Birthwhistle: Mazda's SkyActiv Program Influences RWD Design In FWD Vehicles

Cameron Aubernon
by Cameron Aubernon
birthwhistle mazdas skyactiv program influences rwd design in fwd vehicles

As other manufacturers downsize their offerings to meet ever-increasing fuel economy milestones, Mazda’s SkyActiv program utilizes engine geometry to hit those marks, resulting in the automaker’s current offerings looking rear-wheel drive while feeling front-wheel drive.

In an interview with Automotive News Europe, Mazda Europe design boss Peter Birthwhistle explained that since the automaker’s SkyActiv technology allows for engine size to remain larger than the competition, the layout of the exhaust system results in the passenger cell being pushed back to accommodate a “sloped angle” where the pipes exit from the engine. In turn, the overall look is that of the traditional long hood/short deck RWD layout in spite of the power going toward the front.

Turning toward alternative power, Birthwhistle mentioned a few offerings in the works, including a hybrid variant of the 3, a rotary-powered range extender that may see use in a future plug-in hybrid, and a move into electric vehicles. That said, the designer sees a lot of continuing potential with the internal combustion engine:

There’s still a lot of potential in conventional engines. They remain very inefficient in terms of things like heat loss. Get that sorted out and there’s amazing potential in gasoline engines in terms of fuel economy.

Looking further into the future, Birthwhistle also believed that by 2100, most cars will be automated personal pods, with small cars made for weekend warriors to use on track days.

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13 of 92 comments
  • Ryoku75 Ryoku75 on Feb 17, 2014

    RWD-looking FWDs, coupe-like sedans, why can't we make cars that embrace their attributes?

  • Dragonphire Dragonphire on Feb 17, 2014

    Can anyone here let me know what ever happened to engines using 5 valves per cylinder? It seems that none uses this tech anymore. Audi was the last to use it I think but now gone. I have always thought that combining 5 vpc, DI, Cylinder deactivation, start-stop and EH processes would develop a very efficient engine. Guess I was wrong.

    • See 2 previous
    • Niky Niky on Feb 18, 2014

      There isn't enough real-estate on top of the piston for everything. As it is, you need space for four valves, a spark plug (or two) and (increasingly) a direct injection nozzle. Honda actually went backwards when they first designed the L-series engine in Fit. Certain markets got one with dual spark plugs and three valves. Those engines were legendary for their frugality. They were also dog slow compared to the VTEC L-series that replaced them.

  • U mad scientist U mad scientist on Feb 18, 2014

    Mazda continues to make the right moves to remain the choice of cheap practical transport for the discerning driving enthusiast. Even the old standby Protege was somehow tuned to be delightfully sharp near comparable to the 3-series of the time at less than half the price, nevermind the effervescent Miata. The cars lost some of the impeccable feel with electric steering, but never the zoom-zoom spirit. Mazda also tends to create their styling cues in sheetmetal rather than accents in chrome or such (eg nissan) and as a result have some of the better looking cars in light colors where shape outlines dominate.

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    • Macca Macca on Feb 18, 2014

      @NormSV650 I know I shouldn't feed the troll...but that list is pretty obvious to me and hardly speaks to Mazda's overall quality. Here's my take on these three cars Mazda no longer makes: 1. Mazda 626 - this car was last sold in the US in 2002 before being replaced by the far superior Mazda6. The transmission woes are due to the Ford CD4E transmission that was used in the 626 - a car built in Flat Rock, MI. So the newest example is now around 12 years old and likely used up anyway. 2. Mazda Millenia - this car was last sold in the US in 2003. It was an ambitious attempt at an up-market lux sedan that was intended for Mazda's luxury brand that never was (Amati). It contained an oddball Miller cycle engine and other complexities that made it a maintenance nightmare for higher mileage, out-of-warranty versions. A bit of a one-off that was axed as Mazda revamped its US lineup over a decade ago. 3. Mazda CX-7 - another car Mazda no longer makes, although this one bowed out in 2012. The turbo-four was troublesome and returned awful fuel mileage. It has since been replaced by the vastly superior CX-5.

  • Jayzwhiterabbit Jayzwhiterabbit on Feb 23, 2014

    Mazda has my styling vote hands down these days. The new 6 seems like a sleek revision of the late 1990's before every car got an ass-end that's six feet high with no rearward visibility. Sexy. And a grille that's not copying Hyundai/Mercedes. Refreshing. To my eye, the new Mazdas DO look a bit rear-wheel drive because of the front end, mainly the length between the front doors and the wheel-wells. Much better looking than most of the other vanilla front-driver bullsh*t out right now.