Forty-five years after its introduction of the innovative Wankel rotary engine in the Cosmo 110S sports car, Mazda continues breaking tradition and doing things its own way. A prime example is Mazda’s integration of its SKYACTIV suite of fuel saving and performance technologies in its all-new models. Essentially, the SKYACTIV philosophy embraces the notion that you needn’t sacrifice performance to achieve great fuel economy. It’s a systemic design philosophy that encompasses nearly every part of a vehicle from engines and transmissions to body and chassis design, and aerodynamics to lightweight technologies.
Mazda is prepared to go big time with its SkyACTIV technology because of growing consumer demand. In fact, its momentum is assured with the automaker’s recent decision to double the production capacity of its Hiroshima engine plant that produces SkyACTIV-G gasoline and SkyACTIV-D diesel engines, with volume increasing from 400,000 to 800,000 units annually starting this October.
The first appearance of SKYACTIV technology was in the updated Mazda3 SKYACTIV that debuted in the 2012 model year. Since the full suite of these high-efficiency technologies is intended to be part of new Mazda models from the very beginning of the design process – and the 2012 model was a mid-generation freshening and not a complete redesign – most, but not all, SKYACTIV technologies have been incorporated in this latest Mazda3. We spent time behind the wheel of this sprightly package and came away impressed.
The Mazda3 SKYACTIV is powered by a high-compression 2.0-liter dual overhead cam four-cylinder engine. With a 12:1 compression ratio and gasoline direct injection, the engine produces 155 horsepower at 6,000 rpm and 148 lb-ft of torque at 4,100 rpm. Pumping losses are minimized by dual sequential valve timing for greater efficiency. Both six-speed manual and six-speed automatic transmissions are available.
We generally prefer a manual in a sporty car like the Mazda3, but have to admit the automatic proved surprisingly positive and fun to drive. Fitted with the SKYACTIV-G (Gasoline) engine and six-speed automatic transmission, the 2012 Mazda3 offers EPA estimates of 28 mpg city and 40 mpg on the highway. During our week with the car, we observed a combined average in the mid-30 mpg range. On the highway with just a few frugal driving techniques, we found it possible to keep with the flow of traffic and push mileage well into the mid-40 mpg range. That’s hybrid territory. In sixth gear with a light touch on the accelerator, the 2.0-liter simply isn’t working very hard. The Mazda3 has a generous 14.5 gallon fuel tank so cross-country missions won’t require many fuel stops.
True, 40 mpg choices are growing each year, but few can deliver the Mazda3’s smiles-per-gallon when the road throws more than a few curves your way. The twisty two-lane rural roads on our usual Southeastern Ohio test routes proved to be a blast in the Mazda3. It only takes a few apexes to forget you’re behind the wheel of an ‘economy’ car. The 3’s steering response is precise and confidence inspiring, and there is considerable road feel through the well-tuned chassis and suspension.
The ride is a bit on the firm side, but any highway harshness is soon forgotten when the road ahead gets interesting. Acceleration is satisfying, too. We recorded a 0-60 mph time of 7.7 seconds with the automatic transmission. Importantly, the SKYACTIV-G delivers solid low and mid-range torque, so you don’t need to rev it much during normal acceleration to maximize fuel economy.
Affordability is part of the equation. The Mazda3 iTouring with the SKYACTIV-G engine and manual transmission is available at $18,450, or $19,300 if you prefer the six-speed automatic. The 2012 Mazda3 SKYACTIV embodies efficiency and fun, a true 40+ mpg car that delivers a heavy dose of ‘Zoom-Zoom.’