Model tested:
Mazda 6 SKYACTIV-D prototype. Loaction: Sandown Raceway

Mazda’s technology umbrella for its next generation of cars is called SKYACTIV, only you won’t have to wait long for this cutting edge technology, as it’s coming to a Mazda showroom near you sometime later this year.

SKYACTIV is all about efficiency; efficient engines, efficient transmissions, efficient chassis and efficient car body technology.

But don’t think for one minute that efficiency by SKYACTIV equals ‘dull’ or ‘boring’, because we’ve driven it at Sandown Raceway and it’s anything but dull. In fact, Zoom-Zoom is well and truly alive.

Kiyoshi Fujiwara, Mazda’s Executive Officer for Product Planning and Powertrain Development, told us after rattling off innumerable facts and figures, that the

“most important thing was to make it more fun to drive. That’s harder to measure. It’s something you feel”.

The benchmark car for SKYACTIV engine development, when it came to responsiveness to driver input, was the iconic MX-5. It’s a car that offers race car-like response rates and delivers one of the world’s best ‘behind the wheel’ experiences outside that of a supercar from Italy.

Fujiwara went on to say,

“Oneness between car and driver is our goal. That’s more important to us than absolute power. It’s that response and linearity that make driving fun.”

We couldn’t agree more, Mr Fujiwara.

Mazda’s vision is to make “cars that always excite, look inviting to drive, are fun to drive, and make you want to drive them again”, but at the very same time, delivering a greener footprint on the environment. What that means for drivers is more torque, more power, greater response, and at the same time, the ability to deliver 30 percent better fuel economy by 2015 compared with 2008 consumption levels.

By employing SKYACTIV technology across all new models, Mazda believes it has cracked the code which can provide

“driving pleasure and environmental and safety performance without the slightest compromise”.

It’s a big call, but just to prove that SKYACTIV is not just a blue sky vision, Mazda shipped a Mazda6 Diesel prototype to Sandown Raceway earlier this week, loaded with a full suite of SKYACTIV technology, for some high-speed test drives by the motoring press.

Let’s just say, this is no ordinary Mazda6 Diesel. Blasting down the back straight at 150km/h-plus, it feels more like a Mazda6 MPS than any diesel variant I’ve ever driven. It doesn’t even sound like an oil burner. Once this thing hits 2000rpm and the second-stage of the turbo kicks in, things get a whole lot more urgent as peak torque is reached and stays on song all the way to 4000rpm. This is what SKYACTIV and SKYACTIV-D are all about.

In SKYACTIV-D form, Mazda engineers have broken new technological ground in creating the world’s lowest diesel-engine compression ratio of 14.0:1, which has meant a further and significant weight reduction program has been possible. There’s 25 kilograms from the use of an aluminium cylinder block alone, instead of the more traditional cast iron. Even the cylinder head is three kilos lighter, and the weight of the pistons has been reduced by 25 percent.

Lowering the diesel engine’s compression ratio is truly a breakthrough achievement, as Mazda has effectively solved the two biggest issues that have so far prevented the spread of low compression ratio diesels. The problem with reducing the compression ratio is that the compression temperature is reduced as well thus preventing complete combustion, and, the engine from starting. The low compression temperature and pressure also promotes misfiring during the warm-up stage.

Not only does SKYACTIV D technology eliminate the critical roadblocks to low compression ratio diesels, but it also does so while achieving 20 percent better fuel economy than the current diesel engine. And the story just gets better when it comes to emissions, as SKYACTIV-D is clean enough to comply with the EU Stage 6, US Tier2Bin5 and Japan’s Post New Long-Term Emission Regulations without resorting to expensive NOx treatments, which can trap these particulates and soot emissions.

By far the biggest beneficiaries of SKYACTIV technology will be Mazda drivers, when Mazda executives told the press corps that they believed that vehicles fitted with the technology would be no more expensive than current models.

The results on track with the Mazda6 2.2-litre diesel were extraordinarily good, with so much torque on tap from so low down in the rev range, that accelerating out of corners felt as though there was a larger displacement engine under the bonnet.

SKYACTIV-G is what Mazda’s next generation petrol engines are called, and just like the diesel versions, is a product of breakthrough technology. This is a highly-efficient direct injection 2.0-litre engine with an extremely high compression ratio (14.0:1), that develops 15 percent more low- and mid-range torque than the Mazda’s current 2.0-litre petrol powertrain. Not only that; remarkably, fuel consumption falls 15 percent to around the same rate the current diesel engine uses.

High compression ratio engines are not without their problems, the biggest of which is abnormal combustion or knocking. The normal compression ratio for a petrol engine is anywhere from 9:1 to 12:1. By raising the ratio to 14:1 there is a greater thermal efficiency. When knocking occurs in petrol engines, the side effect is significant drop in torque, and this factor more than any other has meant high compression ratio engines have not been developed for mass production.

SKYACTIV technology has effectively dealt with the knocking caused by high temperatures and compression by redesigning the exhaust system to create a ‘4-2-1′ exhaust system, which effectively captures burnt gases, a design not too dissimilar to the systems used on Formula One cars.

The big surprise driving the SKYACTIV-D on the racetrack was how smooth and torquey the car was, when accelerating out of a low speed corner. That’s a product of SKYACTIV-DRIVE; the all-new six-speed automatic transmission, that’s not only quick shifting, but Mazda believes is a product of the best features of all three types of auto boxes; meaning Step Automatic, Continuously Variable (CVT) and Dual clutch (DCT).

While the unit was certainly quick to respond, I doubt the shifts were as quick as those you get when using a DSG transmission from the Volkswagen Group. That’s not a problem, as SKYACTIV-DRIVE is a more holistic approach to transmissions, so it’s a lot smoother than a DSG transmission at low speeds, where they can be rather jittery in stop/start traffic conditions. It’s also exceptionally quiet too; there’s no mechanical noises whatsoever between shifts, and let’s not forget, the car we drove was very much a prototype as you can see by all the cladding on the panel skins.

The key difference with SKYACTIV-DRIVE is that this six-speed transmission is ‘locked’ up 90 percent of the time in everyday driving conditions, whereas a traditional automatic is locked up only 50 percent of the time, causing slippage. The difference is considerable, as SKYACTIV-DRIVE offers significantly better throttle response than current Mazda6 automatic we drove back-to-back on the same circuit. The other benefit is a four to seven percent fuel efficiency gain due to the virtual elimination of slippage between shifts.

Although markets such as the United States, Japan and Australia are dominated by automatic transmissions, Europe remains very much a manual market, especially in the small to medium car segments. To cater for this position, Mazda has developed two versions of SKYACTIV-MT manual transmissions for large and mid-size cars. While we didn’t get to experience the ‘MT’ gearbox, drivers can expect a light and crisp shift feel with short shift stroke, not unlike that of an MX-5.

In order to achieve such sharp characteristics, Mazda engineers have reduced the weight of the new gearbox by 16 percent. The transmission uses a triple-shafted gear train for the ‘large’ version, which allows for a common gear for 2nd and 3rd gear ratios. This has meant a 20 percent shortening of the secondary shaft.

It’s a complex system in theory; suffice to say that the number of components and the weight of the gear train has been reduced by three kilograms.

As much work that has gone into SKYACTIV engines has also been applied to weight reduction and strength of the body and chassis, and those remarkable effects of SKYACTIV-Body and SKYACTIV-Chassis were more than evident and clearly demonstrated through the tighter sections at Sandown, where the prototype Mazda6 felt immediately lighter and considerably more agile than the current model cars.

It’s more than weight, but certainly, that’s a big part of the SKYACTIV program. It’s not that the Mazda 6 (at between 1455kg and 1597kg, roughly), is a heavy car when compared with others in the same class, it’s just that with the application of this technology, the overall weight of the prototype was around 130kg lighter when compared with the current model weight. And this is still just a prototype.

The story gets better, too. Even though the weight of the body has been reduced, rigidity is up by 30 percent through the use of more high-tensile steel in the construction process. Again, you can feel increase in stiffness on track, as the car is able to carry a lot more speed through the corners than the current model, and it does so quite effortlessly.

There are more spot welds, thinner gauge steel, but stronger framework has been applied for not only a lighter and stronger body but for an altogether safer body through multi-load paths. And there are likely to be further weight reductions under the SKYACTIV regime, as Mazda engineers are quick to point out that many car companies are using up to 60 percent high tensile steel, whereas they are using just 40 percent of the lighter gauge metal.

Big reductions have also been made with the chassis, too, with no less than a 14 percent drop in weight over the current model. The front and rear suspension systems and the electric power steering unit have all been newly developed to provide that “oneness between car and driver”. After our relatively brief albeit focused test laps, you’d have to say that Mazda has achieved its ultimate goal of a more rewarding driving experience, but at the same time providing better fuel efficiency and a greener footprint.

Mazda Australia has said that SKYACTIV technology will be seen in production cars later this year, although that will most likely be SKYACTIV engines and transmissions to begin with, while the full suite of the technology will be introduced on new models further down the track.

  • Jeremy

    “It’s also exceptionally quite too” – you mean “quiet”.

    It’s awesome Mazda is investing so much in technology to improve performance and efficiency. They seem to go above and beyond most manufacturers which simply aim to be compliant with each stage of emission control tightening.
    Hopefully we will see some of this tech in the dealers this year.

    • Anthony Crawford

      Thanks for the typo pick up Jeremy.

  • Baji

    I cant help but feel excited about whats to come from mazda. While everyone seems to be jumping on the ev/hybrid bandwagon, mazdas gone the complete opposite way and it looks like their hard work might pay off. Zoom zoom is lookin far from dead.

  • Shak

    Mazda seem to have performed Voodoo to come up with their SkyActive range of technologies. They have pretty much achieved the Holy grail engineers hope for when they design a new car. Lighter, more powerful, faster, more efficient, better to drive, and cheaper. They also seem to have solved some big issues present in the modern diesel and petrol ICE. Simply put, they have literally Zoom-Zoomed ahead of the competition.

  • Techie

    I still dont get what Skyactive is? Not knocking it or anything, but all car-makers are about constantly improving their cars by being lighter, more powerful and more efficent. And all car-makers are looking at compression in their new range of engines. I mean there is no new technology that I can see being utilised, they seem to be just showing a prototype which incoporates long-running engineering improvements.

    Please correct me if Im missing something, Im very curious about this Skyactive branding.

    • Shak

      Thats the whole point. Mazda dont have to use ‘twincharging’ or DCT’s to achieve outstanding results. Mazda realised that you can get equal if not better results than competitors by trying to fix the inherent flaws of existing ICE’s and torque converters. Its pretty much fixing what aint really broke.

    • Anthony Crawford

      While other manufacturer’s might be looking at high compression petrol and low compression diesel engines – none to date, besides Mazda, appear to have been able to solve the key problems I have outlined in my article. It’s all very well to look at various efficiency measures, but another thing to be bringing this technology out this year, and without additional costs to the buyer above and beyond normal pricing increases that may or may not occur.

    • Ron

      Why it have to have such a adjective as the theme….if not gimmicks? Like naming the new 350zx Nissan. ‘ Jetspeed ‘ ….gross…rite?
      the main player stick to tradition and did all improvement without need of overemphasizing it….

      Very good…high compression ratio? Not that other manufacturer can’t make it…. But thinking about the longevity of the internal parts…it’s not really worth it, at least mathematically…

      Weight reduction?? It still weight almost 100kg more than the fully armed ASX4
      And many others…

  • Shak

    One thing to also remember though before we get all excited is that Mazda may not be able to offer the full 14.1 compression ratio in Oz, due to the fact that our standard fuel is of lower quality when compared to other markets. Either that or they will have stipulate that 95 RON is the lowest quality usable.

    • Tony

      You can buy 95RON Diesel? Wow :p

      • Shak

        Read the article again, both engines have a 14.1 compression ratio.

        • themarvel

          @Anthony Crawford:
          Please correct me if I’m wrong – but Mazada’s whole point of these new engines is to achieve this without any changes to the fuels used.
          So the Sky-D and Sky-G engines will run on “regular” fuels (diesel and ULP respectively). That is the “genius” of these engines – that the high-compression petrol doesn’t need high-octane fuel as it eliminates the problems using other methods.
          The rest of the Sky-marketing is around new transmission and lighter chassis-body. So it will be am “all-new” car (or series of cars) but the big technology news is really the engines.

  • Jimmy

    This is great, well done Mazda. As the industry evolves, consumers will expect this kind of engineering as the norm in years to come.

  • Toyota Guru

    Awesome write-up CA. Great to see this stuff in action, can’t wait for it to get here. Any Mazda diesel auto will sell like hotcakes, surely.

  • Who Knew

    This sounds great and it will be particularly interesting when the smaller capacity engines are applied to the Mazda2. The fuel economy promised is fantastic.

    My only negative is that I hope Mazda learn that pop-rivets aren’t a good look in this day. In this case, they should go back to their previous body building methods.

  • Richard

    We haven’t seen a production released with ANY of this technology.

    Perhaps we should wait to see what its like when released in a production car.

    Mazda have a habit of telling little fibs pre-release.

    • asin

      Its called marketing and all companies do it… so whats your point…

      • richard

        How many companies spruke a model thats not due to be released for 18 months

        The fibs I talk about are the little white lies Mazda tells about the weight of upcoming models. The mX5, Mazda 2, and current Mazda 6. All were rumoured (spread my Mazda) to be lighter. Lo and behold when released there was no weight decrease.

        Mazda says they new Mazda 6 with be 140kg lighter thasn the current DIESEL Mazda 6. Well that would be hard as the current MAzda 6 diesel is a porker. A huge weigh increase over the petrol model.

        So, beware companies spruking how wonderful they are… they always dissappoint when it comes to the crunch :)

        • Devil’s Advocate

          Richard, you may want to get your facts straight with that statement or more correctly put it into perspecitve/context. The Mazda press releases you are talking about with the current Mazda6 re: weight stated that “the body in white” was lighter than the previous version. What this means is that the main structure/body was lighter. You would also have found that many of the European models of the Mazda6 you are talking about were between 50-100kg lighter than the equivalent previous model. The main reason why the Australian models didn’t change much was because Mazda added extra standard equipment which of course adds weight. If the previous model had the same standard equipment fit you would have found it would have been indeed lighter. Not a bad effort for a larger, stronger, safer car. It is akin to Holden releasing the VE Commodore with all it’s extra equipment/safety/size etc at the same weight as the VZ and not around 130kg+ heavier.

          Plus I would also say that Mazda are one of the few mainstream companies of late who have released cars that have been stronger, safer, larger (except Mazda2 size), with more standard equipment, yet has been lighter or no heavier than the previous model and that is across their passenger car range.
          Now you can’t deny the fact that even though the current MX5 is a little heavier (a few kgs), they have done a fantastic job getting it as light as they have considering how much safer, larger and more equipped the car is to the earlier versions…

    • Devil’s Advocate

      But the biggest difference Richard is that Mazda have openly allowed the press to drive a development mule with this technology warts and all. On top of that providing a current production model for comparison. That is an extremely big gamble and one not many other companies make with such a technological change to their normal line up. You could say it is actually the opposite to what you are saying and it is really a case of Mazda putting their money where their mouth is as it can only get better from here with quite few more months and thousands of kms development time/refinements to come…

  • Technofreak

    Love Mazda for doing stuff like this.
    Thanks for the write up 😉

  • m2m

    Once again, bettering it’s product lines and will surely swing over a few more buyers when released! If previous upgrades are any guidance then hopefully refinement keeps improving also!

    Can’t wait to see how the new 2 goes when it’s out. There isn’t much case to buy it over its Fiesta twin at the moment.

  • JML

    *Drools over the thought of a 900Kg MX-5.*

  • gneral

    There are plenty of low compression diesels around in the generator business.
    The principal disadvantage is lower power.

    Seems like Mazda is simply using the turbocharger to compress the charge, so they can use a common cylinder block to save manufacturing costs.

    Knocking on high compression engines is dealt with by improving gas flow with variable valve timing and variable length manifolds, among other ways.
    This has already been done by GM, Mitsubishi/Hyundai/Chrysler and many other manufacturers, Mazda is simply catching up toi evryone else.
    The DI injection Mazda3 puts out 119kW, less than the manifold injection GEMA engine that’s been around for ages.

    At the end of the day, its just a Camry made in Hiroshima.

    • Devil’s Advocate

      Don’t forget gneral that diesel generators only run at a fixed RPM. This allows the engine to be specifically designed to be efficent at that particular RPM, which is fairly easy to design. You would also find those generators only have a VERY narrow power/torque band. A car engine on the other hand has to be able to perform over a much wider RPM range which is much more difficult to achieve.

      Hopefully after that comment your axe is sharp enough for you now!

  • Kris

    Mazda are surely onto a winner here with what will be class-leading engines, top-notch transmissions and vehicles that will continue to deliver good handling and safety. I can only guess at how popular the turbo-diesel/auto transmission combo will be in the next gen Mazda 6 and CX-7/CX-5.

  • Nick K

    Mazda… This impressive… My plans for new cars now include Mazda. I will finally be able to buy Japanese reliability, good looks, and diesel autos! Subaru and Toyota take notice Mazda has your measure.

  • http://Audi Robj

    Yes Mazda, thats what we want. Advanced, not boring. No hybrids. Dynamic to drive. Thats everything the others are not. Esp Toyota, Kia/Hyundai etc yawn…

    • Devil’s Advocate

      Unfortunately there will be Mazda hybrids using technology borrowed from Toyota under a license agreement.

  • davie

    In unrelated news, Subaru now have a brand new design of engine “FB” in the new 2011 forester.

    This new boxer engine is so advanced that it generates exactly the same power and torque as the old design. To demonstrate how advanced the technology is, Subaru has teamed the engine with Subaru’s amazingly “advanced” 4 speed auto…

  • Col

    Gneral, were you dropped at birth?

    • Yonny

      Not dropped, thrown.

  • aLLaNNa1

    SKYACTIV this and that….sounds like judgement day is coming

  • ozmazda

    Zoom Zoom Mazda….

  • Hung Low

    The only manufacturer to persist and refine the wankel engine successfully where others have given up or failed, states that they have genuine talent and innovation on board.
    14:1 compression on both petrol and diesel is an amazing feat, anyone can bolt on a turbo, direct injection and make inherently outdated engines look good…hint hint VW!

    • MattW

      Friends of mine have a RX-8, I wouldn’t call the engine a success. Yeh it sounds… “different”… when you rev the crap out of it (which you need to cause it has no torque) but then it sucks down dinojuice like a fleet of Humvees.

      On the other hand, the SKYACTIV tech sounds the goods already, and still some time for more improvment before its added to new models

      • Hung Low

        Yes mate you have revealed the characteristics of a Wankel engine, lack of low rpm torque, high fuel consumption and oil consumption. They are engines for enthusiast only, hence why Mazda now only dedicates them to sports cars, unlike 40 years ago where they were used in buses etc.
        Talking about history, see how far the Wankel engine has come thanks to Mazda.
        On the positive having owned, rebuilt and raced a RX3 & RX2 circuit cars in the cars in the past. Wankels come to their own on a race circuit or when pushed, linear (2-stroke like) power delivery, very high rev limit 13000rpm on my Peripheral Ported RX3 and ultra smooth engines and will outlast many piston engines under racing conditions.

        A lesson on the Wankel engine’s history and Mazda’s development and success where other’s including Mercedes Benz have failed would go a long way for you before mouthing off!
        Look out for the new 16X next generation rotary engine soon, it follows a similar principle to the new Sky range of engines!

        • Devil’s Advocate

          I agree with you Hung Low. People go on ad nauseum about the “lack of reliability” of a rotary. Many of these people/owners do not understand enough about them and treat them like a normal piston engine which is their first mistake. Treat them properly and they can be quite durable. The biggest mistake people make with them is that they don’t let them warm up properly before driving them hard and letting them cool properly before turning them off. As Hung Low said, they are an enthusiast’s engine and must be treated as such.

          I remember many interviews with the drivers/teams of the ATCC Mazda RX7s back in the early 80s, like Moffat and the late, great Gregg Hansford (who IMHO was one of the most under-rated rider/drivers in this country) for example and the common theme from them was that they were so much more reliable as a race car than their previous cars. All they did basically was change all the fluids after a race meeting, give it a good clean and pack them away for the next race! Mazda rotaries also hold the record** at Le Mans 24hr for reliability in terms of the percentage of most races finished of the many years they raced there over the 70s-90s.

          **IIRC Honda entered one year where the percentage finished was higher than Mazda’s, but only 1 year in the race does not offer a decent sample to gauge consistency.

  • Mr Plow

    So with the promise of more power, torque, better fuel consumption and to be “no more expensive than current models”, why on earth would anyone buy a current Mazda?

    Seriously, I’m in the market for a new car and this type of story basically says to me if I buy a current Mazda it’s going to be seriously outdated rather soon.

    Hint to Mazda. Get the SKY tech into cars and into showrooms quickly.

    • Eric

      Cars are like computers the one you buy has been outdated by the one they are building.


  • carl

    Good work Mazda!! This is now the only Japanese brand which has DCT transmission with Diesel and petrol engine with much less fuel consumption. It ditches the transitional technology of hybrid while the industry is transitioning to electric cars.

    • HP

      It’s not actually a DCT, just a highly efficient conventional auto which locks up more than most torque converter autos to give higher efficiency.

  • Robin Graves

    Smells a bit fishy to me. Wankel, antkinson cycle, kinda gimmicky with more negatives than positives. 14:1 for both petrol and diesel? Mega boost, white smoke and missing when cold? Must have some space age glow plugs. The petrol won’t like hot weather or bad fuel. I’m not convinced. Enthusiast engine means you need to be mates with a tow truck driver, need large tool kit and can’t let the missus drive it. I’ll believe it when I see it.

    • Robin Graves

      Sorry, meant miller cycle not atkinson

  • Kanov

    So i guess in the next few years, in terms of engine development for mainstream cars, it’s gonna be vw group vs mazda then…and we, customers are going to be the winner. If i have the money to buy one…haha

  • Daniel

    Indeed it is looking a touch like VW vs Mazda. For me I’ll take the Mazda route. I’ve driven a few of each of these companies models and the Mazda is simply a better car. Might not have a better interior or badge but they are definitely a superior car. The VW products with small turbos and CVT/DSG have lots of torque but a non-linear throttle and axle tramp like crazy in the wet. Apart from these unwanted sensations they drive like a video game with remote steering and 7 or 8 speeds. Mazda 3 on the other hand feels like a well made car with feel (and this is the current model without Skyactiv). Not to mention the repair and on-going mid-life service costs of DSG equipped cars and small capacity turbo engines.
    These two brands signify the difference in engineering philosophy between the cultures of Germany and Japan. Germans love to engineer their way around obstacles, while Japanese culture is to consider why the obstacles are their. Unfortunately the success of western culture seems to have created a loss of confidence in Japan and led many in the auto industry to mimic Europe. Mazda seems to be the only company with the balls to continue the Japanese tradition of well executed simple automotive ideas (true quality without the glitz).

    • LotsaKms

      Old posts, even so.. I’ve owned both Skoda (VW platform) & Mazda cars for years (all petrol, sedan-type, front wheel drive),& the Skoda with its 6speed tiptronic is much cheaper to run (fuel consumption & tyre wear with same brand & model tyres, Mazda auto as well), the Skoda has twice the service interval than the Mazda, the Skoda services are 30-40% cheaper to service,& the Skoda didn’t need the discs machining every 10-12,000 Km’s (the disc/pad combo on Skoda is replaced from ~50,000km’s onwards).

  • Barbara

    What does the Sky have to do with technology? technology usually comes from the brain. how can the Sky activate the car????

    • din