t get that in the Optima up to this point.
Also included are a reversing camera, USB input, Bluetooth phone and audio streaming and six speakers. The Si model misses out on sat nav - you’ll have to use the maps app on your phone. No DVD player either.
Storage is well thought out in here, with big bottle holders in the doors, a good sized pair of cup holders up front, and a nice little storage bin for your phone, wallet, keys and so on.
There’s a driver info screen with a digital speedo, and even on this base model you get a dual-zone climate control air conditioner. The updated Optima gets a new steering wheel, too.
Now, what about the back seat?
It may be considered a ‘mid-sized’ sedan, but there’s limo-like space. With the driver’s seat in my position (I’m about six feet tall) there was still heaps of rear legroom in the rear seat, with ample knee room, good foot room and decent shoulder space, too - three of me could slot across the back bench comfortably, which means kids will fit easily, too. There are three top-tether points and two ISOFIX points as well.
Kids and adults alike will be happy with the rear air vents back here, and there’s a flip down armrest with cupholders, too. Again, big bottle holders appear in the doors, and there are map pockets in the back seats.
What about boot space? With so many people choosing SUVs over sedans because they’re theoretically more practical, the Optima offers good food for thought - it has enough luggage capacity for a bunch of suitcases (510 litres VDA in size) and there’s a full-size alloy spare under the boot floor. If you need more, you could always invest in a roof rack setup?
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.
Kia Optima 7/10
Kia dropped prices for this updated and facelifted model range - and not by a small amount, either. So, what's the price? How much does it cost?
The Si model is the entry-grade of two models, and it comes in at the bottom of the price list at $33,290 plus on-road costs (rrp) - an $1100 drop over the previous version. The Si, then, is a value-focused sedan that you might consider if you’ve looked at a Toyota Camry Ascent, Hyundai Sonata Active, Mazda6 Sport or Subaru Liberty 2.5i.
The standard equipment list is pretty good - although there have been some deletions, because the price is down $1100. The rather good HID headlamps with washers have been dumped in favour of halogen projector lights (yeah, not even xenons), and the satellite navigation system (GPS) is gone.
But now the 7.0-inch media screen is capable of doing the Apple CarPlay iPhone connectivity and Android Auto phone mirroring thing, and that’ll serve most people’s purposes pretty well, but there is no digital DAB radio, and no CD player for the sound system. Other standard kit includes a digital driver info display with digital speedo, dual-zone climate control, cloth seat trim, auto-dimming rear-view mirror, a reversing camera, front and rear parking sensors, auto headlights and rain sensing wipers, and 17-inch alloy wheels (with a full-size spare).
New equipment for the Si includes driver-fatigue monitoring and an active lane-keeping assistance system (in place of the old lane-departure-warning buzzer).
If you want all the fruit you really need to fork out the extra cash for the GT, which lists at $43,290 plus on-roads (vs $33,290 for the Si). That is getting perilously close to Kia Stinger territory… but let's not get too far ahead of ourselves - this isn't a model comparison!
You get a fair bit more for your dough, but even the GT has seen a few deletions to help justify its $1200 price drop compared to the pre-facelift model, such as the front passenger seat being manually operated (previously electric), the cooling/ventilation of the front seats has been deleted, and the panoramic sunroof of the previous model is gone, too. And while it rides on 18-inch rims with a new design, the tyre-pressure-monitoring system has been removed.
It uses a new 8.0-inch media screen with extended smartphone connectivity and in-built sat nav (with 10 years of maps included and SUNA live traffic updates), and it also gains redesigned LED headlights but they lose the smart auto high-beam assistance of the old model. The tech doesn't go as far as to include Homelink garage door opening here in Australia, either.
Other standard kit in the GT includes leather seats, electric driver’s seat adjustment with memory settings, smart key (keyless entry) and push button start, a sports body kit, a harman/kardon audio system with 10 speakers and a subwoofer, wireless phone charging (Qi) but no Wi-Fi hotspot, rear sunshades (but no tinted windows), different interior trim finishes, a heated steering wheel, and a colour driver-information screen.
The GT also gets the new lane assist system and driver-fatigue monitor, and the entire safety approach has been improved across the range. See the safety section below for more detail.
There is no launch edition, nor is there a sports edition, but there is a decent array of colours (or colors, depending on where you're reading this) available - black, white, blue, red, grey and silver can be chosen, but not brown, purple or gold... if you wanted those.
Accessories available across both trim levels include tailored floor mats, a dash mat and weathershields, among other items.
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.
Kia Optima 7/10
The Si model is powered by a 2.4-litre four-cylinder petrol engine, which has seen no changes to its specifications for this mid-life update.
Engine specs remain at 138kW of power at 6000rpm, while torque is rated at 241Nm at 4000rpm. It makes use of a six-speed automatic transmission only - there’s no manual transmission here, but you do get paddle shifters - and it's front wheel drive (the Optima isn't available with AWD, or as a 4x4, or in rear wheel drive - the latter is left to its bigger brother, the Stinger).
The GT gets a zestier drivetrain with more horsepower - it has a 2.0-litre turbo four-cylinder engine with 180kW/350Nm, which is much more desirable, but also louder than the Si’s 2.4. It also has a six-speed auto transmission, and is FWD. If you're into ratings and statistics, that 2.0-litre with a turbocharger is one of the perkier offerings for its engine size in the class.
There is no hybrid model available, despite a plug in hybrid petrol version (allowing you to run in EV mode) being sold in European markets. No diesel here, either, while other markets get a 1.7-litre turbo diesel. No LPG model here, or anywhere else, for that matter.
If you're concerned about engine problems, suspension problems, clutch and transmission issues, be sure to check out our Kia Optima problems page.
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.
Kia Optima 8/10
Kia claims a very realistic fuel economy rating of 8.3 litres per 100 kilometres for the Si model, and we saw damn close to that consumption during our week of testing. On the highway it will sit at around 6.5L/100km, ensuring good mileage, while city driving will push usage above 12.0L/100km. Our overall average was 8.5L/100km, which is good. Use the eco mode, and you'll get a little better use.
The turbocharged GT model uses a little more, according to Kia’s 8.5L/100km combined average claim, but we guarantee you’ll actually use more than that because it’s more eager to please.
Fuel tank capacity is 70 litres - plenty of size for long distance drives.
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.
Kia Optima 7/10
The Optima has some really good elements to the way it drives, but sadly some less impressive bits as well.
Let’s start with the not-so-great stuff - the 2.4-litre engine in this Si model just isn’t as enjoyable as the turbo unit, and the fact that Kia still doesn’t offer a hybrid version here, despite doing so elsewhere, is a bit of a downer.
The drivetrain isn’t terrible - the six-speed auto is smart enough, and there’s usable power if you boot it. The two more sedate drive modes, 'Eco' and 'Comfort', mean the transmission will aim to save fuel and limit throttle response, with a bit more of a lazy feel to the drive experience. But in 'Sport' mode it is definitely more rewarding in terms of acceleration and performance, offering a bit more pep and urgency (we didn't do a 0-100 km/h speed test, but take our word for it); it undoubtedly at the cost of fuel consumption.
It’s just a bit of a shame Kia doesn’t offer the turbo in this spec, too. Fuel use for the Si model is better than the turbo, however, so it could be ideal for buyers who are more worried about the bottom line than design and a sportier drive.
The thing I like most about the Optima is its road manners - the steering and suspension have been tuned for local conditions, just like all Kia products, and it shows.
The electric power steering is really well sorted, making for easy parking moves and good assuredness at higher speeds. And the turning circle is decent, too - 10.9m (so, the turning radius is 5.45m).
Plus the ride comfort is really good. On the highway it coasts along with very little fuss, and around town it deals with lumps and bumps impressively. Sharp edges can upset things a tad, and mid-corner bumps can make it jitterbug a little bit, but not to a degree that would rule it out of contention if you want a mid-sized sedan.
It’s pretty quiet on the open road, too, and the adaptive cruise control makes long-distance driving a simple task. The GT does suffer a little bit more road noise, though.
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.
Kia Optima 8/10
The safety rating of the Optima remains at five stars, as it was when the car was tested in this generation in 2015.
The updated Optima carries over the safety features of the previous model including autonomous emergency braking and adaptive cruise control, while the lane-departure warning system is now supplemented with lane-keeping assistance, and there’s driver-fatigue monitoring added, too. There is no park assist / self parking system.
Airbag coverage for Optima models is six: dual front, front side and full-length curtain. And parents will be happy to learn there are three top-tether attachment points, and two ISOFIX anchors, too.
If you've been wondering to yourself, "where is the Kia Optima built?"The answer is 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.
Kia Optima 9/10
Kia remains a shining light in terms of its new-car-ownership promise, with a very strong seven-year/unlimited kilometre warranty. It makes a lot of sense if you plan to hang onto the car for a while. There's no extended warranty available, which is understandable.
That plan also includes a roadside-assist plan for the same seven-year period, provided you maintain your car with Kia Australia. So, given you get one year to start with, then you get an extra year of cover every time you go back to Kia to get your car serviced, you could end up with eight years of coverage. Nice!
Servicing is due every 12 months or 15,000km, with the first seven years covered by a capped-price-service cost / maintenance cost plan. The costs are: service one - $289; two - $466; three - $360; four - $559; five - $325; six - $599; seven - $345. That makes a total cost of $2943, which is competitive for its class. Keep your owners manual or logbook up to date, and your resale value should hold up better.
If you have concerns about common problems, issues, reliability ratings and durability, you should check out our Kia Optima problems page.