Under the Hood- Mazda’s SKYACTIV technology


Thanks to Mazda, car lovers might finally have an environmentally responsible car they can get behind. You might even say it’s about to fall right out of the “SKY.”


Toyota sold a lot of its Prius line. The Nissan Leaf proved popular in some regions. The Honda Clarity exists only in California. Those cars and their hybrid or electric brethren provoke a common response from the majority of gear heads: Indifference. And that’s putting it mildly. Sure, there are those car folks who go on about the Chevy Volt and its ilk as the wondrous future of motoring, but you don’t want to go for a drive with any of those people.


Fortunately, Mazda is riding its “Zoom-Zoom” philosophy past the hybrid/electric crowd, wisely choosing to pour its research and development into a new internal combustion engine that benefits the environment with its sheer inefficiency with its new SKYACTIV engineering.


At a recent roll-out of the new technology at a special media event in Vancouver, Mazda debuted new internal combustion engines packing the world's highest compression ratio of 14.0:1. For the uninitiated – and those with proper jobs – that just means they’re more fuel efficient than any engine produce to date.


Mazda has evidently accepted one very basic and undeniable scientific fact. There isn’t enough energy in, say, a cup of sunshine or wind or electricity or happy unicorn thoughts as there is in a cup of fossil fuel. Researchers might crack that problem someday soon, but they certainly won’t provide an answer before the 2012 model year arrives.


So, the automotive regents of Hiroshima, Japan set about designing the most efficient engines the could, as well as perfecting lighter materials and tighter transmissions. The entire SKYACTIV package looks to get Mazda’s now lighter and more high-tech product line moving quicker with less fuel spent. The result should impress the average consumer squeezed by perennially high gas prices – an estimated 40 to 42 mpg highway, standard.


The SKYACTIV-G is Mazda’s gasoline engine, and the SKYACTIV-D is its diesel cousin. Mazda flew in SKYACTIV prototypes from Spain for test driving. The bodies of the Mazda 6 “mules” were assembled from various 2011 cars, but the engines had fully functional 2012 SKYACTIV power trains.




After driving 2011 Mazda editions, the press took their turns behind the wheel of the SKYACTIV-Drive automatic and manual transmissions in both the gasoline and diesel mules. The test drive run ran from downtown Vancouver up through the Sea to Sky mountain highway along the Pacific. In each case, the 2012 SKYACTIV models significantly outperformed the 2011 versions in quickness and responsiveness.


The best combination of SKYACTIV components was the angry manual diesel. That’s ironic as that’s the mix the American buying public is probably lease likely to embrace, given most drivers’ fear of diesels and inability to drive stick. They don’t know what they’re missing.


To enable the SKYACTIV engines to reach that magical 40 mpg goal, Mazda engineers refined and improved their metallurgy and other compounds to reduce overall weight in the suspension, chassis, drive train, etc. The end result were cars that felt significantly sharper, more eager and generally more fun to drive than their 2011 ancestors.


The entire driving experience made this driver wonder where would we be "automotively" around the world if so much money, time and effort hadn’t been poured into electric cars most drivers don’t want and hybrids and many more can’t afford. If more auto manufacturers had looked first to the Mazda model of building cleaner, more fuel efficient cars that also performed well, the public might’ve embraced “greener” cars much more willingly.