Back in May, TheDetroitBureau.com reported on Mazda’s plan to develop an additional version of its breakthrough SkyActiv-X engine, this one an inline-six design that would show up early in the coming decade in the next-generation Mazda6 sedan and, quite likely, in some other products.
Now, it appears, those “other products” could include ones badged Toyota and Lexus. It would mark a significant step forward in the steadily expanding relationship between Mazda and Toyota, a partnership that will soon go to ground in the U.S. when their jointly operated assembly plant in Alabama opens up.
The payoff would be significant for both manufacturers. Developing a second, larger version of the SkyActiv-X won’t be cheap, especially if, as Japanese magazine BestCar reports, the upgraded Mazda engine will incorporate 48-volt – also known as “mild hybrid” – technology. In turn, it could provide Toyota access to a straight-six engine that could show up in a variety of different future products.
For those unfamiliar with the SkyActiv-X, it’s the first time a manufacturer has been able to go to market with an engine using a concept called homogeneous charge compression ignition, or HCCI. Think of it as a way to make a gas engine operate more like a diesel, where high compression levels, rather than a spark, are used to ignite the air/fuel mixture. The payoff is improved performance combined with better fuel economy.
In reality, SkyActiv-X doesn’t completely achieve HCCI functionality. It still has spark plugs, but they are used only until the engine warms up. Conventional diesels normally use glow plugs when the engine is cold. Still, Mazda estimates it is getting as much as a 30% mileage bump from the system, not only comparable to a conventional diesel but also pushing into conventional hybrid territory.
Adding a 48-volt system would further improve the efficiency and performance of the SkyActiv-X by relying on battery power to operate the engine’s Stop/Start system, as well as ancillaries like the water pump and alternator. Mazda also is expected to add a supercharger to the package, something that reportedly would help it punch out about 300 horsepower or more from an engine displacing 3.0-liters. What’s unclear is if the supercharger itself might draw power from the hybrid system, rather than scavenging it from the engine itself. There already are battery-powered turbos on the market.
The new engine, we previously reported, is planned for vehicles based on the “Large Architecture” platform Mazda currently is developing. The next Mazda6 will be based on that while drawing inspiration from the striking Vision Coupe Concept unveiled at the 2017 Tokyo Motor Show.
As we noted in our May report, “From nose-on, the Vision Concept was almost all hood, with slits carved out like a shaved billet for the headlights. The grille was the familiar Mazda trapezoid, albeit a bit larger, with a thin lower intake running from corner to corner and giving the car a sense of menacing width.”
As for Toyota, it appears the six-cylinder SkyActiv-X would land inside several Toyota products, including some sold by Lexus, such as the next IS and RC models.
Toyota, traditionally suspect of working with erstwhile competitors, has done a 180 since Akio Toyoda, grandson of the company’s founder, took control. Notably, it has formed alliances with partners as diverse as Subaru and BMW. A Subaru boxer engine power the little GT86 and not only did BMW help develop the new Toyota Supra but it also is providing one of its time-tests inline-six engines to power the sports car.
With BMW now expected to walk away from the Z4 that is based on the same platform as the Supra, one might speculate on whether Toyota would continue using the BMW engine or look elsewhere, perhaps even to a performance-tuned version of the SkyActive-X six.
Going forward, expect to see even closer relations between Mazda and Toyota covering everything from manufacturing to product development, as well as autonomous, electric and hydrogen fuel-cell technologies.