Change is coming to Mazda's compact Mazda3 hatchback and sedan family for 2012, and the Japanese automaker looks poised to broaden its niche appeal to shoppers who want a responsive-driving car that also gets good mileage.
Think 40 mpg for some Mazda3 models, plus better manual gearboxes and automatic transmissions in those models—as well as a toned-down front-end appearance and new grille, refreshed rear styling, and some other details like new wheels.
Those 40-mpg models are the forerunners of a new generation for the automaker. The 2012 Mazda3 will be the first model in the U.S. to get an all-new range of engines and transmissions that fall under a massive engineering initiative the company is calling SkyActiv.
Through the clean-slate initiative, which affects all aspects of its cars, including powertrains, body structures, and chassis components, Mazda aims to produce a fleet of vehicles that preserves the nimble, responsive driving feel that shoppers have come to know, yet a 30-percent improvement in fuel economy by 2015, from 2008 levels.
The new 2012 Mazda3 SkyActiv will achieve its 40-mpg rating without the need for special tactics that like low-rolling resistance tires, thinner body panels, reduced noise insulation, a 'lazy' throttle calibration, or other measures that might make the car less enjoyable to drive. "We're not talking about rock-hard tires that take away road feel," commented U.S. spokesman Jeremy Barnes.