A few years ago, Mazda made a splash by putting its semi-compression ignition ‘SkyActiv-X’ engine into production versions of its Mazda3 and CX-30. Since then, the brand has said precious little about the tech, even pulling it from the Mazda3 range earlier in 2023.
The 2.0-litre SkyActiv-X engine uses a combination of supercharging and injection trickery to increase the amount of compression in the cylinder, in short allowing extra power for less fuel consumption, and a cleaner burn for better emissions control.
It’s not hard to see why this wasn’t a hit with buyers though. SkyActiv-X variants were by far the most expensive versions of both the Mazda3 and CX-30 at launch, and offered only a moderate increase in power and tepid decrease in fuel consumption (down just 0.3L/100km compared to the standard 2.0-litre engine), seemingly not worth the $3000 increase it carried over the next grade down.
According to the brand though, the technology isn’t considered a dead-end, but part of the journey as Mazda continues to invest in combustion technology, unlike many of its rivals which have shifted their research and development entirely to electrified alternatives.
Speaking to CarsGuide, Koichi Namura, CX-60 program lead, explained that while it was not his specific area to talk about, learnings from SkyActiv-X were built into the brand’s new 3.0-litre straight-six engine, and that “perfecting combustion is what Mazda is aspiring to do – We will continue to chase after the ideal engine”.
His comments are backed by those of local marketing director Alistair Doak, who told CarsGuide earlier in 2023 that while the new engines don’t use compression technology, there are other learnings which are carried over “in terms of how the combustion process works it has all those fundamentals of Skyactiv-X”.
“Mazda is still working towards making the internal combustion engine as efficient as possible as a base and adding electrification to it in that multi-solution approach that we’ve talked about,” he said.
“Then, ultimately, you can move to BEV, you can move to hydrogen, you can do all those things. So that hasn’t changed, that’s still there.”
Combustion-first seems to be the case though, with Mazda making the unusual move of debuting a new large car platform for its predominantly 3.0-litre inline-six-powered CX-60 and CX-90 SUVs, as well as a promised new scalable platform which will be capable of supporting battery electrics which are roughly the size of the current Mazda3 and CX-30.
But Mazda’s product plan is clear that next-generation electric vehicles on this new scalable platform won’t become available globally until 2026 or 2027.
Namura said this next-generation small car platform will be of an internal Mazda design, not borrowed from a partner brand, and won’t be EV-exclusive.
“We have to have something which can cater for future applications in a variety of ways,” he said.
SkyActiv-X won’t be the only shot Mazda takes at keeping its signature combustion technology in the mix either, with the long-anticipated return of the rotary engine, albeit as a compact range-extender for a version of the MX-30 small SUV rather than a performance solution as it once was, finally coming to fruition.
The MX-30 R-EV combines an 830cc rotary unit with an electric motor for total outputs of 125kW/259Nm and sports a 17.8kWh battery pack for an electric-only driving range of 85km.
But it seems lessons learned from SkyActiv-X may rule this intriguing option out for the Australian market, with Mazda Australia’s managing director, Vinesh Bhindi, explaining to CarsGuide in early 2023 that the brand has reservations about the R-EV in our market.
“MX-30 was always a niche offering, which is why it has the ‘MX’ prefix, so it’s not a priority, but we’ll make a call on whether another niche offering is the right thing for us,” he said.
Instead, Mazda is focusing on its new (and pricier) large car platform in Australia, which has so far seen the launch of the CX-60 mid-size SUV and CX-90 large SUV, and will see the addition of the segment-bending CX-80 in 2024.
It’s worth noting that even the plug-in hybrid drivetrain option for these new SUVs is unusual in the way it works, combining a new single-clutch automatic with a large electric motor, and is of an entirely internal Mazda design, proving the brand’s commitment to carving its own path.
Mazda is yet to commit to the CX-50 available overseas, which seems like a natural replacement for the exceedingly popular CX-5, but we’ll be watching for the announcement of right-hand-drive production of this model in due course.