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Mazda3 SP22 Limited

 

It’s a Japanese car with a very European attitude: we test Mazda’s diesel-powered hot hatch, the SP22.

Base price: $49,195.

Powertrain and performance: 2.2-litre turbo diesel four, 129kW/420Nm, 6-speed manual, front-drive, Combined economy 5.0 litres per 100km, 0-100km/h 8.0 seconds.

Vital statistics: 4460mm long, 1450mm high, 2700mm wheelbase, luggage capacity 308-1222 litres, fuel tank 51 litres, 18-inch alloy wheels on 215/45 tyres.

We like: Monster torque for a little car, great chassis, advanced safety equipment.

We don’t like: Looks too low-key for a hot-hatch, not as chuckable as you might think.

How it rates: 9/10

WHAT DO I NEED TO KNOW? Diesel passenger cars are much more a European thing than a Japanese thing. But Mazda has been working a bit of magic with its SkyActiv diesel powertrains; when the CX-5 crossover got into its sales stride in Japan, the diesel version accounted for 80 percent of sales at one point.

True, Mazda wouldn’t have produced a SkyActiv-D engine in the first place were it not for the European market, but converting diesel-averse Japanese buyers to the cause is still an impressive feat.

Diesel hot hatches are even more of a European than Japanese thing, but Mazda’s made one of those as well. The Mazda3 SP22 picks up the 2.2-litre SkyActiv-D powerplant from the CX-5 and Mazda6 and serves it up in a top-specification package.

WHAT’S IT LIKE TO DRIVE? Diesel it might be, but the SP22 is made to the traditional hot-hatch recipe: a powerful engine under the bonnet of a small family car.

In fact, the 2.2-litre turbo-diesel engine is delivered in exactly the same power and torque outputs as the larger CX-5 and Mazda6 models, which makes for impressive performance in a small car.

If you’re expecting rapid-fire standing-start response, you might be disappointed. It’s a little tricky to get the diesel off the line in manual-transmission guise and there’s a bit of lag as the powertrain gathers momentum. Hence a 0-100km/h time that’s brisk rather than belting: 8.0 seconds.

But once the SP22 is under way, it’s a giant-killing hatchback. Peak torque is 420Nm, which is a lot of pulling power for this size of car. Rolling acceleration is remarkable and one of the strengths of Mazda’s diesel is that it’s not adverse to high-rev work. It’s still not as sprightly as a turbo-petrol at the top end, but there’s a lot more shove in the mid-range.

The SP22 has a talented chassis that’s not too obvious about its abilities. The steering is light but impressively accurate, while a surprisingly compliant ride doesn’t stop the chassis being fluid when you press on over difficult roads.

Yes, you can rev the engine hard and throw the car around in corners. But if you focus on short-shifting and smooth driving, the SP22 is a devastatingly quick A-to-B machine capable of leaving much larger and more powerful cars in its wake. Which is exactly what a hot-hatch is supposed to do.

IS IT EASY TO LIVE WITH? Mazda only offers the diesel in SP (Sports Package) Limited specification, which puts it at the top of the range.

There’s not a great sense of sporting occasion inside the car – or at least not anything specific to the SP22 – but you cannot argue with the quality or kit-count.

The MZD Connect touch-screen information and entertainment system is simply brilliant and the car comes with an impressive array of driver aids and active safety equipment, including adaptive cruise control, head-up display, auto-dipping headlights, blind-spot monitoring, lane-departure warning, rear cross-traffic alert, forward collision alert and autonomous braking at city speeds.

SHOULD I BUY ONE? The SP22 is a car you’d buy for what it can do rather than what it says to the outside world. It has genuine hot-hatch credentials under the skin, but it doesn’t actually look any different from other Mazda3 SP Limited models save a tiny red stripe on the grille.

That’s not terribly European at all. Hot hatches from the Continent tend to focus heavily on the look-at-me factor. So maybe a little more flash might have been a good thing for this particular Mazda.

But as it stands, the SP22 Limited is a brilliantly accomplished hot-hatch with a unique selling proposition and cutting-edge safety equipment.

EQUIPMENT CHECKLIST

  • Blind spot warning: Yes
  • Lane guidance: Yes
  • Cruise control: Adaptive
  • Automatic lights/wipers: Yes/yes
  • Parking radar: Rear with camera
  • Self-parking technology: No
  • Head-up display: Yes
  • Satellite navigation: Yes
  • Keyless entry/start: Yes/Yes
  • Stop-start: Yes
  • Air conditioning: Dual climate
  • Heated/ventilated seats: Yes/No
  • Power seat adjustment/memory: Yes/No
  • Leather upholstery: Yes
  • Power boot or tailgate: No
  • Split/folding rear seats: 60/40

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