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Mazda Skyactiv looks to redefine combustion engines

While automakers chose to develop hybrids and hit or miss electric cars, Mazda is looking to forge a new era of more efficient, cleaner burning gas and diesel engines with its new Skyactiv technology.

Prototype "mules" line up for test driving during the debut of Mazda's new Skyactiv technology.
John Scott Lewinski/CNET

VANCOUVER--You can't say Mazda's new Skyactiv technology lacks ambition. The comprehensive engineering effort looks to set a new standard for performance and fuel efficiency in a consumer-accessible combustion engine.

While Toyota, Honda, Ford, and other automakers spent billions of dollars researching, developing, and building hybrids and electric cars, Mazda directed the bulk of its new engineering into new car designs that provide reliability and performance while serving up a magic number of 40 mpg in highway driving.

In a special media event in downtown Vancouver, Mazda debuted the new Skyactiv-G (a high-efficiency, direct-injection gasoline engine with the world's highest compression ratio of 14.0:1) and Skyactiv-D (a clean diesel engine with that same prime compression ratio). Journalists had an opportunity to drive last year's, pre-Skyactiv Mazda models and new prototype test cars with both engines to prove how much quicker and more efficient each 2012 model-to-be is.

The Skyactiv package includes more than just the power plant. Both the gasoline and diesel versions come with the option of the Skyactiv-Drive (a redesigned automatic transmission) and a manual version with a lighter shift feel, compact size, and significantly reduced weight. Mazda shed the pounds by reformulating its metallurgy and removing unnecessary components. For example, the new transmissions no longer use a separate drive shaft for reverse, immediately making the transmissions smaller. The same focus on lighter, yet safely rigid metals also went into the new Skyactiv chassis.

Related links
• Mazda Skyactiv pitch: 'It's not a hybrid'
• 2012 Mazda3 debuts efficient Skyactiv drivetrain

Among the car journalists on hand, the consensus winner of the weekend was the new Skyactiv manual diesel version. Admittedly, that's statistically the least popular model in American showrooms, so it's fortunate that each new model seemed significantly perkier than last year's versions.

Of course, at the end of the day, all that really matter to consumers in these days of endless recession and high gas prices is the bottom-line mpg numbers. While Mazda hasn't announced specific stats for all of its Skyactiv models and variations, engineers at the press conference confirmed they had reached their target of 40 mpg highway on both gasoline and diesel models.

For a close-up look at the Vancouver event, be sure to check out our gallery.