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The Japanese firm puts its new-age petrol engine in the fourth-gen family hatchback

Perhaps it’s as a result of a particularly genuine sense of corporate responsibility; perhaps it’s for more pragmatic reasons. But quite oddly for a car company that’s on the cusp of launching its first all-electric production car, Mazda has called into question how much a mass movement to battery-powered motoring would reduce global CO2 levels in the short term.

This famously innovative Japanese car maker has never been afraid to go against the grain, and yet its thinking will rile those who believe that the quickest possible adoption of EVs should be enshrined in global car industry strategy and widely accelerated by taxes and incentives.

Mazda’s Kodo design language rejects visual complication, and styling creases are almost entirely absent. Odd then, you might think, to put the bootlid badge on a plinth – but it’s a functional change, serving as a handle.

The company’s latest long-term product and powertrain credo, catchily entitled ‘Sustainable ZoomZoom 2030’, aims to half the ‘well-to-wheel’ CO2 emissions of its annual production output of cars by 2030 and reduce them by as much as 90% by 2050. But since its own research puts the well-to-wheel emissions of any electric car introduced today at 128g/km (based on the current global mix of power generation from renewable, but still mostly nonrenewable, sources), it has decided that it can achieve more for the planet in the short term by simply making more efficient internal combustion engines than by chucking them all in the bin and taking a massive leap with both feet into electric power.

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And so, while the first all-electric Mazda will come along next year and its first plug-in hybrid a few years later, what we’re getting from the firm for now is a new and interesting breed of petrol engine called Skyactiv-X. It’s unlike any other petrol engine currently in production; it combines both spark- and compression-ignition technologies to boost efficiency; and it comes to market first in the all-new, fourth-generation Mazda 3 hatchback – which is our road test subject this week.

The Mazda 3 line-up at a glance

While the Mazda 3 was initially available with a choice of Skyactiv-G petrol and Skyactiv-D diesel engines, the arrival of the new Skyactiv-X motor has seen the oil-burner dropped from the range. Both six-speed manual and six-speed auto ’boxes are available.

The Skyactiv-G motor is exclusively front driven, while the Skyactiv-X powerplant can be had with all-wheel drive. Hatchback and saloon bodystyles are offered, with the trim walk starting at SE-L and moving up through SE-L Lux, Sport, Sport Lux, GT Sport and GT Sport Tech.

Price £26,675 Power 177bhp Torque 165lb ft 0-60mph 9.1sec 30-70mph in fourth 14.2sec Fuel economy 40.0mpg CO2 emissions 103g/km 70-0mph 49.2m

What Car? New car buyer marketplace - Mazda 3

First drives