CAR manufacturers will next year be expected to meet tough new European Union regulations that for the most part will require them to produce vehicles with average CO2 emissions of 95 grams per kilometre.

And in the UK, all new cars will be "effectively zero emission" by 2040 under radical plans to tackle air pollution.

There can be no doubt that we are witnessing the dawn of the electrification era.

But does that mean we are also seeing the slow death of the internal combustion engine? Well, hang on, there’s still 20 years until that zero emissions policy comes into force.

For the moment, we are witnessing the launch of various methods of electrification – plug-in hybrids, full-on electrics, mild hybrids and regular hybrids – and the establishment of charging points.

Hand-in-hand with that is the creation of cleaner and more efficient petrol engines.

Mazda calls its new engine Skyactiv-X, the next step in its strategy to maximise performance of its petrol units. The message is clear: there’s life in the internal combustion engine yet.

First to get the Skyactiv-X treatment is the attractive Mazda3 hatchback, which was already available with the forerunner to Skyactiv-X, which was called simply Skyactiv.

With Skyactiv-X, most of the fuel is ignited by compression rather than a spark. The resultant average fuel economy touches 50mpg, while those nasty NOx emissions are kept low.

These figures are achieved despite the fact that Mazda is using a two-litre engine with an output of 180PS.

It’s all very clever stuff that almost defies logic. And that’s not all. Choose the 16-inch rather than 18-inch alloy wheel and the CO2 emissions drop from an already very respectable 103 grams per kilometre to an astonishing 96g/km.

So how does this little wonder drive? Well, it accelerates from standstill to 62mph in 8.2 seconds, which might be described as nippy but nothing more than that.

The short-throw gearbox is very friendly and the engine feels responsive. The engine is not particularly quiet initially, but you are soon able to enjoy smooth progress.

There might be a lot of very clever stuff going on beneath the bonnet, but that’s all pointless unless it performs well on the road. Happily, it does just that.

Cornering comes with aplomb, and the suspension set-up feels just right. Mazda has also produced a superb chassis set-up that gives the impression of belonging to a much more expensive car.

There’s a few other things worth mentioning. Mazda has introduced a mild hybrid system which uses kinetic energy from regenerative braking to help acceleration from launch and power the electronics.

In addition, you can now buy a Mazda3 in saloon form as well as the more popular hatchback. It’s a viable alternative that looks equally attractive. The same cannot be said to many similar offerings.

And there’s even a four-wheel drive version for those who want more grip.

Both inside and out, the Mazda3 is a design triumph. There’s a sense of elegance in the bodywork achieved through hundreds of hours of painstaking clay sculpting and painting work.

Inside, the aura might be a little too dark for some tastes, but the feel of the finish oozes quality.

There’s a head-up display projecting speed, navigation and traffic signs on to the windscreen, adaptive cruise control and blind spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert.

Rear seat legroom is adequate, while those riding in the front will enjoy plenty of space.

The Mazda3 Skyactiv-X hatchback is available in Sport, Sport Lux, Sport Tech and AWD Sport Tech trims with the choice of manual or automatic transmission. The saloon version has a similar line-up without the AWD option.

Overall, this is a great package combined with some ground-breaking technology.


Mazda3 Skyactiv-X

Price: from £23,555

Engine: Four-cylinder 2.0-litre petrol producing 180PS

Transmission: Six-speed manual

Performance: 0 to 62mph in 8.2 seconds; top speed 134mph

Economy: 48.7mpg combined

CO2 emissions: 103g/km


Performance: ****

Economy: ****

Ride/Handling: ****

Space/Practicality: ****

Equipment: ****

Security/Safety: ****

Value For Money: ***