Mazda3 zooms along with SKYACTIV technology
By DAVE VAN SICKLE Motor Matters June 7, 2012 3:22PM
2012 MAZDA3 FIVE-DOOR I TOURING
ENGINE: 155-horsepower SKYACTIV-G 2.0-liter four-cylinder
TRANSMISSION: SKYACTIV-Drive six-speed manual
DRIVETRAIN: front-wheel drive
FUEL ECONOMY: 27 city/38 highway
BASE PRICE: $19,300
AS TESTED: not available
Even though the Mazda3 was redesigned for the 2010 model year, a refreshed 2012 model includes a major improvement that couldn’t wait for the next redesign. It’s the all-new high-efficiency direct-injection SKYACTIV-G 2.0-liter gasoline engine, capable of achieving 40 mpg on the highway as rated by the Environmental Protection Agency.
So, just what is SKYACTIV? According to the folks at Mazda, it’s a word that expresses the phrase “the sky’s the limit.”
SKYACTIV also refers to Mazda’s all-new range of technologies that are aimed at improving the efficiency of the engines, transmissions, bodies and chassis of the next generation of vehicles.
SKYACTIV-G will be the standard engine in all 2012 Mazda3 i Touring and Grand Touring models. Mated to a standard all-new SKYACTIV-MT six-speed manual transmission or optional all-new SKYACTIV-Drive six-speed automatic transmission, i Touring and Grand Touring trims are available in either the sedan or hatchback body styles.
The MZR 2.0-liter engine continues to be available with the current five-speed manual as standard equipment. Mazda3 i Sport models also are available with the current five-speed automatic as an option.
A range of entirely new technologies was used in the direct injection SKYACTIV-G gasoline engine. With two choices for boosting fuel economy, Mazda engineers chose to optimize the compression ratio instead of using turbocharging as most other automakers have done.
Raising the compression ratio in a gasoline engine increases its thermal efficiency, thus improving fuel economy. However, high compression in conventional engines leads to “knocking” and an associated reduction in torque. A redesigned exhaust manifold, specially shaped piston cavities and new multi-hole injectors permitted raising the compression ratio to 13-to-1 without knocking, and resulted in a substantial 15 percent increase in torque over Mazda’s current 2.0-liter MZR gasoline engine.
Mazda managed to minimize pumping loss by using continuously variable dual sequential valve timing on the intake and exhaust valves. This changes the opening and closing timing of the valves, enabling the air intake quantity to be controlled by the valves rather than the throttle.
With 20 percent lighter pistons, 15 percent lighter connecting rods and a 30 percent reduction to internal engine friction compared to the current 2.0-liter MZR engine, the new SKYACTIV-G engine adapts faster to load changes and fuel economy is improved by 15 percent compared to the current engine. The SKYACTIV technology delivers 155 horsepower at 6,000 rpm and 148 pound-feet of torque at 4,100 rpm.
The heart of SKYACTIV-Drive six-speed automatic transmission is a newly developed six-speed torque converter with a full range modulated lock-up clutch for all six gears. The early lock-up between engine and transmission by the torque converter reduces the characteristic loss of power during acceleration.
Mazda also has a redeveloped manual six-speed gearbox that’s smaller, lighter and has less internal friction resistance. By using ball bearings on its shift rails, this new transmission has an even better shift feel than before. Gear changes feel crisp yet with minimal effort.
The 2012 Mazda3 sedan gets an EPA rating of 40 miles per gallon on the highway when equipped with the SKYACTIV-G 2.0-liter engine and optional SKYACTIV-Drive six-speed automatic transmission. Best of all, performance isn’t sacrificed in order to achieve that kind of fuel economy. Acceleration is satisfying with either transmission, but the smooth-shifting manual is more fun to drive.
Also new is the electro-hydraulic power assist steering system. Mazda’s EHPAS system employs a new setting for pump flow characteristics that enables easier handling at slow speeds while also offering more positive feedback and a better feeling for the road at midrange through to high speeds.
Mazda3 is Mazda’s best-selling vehicle worldwide and accounts for nearly two-thirds of all Mazdas sold in the United States. Prices range from $15,200 to $23,700. As usual, optional equipment can significantly increase what you pay.
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