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Forget hybrids: Mazda’s not giving up on gas

It’s common for automakers to give labels to their more fuel-efficientofferings, whether that efficiency is real or perceived. It’s marketingand sales at its finest.

It’s common for automakers to give labels to their more fuel-efficient offerings, whether that efficiency is real or perceived. It’s marketing and sales at its finest.

There’s Ford’s EcoBoost line of engines as well as Chevrolet’s Ecotec and eAssist. And of course there’s Toyota’s Hybrid Synergy Drive electric/gas system.

Mazda, however, has taken the name game one step further by branding a whole car with its new “Skyactiv” magic wand.

The rationale behind this approach is straightforward. Mazda thinks traditional gasoline and diesel engines will remain the most popular form of automotive propulsion for the next few years. It therefore makes sense to continue refining those powerplants to be more efficient rather than spending millions of dollars on alternative-fuel vehicles, which make up a tiny slice of the pie.

Fair enough, but the reality is that other manufacturers are also refining internal combustion while still finding the resources to explore hybrids and electrics. Just look at the Chevrolet Volt. But what you won’t read elsewhere is that Skyactiv is really a wholesale approach to a better driving experience with a reengineered chassis, transmissions and steering.

Fuel economy is just one aspect.

Fuel miser

The Skyactiv’s performance is achieved from a higher-than-usual 12.0:1 compression ratio. Normally this would necessitate a premium-gasoline diet, but changes to the fuel management and engine design allow it to burn lower-octane — and less expensive — regular fuel.

The Skyactiv’s six-speed automatic is the real fuel miser here with a consumption rating of 7.1 l/100 km city and 4.9 highway.

That’s a major improvement over the 8.7/6.0 rating of the five-speed-automatic/base-2.0 combo.

Peppier ride

A few hundred kilometres of seat time confirms that the nature of the Mazda3 has changed for the better.

Although hardly a rocket ship (check out the 263-horsepower Mazdaspeed3 if that’s your pleasure), the new model drives in a much sportier manner and certainly feels peppier.



Engine


Compared to the standard Mazda3, there’s a revised — as in more aerodynamic — nose and tail. There’s also a new Skyactiv 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine that’s brimming with high-tech tricks.

It produces 155 horsepower and 148 pound-feet of torque. The base non-Skyactiv 2.0-litre engine makes 148 horsepower and 135 pound-feet of torque and is only available in base of the sedan. The optional 167-horsepower 2.5-litre four-cylinder also carries over in both sedan and hatch.

 
 
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