Wednesday, September 14, 2011

It's what's on the inside that counts

As you may remember many months ago I expressed my distaste with the Mazda 3’s smiley grille. It’s the chink in Mazda’s styling and it prevents me from calling their cars beautiful. Before their designs were boring, and now they're just crazy. Okay, so this is all superficial.

The Mazda3 will be the first car to employ Skyactiv Technology in the Fall
It’s the inside that counts. Right? Well, yes and I can tell you that Mazda is on its way to creating some truly beautiful hearts in their cars. I say this because of their new Skyactiv technology. With it Mazda has revamped every integral internal part of their cars, the parts you can’t see. This includes new engines, suspension, chassis, and transmissions.

Their mindset and goal was to defy convention.

Perhaps the most notable of these technologies is their new diesel and gas engines. The engineers’ goal was to find ideal combustion. And what they did was hike the compression ratio of the gasoline engine to 13:1 while managing knock and allowing us North American’s to use Regular fuel. Europeans get a 14:1 compression ratio which is the highest in any production engine. Their diesel takes the same approach with a 14:1 compression ratio which is the lowest of any production engine. 

I had a chance to test drive both engines. But what impressed me most was the diesel engine. Usually diesels are slow and unresponsive but this 2.2 litre was as eager as any gasoline engine. I genuinely couldn’t believe it. I remember stomping on the gas when setting off and not expecting to reach the 5200rpm redline so soon. And it’s so torquey that even on the highway the engine just pulled up hills in 6th gear.

Both engines are about 10 percent lighter. And Mazda claim fuel consumption figures to be up to 40MPG for the gasoline engine on the highway.

Now, I started this piece with aesthetics because it is a surprise to come out of all this new technology. When comparing the new engine parts to the old one, I noticed how much more beautiful each piece was. The cylinder heads were so beautifully machined to control combustion. The rods have these beautiful curves, and the new crankshafts look so much more fit and trim. As if how it looks matters, because it probably looks that way for a reason.

But this beautification extends to almost every other technology. The manual transmission has a new shift mechanism to make shifts short and light. And the automatic has a rethought Torque Converter that has no slip. 

The suspension has been rethought and lightened, with a raised caster angle in the front and a raised rear suspension link to improve ride comfort.

The new frame is stronger and safer. Probably because it also just looks so fluid. The two inner major frame rails gracefully flow their way from one end of the car to the other.

I’m actually impressed with all the innovation that went into the Skyactiv technology. Defying convention they did. Not because of the innovations themselves, but because Mazda like any other manufacturer is trying to improve fuel efficiency and are doing so without sacrificing any of the fun of driving.

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