Next year's Mazda3 models will deliver fuel efficiency gains over their 2011 counterparts, the company said today, as it unveiled refreshed versions of its popular compact hatchback and sedan, to go on sale later this fall.

The 2012 Mazda3 will offer as an option what Mazda now calls the SkyActiv-G engine and SkyActiv-Drive automatic transmission. The company provided few details or specifications--it didn't even give the displacement of the engine in question--and did not cite any fuel consumption data.

The new engine cuts fuel use and emissions thanks to direct injection and other tweaks that optimize the combustion cycle, including a remarkably high combustion ratio of 14:1. The transmission comes into the picture to utilize the higher torque at lower rpms produced by the engine.

Other tweaks to the revised 2012 Mazda 3 include redesigned front and rear fascias (the front "smile" is a little less rictus-like), a new grille, and restyled 16- and 17-inch alloy wheel options.

Mazda SKYACTIV technologies

Mazda SKYACTIV technologies

High-efficiency gasoline and diesel powertrains

Mazda has discussed its new line of far more efficient gasoline and diesel engines since 2009. Its new generation of powertrains includes two new engines and an advanced automatic transmission.

Previously grouped under the name of ‘Sky’ technologies, they rely on existing technologies such as direct injection, reduced friction, and optimal air-fuel mixes to provide substantial gains in fuel efficiency by generating higher torque at lower engine speeds. This is sometimes called "downspeeding."

Last August, the company said it expected the new powertrains to match the fuel economy of hybrid-electric vehicles in certain models without the added costs and complexities of the hybrid system.

Mazda has said it expects to improve its overall fuel efficiency by 30 percent in 2015 models compared to the 2008 levels. The new engine and transmission will be the first step, with start-stop technologies, regenerative braking, and hybrid systems to be added in due course.

The company will license hybrid technology from Toyota, but only for certain models where it feels the cost of battery packs, electric motors, and power electronics can be justified. Using its ultra-efficient engines in combination with hybrid hardware, however, could give it some of the most economical vehicles in the market.

2011 Mazda3

2011 Mazda3

More models to come

The remodeled 2012 Mazda3 is just the start of a several-year rollout of the new efficient powertrains in most Mazda models, usually when they are redesigned.

The next full redesign of the Mazda3, scheduled to launch around 2015,  will feature a 2.0-liter SKY-G engine matched to a Sky-Drive six-speed automatic transmission that should return upwards of 40 mph on the highway, according to iyoshi Fujiwara, Mazda's head of product planning and powertrain development.

The same SkyActiv-G engine will also be used in the next generation of its subcompact Mazda2, which the company claims will return 70 miles per gallon. That car could debut in Japan as early as this year for deliveries in 2012, with a U.S. version potentially lagging by a year or so.

It is also considering whether to bring the SkyActiv-D line of diesel engines to the U.S., perhaps in the next Mazda6.



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