Mazda is full of

bright sparks

Mazda SKYACTIV-X prototype, side
Mazda SKYACTIV-X prototype, front
Mazda SKYACTIV-X prototype, rear
Mazda SKYACTIV-X, chassis
Mazda SKYACTIV-X, engine
Mazda KAI concept, 2018, front

MAZDA always dares to be different and while politicians, governments and other car producers are spreading doom and gloom if we don't all go electric, the Japanese company thinks there is still a future for petrol and diesel engines.

A massive debate is going on about the best way to power our vehicles for the nextdecades but Mazda is looking at the big picture and while they are developing alternative power cars, the company believes that the overall cost to the planet has to be looked at and not just what comes out of exhaust pipes.

They recognise that electricity has to be produced to power electric motors and that most of that is generated by coal, oil and gas fired power stations which have carbon and environmental costs.

They also point out rightly that mining lithium for batteries is damaging to the planet as is the process of manufacturing batteries - not to mention the power lost in getting the electricity to the wheels.

American Jeffrey Guyton, Mazda's European chief executve, believes with others that we have to look at the total environmental cost from oilwell to wheel and that there is a long-term future for very efficient internal combustion engines.

Clearly Mazda engineers believe that too as they have come up with a new super-lean burn engine which is 20 per cent more efficient than current power plants and as a result has much lower emissions. An added bonus is that it also delivers more power.

It uses SPCCI which stands for Spark Controlled Compression Ignition - a system designed to achieve a much better fuel burn resulting in a petrol engine that is as fuel efficient as a diesel. We are told 60mpg will be possible in the real world and not just on test beds.

The technology to achieve this is complex and I won't even begin to try and explain it to you but Mazda has produced the goods by a 16:1 compression ratio, a spark plug in the combustion chamber, an air compressing supercharger which ignites the fuel at the right time and a very clever new engine computer which knows just when to switch between spark and compression ignition to deliver the best results.

The system works just as well with manual or automatic transmissions and the 2.0-litre engine provides a wide torque band.

I got to sample the new engine combined with the new chassis which will also feature in the next Mazda3.

It has been designed to enhance Mazda's Jinba Ittai driving pleasure philosophy while at the same time being stiffer and quieter.

The focus is on comfort and the engineers have also developed new seats which will enable the human body to react better to road bumps and surfaces.

All the tech was hidden under the body of a current Mazda3 and it was very clear inside that these were test vehicles with little in the way of creature comforts other than the new seats.

An iPad bolted to the dash enabled me to check when my driving was achieving the right fuel air ratio to get maximum mpg and surprisingly it was easy to stay in the two lean sectors even under fairly heavy acceleration and when tackling slopes.

Mazda engineers are still working on the engines so are giving little away in terms of stats but it should be even better when it goes on sale and it is already smooth and refined as well as quick.

I also got a look at the KAI concept car which provides more than a hint of what next year's new Mazda3 will look like.

The KAI was created by Mazda's craftsmen andsculpted in clay rather than designed on a computer and as a result the body panels reflect light in a way that is quite astonishing.

The painted surfaces catch and reflect light as you walk round the car responding to different angles and of light. If that can be achieved in the production cars Mazda will have a real winner on their hands.

SKYACTIV-X SPCCI technology has already won two awards and since it will be even better by the time it is put into full production the next Mazda3 is sure to be an interesting product.

It seems that Mazda is coming up with solutions and developments that will at least challenge current thinking and provide an alternative for the future.

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