Mazda Skyactiv technology demo

What is it?

A prototype containing all Mazda's latest thinking via its all-encompassing Skyactiv brand. That explains the stickers, dodgy build quality and rivets on the car pictured, as Mazda let us sample its Skyactiv technology before it's introduced on new production models from 2012. Aiming to reduce weight, improve economy and emissions and provide an entertaining drive at the same time, Skyactiv's holistic approach to vehicle design and engineering has some bold claims to live up to, but on our short first drive it showed real promise.

Is it any good?

The 2.2-litre twin-turbocharged diesel engine delivers around 180bhp, and is around 20% more efficient than Mazda's existing 2.2-litre turbodiesel. That means an official combined economy figure in the region of 60-70mpg, with emissions anticipated to be under 120g/km. That alone is impressive, but the low compression turbodiesel is unusual in its character too, it feeling more petrol-like in its eagerness to rev. It retains loads of typically diesel low-rev muscle, but there's less of an obvious drop-off in its delivery as the revs rise.

It's smooth and quiet, too, and can be mated to a choice of six-speed manual or automatic transmissions. The six-speed manual is quick and precise, which makes for a surprisingly engaging driving experience - particularly for a diesel powerplant. That's ably backed up by suspension that's controlled and fine riding, and steering that's beautifully crisp and weighted, the steering wheel delivering feel that's unusual in the family car class. Indeed, should Mazda deliver the same involving driving experience in its replacement 6 model, Ford's much praised Mondeo will be toppled from its class leading driver's car perch.

However good the drive is, it's the economy and emissions that'll bring Mazda new customers. If it can deliver on its economy promise in the showrooms, allied to sensible pricing and comprehensive equipment levels, then interest in Mazda should rise significantly.

Should I call the bank manager?

The 2.2-litre twin-turbocharged diesel engine delivers around 180bhp, and is around 20% more efficient than Mazda's existing 2.2-litre turbodiesel. That means an official combined economy figure in the region of 60-70mpg, with emissions anticipated to be under 120g/km. That alone is impressive, but the low compression turbodiesel is unusual in its character too, it feeling more petrol-like in its eagerness to rev. It retains loads of typically diesel low-rev muscle, but there's less of an obvious drop-off in its delivery as the revs rise.

It's smooth and quiet, too, and can be mated to a choice of six-speed manual or automatic transmissions. The six-speed manual is quick and precise, which makes for a surprisingly engaging driving experience - particularly for a diesel powerplant. That's ably backed up by suspension that's controlled and fine riding, and steering that's beautifully crisp and weighted, the steering wheel delivering feel that's unusual in the family car class. Indeed, should Mazda deliver the same involving driving experience in its replacement 6 model, Ford's much praised Mondeo will be toppled from its class leading driver's car perch.

However good the drive is, it's the economy and emissions that'll bring Mazda new customers. If it can deliver on its economy promise in the showrooms, allied to sensible pricing and comprehensive equipment levels, then interest in Mazda should rise significantly.

Summary

Mazda is promising big with its new Skyactiv technology, and our first chance to sample it demonstrates that there's some real weight to the company's claims. Economy gains of 20% allied to an enjoyable drive might sound like there'd be compromises somewhere, but evidence of the prototype's driving characteristics suggests that's not the case. It'll be interesting to see how that translates to actual production models. The wait won't be long, with fully Skyactiv incorporated models reaching showrooms in 2012.

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