SURF. TURF. SKY(ACTIV)

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mazda20140422A NEW car’s launch program billed “SkyActiv Experiment 3” should involve serious amounts of stints behind the wheel—or on passenger seats—so it could live up to the techno-sounding hype. And these, exactly, was what the distributor of Mazda in the Philippines made sure of as it presented the all-new, third-generation Mazda3.

Held recently to drum up the model’s arrival on Mazda’s showroom floors, the driving gig meant tackling a route that mixed together rush-hour urban streets, stretches of expressways, two-lane provincial highways, winding dirt roads and twisty mountain passes. More driving on serpentine roads followed the next day. And then there was the drive back to where the trip began.

To be specific, the drive took off one recent mid-week morning from a Mazda dealership on C5 in Pasig, headed toward the northern expressways on the way to another Mazda dealership in Tarlac, passed through the treacherous national highways of Tarlac and Nueva Ecija (no thanks to tricycles and tractors), then took on the rally stage-like gravel roads leading to Pantabangan Dam, where the cars did spots of posing amid the picturesque landscape. From there it was a blast across the mountains to reach the intended destination; the surfing paradise of Baler, Aurora, whose shores are licked by waves coming from a pond named Pacific Ocean.

SkyActiv 3
Interspersed with the drives from one place to the next were various presentations made by Mazda Motor Corp. personnel who had played key roles in developing the new 3— program engineer Masaya Kodama, deputy program manager Moriuchi Takeo and Mazda Connect specialist Hiroyuki Yoshida, among others. So from product philosophy to aesthetics, cabin features to mechanical specs, and virtually everything else in between, the latest 3 was explained.

Chief among the varied information dispensed was about SkyActiv, Mazda’s catch-all term for solutions that make the company’s vehicles eco-friendly and fuel-efficient while still being entertaining to drive. The new 3, which comes in hatchback and sedan forms, is the third Mazda model with SkyActiv tech to get to the Philippines, after the CX-5 sport-ute and the 6 executive sedan.


In the latest 3, the SkyActiv pack starts with what Mazda calls a “continuous framework,” meaning a frame that runs as straight as possible under the car, with which the rest of the car is fused. This led to a structure that is 31-percent stiffer in the new 3 hatchback and 28-percent more in the sedan when compared with the previous-gen model. Crash protection benefits from this rigidity, and noise, vibration and harshness levels are reduced, too.

Mazda noted that the structure is now lighter despite its beefiness, thanks to company engineers who had pored over some 300 parts. Of course, less weight aids fuel use, as well as make for nimbler handling.

Lumped together with the new 3’s body work are bits of aerodynamic trickery, like an air shutter that remains open to cool the engine down at low speeds but shuts off at higher speeds for better airflow, helping fuel consumption in the process.

The latest car’s chassis also received the SkyActiv attention. Mazda is candid enough to admit the new 3’s MacPhersons and multi-links are carryovers from the previous model but is also quick to point these have been thoroughly revised—the front suspension sits on a new perimeter frame to improve geometry while the rear gets harder bushings. The result, according to the carmaker, is better straight-line and cornering stability. A quicker-ratio, electric power-assist steering adds to the changes.

Obviously, the component that singularly has the most impact on a car’s fuel consumption, and the amount of emissions it spews, is its engine, and so the two that are fitted in the new 3 are both SkyActiv. The pair that powers the Philippine-spec 3s are SkyActiv-G gasoline engines in 1.5-liter and 2.0-liter displacements, which Mazda said are perfectly happy with drinking 91-octane fuel yet do not give anything up in terms of responsiveness or returning good mileage.

The 1.5-liter, which has a 4-2-1 exhaust system, multi-hole injectors and cavity pistons designed for high compression, boasts better performance and fuel economy over Mazda’s previous 1.5-liter MZR engine. Particularly, the new one has improved low-end torque, or 122Nm at engines’ usual cruising speeds of 1,500rpm, which is up from the 113Nm of Mazda’s old 1.6-liter MZR mill. Peak torque of 144Nm also arrives at 3,500rpm, compared to the older engine’s 140Nm at 4,500rpm. The new 1.5-liter makes 111hp at 6,000rpm.

Also improved are emissions and fuel economy—by 25 percent, according to Mazda—which comes courtesy of dual sequential valve timing.

The 2.0-liter engine is fitted with direct fuel injection, high-tumble port and 4-2-1 exhaust, and has a high compression ratio. It is also light, with low friction among its moving parts, ensuring fuel economy and response. Mazda’s i-Stop, a stop/start function that automatically switches the engine off when it’s idling, and i-Eloop, which harnesses energy created by the car during braking and uses this for some electrical components, find their way into the this 2.0-liter mill that makes 153hp and 200Nm.

Both engines are paired with the SkyActiv-Drive automatic transmission, an electromechanical hydraulic system that links with the engines’ computerized control units.

Heads up
One of the features of the new 3, discussed in length in a presentation, is what Mazda calls the Human-Machine Interface (HMI), which is based on the carmaker’s “Heads-Up Cockpit” concept. Basically, it’s a heads-up display on a clear-glass screen placed on top of the instrument panel’s hood, directly in the driver’s line of sight. The thing displays speed and turn-by-turn directions from the navigation system. Also bunched within HMI are a seven-inch info screen placed center and top of the dashboard, and a new connectivity system that pairs with smart phones.

The idea behind HMI is simple; keep the car’s driver away from distractions related to vehicle and infotainment-system operation.

Philippine specs
The new 3 comes to local turfs in four variants—the 1.5-liter V hatchback and sedan, and the 2.0-liter R hatchback and sedan—which have premium items as standard equipment. These include an engine push-start button, Mazda’s Commander Control, seven-inch dash-top display of the HMI, paddle shifters, automatic single-zone climate control and Bluetooth phone connection.

By looks alone, the V variants can be identified by their 16-inch alloys and lone tailpipe. Peer inside and the fabric seats pick them out. The R pair are marked by bi-xenon headlamps with daytime running lights, 18-inch alloys, dual tailpipes, a sunroof and a leather-wrapped cabin. The R hatchback, pitched as the 3’s sportiest variant, has chrome tailpipe finishers and a shark-fin antenna.

Officials of Berjaya Auto Phils., the local distributor of Mazda, noted that the new 3 is built and imported from Japan. As with the rest of the company’s lineup, the 3 is covered by Mazda’s Yojin3, a three-year or 60,000-kilometer maintenance service package that includes lubricants, parts and labor, and emergency roadside assistance, at no extra charge.

Berjaya Auto prices the 3 2.0L R hatchback at P1.198 million, the 3 2.0L R sedan at P1.195 million, the 3 1.5L V hatchback at P948,000 and the 3 1.5V sedan at P945,000.

Turf to surf
During the drive to and from Baler, the new 3 proved that the tech talk does make all the difference. In city streets and on expressways, the car’s refinement and cabin amenities took the spotlight as these cocoon you from the heat, din and clatter of surrounding traffic. Over stretches of national highways it was the 3’s quick reflexes that shone as these allowed for secure stops and the oomph to get away from slow vehicles. Out on twisty gravel roads and mountain passes the car simply came alive; flat and planted in fast corners, accurate in steering around bends, and all while returning loads of feedback. With four people on board (plus three days’ worth of luggage for each of them), the car felt like it bottomed out its suspension over dips taken at speed, but its handling remained composed.

Both 3 variants also managed to return upwards of 10 kilometers to a liter of fuel despite the fast clips at which they were driven.

The difference between the sportiest 2.0-liter hatchback and the plainest 1.5-liter sedan is not only marked by—obviously—less power (the smaller mill had to work harder on uphill sections and passing maneuvers) but also by lighter, less communicative steering. The 1.5’s smaller 16-inch wheels likely have something to do with this.

Still, on a real-world, turf-to-surf (and back) drive, both cars did live up to their SkyActiv Experiment 3 pitch.

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