All-new Mazda3 gaining traction

by Kelly Taylor  . Dec 07 2018
Mazda Canada Inc.The newly redesigned Mazda3 will be available in both sedan and hatchback models

Mazda Canada Inc.

The newly redesigned Mazda3 will be available in both sedan and hatchback models

LOS ANGELES — With available all-wheel drive and a gas engine that runs like a diesel, the all-new Mazda3 packs a technological punch into a pair of artful body styles, all while laying another brick in Mazda’s journey to becoming a Japanese premium brand.

Globally, five new engines will be available, including 1.5-, 2.0- and 2.5-litre Skyactive-G gasoline engines, a 1.8-litre diesel and the groundbreaking Skyactiv-X engine.

Mazda is also taking a run at Subaru by offering all-wheel drive for the first time in a compact sedan.

The i-Active All-Wheel-Drive system senses the vertical load on each of the four tires and works in concert with the system Mazda calls G-Vectoring Control to distribute torque as needed.

G-Vectoring Control senses when a steering manoeuvre could use some help from braking a certain wheel, and then brakes that wheel. It makes hard cornering, such as an emergency swerve, more effective.

Unlike with Subaru, all-wheel drive will be an option rather than standard equipment.

As has been Mazda’s practice, the new 3 comes as either a sedan or a hatchback.

Complete details on the Skyactiv-X engine aren’t yet revealed, but in January of this year, Mazda hosted a technology forum at its Irvine, Calif., engineering centre and explained how the engine works in detail.

Essentially, the Skyactiv-X is a gasoline engine that runs, at times, like a diesel. Diesel engines work by using the compression of the fuel-air mixture to create combustion, whereas gas engines typically begin the combustion sequence with a spark plug. The advantage to diesel is fuel economy; the disadvantage to diesel is greater emissions of particulates.

Using compression ignition with gasoline has, until now, been considered almost impossible because the increased volatility of gasoline makes it susceptible to changes in air temperature, humidity and barometric pressure, which makes it difficult to make the combustion event happen at exactly the right time.

Skyactiv-X does both: it runs like a conventional gasoline engine at low speeds and under heavy acceleration, but switches to compression ignition when cruising. That allows the engine to run super lean, with an estimated increase in fuel economy of 20 to 30 per cent. To precisely time the combustion event when in diesel mode, it uses a spark plug to ignite a rich pocket of air-fuel near the spark plug, and the expansion of that pocket then compresses the rest of the air-fuel in the cylinder to the point of combustion.

Compression ignition is more efficient because it causes the entire mixture of air and fuel in the cylinder to combust at the same time, extracting more energy and reducing the amount of unburned fuel escaping in the exhaust.

The 2.5-litre will be the first engine released: it delivers 186 horsepower and 186 pound-feet of torque. The Skyactiv-X, due out later in 2019, will deliver 180 horsepower at 6,000 r.p.m. and 164 pound-feet of torque.

Two transmissions will be available on the Mazda3: a six-speed manual and a six-speed automatic.

Final decisions on vehicle packaging for Canada are pending, but Mazda spokesman Chuck Reimer said to only expect gasoline engines for the Canadian market. Skyactiv-X will be one of them, he said.

It’s a well-worn cliché in automotive marketing hyperbole that a car looks fast standing still. The Mazda3 might be the first car to actually deserve it. By playing with the form of the body panels, Mazda has made it so highlights and shadows almost dance across the car as either it moves or the observer moves around it.

“We set a goal of elevating our design quality to the level of art,” head of global design Ikuo Maeda said. “Having the highlights and shadows moves across the body required precise control of form.”

The two body styles, sedan and hatch, share a common design from the windshield forward, but behind the windshield, everything changes: each style has its own roofline, and the hatchback flares out from the rear side windows down. A hatchback-only colour — polymetal gray — enhances the interplay of light and shadow through its combination of metallic hardness with plastic sheen.

Inside, Mazda’s drive to take on the premium segment — as seen in the CX-9 and CX-5 crossovers and Mazda6 midsize sedan — continues, with a sleek, flowing dash, 8.8-inch display and a revised user-interface that Mazda says makes operating the various systems it controls easier.

kelly.taylor@freepress.mb.ca