Mazda3 VS Mini Cooper
- Unique looks
- Cool cabin
- Great on-road dynamics
- Low on standard advanced safety equipment
- Limited rear legroom
- Small boot
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|
I want to hug you. Or maybe we could just high five if you’re uncomfortable with the whole hugging thing. Why? You’re looking at buying a Mini Hatch or Convertible, that’s why. And that’s not a decision somebody makes lightly.
See, Minis are small, but they’re not cheap; and they’re so different looking that if they were a fish many people would throw it back if they caught one. But for those brave enough to buy a Mini the rewards these little cars will give you in return could make you a fan for life.
|Engine Type||2.0L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Premium 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.
If you’re buying a Mini Hatch or Convertible because they look unique and are fun to drive, then you’re doing it for the right reasons. But if you need a small family car then think about the Countryman or something bigger in BMW’s range like an X1 or 1 Series – these are the cousins of Minis and share the same tech but offer more practicality for similar prices.
The sweet spot in the Hatch and Convertible range is the Cooper S, whether it’s the three-door hatch, the five-door hatch or Convertible.
Are Minis the coolest small prestige car out there? Or overpriced and ugly? 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.
There are those googly eyes, the tiny flat bonnet, the snub nose with that angry mouth grille, those wheel-arches which eat way up into the body and are filled with wheels, and that little bottom. It’s tough and cute all at once, and still has stayed so true to the original look that if you were to push somebody from 1965 into a time machine and take them to 2018, they’d get out and say "that’s a Mini".
The original three-door Mini was less than 3.1m long, but over the years the Mini has grown in size – so the Mini still mini? The new three-door is 3.8m end to end, 1.7m wide and 1.4m tall – so yes, bigger but still mini.
The Hatch comes with three doors (two front and the boot’s tailgate) or five doors, while the Convertible is a two-door. The Countryman is Mini’s SUV and the Clubman is a wagon – both of these are yet to be given the update.
That update is super subtle, however. Visually the only differences between the latest Hatch and Convertible and the previous models is that the mid-spec Cooper S and top-grade JCW have the new LED headlights and Union Jack tail-lights. The entry-level Cooper has halogen headlights and regular tail-lights. That’s it – oh, and the Mini badge’s styling has been tweaked, almost unnoticeably.
On the outside the differences between the grades is obvious. Reflecting its more potent performance the JCW gets the biggest wheels (18-inch) and an aggressive-looking body kit with a rear spoiler and JCW dual exhaust. The Cooper S looks pretty mean, too, with its centre dual-exhaust and 17-inch wheels. The Cooper appears tamer but still cool with its chrome and black grille and 16-inch alloys.
Step inside the Mini Hatch and Convertible and you’re entering either a world of pain or world of awesomeness - depending on who you are - because it’s an extremely stylised cabin full of plane cockpit style switches, textured surfaces and dominated by the large circular (and glowing) element in the centre of the dash housing the media system. I’m quite fond of it all.
Seriously, can you think of another small car on the road which is as quirky as the Mini Hatch and Convertible but also prestigious? Okay, the Fiat 500. But name another one? Sure, Audi A1, but what else? Right the Citroen C3 and (now defunct) DS3. But apart from those can you name any? See.
The name of this car is a bit of a clue as to how practical the insides are.
In the three-door, five-door Hatch and Convertible the car feels roomy up front, even for me at 191cm tall with good head, leg and elbow room. My co-driver on the launch was my size and there was plenty of personal space between us.
Can’t say the same for the back seats – in my driving position the front seat back is almost up against the rear seat base in the three door and the second row of the five-door isn’t much better.
Now you need to know that the three-door Hatch and Convertible have four seats, and the five -door has five seats.
Boot space is tight, too, with 278 litres of cargo capacity in the five-door Hatch, 211L of luggage space in the three-door, and 215L in the convertible. In comparison, the Audi A1 three-door has 270L of boot space.
Cabin storage for the Hatch includes two cup holders up front and one in the back of the Cooper and Cooper S Hatch, and two in the front and two in the back of the JCW. While the Convertible has two up front and three in the rear. Top down driving can be thirsty work.
There’s not much in the way of other storage places, apart from the glovebox and map pockets in the seat backs – those door pockets are only large enough to slide in a phone or your purse and wallet.
As for power connections Coopers have a USB and 12V in the front, while the Cooper S and JCW have wireless phone charging and a second USB port in the front armrest.
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.
If you’d read the section above (Did you? It’s exciting and full of sex scenes), you’d know that the Mini Hatch and Convertible come in three grades – the Cooper, Cooper S and JCW. What I didn’t point out up there was that while this is true for the three-door Hatch and Convertible, the five door is only available as a Cooper and Cooper S.
So how much do Minis cost? You’d heard they can be expensive right? Well, you heard right.
For the three-door Hatch line the list prices go: $29,900 for the Cooper, $39,900 for the Cooper S and $49,900 for the JCW.
For the five-door Hatch you’re looking at $31,150 for the Cooper and $41,150 for the Cooper S.
The Convertible costs the most with the Cooper listing for $37,900, the Cooper S for $45,900 and the JCW for $56,900.
That’s way more expensive than a Fiat 500 which starts with a list price of about $18K and tops out at $37,990 for the Abarth 595 Convertible. But the Mini is more prestigious, higher in quality and far more dynamic performance-wise than a 500. So, unless it’s just about the looks it’s better to compare it to Audi’s A1 which begins at $28,900 and maxes out with the S1 at $50,400.
High in quality, but a bit light-on for standard features for the price is typical for prestige cars and the Mini Hatch and Convertible are no exception.
The three-door and five-door Hatch and the Convertible in the Cooper grade come as standard with cloth seats, velour floor mats, three-spoke leather steering wheel, a new 6.5-inch touch screen and updated media system with 4G connectivity, sat nav, reversing camera and rear parking sensors, wireless Apple CarPlay and digital radio.
The Hatch has air-conditioning, while the Convertible has dual-zone climate control.
As mentioned in the design section Coopers come with 16-inch wheels, single exhaust tip, a rear spoiler for the Hatch, while the Convertible gets an automatic folding fabric roof.
The Hatch and Convertible in Cooper S form pick up cloth/leather upholstery, JCW steering wheel with red stitching, LED headlights and Union Jack pattern tail lights, and 17-inch alloys.
The Convertible also gains dual-zone climate control.
Only the three-door Hatch and Convertible models are available in the JCW grade, but at this level you’ll get lots more in the form of an 8.8-inch screen with a harman/kardon 12-speaker stereo, head-up display, JCW interior trim, cloth and Dinamica upholstery (‘eco-suede’), stainless steel pedals, and front parking sensors.
There’s the JCW body kit too, along with the upgrade in brakes, engine, turbo and suspension which you can read all about in the Engine and Driving sections below.
Personalisation is a massive part of owning a Mini and there’s a billion ways to make your Mini more unique from colour combinations, wheel styles and accessories.
Paint colours for the Hatch and Convertible include Pepper White, Moonwalk Grey, Midnight Black, Electric Blue, Melting Silver, Solaris Orange and of course British Racing Green. Only the first two of those are no-cost options, however, the rest cost only $800-$1200 more at the most.
Want bonnet stripes? Of course you do – those are $200 each.
Packages? Yep, there’s a stack of them. Say, you’ve bought a Cooper S and want a bigger screen, then the $2200 Multimedia package adds the 8.8-inch screen, harman/kardon stereo and a head-up display.
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.
This is simple. The Cooper is the least powerful with its 100kW/220Nm 1.5-litre three-cylinder engine; the Cooper S is the piggy in the middle with its 2.0-litre 141kW/280Nm four-cylinder while the JCW is the hardcore one with the same 2.0-litre engine but tuned to make 170kW and 320Nm.
All are turbo-petrol engines and all Hatches and Convertibles are front-wheel drive.
Okay, this is where it gets a bit messy - the transmissions. The Cooper, Cooper S and JCW hatch come standard with a six-speed manual, but optional is a seven-speed dual-clutch auto on the Cooper, a sports version of that auto on the Cooper S and an eight-speed auto on the JCW.
It’s the other way around for the Convertible which comes standard with those autos as you step up from Cooper to JCW, with an optional manual gear box.
How fast is the hardcore one? The three-door JCW can do the 0-100km/h sprint in 6.1 seconds which is quick, while the Cooper S is half a second behind that and the Cooper is a second behind that.
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 Cooper’s three-cylinder turbo petrol is the most fuel-efficient engine in the range, with Mini saying you should see 5.3L/100km in the three-door Hatch, 5.4L/100km in the five-door and 5.6L/100km in the Convertible using an automatic transmission.
The Cooper S’s four-cylinder turbo according to Mini should use 5.5L/100km in the three-door Hatch, 5.6L/100km in the five-door and 5.7L/100km in the Convertible.
The JCW’s four-cylinder is the thirstiest of the pack, with Mini claiming that in the three-door you’ll use 6.0L/100km while the Convertible will need 6.3L/100km (you can’t get a JCW five-door Hatch).
Those figures are based on driving on a combination of urban and open roads.
During my time in the three-door JCW the trip computer recorded and average of 9.9L/100km and that was on mainly country roads.
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.
I’m yet to drive a Mini that wasn’t fun, but some are more fun than others. At the launch of the updated Hatch and Convertible I piloted the three-door in Cooper S and JCW form, and the five-door Cooper.
You can’t go wrong with any of these from a driving perspective – all steer precisely and directly, all feel agile and manoeuvrable, all are easy to drive and yup, fun.
But the Cooper S’s bump in power over the Cooper adds the grunt to match the great handling, making it my pick of the bunch. I drove the three-door Cooper S, and to me this is the quintessential Mini – plenty of grunt, great feel and the smallest of the family.
Stepping it up several notches is the JCW, which is sniffing around in high-performance territory with its powerful engine with its JCW specific turbo and sport exhaust, bigger brakes, adaptive suspension and bigger brakes. I drove the three-door Hatch in the JCW grade and loved shifting with those paddles, the barks on the upshifts are awesome, and the crackles as you step down though the gears is, too.
The eight-speed dual-clutch transmission in the JCW is a beautiful and fast thing, but the seven-speed sports auto in the Cooper S is mighty fine, as well.
There wasn’t a chance to steer the Convertible this time around, but I’ve driven the current generation soft-top before, and apart from the lack of roof making it easier for somebody my size to climb in, the ‘indoor-outdoor’ driving experience adds to the fun factor.
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 Mini Hatch was given a four-star ANCAP rating in 2015 (that's four out of five), while the Convertible has not been tested. While both Hatch and Convertible come with the usual safety equipment such as traction and stability control, and airbags (six in the Hatch and four in the Convertible), there is a lack of standard advanced safety technology. The Hatch and Convertible don’t come with AEB (Autonomous Emergency Braking) as standard, but you can option the tech as part of a Driver Assistance pack.
For child seats you’ll find two ISOFIX points and two top tether anchor points in the second row of the Hatch and Convertible.
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.