Mazda3 VS Volvo V40
- Great looks
- Responsive, torquey engine
- Simple to use interior controls
- Small boot
- Limited rear legroom
- No Apple CarPlay
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 miss my old phone. Sure, my new phone has a bigger screen and it’s smarter and faster, but my previous phone was smaller and easier to use, and now when I go to do a screen shot I accidentally hit the volume button every time.
What I really want in a phone is a new version of the old one – and I have a feeling people may feel the same way about the 2018 Volvo V40.
Some time next year the completely new generation V40 is expected to arrive and there will be some things I’ll miss about the old one. So, this really is your last chance to buy a new ‘old’ Volvo V40.
In a last-hurrah review, I road tested the V40 in the Inscription grade with the T4 petrol engine. What’s so 'missable' about it? Read on to find out.
|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.
I’m going to miss this V40 like I do my old phone, and for many people this hatch really could really be close to perfect: excellent safety equipment, enjoyable to drive, cool prestige styling and some lo-fi buttons and dials that are far easier to use than swiping a screen. This is your last chance to own an old, new V40.
Would you wait for the new V40 to arrive or would you prefer the current version? 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.
The V40 has been around forever (well, since 2012) but somehow it still looks great – it’s the Nicole Kidman/Rob Lowe of cars.
The thing is Volvo’s new-generation vehicles now have a different look, which will be worn by the next V40, and that seriously dates the current car.
Sure, in 2016 this V40 was updated and given 'Thor’s Hammer' LED running lights like the new-gen cars, but it’s clear the V40 has the old look.
The question is: are you the type of person who would be annoyed if this time next year somebody in the latest ‘new-look’ V40 pulled up beside you at the lights. If yes, then stop reading now… we’ll just wait a moment for you to leave.
Okay, it’s just us now. We don’t need those shallow people anyway, right? They don’t know what they’re missing out on – like an interior with lots of buttons. I’m serious the centre console actually has a numerical key pad for making phone calls. There are also lots of dials for the climate control and seat warmers and for the auto parking system.
All of these buttons will be replaced by a sexy, large touchscreen in the new V40, which will make the screen in the current one look like the slot in Ned Kelly’s helmet. Wait, don’t leave. See, I’ve road tested the new X60 and I missed just flinging a dial to make the cabin’s temperature cooler, instead I had to go into the screen’s menu, find the climate functions, and then slide my finger down a little digital ladder until I found 21 degrees. It’s a frustrating design and potentially distracting in that it takes your eyes off the road longer than twisting a dial does.
I’ll stop the rant. So, yes, the interior of the new V40 will look so sleek and minimalist, decluttered of its buttons and sporting a large vertical screen, but there are functional advantages to keeping it simple.
That said the current V40’s cabin is still special and elegant. The Inscription grade brings milled aluminium trim to the centre console and that leather steering wheel. Volvo owners would be aware of that solid, well-built feeling with a high-quality fit and finish.
What are the V40’s dimensions? Compared to the Audi A3 Sportback the V40 is 59mm longer at 4369mm end-to-end, 72mm wider at 1857mm across, and 5mm shorter in height at 1420mm.
Umm, next question. Okay, the V40 is not very practical. Those small rear doors don’t open wide, making entry and exit potentially difficult for older or less limber folks.
Legroom in the back is limited – although at 191cm I can just sit behind my driving position and headroom is getting tight, too – but still there’s just enough room for me.
The V40’s cargo capacity is 335 litres and that’s smaller than the A3 Sportback’s boot space (380 litres) and the BMW 1 Series’s luggage capacity (360 litres). The aperture of the boot itself is also small.
There’s even a practicality issue with the driver’s doorway – that windscreen is so slanted that the A-pillars either side of it are hard to dodge for taller people when trying to get in, but especially when climbing out.
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 Volvo V40 in the mid-range Inscription grade with the T4 engine lists for $43,990. When I road tested it for the first time five years ago (in 2013) it was $45,990, and it’s a better car now than it was then, with more standard features.
The list includes a 7.0-inch touchscreen with reversing camera, sat nav, eight-speaker sound system with CD/DVD player, digital radio, and internet connectivity – but no Apple CarPlay or Android Auto.
Also standard are front and rear parking sensors, an auto parking system, plus power adjustable driver and front passenger seats. There’s also leather upholstery, leather-trimmed steering wheel, dual-zone climate control, 17-inch 'Sarpas' alloy wheels and proximity key entry.
The safety equipment list is impressive, too – you can read all about what’s looking after you in the safety section below.
Also, don’t forget that because the current V40 is due to be replaced, dealers will be keen to move their stock to make way for the new one and that means you should be able to get yourself a bargain.
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.
The V40 line-up has three petrol engines to pick from and the T4 sits right in the middle between the most powerful T5 and the least grunty T3. A 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo-petrol engine the T4 makes 140kW/300Nm and delivers it through a smooth six-speed automatic.
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.
If you’re only going to stick to urban areas you’ll see higher usage – our trip computer was reporting an average of 14.9L/100km on a regular peak hour commute, but motorways drop the figure to about 8.0L/100km.
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.
Good handling and a fairly comfortable ride complete a prestige and easy-to-drive package that’s only really let down by heavy steering and slightly noisy suspension. That heavily sloped windscreen does present some visibility issues, but it’s not a deal breaker.
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.
First tested in 2012, the V40 the achieved one of the highest-ever scores awarded by EuroNCAP and saw ANCAP give it the maximum five-star rating in Australia. Back then the V40 came standard with advanced safety equipment only making it onto cars these days such as AEB, it also had the world’s first pedestrian airbag, which inflates to protect people from hitting the A-pillars and windscreen.
The 2017 update added blind-spot warning as standard on the Inscription grade. A $1300 option package brings Lane Departure Warning, Lane Keeping Aid, Active High Beam Control, Forward Collision Warning and Road Sign Information. A $3000 package brings adaptive cruise control, collision warning with full auto braking, plus pedestrian and cyclist detection.
ABS, EBD, traction and stability control are of course there to step in should you need it, too. You’ll find three top tether and two ISOFIX points in the second row for child seats. A space-saver spare is under the boot floor.
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.