To be fair, Japanese carmaker Mazda has had many milestone moments over their 100-year history (a centenary being one of them) but their latest engine revelation is being deemed an event tantamount to ‘finding Narnia’. We headed to Mazda New Zealand to find out more about Skyactiv-X and SPCCI.
From surviving and rebuilding after the A-bomb, to winning Le Mans and let’s not forget developing the Rotary engine, Mazda stands as a proud innovator within the automotive industry. However, with the launch of their Skyactiv-X engine, they have achieved what many in the industry have tried and failed to do, ‘magically’ merge two engine processes together in one. Let me try to explain.
For in excess of one hundred and twenty years, cars have been powered by a thing we call the ICE engine or Internal Combustion Engine. In simplistic terms (the only way I know) Internal Combustion is the process of igniting fuel (petrol) and using the resulting energy or bang to force the engine’s piston down in the chamber – which in turn drives the vehicle.
Arguably, around the same time, the diesel engine was invented although it was not embraced by the industry until the 1930s. Diesel engines use a process called compression ignition, essentially denser diesel fuel is compressed until it explodes, again, the energy or bang forces the engine’s piston down in the chamber – which again in turn drives the vehicle.
Both the above methods have pros (but cons too) however, together they offer a giant leap into the future of automotive mobility in terms of efficiency and emissions.
Now before you start yelling EV (electric vehicles) at me, yes these too are part of the vehicle’s future power (I include Hybrid and Hydrogen in this as well) but for a global solution ‘one size’ doesn’t fit all and there needs to be some form of crossover.
Back to Skyactiv-X. In laymen’s terms, Mazda has merged their Skyactiv-G (petrol) and Skyactiv-D together in X. The process was explained to us in length and reasonably great detail but the upshot is that both spark and compression are used to get that piston forced down in the chamber and Mazda call this Spark Controlled Compression Ignition or SPCCI for short.
With Skyactiv-X, Mazda has taken their already advanced ‘G’ engine as a base, strapped on a supercharger (don’t get excited it’s just to make the air denser), made the spark plug fire twice and, possibly most importantly, added a sensor to the cylinder chamber as ‘getting the cylinder temperature right is paramount’.
The result is a 2L engine that produces 132kW peaking at 6,000rpm and 224Nm of torque (12% greater than that of the Skyactiv-G) from 3,000rpm (1,000rpm lower than the Skyactiv-G).
Plus, when you add in Mazda’s mild-hybrid system, a belt-driven integrated starter generator or ISG and a 24V lithium-ion battery that supports greater gains in fuel economy by recycling energy recovered during deceleration and powering the ISG, functioning as an electric motor to assist the engine and i-Stop, you get a responsive engine that improves fuel economy, and reduces CO2 and NOX emissions.
The theory is excellent but how does it go in ‘real-life’? Well Mazda NZ planned a route through the Waikato just to find out. With social distancing in mind, we (Journalists) each had a car to ourselves. A Mazda3 and CX-30 with Skyactiv-G’s and a swap to both models featuring the Skyactiv-X – spot the difference.
Even in the heavy rain, our drive through the countryside was (let’s say) spirited and a testament to the safety and driveability of Mazda vehicles. Both the G’s and the X’s were quick off the mark and revved high. Both moved out of the bends well and sat happily at 100km/h (ahem). In fact if it wasn’t for the fact that the Skyactiv-X engine was only in the top of the range Takami models I’d have been hard pushed to tell them apart, although there is a slight lean towards the lower end torque of the X. What’s more, delving into the vehicle’s efficiency information screen shows you just how often you’re in SPCCI mode (it’s a lot).
Four-course lunch was held at the Red Barn, an amazing venue that offers rustic appeal with exceptional food and service (a great history too) where observations and benefits were discussed, before getting behind the wheel again to re-affirm our initial positive thoughts.
Mazda New Zealand Managing Director David Hodge says the launch of SKYACTIV engines in 2012 was part of the company’s commitment to have highly efficient technologies but has been completely wow’d by the new X. He calls it a ‘work of art’ and a ‘thing of beauty’ he could very well be right.
He says, “The new 2.0-litre Skyactiv-X is the next step in Mazda’s multi-solution approach to reducing emissions and represents the first electrification technology on Mazda’s path to Sustainable Zoom-Zoom 2030.
We still believe there is room for further evolution of the internal combustion engine and with the latest technology available in the Skyactiv-X, it has the potential to contribute to improving the global environment.”
Tim Nalder Mazda NZ’s Product and Sales planning manager summed up the launch of the Skyactiv-X as finding the back of the Wardrobe and clapping eyes on Narnia (something other carmakers have been trying to do for 120-years). Sure there is still a fair way to go before Mazda can conquer the witch but rest assured this is a Milestone moment for both the brand and engines in general.