Mazda3 VS Skoda Fabia
- Looks sporty
- Fun on a good road
- Good ownership prospects
- No paddle-shifters
- Some slow-speed lurch
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|
The Skoda Fabia range has been updated and facelifted. You mightn’t be able to tell just by looking at it, but there are broad-reaching adjustments across all models.
We’re in the sporty looking, high-spec Monte Carlo. It isn’t quite a hot hatch - rather, it has the makings of one, but instead makes do with a downsized turbo engine and a dual-clutch auto transmission without paddle-shifters. Shock, horror.
Even if it doesn’t hit the highs of some closely-priced go-fast compact hatches, the Fabia Monte Carlo offers some food for thought in this tough-fought segment.
|Engine Type||1.0L 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.
I like the Skoda Fabia Monte Carlo, but I’d have to love it if I was going to own it - especially considering I now live right in the guts of the city. If I still lived up in the Blue Mountains, it would make a bit more sense… but should that be the case for a city car? Arguably not.
Would you buy a Skoda Fabia? Tell us what you think 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.
The redesigned front end of the Skoda Fabia is barely different to the model that preceded it, but trainspotters will note slightly redesigned headlights and a different bumper and grille. Those headlights include integrated LED daytime running lights, and there’s the option of full-scale LED headlights - but you have to pay for them.
In Monte Carlo spec you get sportier bodywork, including a black rear spoiler and black lower body kit, plus black 17-inch wheels with grippier Bridgestone Potenza rubber, and Monte Carlo badges on the B-pillars and door sills. Over lower grade models it also has front fog-lights and LED tail-lights.
There are changes inside the cabin, too, with different seat trim and a flat-bottom steering wheel. Check out the interior pictures to see if it’s to your taste or not.
I think it’s a sporty looking little hatch, with enough design flair to suit its compact dimensions. The Fabia hatch is just 3997mm long (on a 2470mm wheelbase), 1732mm wide and 1467mm tall.
The cabin of the Fabia is compact. Admittedly, it’s a compact car on the outside too, but while most of Skoda’s other models manage to make you feel like you’re in something larger than you are, the Fabia - aside from its high roof and therefore very good headroom - is a little cramped.
Rear seat legroom and shoulder space is among the worst in the class, for instance - but if you’re not hauling 182cm-tall adults like me around in the back, then that mightn’t matter too much to you.
Youngsters will be comfortable in the back, and there are dual ISOFIX child-seat anchors and three top-tether points as well. Yep, it’s a five-seater.
There are bottle holders in all four doors, and a pair of map pockets on the front seatbacks, too. No cupholders in the rear and no centre armrest, either, and up front the cupholder situation could be better - there are two, but they are shallow and smaller than the standard Keep Cup. But hey, you get an umbrella hidden in the glovebox, and there’s a little rubbish bin in the driver’s front door pocket, too.
The materials used are on the cheaper side, with hard plastics on the doors and dashboard. But there are padded elbow rests on the doors and the small adjustable centre console cubby, and the carbon-look panel that runs across the dash is nice. The cloth seat trim looks great, too.
Boot space is good for the class, with 330 litres of cargo capacity with the rear seats up and 1150L with them down.
Not big enough? You can get a Fabia wagon - and as a Monte Carlo model if you’re completely sold on the look - and in that guise you’ll get a much bigger boot (530L/1395L).
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.
It’s small, has some touches of luxury and sportiness, and is definitely no Toyota Yaris.
So, with an asking price of $25,490 drive-away, what other cars could you be shopping it against? How about a Mazda 2 GT auto ($23,680 plus on-road costs), or a Volkswagen Polo Comfortline auto ($21,990 plus on-roads), or if you really want something a bit more sporty, then maybe a Suzuki Swift Sport auto ($27,490 plus on-roads).
There are some other shortcomings for a car at this price point: you don’t get keyless entry or push-button start, for instance, and there is no leather seat trim, heated seats or built-in sat nav (add $950 if you want that). A panoramic glass roof will set you back $1000, too.
As has been the case in previous years with Skoda models, there are several packs that customers can choose to add to their car to boost the specification levels.
On the Monte Carlo model, that includes the Vision Pack (priced at $1400) consisting of full LED headlights, auto lights and wipers, auto-dimming rearview mirror, and additional safety spec in the form of blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert - our car was fitted with that pack.
There’s also the Tech Pack ($1800), which includes keyless entry and push-button start, rear parking sensors, adaptive cruise control, climate control air-con, driver fatigue detection, DAB+ digital radio and dual USB ports in the rear.
Add both those options to the price and you’re approaching VW Polo GTI money…
The Fabia is available in an array of colours, including the choice of a black roof finish. You can choose between white, grey, blue, black and red, but green is reserved for non Monte Carlo models.
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.
Under the bonnet of the Fabia Monte Carlo is what Skoda calls the 81TSI engine - a 1.0-litre three-cylinder turbo-petrol producing 81kW of power and 200Nm of torque.
It has a standard-fit seven-speed dual-clutch auto transmission, and like the lower-grade version, is front-wheel drive. There are no paddle-shifters, which might seem a bit of a silly concern - but after driving it, I found myself wishing there were.
Sadly, there is no manual version, which is a shame.
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.
Claimed fuel economy is 4.7 litres per 100 kilometres, which is very good. But in the real world, you can bank on using about double that in city driving. Plus you’ll need to factor in that the engine requires 95RON premium unleaded petrol, so filling up will add a few extra bucks.
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.
On the right stretch of road, the Fabia Monte Carlo has handling as good - if not superior - to some pint-sized hot hatches. It holds the road beautifully, turns with grace and ease, and feels balanced and controlled in the twisty bits.
The engine revs freely, the transmission shifts smartly - only let down by a lack of paddle-shifters. The whole experience feels nice, and if you only deal with higher-speed driving that happens to involve a mountain climb on the way to work, then: a) you’re luckier than you know; and b) you’ll be happy with a Fabia Monte Carlo.
But the big issue here is that this is a city car, and that’s where it stumbles and fumbles most.
The transmission is the real problem - it is hesitant, reluctant, downright dumb at times. Combined with some turbo-lag from the three-pot turbo engine, traffic lights can actually be nerve-wracking, as there’s not really a ‘regular’ feel to the way the car will take off. Sometimes it’ll jump away from the lights, other times it will lag and lurch.
The ride is reasonable in town, but sharp edges can upset things. And while the steering is a lot of fun in its weighty, direct attitude, that heft can be a tad annoying when you’re trying to park it.
All in all, the drivetrain feels a bit like old-Skoda-by-way-of-VW, and it simply isn’t as well considered as the equivalent VW if you just drive around town.
What a damn shame there isn’t a manual Monte Carlo, because it would easily negate all these concerns.
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.
No Fabia model comes with adaptive cruise control, rear cross-traffic alert or blind-spot monitoring as standard, but those are optionally available (see the pricing section above).
There’s no lane keeping assist or lane departure warning system on the Fabia - standard or optionally.
Where is the Skoda Fabia built? The answer is Skoda’s home country - Czech Republic.
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.
Skoda offers a five-year/unlimited kilometre warranty on its models putting it on par with rivals, though it was one of the earlier adopters of the long warranty program.
Skoda offers the choice of either following a capped price servicing plan (out to six years/90,000km) or buyers the option to pre-purchase three years/45,000km or five years/75,000km of servicing in a service pack.
The latter allows you to roll the maintenance costs into your finance, which is nice, and the costs area $760 for three years, or $1600 for five - which works out to a discount of $317 and $885 if you pre-purchase rather than follow the standard capped-price plan.
Follow the capped price path and you will find costs of maintenance are on the high side for such little car, at: $291, $351, $435, $622, $435 and $351 respectively.