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  • Whale Watching: Driving Mazda’s 2.2L SkyactivDiesel

Whale Watching: Driving Mazda’s 2.2L SkyactivDiesel

Whale Watching: Driving Mazda’s 2.2L SkyactivDiesel

G.R. Whale
Feb 19, 2016
Photographers: Courtesy of Mazda
When Mazda unveiled the next CX-9 at the Los Angeles Auto Show, it generated a fair amount of praise from the assembled masses. Many argued “gorgeous,” and the new gasoline turbo shows potential for a next-generation Mazdaspeed3. However, it was in Germany that I found what it really needs.
Those in the know have reported Mazda and Honda, among others, back-burnered U.S. diesel development because they couldn’t match VW’s performance that has since been demonstrated a fraud. However, Mazda senior executives have reiterated that the company still plans to have a diesel in the US market, and recent developments should only encourage that. So I drove the most likely candidate, their 2.2L Skyactiv diesel.
Photo 2/4   |   001 Mazda Skyactiv D
Eyes don’t deceive: the 2.2L Skyactiv-D I-4 engine pictured is sideways because it’s in a car. With everything sporting winter tires and no snow to be found, I stuck to a more aero, quieter Mazda 6 sedan rather than a crossover, with a six-speed manual that wouldn’t mask any engine deficiency.
Mazda does things a bit differently with their diesel, running a low 14:1 compression ratio (same as their outside-North-America gasoline direct-injected engines), which allows a lighter crank, pistons, and aluminum block. Two-stage turbocharging lets it work from 1,200 rpm, and you can rev it past 5,000, but there’s no need.
Variable valve lift on the exhausts side helps with exhaust gas recirculation (EGR); it uses a diesel particulate filter but no NOx aftertreatment; and it’s offered in two states of tune (148 and 173 hp) with a six-speed manual or automatic. In this 173hp front-drive 3,350-pound 6 sedan, Mazda rates the Skyactiv-D at 310 lb-ft at 2,000 rpm (the same as the CX-9’s new 2.5L gas turbo), with Euro 6 emissions, 0-60 mph in the high 7s, and converted U.S. fuel-economy figures of 60.3/42.8/52.3 mpg. For comparison, the 192hp gas automatic version is 0.1 second quicker to 60 mph, is rated at 47/27.7/37.3 mpg, and costs €2,000 less.
Photo 3/4   |   002 Mazda Skyactiv D
Although I saw subfreezing temperatures only twice and didn’t garage it, there was never a wait to start, and it didn’t take more than few minutes for the “engine cold” light to extinguish. An arrow suggests light-throttle upshifts at 1,200 rpm to the next gear, from which it happily pulls and really starts pushing around 1,600 rpm, all the while as refined and quiet (or more so) as small diesels from VW/Audi, Ford, Renault/Nissan, and GM. BMW’s 2.0L and Mercedes’ 2.1L could challenge it, but they’re in another price zone.
And for one who grew up rev-matching shifts (double declutching when I learned it), this diesel is delightfully responsive, suggesting zoom-zoom wasn’t left out with the spark plugs. It also builds power progressively so torque doesn’t overwhelm front tires unless you tell it too.
At a steady 65 mph, the fuel economy was 67 mpg. In town, I averaged 43 mpg. Overall, I averaged 38 mpg because the roads were open. By open, I mean a long blast running 110-130 mph when not slowed for traffic or limited sections. The portion trip averaged 96 mph, which was never constant enough for cruise control (though the adaptive cruise did work) and more than 27 mpg.
Photo 4/4   |   003 Mazda CX9
This 2.2L diesel would work in plenty of U.S.-market applications if Mazda brings it, from the 6 sedan through CX-5 and CX-9 crossovers. It’s been suggested the issue isn’t meeting U.S. emissions but rather maintaining drivability and oil-change intervals, at least one of the issues contributing to VW’s unwise decision to cheat emissions. If we assume a power loss from the Euro6 engine, we could still get 150-160 hp and 310 lb-ft of torque, and the deficit of 75-100 horses to the 2.5L gas turbo (rated at 227 hp on 87-octane gas, 250 hp on 93) would be addressed by the more relaxed nature of a three-row and the subsequent compact-car economy.
I wouldn’t be surprised if the new CX-9 were eventually fit with this engine snaring a few Audi and BMW buyers along the way.

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