Wednesday, April 27, 2016
First Drive: 2016 Mazda6 2.2 Skyactiv-D and 2016 Mazda CX-5 2.2 Skyactiv-D AWD
What a difference a letter makes. Though it doesn’t look it, the two Mazda vehicles you see here: the Mazda6 and CX-5 AWD are very different from the models introduced last year. No amount of squinting will help you see the changes, because the only discernable difference is found on a trunk badge that reads, “Skyactiv Technology D”. Yes, Philippines, the Skyactiv-D is now here and it’s going to transform how you’ll drive.
As a refresher, Mazda is the purveyor of Skyactiv Technology. It started with Skyactiv-G where engineers have increased the compression ratio to diesel-like levels to maximize power from every drop of fuel. The resulting engines are renowned for their class-leading fuel efficiency without needing a supplementary electric motor. Skyactiv-D works in the opposite way. This time, the compression ratio has been lowered to gasoline engine levels (14:1) thereby reducing fuel consumption. Of course, Mazda has realized that by reducing the compression ratio, it’ll result in poorer emissions. They corrected this by recirculating hot exhaust gases to heat up the engine quicker while a lengthened combustion stroke and unique injectors burns off any unwanted greenhouse gases. The result is 20 percent less fuel consumption, 20 percent less carbon dioxide emissions, and meets Euro 6 (models locally are Euro 4 compliant) emission standards without any costly emissions treatment.
If the previous paragraph is a bit hard to comprehend, here’s a simpler version for you: 173 horsepower at 4,500 rpm and 420 Nm of torque at 2,000 rpm. And these numbers come from 2.2 liters of displacement with twin turbos and variable valve timing. It’s the automotive equivalent of having your cake and eating it too.
Eating, or at least tasting, this cake so to speak, 12 Mazda vehicles, all equipped with Skyactiv-D went from Mazda Makati in Pasong Tamo to Anilao, Batangas for a proper shakedown. Pushing the ‘engine start’ reveals a pleasant surprise. Unlike other diesels, the Germans include, that rely on sound deadening to soften the diesel clatter, the Skyactiv-D is quiet and refined whether you’re in or out of the vehicle. It purrs at idle and doesn’t call attention to itself. The only indicator that you’re in a diesel is the 5,200 rpm redline.
As the group moved from the confines of the city onto the Skyway and eventually down to the STAR Tollyway, that feeling of pleasantness is changed to a sense of satisfaction. At cruising, the engine’s inaudible and passes for a gas-fed one except for the telltale turbo whine when tapping the accelerator; 100 km/h is done at 1,900 rpm. Overtaking is easy and won’t require squeezing the gas pedal all the time. A surge of power comes in at just 50 to 60 percent throttle application; enough to send an unprepared cameraman reaching for the grab handle. The speedometer climbs effortlessly, reaching speeds north of 150 km/h. The only thing that stopped everyone is fear of having licenses revoked. There’s no ‘Sport’ mode here simply because there’s no need for it. The torque spread is as wide as an all-you-can-eat buffet; ear-to-ear smiles guaranteed all the way.
Exiting Batangas, the CX-5’s and Mazda6’s sped their way through Bauan and then eventually to Anilao. Power is stout and always available; like a genie granting wishes each time you floor the gas. The secret is the use of twin turbos rather than single turbo with variable geometry. This reduces turbo lag throughout the rev range and makes the Skyactiv-D much more responsive. This entire “pedal to the metal” driving experience is addicting and never grows old. It’s a bonus that that bane of provincial roads: jeepneys and tricycles don’t pose much of a problem with these Skyactiv-D equipped vehicles. And even if you’re not pushing it, the 6-speed automatic, unique to the diesel, shuffles its ratios well, perfectly matching the engine’s character. There are circumstances, though rare, where it jolts into first gear causing mild shift shock. The Mazda6 benefits even more from the steering wheel paddle shifters, though even without them, the CX-5 is just as responsive.
Great as they are in overtaking slower traffic, both of these diesel-fed Mazdas feel much more alive when you take them through corners. Compared to their gasoline counterparts, they do tend to tip and understeer more, but that’s more because of the added weight of the diesel engine. The engine itself is lighter with an aluminum block and crank, still Mazda engineers didn’t take any chance and tweaked the suspension and adjusted various components so that they’ll continue to live up to the Jinba-ittai promise. They’re fun to drive and composed with linear and responsive steering. The most important thing of all though is that they’re easy to drive. By the end, the Mazda6 managed 16.67 km/L while the CX-5 did 17.54 km/L in a mixed city and highway setting, figures that echo the gasoline variants during purely highway cruising.
The added spice of ‘D’ doesn’t come free though. Priced both at P 1,985,000 the Mazda6 2.2 Skyactiv-D and CX-5 2.2 Skyactiv-D AWD represent a P 200,000 and P 240,000 jump respectively (the CX-5 2.5 AWD Sport gets a price bump to P 1,745,000). It must be remembered though that the Mazda6’s Japanese V6-powered competitors are still all priced above P 2-million. Meanwhile, the CX-5 is the only Japanese compact crossover with a diesel engine; and it’s also the only one to offer all sorts of convenience technology. The price increase is a paltry sum, a small premium, considering they both offer the driving fun, the great technological features, without any of the guilt. And they offer the same Yojin-3 ownership packaging down to the same 10,000-kilometer/6-month periodic maintenance service cycle.