First Drive: 2012 Mazda 3 Skyactiv

Overhead shot of blue 2012 Mazda 3 Skyactiv crossing a bridge
The 2012 Mazda 3 Skyactiv.

Regular TireKicker readers know we've always loved us some Mazda 3. It's a fun, tossable little sedan (or hatch, you choose) for a reasonable price with better than average performance and fuel economy.

So what would juice the excitement factor? Well, more fuel economy would be a good place to start.
Mazda's been behind the 8-ball on that one,  with a lot of people remembering that rotary engines aren't the best in that regard (never mind that the only Mazda still using a rotary is the RX-8, now in its last year of production) and Mazda being the lone ranger among the big 4 Japanese carmakers (Toyota/Lexus, Honda/Acura and Nissan/Infiniti being the others) not to have hybrids in their lineup.

Rear 3/4 view of 2012 Mazda 3 Skyactiv
Rear view of the 2012 Mazda 3 Skyactiv.

Not that the 3's a gas guzzler by any means. The EPA says 22 city/29 highway for the standard Mazda 3 5-door with the 167 horsepower 2.5 liter four-cylinder and a 5-speed automatic.

But Skyactiv makes it better without making it a hybrid. According to Mazda, Skyactiv's engine produces 10-15% more low-range torque, and 15% lower fuel consumption than their previous 2-liter engine (which was EPA rated 24 city/33 highway).

Engineering and material changes resulted in a 220 pound weight savings along with 30% better body rigidity (which translates to better handling). Then there's a vastly improved six-speed automatic transmission. Bottom line: The EPA estimate for the Mazda 3 5-door jumps to 27 city/38 highway.

We borrowed one for a week from Chapman Mazda in Phoenix. We put fewer than 100 miles on it and most of that was city streets...very little freeway driving...and we saw 29.5 miles per gallon. So the estimates are well within the realm of possibility.

The 2012 Mazda 3 Skyactiv interior.
And best of all, the Skyactiv is gimmick-free. It drives exactly like a regular 3...except a bit smoother and handling a bit more athletically. All good things. And so's the price. $19,300. Ours came absolutely stock. Zero options. We didn't feel deprived. With delivery charges, the tab came to $20,150.

Again, these are impressions gleaned from fewer than 100 miles at the wheel, but the Mazda 3 Skyactive made a strong first impression. We're expecting one from the manufacturer for a more in-depth analysis very soon.

No comments: