Mazda has not embraced hybrid technology as its local competitors have. Instead, it chose the unlikely route to push the envelope of piston technology to unparalleled levels. The result is what the company calls its Skyactiv technology. In a nutshell, the Skyactiv philosophy is based on using lighter bodies, chassis, transmissions, especially gearbox, as well as technology to squeeze a lot of performance out of its engines.
Mazda plunked down serious research money into its a highly optimized piston engine system by raising its thermal efficiency, using a very high compression ratio usually left to racing, direct injection, turbo and less mechanical friction loss than with normal gasoline engines. The trick is in the detail of its intelligent two cycle injection system that combines a low pressure one to cool off the chamber, followed by a high-compression that disperses evenly the gasoline for a more optimize explosion. Even the headers were retooled to handle the high-compression and not create backfires.
It would be hard to rate the Mazda 6 Skyactiv without briefly talking about what Skyactiv is. A common misconception is to think the Skyactiv technology is a hybrid system. It is not, yet it offers similar performance. Think of the best of gasoline, diesel and hybrid systems into one. High compression pistons have been around since gasoline powered cars were raced. It is normal for race cars to sport high compressions, 13:1 to 15:1 and higher, while most road cars are happy with 7:1 and sometimes 10:1 on more modern engines. When you lower compression, you create less stress, however you lower performance. Mazda here achieves a 13:1 compression system, similar to diesel technology in an every day gasoline car without any of the usual backfires and knocking problems.
Turbo charging a gasoline engine is the best way to shove a lot of air in the chambers to raise horsepower. In order to keep emissions and fuel consumption down, it needs to have a direct chamber injection. Most car manufacturers stop here and call it a day, but not Mazda. The company uses a two-stage injection system, giving it the recipe for a lot of performance with little fuel consumption.
The Mazda 6 Skyactiv is a front wheel drive sedan producing 184 HP, with 185 lb-ft of torque, mated to a 6 speed manual steering wheel mounted pad shifter and a brilliant automatic mode. We can’t overstate how great the automatic gearbox is. As enthusiastic journalists, we prefer using the car with its manual transmission, but the Skyactiv The overall EPA estimates a 25/37 mpg is easily achievable if you let the automatic gearbox works so well, we just let do its job. We rarely cheer an automatic gearbox and Mazda’s is an excellent one.
A lot of bang for your buck.
If all of this wasn’t enough to convince you, Mazda throws in an equally interesting energy recuperation system it calls i-ELOOP. What i-ELOOP does is to recover lost energy when braking using ultracapacitors to redeliver electricity back into the car grid, helping power lighting, stereo, etc. All of this comes in at the starting price of $21,675, which means you are getting serious engineering at an affordable price. The Mazda6 Skyactiv tops out at $30,490.
Overall, we found the new Mazda6 Skyactiv to be a wonderful drive, comfortable and very pleasing to the eye, both exterior and interior. This is the ideal car for those of you still on the fence about hybrid and electric motor technology. Mazda achieves many high points. The design is clean and elegant, the interior feels closer to a BMW, Lexus or Audi, but without the sticker price shock. The seats and feel inside is that of a modern look but not cold, and again very elegant. Handling wise, we would have liked a slightly stiffer ride with more road condition communication, but it would be hard to fault it.
We can think of two high notes Mazda achieves here. This is the kind of car you won’t be embarrassed driving important people around that won’t brutalize your gasoline budget. This is the kind of car we would actually own. A high praise from automotive journalists. To think Mazda is continuing to squeeze more performance out of an internal combustion engine (ICE) makes us look forward to more from Mazda.