Thursday, April 11, 2013

The Truly Greener Vehicle is SkyActiv Blue

Today I am going to compare the 2013 Mazda3 SkyActiv and the 2013 Toyota Prius Two.

"Why would you do that, Dave?", you say.

"Well...", I say.

You then interrupt me to say, "The Mazda3 has more power, better handling, and is more fun to drive.  It's not really a fair comparison!  You're not being very kind to the poor Prius."

"Well..." I start to say, waiting for you to interrupt again, but this time you're looking at me like I'm crazy.  No really, your mouth is hanging open, your eyes darting back and forth...I digress. "I'm going to explain why it's also a more economically and environmentally sound choice, not just more fun to drive."

Let's set aside all the things that we Mazda-ites love about our cars (handling, reliability, fun, ZoomZoom).  Instead, let's just look at cost/fuel economy.  On the surface the Prius is the winner with an EPA combined average of 50 mpg.  The poor Mazda3 iSport w/SkyActiv is only rated at a combined 32 mpg.  However the MSRP for the Prius Two is $24,765, and the Mazda3 is $20,020 (both prices include destination fees and are the base trim level for the better fuel economy).  Taking into account the MSRP's, the EPA Combined MPG ratings, and $3.95 per gallon gasoline, let's see how they stack up financially...

As you can see, it would take 7.12 years for the Prius to draw even with the Mazda3 economically (MSRP and fuel costs).  This doesn't even take into account other vehicle costs.  So let's look at the difference using's 5 year cost to own number (

So taking into account other costs, we almost double the amount of years it takes the Prius to merely equal the Mazda3 SkyActiv.  That also puts it outside of the 8 year/100,000 mile warranty on the Prius battery.

"But Dave!", you shout, "I don't care about the money.  I want the get the Prius because it's good for the environment!".

This brings a few things to mind for me.  First, why are you yelling at me?  Second, is the Prius really all that green?  Well, here is information on the magical journey the Prius takes on the way to the Showroom.
  • The battery packs are either NiMH (Nickel) or Lithium-Ion and these metals put 10 times the amount of sulfer-oxide emissions than conventional vehicles.
  • The Lithium or the Nickel is mined in China, where they don't particularly worry about environmental hazards (take a look at the news and their air pollution).  It used to be mined in Ontario, Canada. 
  • The metal is then shipped via big boat to Europe to be refined, before then being shipped to China (again on big boats) to be made into a foam-like material.
  • It is then sent to Japan to be made into the battery and put in the vehicles.  Which are then shipped to the United States.  On a big boat.
And yes, other vehicles also get materials and finished products shipped by big boat.  But thanks to the extra processes required to make the Prius battery packs, these things are not equal.

It's these types of issues that prompted Mazda to take a more gradual approach to increasing fuel economy. Will we ever have a hybrid or an EV?  Probably.  But I'm willing to bet that the Mazda Executives will tell (or have told) the Mazda Engineers the same thing they told them before developing the SkyActiv systems.  Hit the MPG goal, but don't sacrifice power, handling, safety, or driving experience.

So SkyActiv Mazda owners, stand tall and be proud.  You're driving fun cars for the environment!

Saturday, March 30, 2013

It's SkyActiv!!! Wait...what?

Most of you know that I am the Internet Sales Specialist at Gem Mazda, in Tallahassee, FL.  While specializing on selling the entire internet is time consuming, I do occasionally sell a car or two.  When it comes to new Mazda vehicles, the question I get asked more than almost any other is..."yeah, SkyActiv...what is that?".

The way I heard it told (or at least how I play the movie in my head), is the Mazda executives went to the engineers and told them:
  • You must make the Mazda3 hit the 40 mpg mark.
  • You may not sacrifice power.
  • You may not take shortcuts, like "eco" buttons or high profile tires.
  • You may not sacrifice safety (okay, that one's obvious).
Easy, right?  Well, if it was so easy, why is it that Mazda's competition did some of the following to hit the 40 mpg mark:
  • Used smaller, less powerful engines.
  • Have an "eco" button that takes power away from the engine to limit fuel consumption
  • Use high profile tires that detract from the vehicles' handling
  • Not include a spare tire to save weight (an inflation kit won't do much for a shredded tire)
  • Or even have procedural errors in determining the mpg's.*
So, how DID Mazda do it?  
(WARNING - The following is a little bit technical and long, but still interesting).

The Sky-G Engine
  • Direct Fuel Injection - Many cars are fuel injected, but Mazda used a multi-hole injector port (6 actually) that sprays the fuel into the cylinders at high pressure.  Think of it like a garden hose.  If you just have the end open when the water is coming out you waste a lot of water.  However if you put on a shower type nozzle, you increase the pressure of the water, and there is less waste.

  • High Compression Ratio - A 14:1 compression ratio (13:1 in the U.S. version due to 87 grade fuel) results in more power (torque) for the fuel being used.  If you get more power out of each say ounce of fuel, you are increasing the efficiency of the fuel burned.
  • Volcano top piston - Mazda added a volcano-like pocket at the top of the dome of the piston to allow the spark to...well spark, with excessive heating of the top of the piston, meaning that the energy of that spark doesn't dissipate over the top of the piston, reducing loss of energy.  Less energy lost, means better combustion of the fuel, allowing for a more efficient use of the fuel, again.

  • 4-2-1 Exhaust Manifold - A high compression ratio usually results in a thing called "knock" in vehicles that don't use higher grade gasoline (93 or better).  Knock is pre-ignition of the fuel that is the result of a rise in the temperature of fuel/air mixture from the previous combustion cycle.  Mazda wanted the SkyActiv engine to be able to run on regular ol' 87 grade gasoline however, so they used the 4-2-1 exhaust to allow for the combustion heat from the previous cycles to be removed, so they don't impact the following combustion cycles.  Told you it would get technical.
  • Electric Sequential Valve Timing - Very simply, making sure the valves open at the exact point for maximum power and fuel economy, with minimum emissions.  Otherwise you may have energy loss through unnecessary air movement in the intake system.

The SkyActiv Transmissions

SkyActiv-Drive (the Automatic one) - Mazda used the best aspects of the the traditional step transmission, the Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT), and the Dual Clutch Transmission, in developing the new 6-speed SkyActiv Drive Transmission (see the chart - from Mazda Fuel magazine).

The benefits include:

  • Better torque-transfer over a 5-speed automatic resulting in 4% - 7% increase in fuel economy.
  • Direct feel (more like a Manual transmission) in how it drives
  • Smooth upshifting
  • Rev matching downshifts
  • Improved fuel efficiency from reduced slippage in the torque converter.
  • Minimal Noise, Vibration, and Harshness (NVH).

SkyActiv-MT (the Manual one) - The story of the MT is simpler, but no less impressive.  Like the engine, they reduced the weight while making the materials stronger, and reduced internal friction.  The real benefit for those of us that enjoy driving manual transmission is the shorter shift-throws in the new MT.  The goal of the engineers was to make it feel like the iconic Mazda MX5 Miata.  They ended up with a 45-mm throw for that quick Miata like shifting.

SkyActiv Body - Through the used of more 50% more high-tensile steel throughout the redesigned frame, the SkyActiv Body is 30% more rigid, 8% lighter, and even safer than the previous incarnation.  The result is a lighter, but safer body that contributes to the fuel efficiency of the overall product.

SkyActiv Chassis - The diagram will give you all the information you need, but I will add the following:  New suspension geometry, electric power steering (EPS), more rigidity and 14% less weight keep in line with the other components in reducing weight, while improving performance and fuel efficiency as a result.

So, that's SkyActiv.  It's way more info than I would convey to a customer on the lot, but perhaps they'll read this and get a better understanding of what I meant when I said, "It's a whole bunch of little things, that add up to better fuel efficiency, without sacrificing power or performance."  For more information, check out MazdaUSA's official website for SkyActiv info.

Until next time, the SkyActiv is the limit!!!

(Much of this information came from the Summer 2012 Mazda Fuel Magazine, so thanks to Mazda for great vehicles, and the information).

* LA Times Article

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

The "Medition"

Dave's 1994 Mazda Miata M-Edition at Wiregrass Autocross

As I mentioned in the "Welcome" blog post, I own a 1994 Miata M-Edition.  Or as it is known at Gem Mazda, the Medition (meh-dih-shun).  While I'd like to think that I could do an entire post on just my car, it would probably be better to include information on more than just my Miata.  So, we will touch on some history of the Miata and the First Generation (NA's), as well as digging in further on the M Editions.

A Brief and Incomplete History*
The Mazda Miata (or MX5, depending on where it was being sold), made it's way to dealerships in the U.S. in May of 1989, though it was a 1990 Model year.  Based on the British and Italian Roadsters that had all but disappeared, it won over the hearts of the driving public quickly.  So quickly in fact, that demand outstripped production initially.

Roadsters, like the MG B, the Lotus Elan, and the Alfa Romeo Spider, while beloved had fallen by the way.  And let's be honest, while they were nice to look at, and fun to drive, they were missing one very critical ingredient...reliability.  When asked by Mazda what type of project the company should be working on, a team of California designers suggested a roadster.  We take the Miata as a foregone conclusion now, but back then, Bob Hall had quite the time convincing the Mazda executives to take a chance on the car.  So, he did what everyone who has tried to explain the appeal of this automobile to someone has done...he got them to drive it.  Even then, they told them to make it inexpensive.

What they came up with was a car that took it's cues mostly from the Lotus Elan.  They made sure a few key  components made up this gamble.  Rear wheel drive.  Convertible.  Lightweight 50/50 ratio.  And for the last  23 years they've kept to those components, making the MX5 Miata, the Best-Selling Sports Car in history, according to the Guinness Book of World Records.  I guess Bob and crew knew what they were doing.

First Generation 1990-1997 (NA)
The First Generation of the Miata, also known as NA's (because they all have NA in the Vehicle Identification Number), were a game changer. They had classic styling, pop-up headlights, and were fun to drive. Most importantly, they were an affordable, convertible, sports car, when there was a distinct lack of such in the market.

From 1990 to 1993 Mazda used an 1.6L 4-cylinder engine to power the small roadster. By small, I mean it only weighed 2,150 lbs. With the addition of some safety features in the 1994 model year the weight of the vehicle went up, but so did the power. Starting in 1994 Mazda put in the 1.8L 4-cylinder that would stay in the vehicle for the next 12 years. 1994 was the first year to have dual airbags, and a limited slip differential. It was the year that introduced the "R" package (Bilstein shocks, no power steering). 1994 was also the last year that Mazda included an actual Oil Pressure gauge with numbers rather than just Low/High. It was also the first of the M Editions.

There were minor changes through 1998, but the body style was the same.

The M Editions**
From 1994 through 1997, Mazda produced limited quantities of Miata's known as M Editions. Each was a special color, only available that year in the M Edition. They had special badging, and other special features (such as Nardi Shift knobs, and wooden E-brake handles).

1994 - Montego Blue (3,000 production run)
1995 - Merlot Mica (3,500 production run)
1996 - Starlight Blue Mica (2,968 production run)
1997 - Marina Green Mica (3,002 production run)

The "Medition"
Mine is not perfect. There is plenty for me to do to it as I can. The seats need to be fixed. I've installed an aftermarket stereo (though to be fair there was a not-as-nice aftermarket stereo already in it when I bought it). It has a few scratches, though I have touch up paint, and a few hail-like dents in the hood that need to be PDR'd. is attention getting. The Montego Blue stands out among other Miatas, as does the M Edition script badging, and the wooden Nardi shift knob. Most importantly, it does what every MX5 Miata does...puts a smile on your face when you drive it!

With the Top Down and Loving it,
Love live the King of Sports Cars

For additional information:
   *  Wikipedia - Miata
  **  M-Edition Field Guide

Tuesday, March 26, 2013


Welcome to Mazda in Tally!

My name is David Rohe, and I am a Mazda fan.  I've sipped the Mazda "kool aid", and I am a true believer.  I own a 1994 Mazda Miata M-Edition (more on my car in a later post) and a 2015 Mazda3 (in an even later post).  I am also the Internet Sales Specialist at Gem Mazda in Tallahassee, FL.  I've created this blog for several purposes:
  • To have a place to let Mazda owners and fans to hear about Mazda product, news, events, and even special sales.
  • To provide a place for me to give thanks to my customers at Gem Mazda, and perhaps generate some more (hey, a guys got to make a living!).
  • To hopefully grow a connected Mazda community in Tallahassee.
  • To promote the love of all things Mazda in Tallahassee!
If you are a Mazda owner, a customer, a friend, or just a gearhead, I hope you'll join me here, and please pass along this blog to others so we can grow, Mazda in Tally!

May the Wankel be with you.