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AIMS: Mazda3 facelift with SkyActiv tech takes AIMS

Triple treat: SkyActiv Mazda3 makes its Australian debut in Melbourne.

Upgraded SkyActiv Mazda3 joins BT-50 Freestyle, Minagi and Shinari

Mazda logo1 Jul 2011

By BYRON MATHIOUDAKIS

A HIGH-FLYING Mazda announced the Australian production debut of the SkyActiv drivetrain option – as well as a midlife facelift – of its best-selling ‘3’ small car range.

Along with the world debut of the ‘Freestyle’ dual cab variant of the second-generation BT-50 pick-up truck, as well as Australia’s first peek at the Minagi concept from this year’s Geneva show that will morph into the productionised CX-5 compact SUV at September’s Frankfurt IAA motor show before its local release in mid-2012, the popular Japanese brand had plenty to crow about on its Melbourne stand this morning.

But the surprisingly thorough makeover of one of our most privately purchased models will be the most relevant for most show-goers, with a subtly revised nose cone featuring a reshaped five-point grille set within the new bumpers, as well as revised air intakes and foglight housings to keep two and a half year old small car king looking clean.

More careful airflow management sees not only improved aerodynamics over and beneath the car, but also better engine and braking cooling.

New wheel designs complete the exterior’s visual titivations.

Inside the Mazda3’s spring clean continues with higher-quality feel surfaces, more harmonious illumination (red is replaced by cool white), and the addition of more metallic-like trim.

Meanwhile the SkyActiv-equipped Mazda3 – most easily distinguished by its blue-ringed headlight lens and ‘SKYACTIV’ badges outside and unique instrumentation lighting and a different gear shift presentation inside – brings a mechanical revolution for those willing to pay a bit more for improved performance and efficiency this tech has on offer.

22 center imageFrom top: Mazda Minagi concept, Mazda BT-50 Freestyle Cab, Shinari concept.

As an option over the regular MZR 2.0-litre four-cylinder twin-cam petrol engine (which continues in six-speed manual or five-speed automatic guises), the SkyActiv-G 2.0-litre unit brings with it a six-speed auto known as SkyActiv-Drive to the range for the first time.

This gearbox is said to combine the economy and smoothness of a CVT Continuously Variable Transmission with the responses and slickness of a DCT Dual Clutch Transmission.

The new direct-injection engine weighs 5kg less than the MZR, and boasts improved injection and combustion properties to help raise performance and refinement while slashing consumption and emissions.

Power (113kW at 6000rpm) and torque (194Nm at 4100rpm) are about five and seven per cent better than the MZR respectively, while no auto small car is claimed to be more economical.

Aiding the latter, SkyActiv-equipped 3s are also first with Mazda’s i-stop, an idling stop system that reignites in 0.35 seconds – about half that of most other similar type systems. A series of further aerodynamic detailing also brings the Cd down from 0.31 to 0.27 over the equivalently equipped non-SkyActiv sedan (and 0.29 from 0.33 on the hatch), bolstering frugality even more.

All facelifted 3s gain revised dampers for nimbler responses and a more comfortable ride, Mazda says, while improved body rigidity as a result of a series of underbody beefing up pays dividends for steering and handling.

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