Gearing up to plug your next car into the mains at night? Not so fast. While the race is on to produce the best in electric motoring, or at the very least to offer competent hybrid options, there is one manufacturer who’s thinking differently. Electricpig’s spent a couple of days in the Scottish highlands with the new Mazda CX-5, and we’ve been talking about the real future of driving. Think you know what’s coming? You might want to buckle up…

The Mazda CX-5is the first in a completely new generation of cars from the Japanese giant. How so? It’s the first to feature what Mazda’s calling SkyActiv – brand new engine and transmission technology that aims to reinvent the way we think about the humble petrol engine, and to get it completely right before moving onto anything new.

Hybrid, schmybrid

“As the base power unit, the internal combustion engine will continue on,” says Mazda’s PR Director Graeme Fudge. “We’re not saying that hybrid and electric aren’t for us. They are, and they’re technologies that we’re developing, but we don’t believe that the time is now that we need to be bringing these to market.”

That’s a bold way of looking at things. Right now, almost every major car manufacturer is working on perfecting both hybrid engines – that switch between petrol and electric power – and full-on electric vehicles. Mazda has the Mazda 2, but that’s Japan-only, and isn’t even for sale. But Fudge insists that everyone else has got it wrong.

Hybrids are built on inefficient petrol engines,” he says. “We need to develop the base technology first to make it as clean and as efficient as possible before then putting them in hybrid systems.” And that’s the role of SkyActiv: an engine made from lighter materials and smaller dimensions. The result in the CX-5 is 30 percent less engine friction, 10 percent less weight and 15 percent less fuel consumption than SUVs in the same class.

According to research by automotive analyst R.L. Polk, “two thirds of hybrid car owners will not buy another hybrid.” Fair enough reasoning for this alternative focus, then, but what about electric? “Electric is getting a lot of negative press,” says Fudge. “People aren’t just talking about range anxiety, charging times etcetera, but also, what is the cost of electric cars and CO2 for the factories? A lot of commentators are saying: ‘Maybe electric isn’t the answer we were all looking for at the moment.’ We do have the tech to do this, we just don’t think the time is right to produce these vehicles in large scale numbers.”

London to Edinburgh: The electric challenge

Fudge says that the CX-5 and its SkyActiv tech are part of a longer-term plan – that all Mazdas from now on will be built around the new concept, and that the general plan is to get to a point where hybrids will become mainstream once the traditional engine has evolved as much as it can.

The logic seems sound and car drives well, but SkyActiv isn’t the start and end of the tech that’s going to drive tomorrow’s cars…

Driverless future

On top of a reworked engine, the CX-5 boasts ‘Smart City Break Assist’ – an intelligent aid that automatically slams on the brakes if the car’s sensors detect that you’re about to smash into something. Stopping distances vary with the speed you’re travelling at, but at anything at or under 20mph, the system aims to prevent you from hitting the car in front without you having to do anything.

That smart technology got us thinking about Google’s driverless cars, which have been gaining a lot of attention thanks to their immense, flawless track record and recent approval to hit the roads of Nevada in the US:

“Every manufacturer has driverless cars, and is testing that technology,” says Fudge. Does that mean Mazda, too? Of course it does.

Google’s driverless cars cleared in Nevada

“If I could have a car where I could get into it in the morning, press a button and have it drive me to work while I sleep in the back, that would be the ideal.” We’d have to agree, there. Although, as Fudge himself puts it: “People will always want the choice.”

The Mazda CX-5 has been designed to be fun to drive, because, no matter how clever driverless cars become, people will still want to drive themselves from time to time. If we can have that choice, and have it with some serious fuel efficiency, then that’s your best bet for a car of tomorrow. Will all that come from Mazda? At least we know it’s working on it.

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