If you had to pick one word to describe Mazda of Japan, it would be innovation.
Over the last 50 years, the company has delivered an array of vehicles with conventional, rotary and Miller cycle engines. With the MX-5 Miata, it presided over the resurrection of the affordable two-seat sports car, which is still going strong.
The rotary, also called a Wankel engine, powered the Mazda R7 and R8 sports cars. The Miller, which breathes differently from conventional gasoline engines, was installed in the company’s Millenia sedan.
Mazda’s latest tool is something the company calls Skyactiv technology, now the soul of the 2014 Mazda3, the company’s entry in the compact class of sedans and hatchbacks. It’s a catchall word that describes a suite of developments to every aspect of a new car to improve performance and fuel economy.
Call it a holistic approach to automotive design. It means removing unneeded weight from every nook and cranny, redesigning automatic and manual transmissions, refining suspension systems, directly injecting fuel and air into engines, and minimizing power losses with electric steering.
One special enhancement, called i-ELOOP, gathers electricity from braking and stores it in a capacitor to power on-board systems. It comes as part of an option package that also includes active grille shutters to manage air flow, lane departure and forward obstruction warnings, and adaptive radar cruise control.
There are 11 versions of the Skyactiv Mazda3. Models with an “i” designation come with a 155-horsepower, 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine. Those with an “s” attached come with the 184-horsepower, 2.5-liter four.
All feature the company’s new Kodo design philosophy, which delivers a sculpted body minus the big smile grille of the previous model. They start with the 3i SV four-door at $17,740 and top out with the 3s Grand Touring hatchback at $26,790. Options can push it into around $30,000.