2010 Mazda Mazda6Enlarge Photo
While Mazda prepares to unveil its new CX-5 crossover and launch its new SkyActiv engine and transmission technology, it's also quietly developing a hybrid model as well.
In March 2010, Japan's small but scrappy maker of "Zoom Zoom" cars signed a deal to license Toyota's Hybrid Synergy Drive technology, which Toyota is also licensing to Subaru as well.
Mazda briefly offered hybrid versions of the Tribute crossover it sells only in North America--essentially a redesigned Ford Escape--but the company sold only 661 hybrid Tributes from 2007 through 2010.
The new hybrid will be offered in Mazda's Mazda6 mid-size sedan, as either a 2013 or 2014 model, competing against the Ford Fusion Hybrid, Hyundai Sonata Hybrid, Kia Optima Hybrid, and Toyota Camry Hybrid.
Last week, both InsideLine and Car and Driver published spy photos of a Mazda6 development mule being tested on public roads, traveling together with a Toyota Prius hybrid hatchback.
2011 Toyota PriusEnlarge Photo
The Mazda6's gear-shift had been modified to work on the Prius pattern, and the car was also fitted with a trio of Eco / Power / EV mode buttons, as a Prius is.
As an adaptation of an existing sedan, however the hybrid Mazda isn't likely to approach the gas mileage of the 2011 Toyota Prius, which is rated at 51 mpg city, 48 mpg highway, for a best-in-the-country rating of 50 mpg combined.
A more likely comparison might be the 2011 Ford Fusion Hybrid, which the EPA rates at 41 mpg city, 36 mpg highway, and 39 mpg combined. We don't yet know the fuel economy ratings for Toyota's own new 2012 Camry Hybrid, but we'd expect them to be higher than the 2011 model's 31 mpg city, 35 mpg highway, and combined 33 mpg.
Mazda SKYACTIV-G 1.3 direct-injection gasoline engineEnlarge Photo
The hybrid isn't Mazda's main focus in improving gas mileage, though. The company's SkyActiv gasoline engines, it says, will return the fuel efficiency of today's clean diesels. The first car to feature the SkyActiv-G gasoline engine will be the 2012 Mazda3 compact.
Mazda even predicted that SkyActiv technology would allow the next generation of their Mazda2 subcompact to return 70 mpg.
And its new SkyActiv clean diesels, which will be offered in the U.S. in at least one model, should match the gas mileage of today's hybrid-electric vehicles--which is to say, 40 miles per gallon or better in compact and midsize vehicles