Can Mazda make diesel sexy?

Piezo is not an international DJ. Can Mazda convince diesel skeptics in Malaysia?

mazda_diesel_01Interesting isn’t it? Japan’s most fashionable carmaker taking on the challenge of selling diesel-powered cars to diesel-shy buyers. Mazda won’t be the first among mainstream brands to do so; Peugeot, Kia, Hyundai all offer diesel options, but in the realm of passenger cars (sans pick-ups and vans), diesel has yet to ignite the imagination of Malaysian consumers despite the unstinting adulation from the motoring media.

The ambivalence is understandable. Our government-mandated fuel standards lag behind the rest of the world, and if not for the voluntary introduction of Euro 5 diesel by certain petroleum companies last year, Mazda might not have even bothered with Malaysia. Yet uncertainty remains with the mooted implementation of B10 biodiesel (i.e. 10% blend of palm oil-based diesel), of which the majority of car brands are not in agreement with. As of now, it’s a stalemate.

Mazda tackles the oily bits

Given the various inhibitions, Mazda isn’t exactly going for broke here with its diesel strategy. It has slotted a diesel variant in both the CX-5 and Mazda6 line-ups, powered by the same 173hp and 420Nm 2.2-litre SkyActiv-D four-cylinder engine mated to a six-speed automatic transmission. The CKD CX-5 SkyActiv-D 2WD – which is already assembled locally for export – will cost RM161,529 (without insurance). It straddles the gap between the 185hp/250Nm 2.5-litre petrol-powered 2WD (RM155,166.70) and 4WD (RM166,666.70) variants.

Mazda CX-5 2.2-litre SykActiv-D 2WD costs RM161,529; that or a petrol-powered 2.5-litre for RM155,166.70?

For the CBU-only diesel-powered Mazda6 (in four-door saloon form only), it will become the priciest variant at RM203,792.30, more than the gorgeous 2.5-litre petrol powered Touring wagon at RM200,203.30 and the 2.5-litre four-door saloon at RM196,203.30. Yes, the diesel variants don’t come cheap, but they do get the i-ActivSense safety package (unique in the CX-5 line-up), hence some inspired salesmanship will have to be called upon to shift a few out of the showrooms.

Handsome Mazda6 diesel variant is the priciest at RM203,792.30.

Piezo isn’t an international DJ

The success of diesel in other parts of the world is as much a testament to how the technology has been marketed as it is the technology itself. It’s curious how manufacturers are starting to talk less about its virtues and more on electrification or hybridisation. Technologies (direct injection, turbo-charging, etc.) that once drove common-rail diesel to the fore are now very much part of the latest generation petrol engines, with efficiency and outputs ever closer than before, though diesel is still superior in outright fuel economy (up to 30%).

The Volkswagen Dieselgate scandal also brought into sharp contrast the difficulties manufacturers face in managing emissions of diesel engines in light of the ever-tightening regulations (global warming is real, mind you). Precision injectors, NOx traps, diesel particulate filters may sound cool to the uninitiated, but in reality they are devised to overcome the inherent characteristics (or weaknesses) of diesel that emits higher levels of NOx and particulates than petrol.

Does diesel equate to Zoom-Zoom?

To this end, Mazda deploys a range of cutting-edge tech to make their SkyActiv-D engines perform cleanly. Two-stage turbo-charging, low compression ratio, Piezo fuel injectors, lightweight aluminium construction allow the SkyActiv-D engines to meet Euro 6 emission standards without the need for after-treatment systems, which is an admirable engineering feat.

A more fascinating prospect may be the 1.5-litre SkyActiv-D diesel powertrain currently being tested locally in more affordable B-segment models, where the target customer is likelier to appreciate squeezing every kilometer out of each litre of diesel without holding up traffic. Whether consumers in Malaysia will find all of this sexy enough to sway them over from petrol power remains to seen, but if any mass market brand is to achieve that, you’d probably place your bet on Mazda.