Mazda’s i-stop is an eye-opener

TOKYO -- Stop-start technology has big promise as a fuel saver.

So I was excited to test drive the facelifted Mazda2, which went on sale in Japan last month with the company’s new SkyActiv gasoline engine and cylinder deactivation system.

By turning off the engine at traffic stops and automatically restarting when the brake is released, Mazda’s so-called i-stop system helps the SkyActiv 1.3-liter engine get 30 percent better mileage than a Mazda2 with the older-generation 1.3-liter engine.

But a funny thing happened when I paused for a red in Tokyo’s harbor district.

After a few moments of silence, the engine clicked on, as designed, to help keep the air conditioner going. OK, that’s normal. But as the engine jumped to life, so did the steering wheel. To my surprise, I found the engine’s start-up vibrations turning the wheel to-and-fro in my loose grip.

I turned to the Mazda powertrain engineer sitting beside me.

“Didn’t engineers notice that during development?”


“Well, didn’t they try to fix it?”

“Yes, but they decided this amount of feedback was acceptable.”

I’ve driven cars with stop-start engines before, but this was a first. The self-animated steering wheel only happened once during my 40-minute run. And it was more an unexpected annoyance than a safety issue. But I suspect it will take drivers some getting used to.

Mostly, the engine rested and reignited seamlessly.

A meter on the driver’s display shows how long the engine has been shut down in i-stop mode for each trip. For me, the engine was off about 40 percent of the time that the vehicle wasn’t rolling.

Don’t wait for a SkyActive Mazda2 in the United States. Mazda has no plans to sell it there.

But SkyActiv is U.S.-bound. And the first U.S. model getting the technology will be a refreshed Mazda3 sedan, which enters production next week and is expected stateside later this year.

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