Mazda SkyActiv-G gasoline engine
Mazda SkyActiv-G gasoline engine. Click image to enlarge

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Article and photos by Paul Williams

Vancouver, British Columbia – You’ll soon be hearing a lot from Mazda about Skyactiv, Mazda’s new technology to lower fuel consumption, enhance vehicle dynamics and reduce emissions.

No, Skyactiv doesn’t mean Mazda’s getting into the aviation business; the term refers to the expression, “the sky’s the limit.” But unlike larger competitors that have the resources to develop a range of alternative propulsion technologies — like hybrids, electric vehicles, plug-ins and hydrogen fuel cells — the smaller Mazda (annual global sales 1.2 million) has chosen to focus on the familiar, and innovate.

True-to-form, though, the company that perfected the rotary engine and invented the term “zoom-zoom” to describe the sporty character of its vehicles is moving in what some may consider unexpected (but by no means radical) directions. Nonetheless, the experience of driving some Skyactiv prototype vehicles in Vancouver would suggest that consumers will definitely benefit from Mazda’s new technology.

Specifically, Mazda believes there are significant opportunities for further development of gasoline and diesel engines, along with benefits to be gained from transmission and chassis refinement. It has consequently spent several years completely rethinking the company’s existing powertrain and chassis technology, culminating in a suite of developments that will be incrementally introduced in new Mazda vehicles in the coming years.

Mazda SkyActiv-D diesel engine
Mazda SkyActiv-D diesel engine. Click image to enlarge

Yes, you did read “diesels.” Mazda confirms it will be bringing its new diesel engines to Canada — expect an early 2013 timeframe — although we don’t have commitments on exactly what vehicles will receive the option. Our diesel-powered test vehicles in Vancouver were Mazda6 sedans (mostly in test “mule” form), and the engine works very well in those. But the upcoming CX-5 compact SUV would be a good fit, and it was certainly hinted that this is a possible application. Actually, any vehicle in Mazda’s line-up is a good fit, given that the new diesel is expected to generate 310 pound-feet of torque at 2,000 rpm, while sipping fuel.

In addition to their power and fuel economy, the upcoming Mazda diesel engines — called Skyactiv-D — also have advantages when compared with Mazda’s diesels currently available in Europe and Asia, and diesels from other manufacturers that require “after- treatment” technology to reduce emissions to acceptable levels. Due to its low compression ratio of 14:1 (a breakthrough technology, according to Mazda, and the lowest for a diesel engine) lighter weight, innovative piston shape, 30 per cent reduced internal friction and innovative combustion management, the Skyactiv-D will comply with Tier2 Bin5 emission regulations without after-treatment technology to remove soot, carbon dioxide and other pollutants. This makes the Skyactiv-D fully compliant in North America.

From the consumer perspective, class-leading low- and high-end torque, faster diesel warm-up times and a 20 per cent reduction in fuel consumption (when compared with Mazda’s current diesels used in other markets) should be very popular indeed.

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