Remember the good old days when using the motorway was the sure-fire way to enjoy unhindered intercity travel on a road that was free from traffic jams? Those were the times when you could filter on to our premier three-lane carriageways and guarantee being at least 70 miles further into your journey just an hour later ñ and all without breaking the law. Back then, driving south to the centre of Birmingham rarely took me more than 60 minutes and I could have the car parked and be checking in at Manchester airport inside 45 minutes. Regrettably, all that changed with the introduction of lower speed limits and the overall pace of motorway travel has continued to slow down to the point of reaching standstill at peak times as a result of greater traffic volumes. Nowadays, the risk of being seriously delayed due to congestion has grown to such an extent that my drive to Birmingham can take up to two hours and I risk missing a flight if I allow less than 90 minutes to get to Manchester airport.
If all this wasn’t bad enough in itself, the scenario gets worse still for long distance travel when you add the effects of long stretches of roadworks along with the ever-increasing presence of cameras to log average speeds. However, it’s not all bad news because using our Mazda3 for some recent trips involving slow motorway progress has produced surprising results when the time has come to top up the fuel tank. While it has been in our hands, the car’s economy has been averaging on the better side of 60mpg, which I rate as a good return from any vehicle that provides a quiet, relaxed environment and comfortable accommodation for four adults. But average mpg figures of more than 67mpg have been recorded in the wake of enforced reduced pace progress along the roadworks-riddled M6 and M1 ñ so, frustrating as it may well be, having to keep to a steady 50mph for up to 15 miles at a time can work wonders on fuel economy, and my last two visits to filling station forecourts have shown that some motoring clouds really can prove to have silver linings!
It’s all to do with gearing, of course. As I’ve said before, the latest Mazda 1.5-litre diesel unit is mated to a gearbox that has a relatively high sixth ratio and, as it develops a robust torque output quite low down the rev range, the engine is well suited to the job of powering the ‘overdrive’ gearing that makes for good overall operating economy. Developing 103bhp at 4,000 revs might make the engine appear a tad underpowered on paper, but my experience with the car is showing that the figure is of little significance in real-world driving conditions when a healthy 199lb ft dollop of torque is available at between 1,600 and 2,500 revs, which is sufficient to power a sixth-speed ratio that has the motor lazing at around 1,500 revs at 50mph. Considering that speed is only about one third faster than when the engine is ticking over, it’s small wonder that light-throttle driving at 50mph pays dividends at the fuel pumps.
Date arrived 31st October 2016
Fuel economy 74.3mpg (combined) 62.1.mpg (on test)
The flexible engine does a great job of hauling the 3 along.
Even though we are regularly achieving 60mpg, that’s still some way off the official figures.