MAZDA PLANS TO BASE ALL FUTURE vehicles on a common “scalable” architecture beginning with the '12 CX-5 cross/utility vehicle launching later this year, two top executives say.

The new platform will encompass two new lightweight components: Mazda's Skyactiv-Chassis and Skyactiv-Body.

Skyactiv is the brand name for a host of new Mazda technologies, including engines and transmissions.

Robert Davis, senior vice president-U.S. operations, says the architecture's parts will be “different, but the same” across models.

“While the basic design would be the same, the parts would be differentiated by scale,” he tells Ward's.

In developing the Skyactiv-Body, Mazda says engineers tried to emulate the Miata MX-5 sports car's “fun-to-drive” characteristics, which come from its lightweight and front/rear weight distribution, says lead body engineer Hidenori Matsuuka.

Other concerns included increased safety and rigidity, two things that “typically add weight,” Matsuuka says.

Rather than turn to strong and light, yet expensive, materials such as carbon fiber and aluminum, Matsuuka and his team decided to take a “holistic” approach.

By optimizing the body structure and design, adopting new production processes and making more components out of high-tensile steel, engineers were able to make the Skyactiv-Body 8% lighter than its predecessor.

The chassis group shared many of the same objectives. Kazuhiro Okuyama says his team's primary task was to create “Jinba Ittai,” a Japanese term meaning a “feeling of oneness with the vehicle.”

While it was important for chassis developers to deliver the “fun-to-drive” feel, they also had to ensure high-speed stability and ride comfort, while reducing weight.

To optimize ride comfort, the angle of the rear suspension was shifted upwards to more easily absorb “longitudinal” impact shocks from the road, Okuyama says.

The setup also prevents the vehicle's rear from rising due to imperfections in the road.

This improvement leads to increased stability when braking.

Suspension links were optimized and the rear-wheel grip enhanced to increase ease of turning.

A higher steering-gear ratio for a direct-steering feel also is employed.

Weight was reduced some 14%, compared with previous Mazda chassis, by optimizing cross members.

Mazda also is preparing to launch a new diesel engine, the twin-turbo 2.2L Skyactiv-D, late next year on a yet-to-be-announced vehicle.

Company executives are confident the diesel will be a worthy alternative to hybrid-electric vehicles, due to its good fuel economy and performance characteristics.

Mazda says Skyactiv-D will achieve about 43 mpg (5.4L/100 km) on the highway, a 20% improvement over the 2.2L diesel engine the auto maker currently offers in overseas markets.