Driving a million dollar car is a rare experience. Rarer still is when the vehicle in question is covered in riveted sheets of metal, the gauge cluster doesn’t work and the dash is held together by duct tape. And to make the whole situation even more strange, the steering wheel is on the right side of the car.
No, this isn’t an antique European sports car, but rather one of very few prototypes built by Mazda to showcase the brand’s new SkyActiv technologies. It may look like a beat-up Mazda6 sedan, but it shares little (very little) with that car, sitting on an entirely new platform and using the latest engine and transmission technologies.
A part of a SkyActiv technology workshop being held in Vancouver, Canada two of the cars are even equipped with Mazda’s new diesel engine, which the company says will go on sale in North America in the coming years – but more on that later.
FLEXIBLE PLATFORM, IMPROVED RIDE QUALITY AND DRIVING DYNAMICS
While Mazda’s new SkyActiv-G gasoline engine will first make an appearance in the 2012 Mazda3, the new body structure will arrive a year later, not as a new Mazda6, but rather as the CX-5 compact crossover. A flexible platform, Mazda has poured its resources into this new “frame” that can be shared among numerous models.
The new platform is inherently stiffer and stronger, thanks to an increased use of high strength steel and by nature of its geometry. Mazda claims a 30 percent improvement in rigidity and an 8 percent reduction in weight, and promises to achieve top marks in crash testing.
Attached to the body is a new suspension design (in the rear in particular), with numerous advantages. Mazda claims the new suspension geometry makes for improved rear tire grip and high-speed stability, while a new rear trailing arm design also helps deflect bumps in the road away from the car, rather than forcing the car to absorb them. Driving the spread of prototypes on the roads outside Vancouver we’d be lying to say there was a noticeable improvement in the former, although we did note the improved ride quality and comfort. In part, the more efficient suspension design allows for softer damper settings.
While short on some details like actual horsepower ratings for the new engines, Mazda’s presentation was incredibly specific in other areas, even highlighting how moving the rear trailing arm by almost two inches makes for significantly less dive under braking and, therefore, an improved stopping distance. To get a proper idea of just how much of an advantage results from this, however, a proper braking test would be needed.
Along with these benefits from the SkyActiv Body and Chassis is a tighter steering ratio, dropping from 15.4 to 14.5. This is perhaps the single most noticeable improvement to the driving experience and helps improve what Mazda calls the “Jinba ittai” (the feeling of oneness between car and driver).
In addition to the 8 percent reduction in body weight, Mazda claims its new chassis components are 14 percent lighter, benefiting not only fuel economy, but also driving performance.