SkyActiv ups the efficiency of Mazdas
Last year, Mazda introduced its new SkyActiv technology. So what exactly is that? According to the company, it’s a complete nuts-and-bolts re-evaluation of the automobile as we know it, from stem to stern, and a new approach to engine management, suspension, steering, lightweight body construction, ergonomics, and performance. According to Mazda Canada executive vice-president Kory Koreeda, at least 80 percent of his company’s products will feature SkyActiv technology within about four years.
The first model out of the gate is the CX-5. Picking up where the Tribute left off, the CX-5 features its own platform and power train and is offered with two-wheel or all-wheel drive. There is but one engine choice: a 2.0-litre four-cylinder that develops 155 horsepower, and it features the highest compression ratio—13:1—in the industry for a gasoline-powered engine. It’s been designed with a view to efficiency, rather than performance.
One of the minor but important things Mazda engineers had to contend with to heighten the efficiency of this engine was move the air conditioner. Because one of the most important ingredients of a free-breathing engine is found in its exhaust system, Mazda designed a serpentine exhaust header that takes up a good deal of the engine bay. The A/C compressor had to be moved to accommodate it, and the catalytic converter for the car is actually housed within the exhaust header and not somewhere along the exhaust pipe. As well, the new SkyActiv engine has a plastic water pump impeller, as opposed to the traditional metal blades, to save weight and move engine coolant around more thoroughly, and lightweight Torx bolts everywhere, rather than the conventional hex nuts.
Two transmissions are available with the new CX-5: a six-speed manual and a six-speed automatic, and the AWD system is a purported 39 kilograms lighter than the one found in the CX-7.
Other engineering highlights include electric power steering taken from the RX-8, repositioned and redesigned rear suspension links, and an all-new body style. Mazda is calling this latter design a “leaping forward” concept, and the idea is to make the CX-5 appear more upscale. It still has a rather unnecessary side body seam, but at least the heavy-metal, happy-face, front-grille treatment is gone.
So how does all this come together? Aside from a bit of a power shortage, rather well, actually. I’ve had the chance to put plenty of kilometres on this particular test car, and also had the opportunity to take it around an autocross course. Time after time, the CX-5 exhibited one of the trademark signs of a good suspension setup: during tight high-speed corners, the right or left rear wheel would come off the ground without causing the vehicle to spin out of control off the track. Usually, this kind of manoeuvre results in an immediate loss of control, but not here. Nice.
I’d have to stick my neck out and say that this may be the best-handling compact SUV/CUV on the market. Certainly, it’s equal to the likes of the Volkswagen Tiguan or Audi Q5, and it’s remarkably precise and stable through the tightest of turns.
As well, the CX-5 is impressively quiet on the highway, with excellent NVH (noise, vibration, harshness) and minimal wind noise. I’d like it better if there was a bit more oomph in this engine, because when you reach for reserve power when overtaking an 18-wheeler or RV, well, there isn’t any. The new SkyActiv engine may deliver outstanding fuel economy—7.8 litres per 100 kilometres in town and 5.7 on the highway—but a powerhouse it ain’t.
The CX-5 is available now and comes in three trim levels: GX, GS, and GT. Standard equipment includes a traction control system, ABS, cruise control, push-button start, tilt/telescoping steering, steering-wheel-mounted controls, and a hill start assist program. As you climb through the model range, you can order things like a leather interior, heated front seats, a back-up camera, a navi system, and a power glass sunroof.
The compact SUV/CUV market is a big one in Canada. By 2015, over 300,000 units a year will be moved out of Canadian show rooms, and Mazda’s current SUV models—the CX-7 and CX-9—have doubled their sales volumes since 2010. The CX-5 will no doubt get its share of this market, and it’s a big step forward from its predecessor, the Tribute.