Mazda3 VS Volkswagen Polo
- Looks super polished
- Tiny engines don’t feel underpowered
- Sharp-looking multimedia
- Engines can feel raspy when pushed
- Ride might be too firm for some
- Very sparse back seat
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 new Volkswagen Polo has been so supersized you half expect to find Morgan Spurlock hiding in its (now much bigger) boot.
For one, this sixth-generation car is longer than the model it replaces. And it’s wider. And there’s more room for passengers and cargo than ever before.
But are they enough to push the bigger-than-ever Polo around?
|Engine Type||1.2L 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.
By far the biggest and most lasting impression from my initial time with the Polo is that it feels like a whole lot of car for the money, even in its base-model guise. There is a feeling of quality in (most of) the cabin and in the drive experience, and its improved ability to people or cargo will surely put it on more customer’s radars than ever before.
For ours, the entry-level Trendline with the DSG gearbox makes the most sense, getting the best of the standard features without breaking the bank.
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.
Well, a lot like a Golf that has been shrunk in the wash. But in a world of super-busy design, the Polo’s exterior treatment is refreshingly simple and unfussy.
A single accent line that runs the length of the body, joined by a kink at the base of the door, gives the Polo a clean, polished look, and it’s difficult to catch it at a bad angle.
There’s no angry body kit, rear spoiler, side skirts, rear diffuser or front spoiler either, but in this case, that’s a good thing. You could perhaps level the accusation that it looks a little boring, but for mine, that just means it’s unlikely to age poorly.
The pick of the regular fleet, design-wise, has to be the Comfortline model - the hubcaps of the Trendline do it absolutely no favours.
Inside, the interior treatment is clean and straightforward, with a two-tone dash with a soft top that’s joined by the very premium-looking 8.0-inch touchscreen in a gloss-black surround. Honestly, look at the interior images and tell us it looks like it belongs in an entry-level model.
The flat-bottomed wheel and silver-edging on the centre console are nice touches, too - as is the functionality of the driver’s binnacle that houses the trip computer (MFD) - but some of the plastics are utterly unforgiving to the touch.
Thanks largely to the merits of VWs MQB modular platform (the same chassis that underpins everything from the Golf to the Tiguan), the new Polo now stretches 4053mm in length (78mm longer than its predecessor) and sits on a wheelbase that is 81mm longer.
But of all the dimensions, it’s the 69mm in extra width (now 1751mm) that really counts here. It doesn’t sound like much, sure, but every centimetre counts in a city car, and it means you can fit full-size adults into the backseat without breaking any ribs.
I still wouldn’t rush to go three adults across the back, but the improved interior dimensions ensure two can ride in plenty of comfort, with good head and rear legroom on offer for all but the tallest of passengers.
There’s little else to enjoy back there, though, with no air vents, USB connections or power sources. Hell, there aren’t even any cup holders. You do get two ISOFIX attachment points for your baby car seat, though, one in each window seat in the back.
Up front, it’s only the cheaper plastics at key touchpoints (the area your knees and elbows constantly contact, for example) that diminish an otherwise comfort-packed space. The touch screen set-up is clean, clear and simple to use, and there are two USB connection points and a power source for all your gadget needs. There are two cup holders for up-front riders, room in each of the doors for bottles, and a central cubby that adds a little extra storage space.
Another benefit of the Polo’s growth spurt is the new boot space dimensions, now 71 litres bigger than before. It means you’ll now find 351 litres on offer - 1125 litres with the rear seats folded flat - a number VW proudly points out outshines even the bigger Mazda3’s luggage capacity.
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.
The new Polo arrives in a fairly limited range, with just the entry-level 70TSI Trendline and top-sec 85TSI Comfortline on offer initially - though they’re joined by a limited-run 'Launch Edition' which adds some extra styling kit.
Crystal-ball gazers will see a GTI sport edition following a little later this year, along with what will surely be the first of many special editions, the Polo Beats edition, with the associated RRPs for those models climbing accordingly.
For now, the price list kicks off with the Trendline, which will cost you $17,990 (five-speed manual), or $20,490 should you opt for a seven-speed 'DSG' dual-clutch auto. Those are drive-away prices, too, which makes them seem very sharp indeed. In short, it’s a new car at near second-hand price.
That money buys you cloth seats, a lovely (and vaguely flat-bottomed) leather steering wheel, keyless entry, central locking (with automatic unlocking and door locks that activate once you’re in motion), air conditioning, cruise control and electric mirrors. You also get halogen - not projector, bi-xenon or LED headlights - lights with daytime running lights.
There are some reminders of how much you’ve paid on the Trendline, though, like the 15-inch steel wheels with hubcaps - still, they’re better than 14 inch. Silver linings and all that.
Stepping up to the Comfortline trim level will set you back $19,490 for the six-speed manual ($20,490 drive-away), and $21,990 for the DSG automatic ($22,990 drive-away). You get more power, of course, but you’ll also upgrade to 15-inch alloy wheels (vs the hubcaps on the Trendline), rain-sensing wipers, some chrome highlights and a better quality cloth seat in the cabin. There are no leather seats, a panoramic sunroof or climate control on any of the trim levels.
Tech gadgets across the Polo range include a fantastic 8.0-inch touchscreen that’s Apple CarPlay and Android Auto-equipped, and which pairs with a sound system with six speakers - but no sub-woofer, of course.
The screen controls your radio (though there’s no DAB) and there’s a CD player (but not a CD changer or a DVD player). Or the Bluetooth connectivity function will stream your MP3s. It’s an undeniably strong tech pack for a city car, and those features are unlikely to hurt resale value.
There’s no sat nav, but happily, your phone’s GPS system subs in as a navigation system, displaying directions from Google or Apple Maps up on the touchscreen.
Finally, a Launch Edition car ($20,490 manual, $22,990 automatic) completes the models comparison. arriving with 16-inch rims, tinted windows, fog lights and LED taillights, as well as a wireless charging station for your compatible phone - sorry iPhone users, you’ll need a special case. And those prices translate to $21,490 and $23,990 drive-away.
There has been no word on comfort or convenience packs as yet, but the night is still young for the sixth-generation Polo.
You can have your Polo in 'Pure White', which is free, or opt for 'Energetic Gold' (a kind of burnt orange), 'Limestone Grey', 'Reflex Silve'r, or a 'Deep Black Pearl', all of which will set you back $500. Not exactly a rainbow of colours, then, and there’s no blue, red, yellow or green, etc.
Roof rails or a roof rack to carry sports equipment, and premium floor mats appear in a fat official accessories guide.
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.
Just the one engine on offer here; a tiny and turbocharged 1.0-litre, three-cylinder unit - a motor borrowed from the brand’s Up! - which is available in two states of tune. Both are petrol-powered, and there are no diesel, LPG, EV or plug-in hybrid options.
It’s a tiny engine size, but neither option feels underpowered. The cheaper 70TSI Trendline cars make use of the lower-spec version, good for 70kW at 5000rpm and 175Nm at 2000rpm. That’s enough to produce a fairly leisurely 0-to-100km/h sprint of 10.8 seconds.
The 85TSI Comfortline shares the same capacity, but ups the horsepower to 85kW at 5000rpm and 200Nm at 2000rpm. That set-up will up the speed, too, with the acceleration to 100km/h now at 9.5 seconds.
They might not be the most pulse-quickening performance figures, but they do suit the personality of the little Polo, as does the turning radius of 10.6m.
You can then choose between a five-speed manual (Trendline) or six-speed manual (Comfortline) gearbox, or you can spring for a seven-speed DSG gearbox in both. Either way, the transmission will shuffle power to the front wheels, with both the Trendline and Comfortline Polos exclusively front-wheel drive; there are no 4x4, all-wheel drive, or rear-wheel drive cars here.
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 Trendline will sip 4.8 litres per hundred kilometres in manual guise (5.0 with the DSG) on the claimed/combined cycle, with emissions pegged at between 110-113g/km of C02.
The Comfortline ups the consumption to a claimed 5.1L/100km for the manual cars (5.0 with the DSG), with emissions of between 115-116g/km of CO2.
Either way, that’s near-diesel fuel economy/consumption, and they’re impressive mileage figures. The Polo’s fuel tank capacity size is 40 litres, and will accept 95RON fuel.
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.
If the Polo doesn’t look like a cut-price city car, then the good news is that it doesn’t drive like one either. Our several-hour test route took us from city streets to broken B-roads, freeways to fast-flowing county runs, and the pint-sized Polo handled it all with little bother.
The single-tune suspension is definitely set up to favour firmer sportiness over comfort, and while you can catch the outside edges of the ride on seriously rough tarmac, it’s never overly teeth-rattling, and the little Polo will happily chug along no matter where you point it.
The steering, too, is perfectly suited to the character of the car, feeling connected without being darty, and plenty light enough for easy city use. The cabin is commendably quiet, locking out intrusive noise on all but the loudest road surfaces, too.
The biggest question, of course, is whether the little three-cylinder engine options pack enough grunt to push the Polo along faster than a slow-moving snail. But even the smallest output version never feels underpowered, and is more than peppy enough even with two adult passengers on-board.
The clever turbocharging has even largely done away with the lag sometimes associated with VW’s bigger cars, with the power arriving nice and early when you plant your foot from a rolling start, the 1.1-tonne (tare weight) Polo pulling away pretty cleanly.
What’s that? You want me to nitpick? Well, it can feel a little uncertain at times - especially when pulling away from hills - rolling back more than you’d like before engaging and pulling away. It’s far from a deal-breaker, but you’d need to get used to it.
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.
It’s a strong safety story, even from the base model, with every Polo arriving with an airbag count of six, a reverse camera, parking sensors and AEB with pedestrian detection. You get a fatigue-warning system and a tyre-pressure monitor, too, along with hill start assist, and the usual suite or braking and traction features like ESP.
An optional 'Driver Assistance Package' ($1400) adds VW’s manoeuvre braking system to the Polo, which combines with the rear parking sensors to act as AEB in reverse when you’re parking, along with adaptive cruise, blind-spot monitoring, rear-traffic alert and 'Park Assist', but no lane assist.
The Polo was awarded the maximum five-star safety rating when tested by Euro NCAP last year - a score that has since been adopted by Australia’s ANCAP.
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 Polo is covered by a three-year/unlimited km warranty, and will require servicing every 12 months or 15,000km - the annual schedule helping to lower maintenance costs. Dealerships will likely offer an extended warranty, but always read the fine print.
There’s no need to crack the tool kit out either, with VW’s capped-price servicing - the 'Assured Price Program' - limiting the service cost for five years, and there’s roadside assistance for the duration of the warranty period, too. There’s a full-size steel spare tyre, and the owner’s manual will tell you all you need to know about the required oil type and capacity.
As with all cars reviewed here, if any owner issues, reliability issues or common faults are ever reported, including automatic gearbox problems, oil pump, clutch, injector, engine, battery or suspension issues, turbo complaints, defects, or issues with the timing belt or chain, you’ll find them on our owner’s page.
Where is the Volkswagen Polo built? Well, many places around the world. But ours will arrive from South Africa.