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CX-5 Skyactive D steers Mazda toward diesel engine while rest of industry shies away

The 2019 Mazda CX-5 diesel is powered by a 168-horsepower (290 lb.-ft. of torque), 2.2-litre, twin turbo, four-cylinder aluminum diesel engine.
The 2019 Mazda CX-5 diesel is powered by a 168-horsepower (290 lb.-ft. of torque), 2.2-litre, twin turbo, four-cylinder aluminum diesel engine. - Richard Russell

Mazda is swimming upstream again, going against the tide. The little Japanese company has a record of pursuing engines others have abandoned, or not even tried. It is known for picking up the rotary engine torch abandoned by German companies. It had a little supercharged V6 operating on the Miller cycle. And now, for 2019, it is producing a diesel engine, while others are dropping combustion ignition engines like hot potatoes.  

That’s right — a diesel engine is now available in the CX-5. The rest of the industry has shied away from combustion engine technology following the Volkswagen fiasco. The German company fudged the figures regarding emissions from its TDi diesel engine. The resultant media coverage tainted all diesels in the minds of consumers, and manufacturers around the globe turned away from diesels, especially any meant for North America. 

But, diesel aficionados remain loyal to this alternative and its benefits. 

Mazda watched a strong demand for diesels continue. In 2016 more than 22,000 diesel sedans and utility vehicles were sold in Canada. More than 18,000 diesel engine utes were sold in the next three years. As the engineers and scientists in the R&D centre in Japan were developing a clean-emission diesel, Mazda surveyed owners regarding interest in a diesel engine for the CX-5. 

That interest was strong initially and remained so for the next couple of years. More than 4,000 raised their hands. The interest was especially strong around large metropolitan areas. Diesels are at their best in such surroundings. They have loads of torque, great for accelerating from stop lights and excel at low speed fuel mileage. Mazda’s surveys showed urban dwellers were interested in a premium compact utility vehicle with a full slate of features and a diesel engine. 

Voila’ The 2019 Mazda CX-5 Signature, Skyactive-D, with a 2.2-litre turbocharged diesel engine! 

At $45,950, the 2019 Mazda CX-5 Signature Skyactiv -D costs thousands of dollars less than the premium diesels — mostly German — that dominate the market. Mazda hopes to tap into this market as current owners look to trade, or their leases come to an end. It also thinks the CX-5 diesel will appeal to those moving up to a premium ute who want a diesel engine. 

The CX-5 has been praised for its looks, ride comfort and quality. To ensure it appeals to the intended market, Mazda made the diesel engine available only in the top Signature trim as a $5,000 option. Standard equipment includes an extensive array of features expected from a luxury vehicle, and many that are optional on them. 

The CX-5 has been praised for its looks, ride comfort and quality. - Richard Russell
The CX-5 has been praised for its looks, ride comfort and quality. - Richard Russell

I’ve praised the CX-5 as a favourite ute in this size, regardless of price. The Mazda CX-5 Signature Skyactiv-D I recently drove for almost 1,000 km. had the instant torque and good fuel mileage expected of a diesel. It retained all the attributes that make this one of my favourite utes, style, space and excellent driving dynamics. 

So how did Mazda manage to do what others can’t — offer a diesel that meets al emission regulations? Allow me to go a bit techie. 

Gasoline engines use an electrical system to generate the spark necessary to ignite the fuel. Diesels use extreme compression, squeezing the air/fuel mix to the point where it gets so hot it self-ignites. No spark plug or electricity is involved or necessary. To minimize emissions, diesels rely on a very lean mixture — more air per unit of fuel than a gasoline engine. The bad news is that this extra air results in the generation of nitrogen oxides (NOx) — unpleasant stuff. 

To deal with this, modern diesel engines have turned to Diesel Exhaust Fluid (DEF). Comprised of urea and water, and commonly known as AdBlue, it is injected into the exhaust system. The resulting chemical reaction, allows the exhaust to meet existing emission regulations.  

Skyactiv-D diesel engine have the lowest compression of any diesel engine in the world. Others use a 16:1 compression ratio (16 parts of oxygen to one part fuel), SkyActiv D diesels operate at 14:1. This means lower pressure and temperature within the combustion chamber, extra time for injected fuel to mix with the air. The result is more complete combustion and less NOx and soot.  

Mazda’s unique SkyActiv diesel eliminates the added complexity, weight and cost of an after-treatment system. - Richard Russell
Mazda’s unique SkyActiv diesel eliminates the added complexity, weight and cost of an after-treatment system. - Richard Russell

The cleaner exhaust allows this engine to comply with global emission regulations. To accomplish this, required a number of developments and patents which I won’t bore you with here. A couple of examples include injectors capable of nine injections per combustion event, ceramic glow plugs, and a two-stage turbocharger. 

Mazda has no hybrids, plug-in or otherwise in its lineup and no plans or budget to develop such stop-gap powertrains. It says the Skyactive diesel offers similar fuel economy, more power and was less expensive to develop and produce. It also adds less weight than the battery pack required for a hybrid. The CX-5 Signature Skyactiv D comes with free scheduled maintenance for two years or 32,000 km.   

The next step is an electric Mazda, expected to unveiled at the Tokyo Motor Show this fall. An electric motor will be the main motivator, supplemented by a tiny rotary engine to serve as a range extended. 

As I said, Mazda and innovation go together. 

The specs 

Model: 2019 Mazda CX-5 Signature Skyactive D  

Engine: 2.2-litre, twin turbo, four-cylinder aluminum diesel, 168 horsepower, 290 lb.-ft. of torque, low-sulphur diesel fuel 

Transmission: six-speed automatic 

NRCan rating (litres/100km city/highway): 8.9 / 7.9 

Length: 4,550 mm 

Width: 1,842 mm 

Wheelbase: 2,698 mm 

Weight: 1,788 kg 

Price: $45,950 base, $49,950 as tested, plus freight 

Standard equipment: cocoa-brown Napa leather upholstery, all-wheel-drive, 19-in alloy wheels, automatic auto-levelling LED headlights, auto-folding power and heated mirrors, real wood trim, dual zone automatic climate control, auto-dimming mirror with Homelink, radar cruise control with stop and go function, leather-wrapped heated tilt and telescope steering wheel with unique stitching, heated front and rear seats, ventilated front seats, keyless entry with push button start, panoramic sunroof, power windows, seats, locks and tailgate, rear privacy glass, 17-cm colour infotainment touch screen with support for Apple CarPlay and Android Auto and voice-control for audio functions, 10-speaker Bose audio system, navigation system, satellite radio, heads-up display with traffic sign recognition, rear view camera 

Standard safety equipment: lane departure warning with lane keep assist, advanced Smart City brake support with pedestrian detection.    

Options on test vehicle: none 

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