A NEW take on petrol engines has been developed by Mazda using clever technology to make them perform with diesel-like economy.
It's making its debut in the new Mazda3 and priced from Â£23,555 the so-called SkyActiv-X engine has transformed the car.
The Mazda3 is now available in both hatch and saloon body styles and while the hatch can also be had with Mazda's conventional SkyActiv-G engine, the new X variant is the only power choice for the saloon.
The technology is called Spark Controlled Compression Ignition and works by starting combustion from a spark then running the process by compression - as in a diesel.
Under certain conditions, when compression ignition is not possible, the engine automatically reverts to spark firing and on the road the change is unnoticeable.
Like the SkyActiv-G engine it is a 2.0-litre but develops a healthy 180ps compared to 122 which gives the SkyActiv-X version a quicker 0 to 60 time of 8.2 seconds and a maximum speed of 134mph.
The real benefit comes with fuel consumption and the new engine is rated at 52.3mpg in the saloon with emissions of 96g/km on cars fitted with 16-inch wheels.
We actually bettered that by some margin in a Sport Lux grade Mazda3 saloon sitting on 18-inch wheels where we averaged 55.2 to the gallon compared to the official 50.4mpg on a good run through the wolds of Yorkshire.
As with all versions of the latest Mazda3 it is fitted with a 24-volt mild-hybrid powertrain for added efficiency and the two systems combined are not only smooth and refined but also very effective.
The new saloon version of the Mazda3 is some eight inches longer than the hatch but has the same wheelbase and comes with body changes that see only the windscreen and bonnet common to both.
It's a good looking car with almost coupe-like lines and the boot has a 444 litre capacity compared to the 351 litres of luggage space in the hatchback.
More room is available if needed by folding the rear seats which split on a 60/40 basis.
Interior space and layout is nigh on identical on both body shapes and the mid-grade Sport Lux variant comes with adaptive LED headlights, rear privacy glass and chrome highlights to the trim among its standard features.
It's priced from Â£24,875 and the only option fitted to the car we tried was a pearlescent paint job which added a further Â£550.
On the road the Mazda3 performed in sterling fashion. The engine is quiet and refined and noise insulation in the cabin is first class.
With the saloon coming on stream Mazda will be taking on the likes of Honda and Audi in the compact market and the latest 3 is not only priced competitively but also good looking.
Standard equipment across the Mazda3 range includes sat nav and full smartphone compatibility and with the SkyActiv-X versions there is an extra display available on the screen to show how the engine is performing.
The screen functions are controlled from a control cluster aft of the gear lever and operation is simple and straightforward.
Other standard features are G-Vectoring control for added handling and the car we sampled also had an auto-hold facility on its electronic parking brake which is so useful in traffic.
The new engine is something of a technological breakthrough for Mazda and in an age where diesel sales are declining rapidly it offers drivers a way of getting the best from their car at much reduced price.
The saloon line up tops out at £29,095 for a GT Sport Tech model with an automatic transmission and with the exception of all-wheel-drive variants that again is identical to the hatch.