2019 Mazda3 with Its Skyactiv-X Release

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Mazda had a simple explanation for why we had flown to Germany to drive its made-in-Japan next-generation Mazda 3 hatchback in prototype guise: Such early prototypes are allowed to roam German roads, unlike in Japan where they would need to pass rigorous inspections. Oh, and Mazda has a technical center in Germany with engineers as eager as we were to experience and wrap their heads around the new 3’s Skyactiv-X compression-ignition-capable inline-four gasoline engine. So that is how we came to pilot several matte-black Mazda 3 test mules powered by Skyactiv-X engines and wearing decoy current-generation bodywork—and lacking airbags, stability control, and fully operational air conditioning—on a humid summer day in Frankfurt.

X Marks the Spot

For an in-depth rundown of how the Skyactiv-X engine works, you can grab a shovel and dig through our explanation. The shorter version is this: Mazda wanted to build a Homogeneous Charge Compression Ignition (HCCI) gasoline engine, which can combust ultra-lean gasoline/air mixtures for big efficiency gains but found it too volatile and difficult to manage. Understandably so, given that HCCI engines use high compression ratios to achieve ignition without spark plugs. To work properly, that requires fine control over the air/fuel mixtures and temperatures inside each cylinder. Transitioning between lean compression ignition and richer spark ignition, a necessity given the former’s intolerance for higher engine speeds and high-load situations such as acceleration, only compounds these issues.

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Instead, Mazda achieves compression ignition using a spark plug as a combustion control. This generated a new acronym: SPCCI, for Spark Plug Controlled Compression Ignition. It enables the Skyactiv-X to use extremely lean fuel mixtures like an HCCI engine—the sort that are so lean they can’t be combusted via spark, only by compression—but it does so over a much broader swath of driving scenarios, including under moderate load and higher engine speeds. When operating with compression ignition (CI), Skyactiv-X mixes air and fuel during the intake stroke (as it does during spark ignition, only much leaner) but then injects a second dollop of fuel just before the power stroke and ignites it using the spark plug. The flame created spreads out and down while also raising the cylinder pressure high enough—along with the compression from the piston—to combust the lean primary air/fuel mixture.

A small Roots-type supercharger further expands the CI operating window by feeding more air into the engine, leaning out the mixture sufficiently for compression ignition even at higher engine speeds. Mazda borrows the turbocharged CX-9’s cooled exhaust-gas recirculation (EGR) setup to keep combustion temperatures in check and also uses a high-pressure fuel-injection system to help each combustion cycle’s second injection of fuel to atomize more thoroughly, avoiding soot buildup from incomplete burn.

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9 Photos of the 2019 Mazda3 with Its Skyactiv-X Release

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