Full Review: the 2012 Mazda 3 SkyActiv Published: March 19, 2012
Mazda is a brand marketed heavily towards the enthusiast crowd. Their commercials ask if your car is inspiring or just an appliance. They claim they build cars for people that care about what they drive, how it drives, and the way it makes the driver feel. In pursuit of Mazda’s “what do you drive?” manifesto, they have often sacrificed fuel economy for driving pleasure. I’ve always given Mazda props for doing this given the current trends automakers are following. This year though, Mazda has introduced a new technology to focus on making their cars more fuel-efficient. They call this technology SkyActiv, and I’ll admit, I’m a little worried hearing that Mazda is going in this direction.
So let us get a bit cerebral and talk about exactly what SkyActiv is. What it’s not is a hybrid platform, and unlike many other manufacturers, Mazda didn’t opt for smaller displacement turbocharged engines. SkyActiv all starts under the hood where you’ll find a big, blue plastic engine cover. Under that cover is a naturally aspirated 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine. This engine is made lighter, it uses newer direct injection technologies – much like Ford and Hyundai – and it takes advantage of a uniquely high compression ratio.
The first big question is has all of this SkyActive stuff worked? Do you get better fuel economy thanks to some engineering voodoo? That answer is, simply, yes. On our second day with the car, we reset all the computers and made a normal highway run in Dallas morning traffic. On that run we averaged 40.9-mpg. That’s 0.9-mpg better than Mazda’s official fuel economy rating. When we left the computers alone for a few days though and really tested out the average economy in the Mazda 3 is when we were really shocked. By day 4 we were still showing a 37.1-mpg rating and we stayed in that ballpark until day 7 where we were really being hard on the car doing video.
So we know the SkyActiv is a little more powerful than the normal Mazda 3; we know it’s a light and stiff chassis; we know it really does equate to better mpg, and we know the interior is still a nice place to be, but the next big question is does it really still have that unique Mazda feel? That is answered simply as well. This is still a fun to drive little car.
I’ll have to admit, I’m completely sold on SkyActiv. It seems that Mazda has found a way to get great fuel economy with none of the normal sacrifices. This isn’t just a great car for the young buyer or the enthusiast, this is a great car for just about anyone!