Given the technologically innovative measures it uses to go about its business, this new Skyactiv-X engine sounds and feels surprisingly ordinary during day-to-day use.
There’s a vaguely rough, diesel-like edge to its timbre at idle and when accelerating through the lower reaches of the rev range, which morphs into a slightly coarse four-cylinder buzz as the crankshaft spins up to the 6500rpm limiter. But, otherwise, it behaves like a pretty typical normally aspirated engine. It may be ground-breaking in what it does, but doesn’t feel much that way in how it does it.
Peak torque opens up at 3000rpm, which is early by atmospheric petrol standards, but there’s still a need to dial in plenty of revs to get the car off the line quickly and without stalling.
And you generally have to work the Skyactiv-X engine hard from there on out to get an energetic flavour out of it. Acceleration is admittedly linear and throttle response is good but, as the revs climb, there’s little sense of high-rev vigour to report on. Let the motor pull from low revs at full power and you’ll feel a slight increase in urgency at 3000rpm followed by a minor second wind at 5000rpm, but it starts to feel strained soon after – and seldom feels very sporty.
Our timing gear confirmed as much. The Mazda’s 0-60mph time of 9.1sec was not only slower than Ford’s 1.5-litre, 180bhp Ecoboost Focus (8.9sec), but the less powerful VW Golf 1.5 TSI Evo too (8.8sec). However, it was in-gear performance where those turbocharged rivals really pulled ahead. In fourth, the Mazda required 14.2sec to accelerate from 30mph to 70mph; with their turbos to help them, the Ford and the VW’s respective efforts were 11.4sec and 12.0sec.
Still, the Mazda claws back some ground by virtue of its (mostly) excellent manual gearbox. The quality of its shift is positive and pleasingly mechanical under more sympathetic conditions, though it can lose a degree of its accuracy if you’re rushed with your inputs.