Kia, Mazda Grow 40 MPG Group

By Scott Doggett April 21, 2011

2012_Mazda3_5dr_with_Skyactiv _main.jpg

It's been less than a year since the number of conventional gasoline-powered cars available in the U.S. getting 40 mpg or better in highway driving was limited to just one model -- the Smart ForTwo. With contributions from Kia and Mazda, unveiled this week at the 2011 New York International Auto Show, that 40-mpg group will soon number ten.

2012-Kia-Rio-Sedan-front _large thumb.jpgKia Motors America (KMA) this week globally debuted the all-new 2012 Rio sub-compact sedan, which is scheduled to join the KMA lineup this October. Its  hatchback sibling was unveiled at the Geneva Motor Show earlier this year and showed this week for the first time in North America. The hatchback will go on sale this summer.

The Rio, which sources said would be priced at under $13,000 (the 2011 Rio sedan starts at $12,990, including a $695 destination fee), will be available in three trims and fitted with a 138-horsepower 1.6-liter GDI four-cylinder engine with the option of either a six-speed manual transmission or six-speed automatic transmission.

Larger & Lower
The new-from-the-ground-up 2012 Rio brings with it a platform that is longer, wider and lower than the previous generation. Utilizing lots of pound-shaving and efficiency-boosting high-tensile-strength steel, Kia says Rio's lightweight design offers high torsional stiffness for improved handling, ride quality and refinement.

While the EPA has yet to announce a fuel-economy estimate for the upcoming Rio, Kia says the model achieves 30 mpg city and 40 mpg highway, in part because its engine turns off when the vehicle is not in motion and restarts  when the driver releases the brake pedal.

Adding further to Rio's improved fuel economy (the current model gets 27/36 city/highway with an automatic transmission and 28/34 city/highway with a manual transmission), engineers cut engine weight by 29 pounds over the previous generation by adding an aluminum valve cover and block to the third-generation Gamma engine, while incorporating cast-iron lining for increased durability.

The 4-mpg highway improvement in the Rio in just one model year relying solely upon conventional technology tweaks -- as opposed to advanced-technology inclusions, the higher costs of which would be passed on to consumers -- is not nearly as impressive as what Mazda has been able to accomplish with its new addition to the 40-mpg club: the 2012 Mazda3.

2012_Mazda3_4dr_with_Skyactiv _large thumb.jpgFirst Application
Face-lifted with a more refined exterior and interior, the 2012 Mazda3 is the first application in North America of Mazda's innovative yet conventional SKYACTIV fuel-saving and performance-oriented technologies, achieving an even 40 mpg on the highway -- or 7 mpg more in highway driving than the 2011 Mazda3.

The Mazda3 model is Mazda's best-selling vehicle worldwide and accounts for nearly half of all Mazda sales in the U.S., making it a prime candidate for introducing SKYACTIV -- a line of engines and transmissions designed for superior fuel economy -- to consumers looking for high fuel efficiency without worries they might have concerning hybrid powertrains.

In addition to the Mazda3's current MZR 2.0-liter dual-overhead-cam 16-valve four-cylinder engine, Mazda will offer the 3 with the all-new high-efficiency direct-injection SKYACTIV-G 2.0-liter gasoline engine. Mated to a standard SKYACTIV-MT six-speed manual transmission or optional SKYACTIV-Drive six-speed automatic transmission, SKYACTIV will be available in both the sedan and hatchback models.

The MZR 2.0-liter engine will continue to be available with the current five-speed manual as standard equipment. MZR 2.0-liter-equipped models also will be available with the current five-speed automatic as an option. The presumed additional cost of the SKYACTIV equipment has not been disclosed.

Improved Injectors
The SKYACTIV 2.0-liter adopts multi-hole injectors to enhance fuel spray characteristics, along with specially developed piston cavity shapes that ensure a shorter combustion time and suppresses the impact on power and torque from engine knocking. Pumping loss, which saps fuel economy, is also decreased by employing dual sequential valve timing.

The 2012 Mazda3 is said to deliver 155 horsepower and 148 pound-feet of torque. Compared to the current Mazda3 MZR 2.0-liter engine, the maximum power of the SKYACTIV-equipped 2012 Mazda3 is increased by approximately 5% (from 148 horsepower) and torque is increased by approximately 10% (from 135 hp).

When equipped with the SKYACTIV-G gasoline engine and optional SKYACTIV-Drive six-speed automatic transmission, the 2012 Mazda3 sedan achieves a 21-percent fuel-economy improvement over the current MZR 2.0-liter engine equipped with the optional five-speed automatic transmission. With a fuel tank capacity of 14.5 gallons, the 2012 Mazda3 sedan with SKYACTIV has the potential of a 540-mile range, with still a gallon of fuel remaining.

City mpg for the sedan version also improves by 17 percent to 28 mpg. When equipped with the SKYACTIV-MT six-speed manual transmission, the sedan is rated with an estimated fuel economy of 27 city/39 highway. The Mazda3 sedan with the MZR 2.0-liter has an EPA fuel economy rating of 25 city/33 highway with the standard five-speed manual transmission and 24 city/33 highway with the optional five-speed automatic transmission.

Another First
Also, previously only available with the MZR 2.5-liter engine, the Mazda3 five-door hatchback model will now be offered in the U.S. with the SKYACTIV-G 2.0-liter gasoline engine. This Mazda3 hatchback is estimated to deliver 27 city/38 highway (SKYACTIV-MT) and 28 city/38 highway (SKYACTIV-Drive AT).

The slightly lower highway estimates can be attributed to different aerodynamics and the higher weight ratio between the sedan and hatchback.  However, the hatchback's driving range remains impressive with more than 500 miles of driving on the same sized tank as the sedan. The MZR 2.0-liter engine will not be available in the hatchback model.

Also available on the 2012 Mazda3 is the Mazda MZR 2.5-liter engine. It offers an aluminum block with cylinder-bore liners made of a steel-molybdenum alloy offering strength and stiffness generally not seen in large-displacement four-cylinder engines.

Providing 167 hp and 168 pound-feet of torque, the MZR 2.5-liter engine is available with a six-speed manual transmission or a five-speed electronically-controlled automatic with manual shift control. Mazda says the Mazda3 fitted with the MZR 2.5-liter engine achieves 20 mpg city and 28 mpg highway with a manual transmission and 22 mpg city and 29 mpg highway with the automatic.

Mazda has not announced pricing for the 2012 Mazda3 sedan or hatchback.

As for the other eight members of the 40-mpg highway conventionally-powered and gasoline-fueled automobile club, a drumroll please: Ford Fiesta SFE, Chevy Cruze Eco, Smart ForTwo, Ford Focus SE, Hyundai Elantra, Hyundai Accent, Honda Civic HF and the Chevy Sonic.

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cjchem says: 11:15 AM, 04.26.11

It's about time. I used to drive a ford fiesta in 1980 that got 35 MPG highway (real mileage based on my driving). I guess Americans are just too rich and frivolous to demand even a meager increase in mileage. Oh, I suppose some of it was some of the added safety features added over that time that increased weight, and thus decreased mileage. I guess it just goes to show we can be driven to act by fear of the improbable, but not by what we know is inevitable (higher gas prices), and in the end, whatever is most profitable is what is most American. Baseball, Hotdogs, Apple pie, and ???, certainly not rationality.


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