Mazda plans inline-six engines, rear-drive platform for upmarket push

Mazda vision concept

Mazda unveiled plans to build two new inline-six engines as part of a new rear-wheel-drive architecture, according to a 57-page 2019 fiscal year document for investors. Jalopnik spotted the tasty info, and before you ask, the document doesn’t contain a single mention of the words “rotary” or “Wankel” (nor could we find any instances of the letter R standing next to an X).

The new rear-drive architecture, slated to underpin the new Mazda6 sedan and potentially a larger crossover, is part of the brand’s ambition to evolve into a premium competitor.

This is great news for enthusiasts, as inline-six engines have been staples in performance vehicles for more than 50 years. Mazda still seems committed to bringing compelling vehicles into its showrooms.

The benefits of an inline-six include its inherent balance and ease of packaging for forced induction (a perk of its single cylinder head). On the other hand, there is some difficulty getting a longitudinal straight-six to fit under the hood of a modern car. Their length also makes them a rarity in transverse applications that make up the bulk of high-volume models, with Daewoo and Volvo being amongst the notable exceptions to that rule. BMW, stalwart purveyor of the inline-six, even managed to mount a transverse six into motorcycles.

Mazda in-line 6 announcement
Mazda

Mazda mentions a Skyactiv-X gasoline inline-six and a diesel counterpart, the Skyactiv-D, in the document. (Both engines use a form of innovative compression ignition that does not rely on a traditional spark to ignite the air-fuel mixture for combustion.) The longitudinal layout will apparently include some applications with AWD. It’s part of Mazda’s plan to add premium products to their existing lineup of mainstream vehicles, which Mazda has been thinking about since at least the early 1990s, when it planned to launch the luxury Amati brand in the U.S. Mazda’s recent Vision Coupe concept features just the kind of long hood and dash-to-axle ratio to make use of an inline-six engine.

Mazda’s current Skyactiv-G direct-injection four-cylinder gasoline engines are available in 1.3-, 1.5-, 2.0-, and 2.5-liter displacements and produce up to 250 horsepower on premium fuel in the case of the turbocharged 2.5-liter. All versions of the diesel-powered Skyactiv-D four-cylinder are turbocharged and are available in 1.5-, 1.8-, and 2.2-liter displacements. The next generation of the gasoline four-cylinder engines that will spawn the future inline-six are due in the Mazda3 by the end of 2019. They should include a bump in compression and the ability to run in compression ignition mode for improved volumetric efficiency.

Using the currently available displacements as a starting point for speculation, an inline-six version of Skyactiv-X could be anywhere from 2.0 to 3.7 liters, although Mazda could use the increased efficiency of the next-generation engine to downsize just a bit.

We may not have a new RX on the horizon, but this resurgence of the inline-six, especially with its longitudinal mounting, could spell good news for enthusiasts as Mazda tries to go after a new market segment. Anyone interested in a new Cosmo?