2012 MAZDA 3 SP20 SKYACTIV REVIEW
Vehicle Style: Small Sedan
Price: $27,990 (plus on-roads)
Fuel Economy claimed: 6.1l/100km | tested: 6.8l/100km
The barnstorming Mazda3 is going to do it again. Provided there are no more 'Mayan Calendar' events between now and December 31, it's going to finish 2012 as Australia's best-selling vehicle.
This is a repeat perfomance of last year's top gong.
The Neo and Maxx Sport models are still the 3's volume trim grades, but we thought it timely to have a look at the petrol efficiency-hero SP20 model, priced at just $1500 more than a near-identically specced automatic Maxx Sport Sedan.
The SP20 sedan tested here is $3000 cheaper (at $27,990) than the Luxury Pack hatch we've previously tested.
The sedan also promises the best fuel consumption of the SP20s (6.1l/100km vs 6.2 l/100km for the hatch), thanks to an 11kg weight advantage and the slightly slipperier sedan bodystyle.
The only 3 to better the SP20’s efficiency is the $630 cheaper diesel (sedan) model, but its meagre 0.4l/100km advantage will be outweighed for most by its manual-only transmission choice.
Nonetheless, fit and finish of the interior trim, and material grades, is typical Mazda high standard.
Comfort: Non-Luxury Pack SP20s make do with cloth seats, however the rake/reach adjustable steering wheel and gear selector remain leather-clad.
Despite being classified as ‘small’, there’s plenty of room front and rear for those up to about six-foot, and seating all-round proved comfortable on test.
Equipment: The SP20 closely matches the mid-spec Maxx Sport for equipment which includes cruise control, dual-zone climate control, 4.1 inch multifunction display, MP3 compatible CD player with aux and USB inputs, bluetooth, automatic headlights and wipers.
Externally, the SP20 is fitted with the Maxx Sport’s 16 inch alloys, front auxillary lights, side skirts and rear lip spoiler.
Storage: Cupholders front and rear are complemented by bottle holders in each door, lidded console bin, useful glovebox and overhead sunglasses holder.
The SP20 sedan’s 400 litre 'seats up' storage is 100 litres more than the hatch version, and expands usefully via a 60/40 split fold. Like all 3’s, the SP20 comes with a steel spacesaver spare wheel.
ON THE ROAD
Driveability: On paper, the SP20’s SkyActiv-G 2.0 litre petrol four appears to offer little over the existing 2.0 litre found in Neo and Maxx Sport models.
But don't jump to confusions - what it does offer is incremental improvements everywhere.
Outputs grow by 5kW and 12Nm to 113kW/194Nm, but power and torque arrive 500rpm and 400rpm sooner respectively, benefitting throttle response and fuel efficiency.
Despite using a high 12:1 compression ratio, the SP20 manages to do its best on just regular 91RON unleaded - a clear benefit of the SkyActive-G’s direct fuel injection.
The engine combines with Mazda’s SkyActiv six-speed auto and stop/start system to record an official combined fuel consumption of 6.1l/100km - a very significant 2.1l/100km better than an automatic Maxx Sport sedan.
With plenty of right foot and urban trudging on test, we stretched the SP20’s figure to a still-impressive 6.8l/100km.
The six-speed auto does a good job of keeping the engine near its 4100rpm torque peak, and combined with the SP20 sedan’s 1318kg kerb weight, delivers comfortable open road performance.
We took ours across the Blue Mountains West of Sydney back-to-back with a CX-5 Maxx Sport with the same drivetrain, and found the SP20 has a small but noticeable edge when ferrying a weekend’s worth of camping gear across the Great Dividing Range.
In short, the engine considered by many to be the CX-5’s weak link is an absolute gem in the lighter 3 SP20.
Refinement: Compared with the older Mazda 2.0 litre petrol, the SP20’s SkyActiv-G 2.0 litre petrol four feels a generation ahead - because it is.
Its willingness to rev and smoothness are a credit to Mazda’s engineers, but overall cabin noise remains behind the segment leaders, particularly the newer models.
The BL 3 is an older design, and cabin noise has been a 3 trait for two generations now, but its not likely to be a deal breaker.
Suspension: Segment conventional McPherson strut front end is matched well with a multi-link rear design, with the chassis continuing to evoke a Zoom Zoom sporting bias.
On the SP20’s 16 inch tyres, ride was a little harsher than most bread-and-butter small hatches, but most will appreciate the 3’s resulting sporting feel.
Braking: Compared with Maxx Sport, SP20 gets 22mm larger 300mm front brakes from the warmer 2.5 litre SP25 model. Excellent feel and matched well to the SP20’s performance.
ANCAP rating: 5 Stars (Mazda 3)
Safety features: Dual front, side and curtain airbags, stability and traction control, anti-lock brakes, electronic brake-force distribution, emergency brake assist, and active front head restraints.
WARRANTY AND SERVICING
Warranty: Mazda offers a three year, unlimited kilometre warranty
Service costs: Servicing costs can vary. Consult your local Mazda dealer for specific details.
HOW IT COMPARES | VALUE FOR MONEY
Mazda 3 Maxx Sport Sedan Automatic ($26,490 ) - For $1500 less than the SP20 SkyActiv sedan, the Maxx Sport uses the less-refined older 2.0 litre petrol engine, drops a transmission ratio and 5kW/12Nm, and fuel consumption jumps 2.1 l/100km. A near match otherwise for spec. (see 3 reviews)
Ford Focus Trend Sedan with Powershift auto ($24,590) - Half-a-litre behind the SP20’s combined fuel figure (at 6.6l/100km), but a fresher overall design and nearly $3500 cheaper.
Offers stronger performance than the SP20, and dual-clutch auto wins tech points. (see Focus reviews)
Honda Civic VTi-LN ($26,990) - Nearest Civic sedan on spec, efficiency, and price is $1k cheaper, but smaller 1.8 litre engine and five-speed auto lags behind SP20’s performance. Also drinks 0.6l/100 more. (see Civic reviews)
Note: all prices are Manufacturer’s List Price and do not include dealer delivery or on-road costs.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
The Mazda3 SP20's response to the fuel-efficiancy challenge is an unconventional one, as it doesn’t use a hybrid drivetrain nor forced induction or diesel tech.
It merely relies on incremental technology gains through reduced friction, direct fuel-injection, stop/start technology, and an advanced automatic transmission to deliver a 2.1 l/100km efficiency advantage over a conventional petrol 3 model.
At a premium of just $1500 over a Maxx Sport auto, it adds much of the next generation of Mazdas to a now-3.5 year old body design.
The 3 remains a good drive though, and an even better drive in SP20 guise.
We’d recommend taking one for a spin if you’re considering a petrol automatic model - as the bulk of current small car buyers do.