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SkyActiv challenges EV's future

So far, the company has shunned battery power. Instead, it focuses on making internal combustion efficient and effective, through a combination of powertrain engineering and vehicle design that it calls SkyActiv technology.

  • Mazda6

Funny thing about me and Mazda.

So far, the company has shunned battery power. Instead, it focuses on making internal combustion efficient and effective, through a combination of powertrain engineering and vehicle design that it calls SkyActiv technology.

Yet, purely by coincidence, both times I?ve booked test vehicles from Mazda, I?ve driven them straight into EV-land.

First, I took a 2013 CX-5 compact crossover to the Argonne National Research Laboratory, near Chicago, where scientists strive to improve batteries.

More recently, I piloted a 2014 Mazda6 midsize sedan to Novi, Mich., about 30 km west of Detroit, to attend a massive EV and battery trade show.

Despite the amazing work underway at Argonne, and the enthusiasm of the Novi show, both trips served to reveal how difficult it will be for EVs to supplant internal combustion for the foreseeable future ? that is, if the gasoline burners are as good as Mazda?s offerings.

Mazda developed SkyActiv from a clean sheet, with every component ? engine, transmission, suspension, platform and body ? integrated to improve fuel efficiency and performance.

Its heart is a 2.5-litre, 4-cylinder engine with a sophisticated direct-injection system, reconfigured combustion chamber and long exhaust manifold to accommodate a high, 13:1 compression ratio.

The technology also includes a revamped six-speed transmission, light weighting and improved aerodynamics.

The Mazda6 is receiving glowing reviews, which my test supported. The car isn’t that fast, but feels enjoyably spirited: Sure-footed, agile, plenty of power, quick, precise steering, sleek style and high-quality materials.

With this comes fuel consumption refreshingly close to the advertised figures.

As is becoming the norm, the automatic transmission is more efficient than the manual. In standard configuration, the manual burns 5.3 L/100 km on the highway and 8.1 in the city. The comparable numbers for the automatic are 5.1 and 7.6.

Add a feature called i-ELOOP to the automatic and the figures drop to 4.9 highway and 7.2 city, making the Mazda6 the most fuel-efficient of all non-electrified mid-size sedans.

The i-ELOOP system captures energy from deceleration. Unlike other regeneration systems, it sends the juice to a capacitor, not a battery.

In essence, batteries store chemical energy and must convert it to electricity. Capacitors store electric energy, with no conversion required, letting them accept and release it more efficiently.

In Mazda?s design, the additional juice helps power the air-conditioner, heater and other electrical gadgets ? work otherwise done by the engine.

The Mazda6 comes in three models: GX, GS and GT. My car, a GT with i-ELOOP, scored 4.9 L/100 km on Highway 401 when I set the cruise control at 95 km/h.

Fuel use jumped to 5.1 L/100 km when I set the cruise at 100, 5.3 at 110, and 6.1 at 120. Overall, adding city and aggressive driving, fuel consumption averaged 7.3.

That?s pretty good, which leads to my main beef about the Mazda6: i-ELOOP is, for now, available only on the GT with a technology package, and a $35,295 price tag ? well above the $24,495 for the base GX.

Why not make it available on lesser models, so buyers with slimmer wallets can save gas and cut emissions?

Mazda?s explanation: ?i-ELOOP was introduced in the Technology Package ? to showcase this new technology. But, like other new features that used to be exclusive to higher trim levels, it will eventually trickle down to lower trim levels and other Mazda vehicles.?

Soon, please.

Another beef, shared with Natural Resources Canada: Fuel-saving stop-start technology isn?t available because, the company says, the official test ?does not emphasize the full benefits,? which means, ?it is difficult to justify the cost ? to consumers.?

Although the tests must be changed, this flaw hasn?t stopped other manufacturers from installing stop-start.

Mazda is making life tougher for EVs. It could do even better.

The vehicle tested by freelance writer Peter Gorrie was provided by the manufacturer. Email: wheels@thestar.ca

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