2012 Mazda3 SKYACTIV
by John Davis
One of the most unexpected outcomes of the rush by automakers toward hybrids and battery powered cars is the emergence of advance technology that makes the tried-and-true internal combustion engine competitive in fuel economy. Mazda, for one, is determined to forgo mass electrification of their products, at least until they have gotten every last MPG possible out of gasoline and diesel engines.
In good marketing form, Mazda has labeled this effort, SKYACTIV technology. Now, SKYACTIV involves much more than just tinkering with engines. It is a total-vehicle approach to better fuel economy that includes additional major components, like the transmission, as well as a weight saving chassis and carefully honed aerodynamics.
The compact Mazda3 is by far Mazda’s biggest seller. So, it makes sense that it would be the car to bring their new SKYACTIV technology to market.
While Mazda’s total-vehicle approach leaves no stone unturned, the biggest fuel economy gains are still realized in the engine compartment, starting with the Mazda3’s new SCYACTIV-G 155-horsepower 2-liter I4 engine. It incorporates an unusually high compression ratio, multi-spray fuel injectors, double variable valve timing, and various low friction techniques to produce fuel economy ratings of 28 MPG city and 40 highway. The Mazda3’s results also rely on new SKYACTIV 6-speed manual and automatic transmissions.The SKYACTIV-D approach will also be applied to a diesel engine that will arrive here next year.
An integral part of the SKYACTIV approach is to also keep the “Zoom-Zoom” Mazda reputation fully intact. Clearly, reducing vehicle weight will help that, as does a stiffer chassis, but we’ll have to wait for models like the upcoming Mazda5 to get the full SKYACTIV effect. So initially, the Mazda3 only gets the powertrain improvements since it has not yet been completely redesigned.
But, the 2012 Mazda3 does feature some styling tweaks, such as new wheels and front fascia, and all SKYACTIV models will feature blue headlight rings, engine cover, and badging.
Inside, upgrades include new trim and updated cloth seating. SKYACTIV models will include gauges with blue background lighting. When compared to rivals, the Mazda3 is the only vehicle in this segment to come with standard steering wheel controls, or offer Blind Spot Monitoring.
The only real downside to SKYACTIV on the Mazda3 is that it is not standard. So, like hybrids, the most advanced fuel economy technology comes with a premium price.
As the saying goes “You can’t teach an old dog a new trick.” Well, that might apply to people, and maybe some dogs, but it certainly does not apply to cars. Mazda is out to prove that SKYACTIV technology is an approach that will keep internal combustion engines viable for decades to come.
If you would like to find out more about the 2012 Mazda3 SKYACTIV, be sure to catch MotorWeek’s Road Test of this new compact on episode #3020 that begins airing on most PBS stations January 20, 2012. For a complete listing of the public television stations that broadcast MotorWeek, go to motorweek.org and click on “Find Your Station.” MotorWeek is also seen Tuesday evenings on the Velocity (Formerly HD Theater) cable channel.