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2018 Mazda 6 Touring diesel badge Mazda believes diesel engines “will make a comeback for sure”

Japanese automaker Mazda has issued another strong commitment to diesel engine technology. According to Mazda’s global head of powertrain development Eiji Nakai, the race away from diesel by some manufacturers is premature.

“Diesel engines will make a comeback, for sure,” Mr Nakai told Chasing Cars at a drive of the brand’s new Skyactiv-X petrol engine in Germany this month. The Skyactiv-X uses compression ignition – a hallmark of diesel engines – to lower fuel economy, and in many ways, is seen as an engine that combines classic petrol and diesel characteristics.

Mazda CX-30 front end
The new Mazda CX-30 has a diesel in Europe, but it isn’t coming to Australia.

“The benefit of a diesel is its specific heat ratio, and diesel engine technology already has this ability,” Mr Nakai said, referring to the significant work that Mazda invested into achieving particularly lean burn characteristics in the Skyactiv-X engine.

“Sometimes people have bad impressions of diesel engines,” Mr Nakai said. “However, we’ll continue to improve [diesels], and wipe away those bad impressions.”

Mazda managing executive for powertrain development Ichiro Hirose confirmed to Chasing Cars last year that Mazda had no plan to phase out diesel engines.

2019 Mazda CX-5 Akera Soul Red Crystal front 3/3 detail
Diesel power maintains solid demand in the CX-5 SUV.

Earlier this year the brand confirmed to media that not only would diesel not be phased out, but development of new-generation diesel engines was underway, including in six-cylinder form.

“We look forward to new diesels,” Mr Nakai said in Frankfurt this month.

The company’s newest diesel, a 1.8-litre turbocharged four-cylinder unit producing 85kW/270Nm, is available in Australia in the CX-3 small SUV, though takeup in that vehicle is low – around 2.5%. That was too low to justify bringing the new CX-30 diesel to Australia, Mazda sources say.

2018 Mazda CX-8 Asaki side
The CX-8 seven-seater is diesel only…

A larger 2.2-litre twin-turbocharged four-cylinder diesel is something of a staple in the Mazda lineup, available in the CX-5 and CX-8 SUVs. This engine, which produces 140kW/450Nm, makes up around 12% of CX-5 sales while the three-row CX-8 is diesel only.

Mazda is developing two inline six-cylinder engines at present – one gasoline and one diesel. The diesel unit will be turbocharged, and we predict it will produce around 190kW/550Nm in production form. 

2019 Mazda CX-9 Azami LE Machine Grey side driving
…mainly because of the lack of a diesel CX-9. A six-cylinder could solve that.

Though it is not currently known which vehicles will receive the six-cylinder diesel engine, the CX-9 SUV would be a prime candidate. Mazda have previously ruled out the 2.2-litre four-cylinder diesel for the CX-9 due to inadequate power.

Mazda’s head of product planning Hiroyuki Matsumoto told Chasing Cars that the six-cylinder engine family was currently under development and would be released “as soon as possible.”

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Mazda 3 Skyactiv-X 2020 front Mazda 3 hot hatch, other fast Mazdas, firming for future

Few hypothetical cars have received more support than a mooted Mazda 3 hot hatch based on the new BP-generation 2019 Mazda 3. Trawl the comments on our YouTube channel and you’ll be left in no doubt that there is a group of enthusiasts keen to see a new Mazda 3 MPS or similar.

Each time we catch up with senior Mazda executives, we make a point to ask about their thoughts and plans for performance vehicles – in particular, a hotted-up Mazda 3 with a turbocharged engine and all-wheel-drive. The most-supported combination among fans seems to be a 2.5-litre turbocharged engine with AWD: that’s the powertrain used in the CX-9 and CX-5 turbo SUVs, plus the Mazda 6 midsizer, producing around 170kW/420Nm.

2019 Mazda CX-5 turbo engine
Mazda already have a 2.5L turbo engine they could harness.

We asked Mazda’s global head of powertrain development Eiji Nakai what he thought of this suggestion, to which Mr Nakai chuckled. “We get that question all the time, but I’m afraid that, very unfortunately, we don’t have a plan for that right now.”

Pressed on why there is no firm hot hatch plan in the works, Mr Nakai said “we have to be mindful of fuel economy – we have to satisfy both.”

When we quizzed Mazda’s global head of product planning Hiroyuki Matsumoto, we gained more insight into the company’s thinking around performance engines. Essentially – a Mazda 3 hot hatch, and other fast Mazdas, are likely to come in future once the brand’s current projects are under control.

Mazda 3 Skyactiv-X 2020 engine
Mazda’s new Skyactiv-X engine, which could be made more powerful.

“I believe we are capable of creating an engine which would answer the demand for more power,” Mr Matsumoto said.

“At the moment, we don’t have any plan to do [a performance car], but having said that, we are harnessing tech to deliver better combustion – so when we feel that’s ready, when we feel we need to address the demand [for performance cars], we will be ready to respond to that demand.”

Mr Matsumoto confirmed that the new Mazda 3 platform is capable of taking a much more powerful engine. “The body and chassis of the new platform has very high potential,” Matsumoto said. “It would be able to take on a powerful engine, so we will see. It depends on how customer demand grows.”

Mazda 3 Skyactiv-X 2020 rear
Come on, this would be cool as a hot hatch.

One concept that Mazda have ruled out entirely is a small-displacement turbo engine, along the lines of Peugeot’s 1.6-litre turbo unit that powers the 200kW 308 GTi.

“You need to have the right size of displacement,” Mr Nakai said. “That is too small to be combined with a turbo, and not something we want to do.”

A future high performance Mazda could make use of the straight six-cylinder engine that the brand has confirmed is in development. Matsumoto, the head of product planning, said the straight six would be released “as soon as possible”, once engineering work is complete. “Our engineers are working really hard on it,” he said.

2019 Mazda 3 hatch Polymetal Grey side
No confirmation of a Mazda 3 hot hatch yet, but the brand is warming to it.

The shyness is all part of Mazda’s current philosophy of mastering all the supplementary driving dynamics: making sure a car handles and rides in a way that comforts the driver and passengers.

Mr Nakai said the new Skyactiv-X engine, for example, could be adapted to be much more powerful, with “more sophisticated control technologies” and “improved rigidity of components,” but noted that “right now, we’re focussed on human-centred car development.”

When we suggested that some humans like to go quickly, Mr Nakai laughed but said “200 horsepower (150kW), 300 horsepower (224kW) – those aren’t something we are pursuing right now. We want to provide adequate levels of power for human beings.”

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