It’s a funny thing, the new Mazda CX-5. Drive it and you think it’s a really well-sorted, cohesive thing that offers outstanding economy and emissions as its stand-out selling point. So all good there, then.
But talk to the ranks of engineers and executives that developed the car and it becomes obvious that the CX-5 could well be more significant than it initially appears. What really caught my attention on the launch of this car was that, by managing to give both the 2.2-litre diesel engine and 2.0-litre petrol engine the same compression ratio – just 14:1 – the company can produce both engines on the same production line. According to Mazda no other company does this.
That sounds fairly dull, but in industry terms it’s a massive achievement. Even the manual and automatic transmission share many parts and therefore cut down enormously on tooling and labour costs.
Essentially, because the CX-5 is the first model to benefit from the company’s ‘SkyActiv’ tech and is therefore composed of entirely new parts – from the nuts and bolts in the drivetrains to the new touch-screen infotainment system – it has allowed Mazda to approach the manufacturing process in a totally different way.
Making the engines small enough to make room for the new exhaust system, which in turn is one of the biggest contributing factors that allowed the benchmark green figures, was one of the biggest issues. And if those compression ratios were easy to achieve (the exhaust system once again plays a key role here) then you can guarantee that someone else would have done it years ago.
So perhaps this is what’s most impressive: Mazda produced just 1.3 million cars last year. VW Group produced 7.4 million. Yet it’s the smaller player who has achieved these remarkable technical innovations that demonstrate a huge step forward for the combustion engine, and mass manufacturing.
Interestingly, Takeo Moriuchi, vehicle development division manager, attributed the achievement in part to the fact that Mazda is fairly small (by global industry standards, at least) and can therefore make these developments more rapidly. The CX-5 took just two years to go from a drawing to something that I drove around Iceland last week, and will be unveiled at Frankfurt in final production form in a few weeks.
And something else for you to consider: Mazda don’t think the new Skyactiv technology (which you can read more about here) comes close to rinsing the full potential from conventional motors. In fact, Hideaki Tanaker, the CX-5 program manager, maintains that there is still “at least 50 per cent more progress to be made” before we’ve seen the best that fossil-fuel powered motors have to give.
It may not be the long-term answer, but it’s good to know that there’s still plenty more to come from the combustion engine.