Tuning will be specific to each market
Mazda’s trick Skyactiv-X engine has the auto industry’s eyes on it because it will be the first gas mill to operate primarily on compression, though a small spark is still needed to ignite and control the combustion process. But not all countries will get the cutting-edge engine right away. At the recent L.A. auto show, we sat down with Mazda engineers Dave Coleman and Jay Chen to chat about powertrains, and learned that the automaker will launch Skyactiv-X in markets with strict emissions regulations first. Additionally, each market’s iteration of the engine will have its own tune.
Europe will be the first to receive the Skyactiv-X engine, which is scheduled to launch in late 2019. Chen noted that although the European version may be calibrated to meet the tough regulations in specific parts of the world, they can also calibrate the engine for a different purpose, allowing them to optimize it for each market where it will be sold. The M Hybrid system will also be tuned on a regional basis, but Chen and Coleman said that the mild hybrid setup is strictly for energy recovery and to reduce load on the engine. Coleman points out that the Skyactiv-X engine’s powerband is wide enough that there’s no need for the system to occasionally assist it to smooth out shifts or standing start take-offs.
With the arrival of the Skyactiv-X, you’d think that Mazda will eventually phase out the Skyactiv-G family. However, that’s not the case, according to Masashi Otsuka, vice president of R&D and Mazda North American operations. That engine lineup will get more updates over time to keep it competitive, with the 2019 Mazda3 receiving a slightly updated version of the 2.5-liter naturally aspirated I-4. Otsuka also noted that the Skyactiv-X is “too tough,” hinting at the obstacles involved with introducing such a complex engine and justifying keeping the more conventional Skyactiv-G family up to date. Chen and Coleman revealed that the 2.5-liter has a new algorithm, a new electrical system, and new calibration for better drivability. Last year, this engine received cylinder deactivation, allowing it to operate in two-cylinder mode during light loads for improved fuel economy.
Before finishing our conversation, we asked Chen and Coleman if a high-performance model will ever return. Unfortunately, it’s not in the cards. What they did say, however, is to keep in mind that the Skyactiv-X prototype we drove last year had an engine that was designed to replace the 2.0-liter Skyactiv-G offered globally. Since the base engine for North America is the more robust 2.5-liter, that could mean our version of Skyactiv-X will get shorter gearing and more power to meet customer expectations in this market. Additionally, Chen hinted that more Skyactiv-X family members could be on the way. Because the engine is based on a 500cc-per-cylinder strategy, we could eventually see a more efficiency-oriented 1.5-liter inline-three.