Auto Review: Mazda touches the sky

By Bill Heald - ReminderNews
Featured Article - posted Thu., Feb. 9, 2012
- Contributed Photo

It seems like only yesterday (but I believe it was actually last week) when I mentioned the interesting world of automobile names, and gave you the pedigree of one in particular – the Toyota Yaris. This week’s test machine doesn’t have a name that is memorable, or even interesting really, but it does have a very significant title for its engine and associated fuel-saving technologies. It’s called SKYACTIV, and it’s an important component in the Mazda3i 5-Door Touring we examine this week.

Basically, this drivetrain is designed to glean excellent fuel efficiency and solid performance out of a highly advanced engine, and combine this with either a specially-tailored 6-speed manual or likewise engineered 5-speed automatic transmission. This, in turn, finds a home in one of the best small car platforms out there, the Mazda3. This popular front-drive has always been fairly frugal, but the inclusion of this latest technology is designed to make it even more so.

The SKYACTIV-G Direct-Injection Inline Four displaces 2 liters and puts out 155 horsepower (5 percent more than the earlier 2-liter engine), and torque is 148 lb.-ft. (up 10 percent). Our test model had the SKYACTIV-MT 6-speed manual transmission, which is extensively re-tuned, resulting in quicker, more exact shifter response and an overall lighter weight compared to the non-SKYACTIV 6-speed manual. Combined with the smooth-revving engine, this drivetrain not only saves fuel, but also makes the car a lot of fun to hustle around, especially on challenging roads. This fun-to-drive quotient is enhanced by a very well-calibrated suspension that gives the 3i great reflexes and super-quick steering response from the Electro-Hydraulic Power Assist Steering (EHPAS) system. The ABS brakes are responsive and easy to modulate, and naturally both Traction and Dynamic Stability Control programs are standard. The overall balance to all these components is impressive for what is, after all, an economy car, and shows you don’t have to sacrifice driving entertainment to get decent mileage.

The interior of the Mazda3i is composed of an interesting blend of styles and materials, and while I wasn’t crazy about the fabric on our tester, the seats were comfortable and supportive.  Controls are arrayed in a system largely unique to Mazda, but they are logical and easy to master. The rear doors aren’t too overly large, but access to the rear seats is decent and room is good for two occupants. When the seats are in use, the cargo area on this 5-door is 17 cubic feet, but if you fold forward the seatbacks, you can haul up to 42.8 cubic feet of treasure (or groceries, if that is a bit more realistic).

The SKYACTIV components from Mazda not only make a fine car better by making it more efficient, it also adds even more refinement to a very reasonably-priced compact.

The 2012 Mazda3i 5-Door Touring with SKYACTIV technology is EPA-rated 27 MPG city/38 highway and has a base price of $18,950. With options, the MSRP came to $20,425.

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