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Mazda3


Kia Rio

Summary

Mazda3

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.

Safety rating
Engine Type2.5L
Fuel TypeRegular Unleaded Petrol
Fuel Efficiency6.6L/100km
Seating5 seats

Kia Rio

Over four generations, the Kia Rio has cemented its place in the Australian small-car landscape.

It now enjoys a market share on par with the Honda Jazz, but is bested by its fleet-friendly cousin, the Hyundai Accent, as well as the Suzuki Swift, Mazda2 and Toyota Yaris.

Now that it’s an established player, though, could it aim for a bigger slice of the small-hatch pie? Could it become one of Australia’s most beloved small-car nameplates?

We’ve driven the entire updated 2019 Rio range to find out.

Safety rating
Engine Type1.4L
Fuel TypeRegular Unleaded Petrol
Fuel Efficiency6.2L/100km
Seating5 seats

Verdict

Mazda38.4/10

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 Rio7/10

The Rio is a well-designed and spacious hatch with excellent multimedia and a classy cabin.

It’s a shame the S and the Sport, with their dated engine and expensive automatic options, can’t live up to the otherwise fantastic road manners on offer.

That leaves the GT-Line as our pick of the range. With its fun-packed drivetrain and expanded active safety offering, it’s hard to look past as the Rio of choice.

Would you be willing to splash the extra dollars to get a far better car? Tell us what you think in the comments below.

Design

Mazda3

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 Rio8/10

Design is a strong point for the Rio. This generation of car has been imbued with strong Germanic style courtesy of Kia’s skilful design boss.

The boxy shape and well-defined lines make any variant in the range look ready to take on the Volkswagen Polo, and the plastic detail finishes are largely tastefully executed. But it’s a shame about the dorky hubcap-clad steel wheels in the base car.

Inside, the Rio’s cabin is easily one of the best in the segment. It has a primo-looking dash with tasteful patterns and colours. The 7.0-inch touchscreen taking pride of place in the dash lends a modern feel to the unit, and the steering wheel could easily be borrowed from the far more expensive Stinger sedan.

A simple dial cluster and low-seating make the cockpit a reasonably nice place to be in any variant. But as good as it looks, the interior is hard materials galore, so don’t expect stellar comfort for your elbows or knees on long drives.

Manuals make the lack of knee room obvious, as taller folks can be susceptible to bashing their knee on the steering column during clutch operation.

The seats are executed in a tasteful pattern and are reasonably comfortable, but offer hardly any side support, even in the GT-Line.

Other than the GT-Line’s carbon-look touches and bespoke seat trim, there is little difference between the interior design of each variant.

The Rio still easily possesses a better looking and more ergonomic cabin than the Swift, Yaris and Jazz.

Practicality

Mazda3

It’s a similar story for practicality, except it’s completely identical to the regular Mazda3 this time. So expect the same decent interior packaging and convenience for four adults, with a 295L VDA boot and a space saver spare tyre under the boot floor. 


Kia Rio7/10

The Rio’s square dimensions lend it a spacious interior, although it is surprisingly bested in this class on boot space by several competitors.

Arm-flailing space and headroom is great for all occupants, but rear passengers get perhaps better legroom than even the driver.

There are well-sized bottle holders in each door, as well as two small ones for front occupants in front of the console box.

Speaking of which, it’s impressive this little car gets a console box at all, because the Jazz and Yaris are left without, while in the Mazda2 it’s a $495 option.

There’s also a decently sized trench in front of the gearknob which houses the USB, AUX and 12v ports. The Rio doesn’t get rear air vents, but it does have a USB power outlet in the back.

Boot space is a decent 325 litres VDA which sounds and looks good, but is bested in this segment by the Honda Jazz (354L), Suzuki Baleno (355L) and Hyundai Accent (370L).

It maxes out at 980L with the rear seats flat, which is almost double the equivalent room in a Suzuki Swift.

Price and features

Mazda3

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. 

Like the rest of the Mazda3 line-up, we also expect to see the Skyactiv-X with a choice of hatch or sedan bodystyles with either manual or automatic transmissions.


Kia Rio7/10

Price is everything in such a competitive segment, and so every dollar matters in the small-car stakes.

The Rio range is a three-variant affair, starting with the $16,990 base-model S. The S is unchanged from last year’s model and comes equipped with either a six-speed manual or an antiquated four-speed auto at a $2100 premium.

Standard inclusions on the S are 15-inch steel wheels, a 7.0-inch multimedia touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto support, a reversing camera and halogen headlights with auto function.

Missing is cruise control or more recent systems like AEB, lane-keeping assistance, blind-spot monitoring, or cross-traffic alerts.

It’s worth noting the entry-level variants of the Honda Jazz, Mazda 2 Neo and Suzuki Swift are all cheaper, too. And the additional cost of $2100 for a lacklustre automatic is a particular let down.

The next grade up in the range is the new Sport variant ($17,790). The Sport replaces the previously-mid-spec Si, and it gains 17-inch alloy wheels, cruise control, a leather-bound steering wheel and gear shift as well as heated and folding wing-mirrors.

The Sport can also be had with a new six-speed torque converter automatic at a $3000 premium. This transmission is better, but it still can't make up for the failings of the engine; but more on that in the Driving section of this review.

Finally, the updated Rio range tops out with the GT-Line ($21,990). The GT-Line replaces the previous top-spec SLi and comes with an overhauled drivetrain and the presence of active safety features which are not available, even optionally, on lower grades.

The GT-Line gains a bespoke body-kit, flat-bottomed perforated-leather steering wheel, carbon-look interior trim, LED DRLs, fog lights and rear light clusters.

All Rio variants score a reversing camera with rear parking sensors.

The range, spanning from $17,790 to $21,990 is a decent one, but the safety and performance improvements of the GT-Line make it our pick of the range, and it's worth spending the extra money for one.

Just be aware that the GT-Line's circa-$22k pricing will put you in a car the next size up fairly easily.

It’s a shame both the S and the Sport do not get any active safety features and are burdened with antiquated (or expensive) automatic transmissions.

Engine & trans

Mazda3

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 Rio6/10

There are two engines and four transmissions in the Rio Range. But only one combination is likely to put a smile on your face.

The S and Sport are only available with a 1.4-litre four-cylinder non-turbo petrol engine which produces 74kW/133Nm. That sounds competitive on paper, but in real life it fails to deliver.

Both cars come with the same six-speed manual, but the S can be optioned with an ancient four-speed auto at a $2100 premium. This is an antiquated transmission and not good value.

The Sport is available with a six-speed auto at a $3000 premium. It’s a much better transmission and improves the drive experience, but it's expensive for an auto and cannot make up for the engine’s failings.

Up the top of the range is the much more impressive 1.0-litre three-cylinder turbo in the GT-Line.

The GT-Line is not available with a manual and can only be had with a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission, a first for Kia in Australia.

The engine produces 88kW/172Nm but can make use of its peak torque in a much wider band than the 1.4. Combined with the slick-shifting dual clutch it's a much better combination.

Fuel consumption

Mazda3

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 Rio7/10

The 1.4-litre manual variants of the S and Sport have a claimed/combined fuel usage figure of 5.6L/100km. The S’ four-speed auto has a claimed figure of 6.2L/100km and the Sport’s six-speed has a figure of 6.0L/100km.

Meanwhile, the three-cylinder turbo offering in the GT-Line with the seven-speed auto has the best claimed figure of the lot, at 5.4L/100km.

In my test of the S and Sport I found a more realistic figure to expect from the 1.4-litre to be between 7.5 and 9.0L/100km. This is generally worse than fuel figures we’ve experienced in cars like the Suzuki Swift and Mazda2.

My test of the GT-Line produced an 8.9L/100km figure, but I was having a lot of fun.

All Rios have 45-litre tanks and drink base-grade 91RON unleaded petrol.

Driving

Mazda3

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 Rio7/10

The Rio has some excellent, and some not-so-excellent driving characteristics.

It’s frustrating, really, because all Rios have a nice wide footprint, solid steering and excellent suspension tuned here in Australia.

The downside is the drivetrains in most variants can’t live up to the promise laid out by the rest of the experience.

The outdated 1.4-litre feels breathless until torque starts to arrive somewhere around 4000rpm. In manual versions, this means you’ll be shuffling gears with annoying frequency to try and keep the power up. In the four-speed auto S you’re left with no choice but to be stuck without power, then suddenly too much power, while the six speed in the Sport helps to smooth this out a little.

All 1.4-litre variants feel slow off the line no matter what you do. Overtaking is a chore.

The new 1.0-litre three-cylinder unit in the GT-Line is a different story altogether. It’s an enthusiastic little engine with a wide power band. It does have a small amount of lag to contend with, but it sounds gruff and has a heap more character than most engines in this class.

It’s not quite on the same level as the Suzuki Swift Sport, but performance-wise, it's a rung above competitors from other brands.

Safety

Mazda3

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. 

This means front and rear airbag coverage, front and rear AEB, front and rear cross-traffic alerts, lane keeping assistance and blind-spot monitoring


Kia Rio7/10

All Rio variants carry a maximum five-star ANCAP safety rating from 2017 onwards. Although, safety across the range varies geatly.

The entry-level S and Sport have no active safety items whatsoever, even optionally. This is a roaring shame given even base variants of the Swift and Mazda2 have AEB, and it is available as an affordable option on the Toyota Yaris.

The GT-Line, again, is far superior to the others in that it comes standard with city-speed auto emergency braking (AEB), forward collision warning, lane keep assist (LKAS) with lane departure warning (LDW), and driver attention alert (DAA).

No Rio variant is capable of supporting blind spot monitoring (BSM), rear cross-traffic alert (RCTA) or active cruise control.

Standard fitment across the Rio range is the standard suite of stability controls, six airbags and three top-tether or two ISOFIX child-seat mounting points.

Ownership

Mazda3

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 Rio7/10

One of the Rio’s strong points has always been Kia’s fantastic seven-year unlimited kilometre warranty. It far outstrips the now-standard five-year warranties offered by other brands.

While other brands are upping the pace, the Rio still has the best warranty in this class.

The same can’t be said for ownership costs, sadly. The Rio only needs to be serviced once a year or every 15,000km, and costs an average of $390.71 per year for 1.4-litre variants, or a significantly more expensive $484.57 per year for the GT-Line.