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Mazda3 makeover one step closer

Sky's the limit: Mazda has commenced production on the facelifted 3, which is set to go on sale in Australia in late September.

Production of facelifted, Sky powertrain-equipped Mazda3 commences in Japan

8 Aug 2011

MAZDA has started production of the replacement for Australia’s top-selling small car ahead of the facelifted Mazda3’s release in Australia late next month.

The Mazda3’s midlife makeover was first revealed in Canada in February before it made its local debut at last month’s Melbourne motor show, when Mazda Australia confirmed the company’s all-new 2.0-litre SkyActiv-G direct-injection petrol engine will power only a new SP20 variant within Australia’s facelifted Mazda3 range here this year.

Production of the revised Axela, as it is known in Japan, has now commenced at Mazda’s Hofu plant in Yamaguchi prefecture and Mazda Australia has confirmed the upgraded Mazda3 range will go on sale here from late September.

The facelifted Mazda3 will be the first model to be powered by the 2.0-litre version of Mazda’s all-new SkyActiv-G petrol engine family, which debuted in 1.3-litre form in the Japanese domestic market’s Demio (Mazda2).

The 2.0-litre Sky-G engine will make its debut in the 2012 Mazda3 SP20 alongside Mazda’s redesigned SkyActiv-Drive six-speed automatic transmission, which will eventually replace the five-speed now optional across the majority of the current Mazda3 range.

22 center imageMazda claims the new automatic “reduces slippage to deliver a direct shift feel similar to a manual transmission” to combine the economy and smoothness of a Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT) with the response and slickness of a dual-clutch transmission (DCT).

Mazda Australia’s top-down approach to introducing its Sky powertrain technologies should also see the new 2.0-litre petrol four eventually filter down to mainstream Mazda3 models.

Mazda’s first all-Sky model will be next year’s CX-5 compact SUV, based on a redesigned lightweight platform that will also underpin the next Mazda3 and Mazda6.

As part of the Japanese brand’s commitment to reducing its fleet-average fuel consumption by 30 per cent between 2008 and 2015, Sky powertrain and chassis technologies will form the basis of every Mazda passenger car by that year, with the CX-5 set to debut the new SkyActiv-D 2.2-litre diesel engine here early next year.

While the CX-5 will introduce a diesel-automatic powertrain combination for the first time from Mazda in Australia, it will also debut Mazda’s upgraded six-speed manual transmission.

Equipped with the all-new petrol Sky engine and transmission combination, the new auto-only SP20 hatch and sedan variants should be priced somewhere between the automatic 2.0-litre Maxx Sport sedan and hatch variants (currently $28,360 plus on-road costs) and the 2.5-litre SP25 sedan/hatch auto (from $31,435), which is priced almost lineball with the manual Mazda3 Diesel models (from $29,230).

No official Australian fuel consumption figures are available, but Mazda claims the combination will be the most economical automatic model in the small-car class.

Powered by a 108kW/182Nm 2.0-litre petrol four, the Mazda3 currently returns 7.9 litres per 100km as a manual and 8.2L/100km with a five-speed auto.

The newcomer’s high-compression 2.0-litre direct-injection four-cylinder petrol engine delivers 113kW of power at 6000rpm and 194Nm of torque at 4100rpm, making it around six per cent more potent than the existing MZR 2.0-litre found in other Mazda3 models.

As well as the 5kg-lighter Sky-G engine, aiding the SP20’s efficiency will be Mazda’s ‘i-stop’ idle-stop system and body enhancements that are said to improve the car’s aerodynamic drag by as much as 15 per cent.

Like Japan’s 1.3-litre Sky-G-powered Mazda2, which is not yet available in Australia, the domestic-market 2.0-litre Sky-G-equipped Mazda3 will also come with Mazda’s new i-DM (“intelligent Drive Master”) system that offers driving tips to encourage smoother and more fuel-efficient motoring.

The rest of the 2012 Mazda3 range may not offer the SP20’s new engine and transmission, but it will wear the same subtly revised nose, featuring a reshaped five-point grille set within new bumpers, as well as revised air intakes and foglight housings.

The updated Mazda3 will also bring new wheel designs, higher-quality interior surfaces, more harmonious instrument illumination (red is replaced by cool white) and the addition of more metallic-like trim, while the SkyActiv-equipped Mazda3 will be distinguished by its blue-ringed headlight lens and ‘SKYACTIV’ badges.

Mazda says all facelifted 3s will gain revised dampers for nimbler handling and a more comfortable ride, while improved body rigidity (thanks to a series of underbody reinforcements) is claimed to enhance steering and handling.

A series of aerodynamic improvements also reduces the Mazda3’s aerodynamic drag from 0.31 to 0.27Cd (sedan) and from 0.33 to 0.29Cd (hatch).

So far this year, two and a half years after the current model was launched, Mazda3 sales are up more than five per cent in a mainstream small-car segment that is more than four per cent down, reflecting its global station as Mazda’s fastest-growing passenger car globally with more than three million total sales.

Accounting for a third of the company’s global sales, the Mazda3 is Australia’s top-selling privately purchased vehicle and to July this year lies just 81 sales short of Holden’s Commodore – the nation’s most popular vehicle for the past 13 years.

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