Mazda3 improves fuel economy

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Mazda, the car company known for its “zoom-zoom” marketing campaign, is selling fuel efficiency now, too.

The 2012 Mazda3 sedan and hatchback incorporate the company's new SkyActive technology, a package of fuel-saving equipment and upgrades that avoid the need for costly hybrid powertrains.  MAZDA/ASSOCIATED PRESS
MAZDA/ASSOCIATED PRESS
The 2012 Mazda3 sedan and hatchback incorporate the company's new SkyActive technology, a package of fuel-saving equipment and upgrades that avoid the need for costly hybrid powertrains.

Mazda doesn’t have a fuel-sipping, 2012 gasoline-electric hybrid or all-electric vehicle. But for 2012, it’s applying SkyActiv, the company’s package of fuel-saving equipment and upgrades, to the Mazda3 sedan and five-door hatchback.

It’s the first rollout of SkyActiv, but it won’t be the last. Already, Mazda officials have announced a SkyActiv version of the CX-5 sport utility vehicle will be out in Japan this year.

Fuel mileage numbers for the 2012 Mazda3 SkyActiv from the federal government are noteworthy: 33 miles per gallon in city driving and 40 mpg on the highway for the sedan. This is the first 40-mpg rating for a Mazda since the U.S. government began rating vehicles, and it makes the Mazda3 competitive with other small cars that boast 40-mpg-on-the-highway government ratings.

Plus, the Mazda3 is a recommended buy of Consumer Reports magazine, where its reliability is rated as above average.

The new, fuel-efficient SkyActiv engine and transmissions help attain the 33-and 40-mpg rating. Buyers must move up to the higher-level Mazda3 i Touring sedan, with starting price of $19,495 with manual and $20,345 with automatic, to get the 155-horsepower, four-cylinder.

The Mazda3 SkyActiv five-door hatchback is a bit more expensive, with a starting price, including destination charge, of $20,095 for a 2012 i Touring hatchback with manual and $20,945 for i Touring hatchback with automatic.

Mazda isn’t exactly turning away from its “have fun, enjoy performance” marketing mantra as much as it’s layering on a message about saving gasoline and money at the pump, too.

Thus, the 2-liter, double-overhead-cam, direct gasoline injection four cylinder that has the SkyActiv label on it produces 7 more horsepower than last year even as it gets 21 percent better highway fuel economy and some 18 percent better city fuel economy, per the ratings from the feds.

The technology isn’t new in the auto industry. European car companies have had direct-injection engines for years, and tweaking exhaust systems and computerized engine and transmission control modules has been going on for decades.

But Mazda engineers did more, though it’s not necessarily visible.

Bumpers are more streamlined aerodynamically now. The body structure was revamped and dropped 220 pounds. A lighter vehicle, after all, uses less gasoline.

Yet, the Mazda3 structurally also is more rigid this year, in part because of high-strength steel that doesn’t carry the heft of more traditional steel.

To a casual observer, though, a 2012 Mazda3 looks pretty much like the 2011 version, with body styling that’s sporty and expressive, especially when it’s painted a Sky Blue color that was on the tester.

The test hatchback, which didn’t quite weigh 3,000 pounds, retained the capable handling and good road feel that Mazdas are known for. The car nimbly wound through constrained parking garages, held its line and composure in sweeping curves and slipped into parallel parking spots easily.

Torque peaks at 148 foot-pounds at 4,100 rpm now, compared with 135 foot-pounds at 4,500 rpm in last year’s four-cylinder. It doesn’t push a driver’s back hard into the seat back, but it’s not wimpy, either.

The tester moved smartly along in city traffic and, without effort or change in driving style, got 33 mpg in travel that was 70 percent city and 30 percent highway. This translated into some 475 miles on a 14.5-gallon tank of gas.

The 40-mpg label is on Mazda3 sedans. The automatic Mazda3 hatchbacks, which included the test car, are rated at 39 mpg on the highway.

The sedan and hatchback earned four out of five stars in an overall crash test rating from the federal government.

SPECS

THE VEHICLE: 2012 Mazda3 i SkyActiv Grand Touring 5-Door, a front-drive, five-seat, compact hatchback

BASE PRICE: From $15,200 for the i SV sedan to $23,150 for the i Grand Touring 5-Door automatic (tested)

DESTINATION FEE: $795

AS TESTED: $25,345

ENGINE: 2-liter, double-overhead-cam, SkyActiv-G direct-injection four-cylinder

EPA MILEAGE: 28 mpg city, 39 mpg highway

TRANSMISSION: Six-speed automatic

LENGTH: 177.4 inches

WHEELBASE: 103.9 inches

WEIGHT: 2,969 pounds

BUILT IN: Japan

OPTIONS: Technology package (blind spot monitor, rain-sensing wipers, Sirius satellite radio), $1,400


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