We try an early development model of Mazda’s 2019-release compression ignition engine, combining the best of petrol and diesel
Mazda is one of the car industry’s more interesting car companies. As the handwringing over diesel vs petrol goes on, Mazda has been quietly getting on with the development of both of these existing power sources.
Without getting too technical about it, they’ve been trying to make petrol engines more ‘dieselly’, offering more low-revs torque and better economy, and diesel engines more ‘petrolly’, with a more free-revving nature and extra performance.
One result of Mazda’s lateral thinking has been the creation of this 3 prototype featuring its Skyactiv-X engine which, if it hits its projected launch date of 2019, is set to become the first mass-produced compression ignition petrol engine.
The Skyactiv-X engine aims to combine diesel and petrol characteristics by using a Spark Controlled Compression Ignition (SCCI) system. We were given an early test drive of 2.0-litre Skyactiv-X development cars with both manual and automatic transmissions, and based on Mazda’s new platform that’s also due out in 2019. The exterior shells were from current Mazda 3s shell.
Limited to 100mph and with no performance data available – engineers told us the fresh-from-Japan engines hadn’t even been properly dyno-tested yet – our prototypes were driven around Mazda’s European technical centre near Frankfurt.
The road network they’ve created there takes in a good mix of country and urban roads, plus a short piece of autobahn. It was enough to demonstrate an engine that felt more dieselly than petrolly, perhaps an indication of more refinement work to come. Once through the initial roughness and up to cruising speeds, it began to show greater petrol-like smoothness and refinement, and a surprising amount of torque. Even in sixth gear at low road speeds, quite vigorous acceleration was on tap.
The automatic prototype seemed quite a bit smoother and more responsive than the manual, while the new platform felt planted and stable. Obviously, any real conclusions will have to wait until we’ve tried out something a lot closer to the final 2019 car, but initial impressions – backed by a side-by-side comparison with a current 2.0-litre Mazda 3 which showed a 14 per cent improvement in fuel economy with the Skyactiv-X – are of a system with plenty of potential.