By on January 20, 2020

While other manufacturers are downsizing engines and sticking turbos anywhere they’ll fit, Mazda has attempted to maintain a home for naturally aspirated motors — engines it believes should be sized appropriately for their intended application. On paper, this appears to be giving the competition an edge. Yet Mazda remains committed to offering the right tool for the job, introducing naturally aspirated Skyactiv engines with unusually high compression ratios. The latest, Skyactiv-X, combines spark-controlled gasoline combustion and compression-ignition diesel tech with a 24-volt mild-hybrid system.

The system delivers 178 horsepower and 164 lb-ft of torque in 2.0-liter guise, plus MPG improvements of up to 20 percent vs the old Skyactiv-G. But there’s a problem. With Mazda attempting to go upmarket, an economy-focused powertrain has to deliver in whatever region it’s sold, and introductory Skyactiv-X units are now viewed as too small for the United States. The result? The technology’s delayed arrival in North America, despite its deployment via the new 2.0 liter found in the 2020 Mazda 3 and CX-30 sold in Japan and Europe. 

Eiji Nakai, Mazda’s executive officer for powertrain development, said as much to Automotive News. “We think this Skyactiv-X can be used for larger engine displacement in the future, in line with our product planning,” he explained. “This technology is applicable to other engine displacements.”

U.S.-spec Mazdas will continue utilizing the old 2.5-liter mill in lieu of the 2.0-liter Skyactiv-X, though Nakai said the manufacturer is already running simulations to assess how the latest Skyactiv technology would perform on engines with larger displacements.

Mazda engineer Yoshiaki Yamane believed such units would be better suited to American driving habits, where drivers tend to prioritize power for longer-distance expressway driving at the expense of maximizing their fuel economy. It’s not that the U.S. doesn’t appreciate high mpg estimates — quite the contrary, it’s just not in the habit of making that a keystone of any automotive purchase. “Maybe U.S. customers require more power, because fuel economy is not the top requirement,” Yamane mused correctly.

From Automotive News:

Mazda is developing a new large-vehicle architecture that will arrive in the fiscal year ending March 31, 2023. That platform is expected to accommodate a larger-displacement Skyactiv-X engine.

Skyactiv-X represents Mazda’s push to develop a more fuel-efficient, yet spunky, engine line.

It harnesses a technology Mazda calls spark-controlled compression ignition, which blends the fuel economy of a gasoline engine with the power of a diesel. Mazda says Skyactiv-X technology delivers sizable improvements in fuel economy and torque, along with smoother acceleration.

While TTAC garnered some face time with a Mazda3 Skyactiv-X prototype and has gone into great detail as to how the new motor works, we also knew it’s entry to the U.S. was probably going to be delayed. Mazda has been very careful not to promise anything, instead expressing a desire to make the technology global by rolling out versions that are best suited to specific regions. For the United States, that means the 186 horsepower/186 lb-ft of torque 2.5-liter unit carries over. Meanwhile, Canadian shoppers continue to have access to the old 2.0-liter Skyactiv-G making 155 hp and 150 lb-ft, plus additional transmission options.

Pricing is another issue. In the Japanese market, the Mazda 3 with Skyactiv-X is now the most-popular powertrain on offer.  It stickers 27 percent higher than the base 2.0-liter Skyactiv-G gasoline engine, offering a 9 percent improvement in fuel economy and a 15 percent increase in overall horsepower. North American customers might it find harder to rationalize spending more on a vehicle who’s party piece is slightly improved overall efficiency — especially when that money could be used to buy something larger and more powerful.

Unfortunately, Skyactiv-X simply requires too much fancy hardware to be sold for less. In addition to all the trick compression, spark and hybrid stuff, there’s also a supercharger. The unit, however, is not responsible for boosting power — it’s just there to help lean out the motor, which is how Mazda can continue to claim it’s providing “naturally aspirated” engines.

No one reviewing them seems to mind. Outside of a few diesel-like startup sounds, there’s not much to give away Skyactiv-X as anything abnormal. We’re not gobsmacked that it has become the dominant powertrain option (for the Mazda 3) in Japan. But does it make sense for the automaker to chase down complicated Skyactiv technologies when the rest of the industry is running with small-displacement turbos and widespread electrification?

Mazda thinks so. It believes it can do more in the short term by promoting exceptionally efficient motors, generating more market appeal than present-day EVs. But Mazda has also said that the regulatory presumption that the emissions of an electric vehicle are effectively zero are disingenuous, and has previously cited the massive amount of energy required for their production and shipping. The automaker has long been a proponent of calculating how much pollution is created by the energy generated to build and power EVs, saying that’s the only way to truly assess their long-term environmental impact.

[Image: Mazda]

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37 Comments on “Mazda’s U.S. Skyactiv-X Arrival Definitely Delayed...”


  • avatar
    readallover

    For all the abuse Mazda will take for another delay (just like the diesel) one only needs to look at Ford and its` Transmission disaster to see Mazda won`t release anything until it is ready. This is a GOOD thing.

    • 0 avatar
      theoldguard

      I just wrote about my Ford PowerShud-d-d-er. Never getting near new tech again.

      • 0 avatar
        The Ghost of Buckshot Jones

        New tech? It’s a DCT, they’ve been around in production cars since the early 90s. Porsche, VW, BMW, etc have no real issues. You just bought junk.

        • 0 avatar
          Art Vandelay

          My Fiesta is wonderful. Of course it is the 6 speed “single clutch” model acuated by my right arm/left foot.

          How they could nail the ST and utterly screw up the volume one is beyond me. I’ve driven mine as well as the 3 cylinder manual and the current euro at we don’t get. They are solid. The autos are a mechanical freak show for which their was no excuse.

          With respect to small cars however, I always go for the big engine and manual. It’s getting more difficult.

          • 0 avatar
            Featherston

            Regarding the PowerShift, doubly so since it went in the volume trim levels of the Fiesta *and* the Focus. A friend had a 3rd-gen Focus, and it really seemed like a solid effort with the huge exception of the transmission. Why not have gone with a typical-at-the-time 6-speed slushbox?

            And LOL at the 1st sentence here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ford_PowerShift_transmission

          • 0 avatar
            JimZ

            The FiST was more or less a “parts bin” car. Engine out of the Fusion/Escape, trans from any number of cars in Europe/ROW, etc…

          • 0 avatar
            Old_WRX

            Yes, the mt is going the way of the hard power switch. I like an mt because it gives me something to do while I drive (other than curse at all the texters…). It’s like a free game: see if you can get that double clutch (or heel-and-toe if the manufacturer hasn’t moved the pedals six feet apart) downshift just right.

    • 0 avatar
      notapreppie

      Mazda already had its PowerShudder moment. It was called the Renesis and it was fortunately low-volume enough that the impact is limited to the few sorry schmucks that bought them (like myself, twice).

  • avatar
    PandaBear

    The current gas price is too low to justify all the expenses in the US market to go Skyactiv-X.

  • avatar
    thalter

    If Mazda is truly looking to move upmarket, the powertrain they should be looking to drop into the 3 is the 2.5 turbo from the 6 and CX-5. The 3 already is available with AWD, so it should easily be able to handle the extra grunt.

    • 0 avatar
      Daniel J

      The only way this works is if its detuned or they offer something better in the Mazda 6.

      If they want to move upmarket, what they really need to do is tweener cars. Something larger than the 3 but smaller than the 6 and something larger than the 6…and do away with the Mazda 3 and Mazda 6. Something ala audio a4 and a6.

  • avatar
    boowiebear

    I find this technology very intriguing. I really hope it finds a market and is successful. Small displacement turbo engines really don’t deliver on the mpg promise in real world driving. I would hate to watch a YouTube video in 5 years about Skyactiv titled “Great Engine that Failed”!

  • avatar
    tankinbeans

    Isn’t the rumoured RWD I6 that they’re developing supposed to make use of the Skyactive-X engine?

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    1. “does it make sense for the automaker to chase down complicated Skyactiv technologies when the rest of the industry is running with small-displacement turbos and widespread electrification”

    No.

    2. “It believes it can do more in the short term by promoting exceptionally efficient motors, generating more market appeal than present-day EVs”

    No ICE will beat an EV for efficiency, and the efficiencies of scale of a power plant always allows the EV to be more efficient than a small ICEs on the street.

    • 0 avatar
      conundrum

      It’s a close run thing between “the efficiencies of scale” of a thermal power plant and the more efficient engines being produced these days. This old argument about thermal power plants being efficient ignores losses in transmission amd distribution, and is trotted out by those who’ve never worked at an actual real life electrical utility as if it were some undisputed truism.

      Instead of me providing my figures, how about some of you EV ranters providing some of your figures? You know, so some of us with a bit of a clue can lob rebuttals back? I’m fed up doing the opposite – might as well be talking to a wall. So go on, provide some figures, and I don’t mean some link to a non-engineer bleating greenie site.

      • 0 avatar
        bullnuke

        Though you speak heresy, you none the less speak the truth. But many folks (like the folks that believe the meat is made in the backroom of the grocery and not from butchered animals) believe that that good, clean energy that is generated NIMBY and comes out of the wall, the garage charger, or one of those Tesla things, is so much, much cleaner and efficient. I’m gonna get off my rear and to a “sperm to worm” energy balance to compare electrical power generation for a 100-mile trip in a vehicle versus the liquid fuel equivalent…

      • 0 avatar
        SCE to AUX

        We keep having this discussion.

        The best ICEs are about 40% thermal efficiency, and nobody bothers to consider the losses in drilling, processing, and transmission of gasoline to the fuel tank.

        Meanwhile, an EV might be 90% efficient from the charger to the wheels. Yes, of course there are losses in transmission and production of electric power. But it’s ridiculous to assume those losses are equal to the losses of an ICE system.

        And yes, I’m an actual engineer who votes R, and I don’t subscribe to the environmental agenda. Sorry to not fit the stereotype you want to argue with.

        I worked in a gas station once, which made me an expert in pumping gas. What exactly did you do at the power plant?

        • 0 avatar
          Jon

          “it’s ridiculous to assume those losses are equal to the losses of an ICE system”

          A good engineer always provides thorough mathematical justification for his assumptions.
          What is yours?

        • 0 avatar
          bullnuke

          SCE to Aux – I won’t argue with you on this at all. If I quit being lazy and attempted an energy balance for ICE versus EV it would answer a lot of questions for me personally. It would be interesting to see all the energy expended (for petroleum included from deep in the well to final product pump as well as from deep in the well to wall plug for electric) along with all the losses along the way with an equivalent amount of usable energy for a vehicle at the end of each stream. I performed many energy balance studies for nuclear power plants in my former life to reduce losses/increase efficiency as a matter of fairly routine operations.

        • 0 avatar
          JimZ

          “The best ICEs are about 40% thermal efficiency”

          it’s worse than that, since those peak thermal efficiency numbers are only achievable in one specific operating condition- wide-open-throttle while producing peak torque. Unfortunately practically no light vehicles spend any significant time in that operating state; they’re loafing around with barely cracked open throttles getting miserable efficiency thanks to wasting energy on the pumping losses.

  • avatar
    stuntmonkey

    > With Mazda attempting to go upmarket, an economy-focused powertrain has to deliver in whatever region it’s sold, and introductory Skyactiv-X units are now viewed as too small for the United States.

    Let’s be clear, this isn’t an issue for the US market. It’s an issue for Mazda. Honda, Subuaru, Toyota all sell 2.0l engines in volume. Mazda used to with the previous gen Mazda3. When you start positioning a compact class car as needing a high-powered 2.5l engine, you’ve drunk your own Kool-Aid. Not to lose sight of this, but compacts used to be 1.8-2.0l. You went 2.4l and above if you couldn’t compete on specific power and fuel economy; posting higher horsepower figures was a market differentiator but not necessarily a consumer-centric solution.

    The real benchmark for Sky Active-X is the Toyota Dynamic Force 2.0l in the 2020 Corolla. It doesn’t boast as high on-paper numbers, but just by doing simple evolutionary things it gets the job done with a simple economical package.

  • avatar

    I wouldn’t get near this new engine until it had been in full production at least three years. After my tragedy with Ford PowerShud-d-d-er transmission, I will never again be an early adopter. I currently drive 2.5 CX-5. That 2.5 is a good engine. Not worth the expense,complexity, and risk for the benefit that new engine will offer. Overall, I have doubts about the value of all these highly-stressed low displacement engines—-for the consumer. It may help EPA test, but will anyone buy twin-turbo 1.5 engine that makes 220 horsepower—at 100,000 miles?

  • avatar
    theoldguard

    Instead of the new engine, I would much rather have IRS back. Torsion-Beam is a readily discernible step backward for the 3.

  • avatar
    theoldguard

    New tech. “The horror, the horror.” Ford PowerShud-d-d-er. I knew it was bad, but not this bad. Ford should give me free counseling.

    https://www.freep.com/in-depth/money/cars/ford/2019/12/05/ford-focus-fiesta-dps-6-transmission-problems/4243091002/

    • 0 avatar
      The Ghost of Buckshot Jones

      Dual clutch transmissions aren’t new dude. Been around in production cars for close to 30 years. You were just the sucker that bought a fiesta.

  • avatar
    dal20402

    I don’t see how this can compete with planetary-gearset hybrid systems, which will get cheaper and cheaper to add as batteries get cheaper.

    • 0 avatar
      Art Vandelay

      They can’t compete. But Mazda is apparently reading the internet forums and buying into “this is what people want…they don’t want them fancy turbos or ‘lectrics”

      Then people on these hallowed forums complain that they aren’t as good as the turbos.

      Look Mazda, if the internet was right, your entire lineup would be wankel powered.

  • avatar
    Art Vandelay

    “We’ll go ahead and move the price “upmarket”, but keep the same old engines the old “not upmarket” cars had.”

    “Whaddaya mean our sales are in the crapper?”

    – Mazda

    • 0 avatar
      Kendahl

      We have a 12-year-old Infiniti G37S coupe and a 7-year-old Focus SE 5-speed hatchback. When we bought the Focus, second choice was the Mazda3 now two generations back (the one with the maniacal grin). I was very interested in the current Mazda3 hatchback with all wheel drive until I learned it has only 186 hp. The car badly needs the 250 hp turbo from the CX-5. Thus equipped, I would have traded in both the G37 and the Focus.

      Another alternative (which Ford chose not to build) would have been a Focus ST with all wheel drive and an upgraded interior.

    • 0 avatar
      Daniel J

      The 2.5L is only 6 years old. VW/Audi has been using some version of a 2.0T for years and so has GM/Caddy/Buick. Ford/Lincoln ecoboost engines have been around for quite a while too. The engine is not why people aren’t buying Mazda. The dealer network, dealer volume, and limited options and trim choices have more to do with it.

  • avatar
    digitaldoc

    Owner of a CX-5, with the 2.5NA engine. It is a decent engine, with proven tech, responsive, and with good fuel economy. However, it is also unexceptional, buzzy under load, with a torque peak that is too high, and needs to be revved to make power. I would not buy another Mazda with this engine that I find the weakest point of my vehicle.

    Mazda really needs to bring us something with more power at a better displacement. Just about every other car company has a 2.0T, and would be the solution for most of their lineup at around 250 hp. Skyactiv-X needs to be retuned for the US market as we need power over efficiency compared to Europe.

    • 0 avatar
      Daniel J

      I suppose it’s all preference. We have that engine in our CX5 and we much prefered it over most other manufacturers engines of the same class. The Kia 1.6T was slightly more responsive but was a noisy mess. The Honda 1.5t wasn’t as noisy but had significant turbo lag and it has other issues.

      Interesting how everyone here says the 2.5 is behind when just a few years ago it was ahead of everything else.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    Mazda would be better off using someone else’s powertrains, while focusing their limited resources on their nice interiors and clean external shapes.

    Nobody cares about Mazda drivetrains anymore, but Mazda really obcesses over them, including the rotary which won’t die.

    They could sell their cars for more reasonable prices if they took this approach.

    • 0 avatar
      Daniel J

      I cared about it enough that I knew I didnt’ want Ford, Honda, or H/Kias new powertrains. I found the 2.5T with the 6 speed miles better than anything else. What ruins Honda’s 2.0T was their automatic. The H/K 2.0T is getting phased out for a better 2.5T and has a number of problems. The only engine/transmission combo I liked as well was the 2.0T in the Regal.

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    “engines it believes should be sized appropriately for their intended application.”

    Oh Lord, someone had a logical thought. Pitchforks!

    “On paper, this appears to be giving the competition an edge.”

    How?

    “Yet Mazda remains committed to offering the right tool for the job, introducing naturally aspirated Skyactiv engines with unusually high compression ratios. The latest, Skyactiv-X, combines spark-controlled gasoline combustion and compression-ignition diesel tech with a 24-volt mild-hybrid system.”

    Um, “unusually high compression ratios” + “compression-ignition diesel tech” + “24-volt mild-hybrid system” != “reliable”. Mazda are you trying to drive away customers?

  • avatar
    JimZ

    I still think this thing is on the razor’s edge of detonation most of the time. Remembering what happened with Skyactiv-D, I wonder if their excuses are covering for a more likely shortcoming e.g. not being able to pass emissions regs here. The dirty little secret is that running lean a substantial amount of the time reduces the efficiency of the reduction catalyst (which cleans up NOx) to near zero.

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