2012 Mazda3 SkyActiv: Real-World Mileage

2012 Mazda3 Ext SKYACTIV (01)
Small cars and 40 mpg are quickly going hand in hand. Of the 30 sedans, coupes and hatchbacks that start under $18,000, more than a dozen have a 40-mpg non-hybrid variant — and most of them are selling well. Not to be left off the bandwagon, Mazda gave its Mazda3 a mileage makeover for 2012.

Called SkyActiv, the car's new 155-horsepower drivetrain — a direct-injection 2.0-liter four-cylinder with a six-speed manual or automatic — builds on aerodynamic tweaks to eke out competitive mileage: 28/40 mpg city/highway in the automatic Mazda3 sedan, 27/39 mpg with the stick. Aerodynamic shortfalls and a few extra pounds dock 1 mpg highway off the SkyActiv hatchback with either transmission.

How does the Mazda do in the real world? I took a stick-shift Mazda3 SkyActiv hatchback from our Chicago offices to the Detroit auto show to find out.

The results underwhelmed. I had one passenger in tow going east, sharing parts of the highway drive. After the auto show, I drove solo back west. Between both legs and a few days of puttering around Detroit, we racked up 637 miles and averaged 50 mph. The Mazda's trip computer reported 32.9 mpg — a few mpg past the car's 31 mpg combined rating, but well short of its 38 mpg highway figure.

We've had trouble meeting the EPA's highway numbers in 40-mpg cars before, and the winter conditions took their toll. Temperatures on both highway legs were in the mileage-killing 20s and 30s. I headed east with light winds but returned west with a stiff crosswind: Southerly gusts in Detroit hit 37 mph on the day I left, National Weather Service data showed.

The SkyActiv 2.0-liter cranks out 13 more pounds-feet of passing-lane torque than its port-injected sibling, but it still needs a lot of revving for the Mazda3 to move out. Fortunately, SkyActiv's extra oomph manifests on the interstate, where you can add 5 or 10 mph in 6th gear at a reasonable pace. Some commuter cars still require chucking through gears to tack on highway speed. The SkyActiv 2.0-liter is no imposter for Mazda's gutsier 2.5-liter four-cylinder, but it gets the job done.

Will shoppers buy it? I think so. Lead-footers will still want the 2.5-liter Mazda3, but consider the SkyActiv 2.0-liter against the car's base 2.0-liter. At 12,000 annual miles, current national gas prices ($3.38 per gallon of regular, according to AAA) and the EPA's combined city/highway rating, SkyActiv saves $140 to $273 a year versus similar non-SkyActiv variants. That takes some sting out of the price difference between SV/Sport and (SkyActiv) Touring/Grand Touring trims: SV models start at $15,200, and Touring versions at $18,700 (excluding a $795 destination fee). The latter should be an easy find, as just over half the Mazda3 trim levels listed in Cars.com's new-car inventory are SkyActiv trims.

The Mazda3 accounted for 41% of Mazda's U.S. sales last year, outselling bit players in the commuter segment. But shoppers still bought more than two Honda Civics, Toyota Corollas or Chevrolet Cruzes for every Mazda3. Gas mileage has been a shortfall for the Mazda3, which is otherwise a nimble car. I suspect the revamped drivetrain will narrow the divide.

By Kelsey Mays | January 23, 2012 | Comments (26)
Tags: Mazda, Mazda3



Mazda needs to get their 1.8t out immediately, which replaces the gas guzzling 2.5.
The 1.8t uses the small bore, and cylinder head of the 2.0 skyactiv, and the shorter stroke of the MZR 2.0.
180hp 180ft-lbs, and way better mileage than the Ford 2.5.


just saying, but if your average speed was 50 mph, that means a good majority of your driving was done over 70 mph if you had done ANY city driving. if you were "puttering around Detroit" and racking on city miles, then your mpg figure is right where it should be, especially if you were tacking on highway miles so fast that your average speed was 50 mph. if you had been traveling around the optimum speed for efficiency, say 55-65 mph, then your average mph figure would have been lower and your mpg figure would have been higher. for a combined rating, the 3 is getting exactly what it should be. the 40 mpg figure is on the highway anyway, so stop painting it like any of these 40 mpg cars are supposed to get 40 mpg all of the time. you guys know better.

I don't think so. I drove a GMC Terrain V6 for the same trip -- plus another longer drive if you can believe that -- and it returned it's highway figure of 24 nearly exactly. Little different weather conditions but the variance is much greater on the SkyActive. In general terms I hit city mileage figures when I drive a test car on my daily commute which is mostly bumper to bumper. This type of trip averaging 50 mph should have seen much closer to highway figures.


Not being an expert just a four year veteran of carefully driving a civic hybrid (07), small cars seem much more sensitive to factors such as aerodynamics, weight, hills, wind, temperature and driving style (lead foot v steady acceleration), while larger vehicles show much less variance. In ideal conditions these small non-hybrids will achieve great highway numbers but a small hybrid will also show hugh numbers - even exceeding published highway numbers - under the same conditions. So 32.9 mpg sounds pretty spot on.


its been proven repeatedly that you need ideal conditions and very modest speeds to hit the lofty highway figures on many recently introduced midsize and small cars. I wouldnt ever expect realistic real world driving to match the EPA numbers on these cars. The Sonata and Elantra have come up short in quite a few tests by the auto media so this isnt unique to the 3.


yeah, i think what we are starting to see is that the auto industry is 'engineering for the test'. it happened with the previous standards.

for a couple of years after the update it was pretty easy to hit the fuel economy estimates, but lately it's becoming more and more difficult.


My 2011 Mazda3 rated @ 33 mpg hwy constantly returns 36 mpg hwy.
with 80% hwy it gets 30-31 mpg.
My 98 Protege never cracked EPA numbers. But for some time was right on it.


Yes, gas mileage for small cars seems to vary quite a bit from the window sticker. My 2008 Toyota Yaris with an EPA of 29 city / 35mpg returns 38-39mpg in mostly highway driving and 35mpg with more city driving and warming up the car in winter, etc. I should not that I drive congested highways outside Boston.


" if you had been traveling around the optimum speed for efficiency, say 55-65 mph"
JM, if they drove like that, this would not be much of a car site.


Interstate speed limit in Michigan is 70mph in most places so I imagine freeway speeds were more like 75+.


My question would be how the Mazda3 compares to other high fuel economy small cars driven under similar conditions. To just state that something "underwhelms" absent any comparative context doesn't say much.

I recently purchased a Mazda3i Touring and so far, I've been averaging 32-33 MPG in mixed driving (average calculated at the pump) with a lot of accelerating and decelerating to help break-in the drivetrain. 32 MPG is the combined rating for the Mazda3 Skyactiv, so I'm getting exactly what the rated economy says. Going only off the trip computer during a recent 30+ mile constant speed highway run (cruise control set to ~72 MPH), I got 39.0 MPG, which matches the EPA highway rating for the hatchback. The MPGOmatic site got 45 MPG in highway driving at speeds more in the 60 MPH range. Mixing in any city driving or stop-and-go conditions will bring the average mileage way down. But, of course that applies to any non-hybrid vehicle.


I currently own Mazda 3 i Touring with SkyActiv and I have no problem getting avg. 35-37 mpg in city/interstate mixed commute. I think the reviewer is a kind of a lead-foot.


I drive a 07 Yaris Sedan with epa 32/39 (I think). The most I squeezed out of it was 42 on PA highway, which is hilly. My current Avg is 32 in winter and 37 on spring and fall. One thing I'm sure is that the best outside temp to get the best mileage is between 70 to 80 degrees. Anything more or less greatly affects mileage. My highway speeds are 70-80 and I have 225k on it in the past 5 years so I know what I'm talking about.

Al D

Thanks for the comments. I'm interested in the 6AT sedan. Good reviews on the new engine and tranny.

I'm glad you owners are getting close to the estimated gas mileage figures. Tough to beat this very reliable car for the money.

Well after driving a Versa for three days (truck in the shop)and looking at most of the cheaper cars that supposedly get close to 40mpg it was a easy choice for the Mazda 3 skyactiv sedan. Now after putting five hundred miles and still having most of my second tank of gas I think I made a good choice. Mileage so far is around 37 mpg and that’s with 70% highway and the remainder city. The few dislikes I have found so far: Dash very hard to find a place to stick a GPS without blocking the view of something, Engine noise don't know if it's the alternator or AC but hear a wine at all speeds even while idling, and the cup holders in the center console set so far back that I find myself reaching back feeling for my cup. I'm happy with the purchase, the 37mpg more than doubles the 16mpg I get in my dodge truck and would without hesitation buy again.


I have had my Mazda 3 Skyactiv sedan for about 6 months now and love it. About 60% of my driving is highway with and average of 35 mpg. But that's coming out of winter where I have to warm up my car on a daily basis. I expect my average to go up as the weather gets nicer. I absolutely love that I get about 400 miles to a tank! I don't have any issues with the placement of cupholders or the room on my dash. Overall, I love my car.

I bought a 2011 Mazda 3i Touring with SkyActiv. I have a mix of city and interstate driving and continuously get @ 34-36 mpg. I will agree with the several people mentioning how small cars can be affected by wind and temperature for both performance and mileage. I also own a Civic and have owned Corollas, but the optimal mpg for the Mazda has been when doing highway driving (70 mph), 65-85 degrees (F) w light-to-no head wind (or at least a nice tailwind). At this combination, I have been able to get 38 to 39. I have not seen the EPA estimate of 40-41 highway. I will say that the Mazda 3i is a better vehicle than the Corollas that I have owned especially with respect to torque and acceleration. In comparing to Civics, the Mazda could get better (especially against the EX or Si).

Trenton C

I am looking at buying one of these, but still have yet to test drive many other cars before I make my decision.

I currently have a Scion tC and average between 25 and 28 mpg with... probably 80% highway and 20% city. I tend to lead-foot it often, so i'm looking at possibly getting a hybrid to slow me down, but not keen on the idea of losing the enjoyment of driving a car for it... Thanks for all your comments. I could expect to see roughly 33+ mpg if I don't kill the accelerator.

I already tested a Prius C and liked how roomy it was inside, but admit it was pretty weak. I need to Test drive another one and get another feel for it.

thanks again!


I purchased the first Skyactiv in my area and after almost 25,000 miles I am averaging 37.9 combined mpg. The car has been flawless mechanically, and I love it. It is an automatic hatchback. I changed the tires to Michelin Exalto and religiously use Mobile 1 every 3-4,000. I think that people who complain about the transmission and fuel economy, don't really understand the vehicle and how it operates. It does take some getting use to the way the transmission works, and it is very sensitive to throttle input, but a little knowledge and sensable throttle control is all that is needed to achieve fantastic results in mpg. Maybe it's my altitude (6-8,000)or maybe it's the Pilot Exalto tires, or maybe the synthetic oil, Or maybe it's my driving style. All I know is it performs as promised and I am very satisfied.


I bought a 2012 SkyActiv Touring Sedan with the 6A 4 weeks ago. It has 530 miles on it and I'm on my second tank as well. Got 39.1 on initial tank and admit to being very soft on the throttle, shifting into neutral on the many downhill roads where I live. So far, so very, very good. Loving my Mazda 3.

bill r yarbrough

In 2002 i got my first mazda, a 626 v6 automatic, 108.000 miles trouble free. in 2008 i got a mazda 3 automatic,2.0 4 cylinder, 139.000 miles in 48 months. not a single problem. both cars were great on gas.
In early nov 2012 i got a new mazda 3 with the skyactive engine.first 1800 miles 39.6 mpg with mix driving.


I bought a SkyActiv iTouring 6MT Sedan 5 months agoand after 8 fillups later got average of 30.7mpg. I drive 50/50 city/highway and am a careful driver not a lead footer. I am persoanlly a little disappointed by the fuel economy. My 2008.5 Mazda3 was more fun to drive, felt peppier, and still get me 27-29mpg. The SkyActiv engine also is low on low-end torque and feel sluggish accelerating from a stand still or slow speed.

Rick Scott

Well, I now have 15,000 on my 2012 Skyactive Mazda 3 and could not be more pleased. All my miles are highway miles, and last three tanks have been at 44mpg...took a 919 mile trip 3 weeks ago and spent $68 in gas. I am loving this car. And I think it has plenty of zip, you work that slap shifter and what a blast to drive.


Just rented a 2013 Mazda3 iSport 2.0 Skyactive with 6 spd auto for the day and came away impressed. Agree that 40 mpg would be difficult to achieve. On a 225 mile long highway trip cruising at normal flow of traffic I only got 35 mpg. Now I suppose put putting at 55 mph might have put me a little closer to the magical 40 mpg number but in the real world this was about as ideal as you can get for maximizing fuel economy. The car itself was fun, excellent steering, handling and driving dynamics. The engine felt just a tad underpowered in passing situation and climbing slight grades but most modern eco cars are tuned to run at around 2k rpm on the freeway so I suppose that's to be expected. In normal driving it felt just fine.


I test drove many compact cars during the summer of last year. I decided to lease a 2013 Mazda 3i touring on August 30th. I have less than 3,000 miles on my car. Most of my driving is in a suburb. I suppose that's why my average mpg is only 30.2. The combined mpg is 31, so it's not far at all from that figure.


I have 2012 Mazda 3 with Skyactive (automatic transmission) with just over 7,000 miles on it now. I commute 40 miles each way to work (80 percent highway, but it is St Louis). The computer used to say 35.4 combined, but right now it reads 37.5. I am conscious of the average economy and usually drive with it on looking at it periodically and tempering my driving. I know that if you get up to 70 or so this is optimal and the economy is excellent on the highway. I just drove 2 days to work this week and topped the tank off (said range was 630). After 2 days and trip into QT, the fuel gauge still had all bars showing full! I went ahead and filled it and it kicked off at 1.2 gallons. I added another 1.5 gallons (2.7 total) and range reads 645 miles to empty. Hard to believe but I got nearly 60 miles per gallon in 2 days of driving! Granted, the city driving was a bit lighter this week with people off for the 4th, but this is a wonderful little car.

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