For the 2012 model year, Mazda
introduces yet another auto-centric phrase into the burgeoning lexicon of motive terms: 'Skyactiv.' Mazda
made it a point to splash Skyactiv throughout its Chicago Auto Show display last month while highlighting the technology in television and web advertising.
But what exactly does Skyactiv mean to the average Chicago-area commuter? Without digging too deeply into the mechanics, picture Skyactiv as higher compression internal combustion gas engine pimping maximum mileage out of a 2.0-liter, four-cylinder powertrain. The compact 2012 Mazda 3
sedan and five-door hatchback are the first Mazda
's in North America to incorporate Skyactiv technology delivering 28 miles per gallon city and impressive 40 mpg highway. More Mazda
models are on tap to share this technology in the 2013
model year. This improved fuel economy addresses an important competitive need since previous model year fuel numbers were not up to speed with a majority of impressive rivals in this important, high-mileage sector. The 155-horsepower, fuel-friendly Skyactiv 2.0-liter is one of three four-cylinder powertrains offered in the 2012 Mazda 3
and the recommended choice if budgets allow.
When debuting in 2003
, Mazda 3
immediately struck a chord with buyers seeking a bit more handling and performance in (at the time) a somewhat tame segment. It was a monumental step forward from the outgoing Mazda
Protégé. A complete second-generation makeover took place in 2010. All Mazda 3
s sport front-wheel-drive. The refreshioned 2012 Mazda 3
does not disappoint. In addition to the impressive new engine, exterior tweaks include a revised front fascia with five-point grille opening. Mazda
offers a dizzying array of combinations for its popular compact, not counting its sly alter ego, the higher-performance, turbocharged 263
(available only in hatchback). Mix and match five transmissions, four trims, three engines, two body styles and a partridge in a pear tree.
Four-door sedans are available in four trims (SV, Sport, Touring, Grand Touring) while five-door hatchbacks remain content with two (Touring, Grand Touring). Only the four-door sedan offers a scaled down, five-speed manual iSV trim with the base 2.0-liter engine (148 horsepower) starting at a scaled down $15,200 price. Rounding out sedan combos are the iSport, iTouring, iGrand Touring, sTouring and sGrand Touring. Five-door hatches offer iTouring, iGrand Touring sTouring and SGrand Touring. The small letter i signifies either one of the 2.0-liter engines are under hood while s indicates the 2.5-liter, 167 horsepower four cylinder supplies the punch. While recalling all the trim combos may cause brain cramps, option packages from the factory are few. A moon roof/advanced audio system is optional in iTouring sedan and iTouring hatchback while Tech package is optional in all Grand Touring trims (and our tester).
Sedan speaking, the mid-level Mazda 3
iSport offers an optional five-speed automatic transmission in addition to the standard five-speed manual working in tandem with the base, 2.0-liter 148 horsepower four cylinder. The iTouring and iGrand Touring trims feature the new-to-Mazda
Skyactiv 2.0-liter 155 horsepower engine connected to either a six-speed manual or six-speed automatic transmission. Mazda3
sTouring and Mazda3
sGrand Touring include the 2.5-liter four-cylinder connected to a six-speed manual or five-speed automatic transmission.
Five-door versions by-pass the base 2.0-liter engine altogether, offering only the more advanced Skyactiv 2.0-liter in the Mazda3
iTouring and Mazda3
iGrand Touring trims with six-speed manual or six-speed automatic. The 2.5-liter four cylinder is standard in the Mazda 3
sTouring and Mazda3
sGrand Touring with the choice of six-speed manual or five-speed automatic.
No matter what engine is selected, the fuel tank holds 14.5 gallons of regular unleaded fuel. No gas-electric hybrids or pure electric drivetrains are currently offered in Mazda
's 2012 lineup. Mazda
supplied a high-content iGrand Touring featuring the all-new Skyactiv technology with a $22,3
00 starting price. Options included a $200 auto interior lighting kit, $275 auto dimming mirror and $1,400 tech package (bind-spot monitoring, satellite radio, pivoting adaptive front lighting and rain-sensing wipers) for a $24,970 bottom line with $795 destination charge.
The instrument panel includes two large, deep set circular analog gauges (like a big pair of eyes peering back) with a small digital fuel gauge tucked down below in between. The tester's seats and dash incorporated a dark black hue with carefully nuanced brushed aluminum accents and pull bars adorning all four doors. A long, narrow, semi-circular message center sits atop the dash. It's where the compact, navigation screen sits accessible with toggle tabs on the three-spoke steering wheel. Grand Touring trims include the easy-to-maneuver navigation system, ten-speaker stereo and moon roof standard.
Three large, easy-to-grab dials monitor ventilation. Also accessible on the three-spoke steering wheel (in most trims)are secondary audio controls on the left and cruise control functions on the right. At night, red hues backlight the busy center console with large center 'tuning' button flanked on the left by a volume knob and a right-end tone/base knob. Remote levers unlocking fuel door and trunk lid are floor bound, left of the driver's seat. Power window, mirror and lock buttons on the driver's door are at a 45-degree angle at knee level.
Grand Touring's leather seating is positioned lower to the ground than some competitors for a sportier feel, but not enough to inhibit egress and ingress. Back seat swing-in leg room limited with the doors open. Headroom is decent for front travelers while head and leg room are tight in back for those taller than six feet. Two adults amply fit comfortably, three's a squeeze. All models include a 60/40 split rear fold down seat which unlatch when pushing down a square button atop each end of the back rest. A standard, temporary spare tire situates under the flat floor trunk with strut-like lid dampers conveniently located outside the cargo area.
The hood features a gentle vertical spine dissecting the middle. The updated grille is flanked by narrow headlight housing. Front wheel wells flair out gently. Our Grand Touring included optional pivoting headlights very apparent and appreciated during night-time cornering. Body-colored side-view mirrors fold in, but are sans secondary blinkers. A short, high deck lid joins a squarish back window.
The Skyactiv 2.0-liter is surprisingly peppy between second and third gears when some other rivals are pleading for more performance. A slightly audible high-pitch engine hum is detectible. Mazda 3
is the best-selling vehicle in Mazda
's 2012 U.S. lineup consisting of the subcompact Mazda
2, the three-row four-cylinder Mazda
5 multi-purpose wagon, Mazda
6 midsize sedan, CX-7 and CX-9 crossovers, and iconic two-seat MX-5 Miata roadster. In the 2013
model year, Mazda
adds the CX-5 compact crossover also sporting the Skyactiv 2.0-liter, 155 horsepower four-cylinder engine. This all-new CX-5 replaces the Tribute, which exited Mazda
's lineup in 2011. 2012 Mazda 3Price as Tested:
2.0-liter inline four cylinderHorsepower:
.9 inchesFuel Economy City/Highway:
28/40 mpgCurb Weight:
2,969 poundsPowertrain warranty: