Mazda, the car company known for its "zoom-zoom" marketing campaign, is selling fuel efficiency now, too.
Mazda doesn't have a fuel-sipping, 2012 gasoline-electric hybrid or all-electric vehicle. But for 2012, it's applying SkyActiv, the company's package of fuel-saving equipment and upgrades, to the Mazda3 sedan and five-door hatchback.
It's the first rollout of SkyActiv, but it won't be the last. Already, Mazda officials have announced a SkyActiv version of the CX-5 sport utility vehicle will be out in Japan this year.
Fuel mileage numbers for the 2012 Mazda3 SkyActiv from the federal government are noteworthy: 33 miles per gallon in city driving and 40 mpg on the highway for the sedan.
This is the first 40-mpg rating for a Mazda since the U.S. government began rating vehicles, and it makes the Mazda3 competitive with other 2012 small cars that boast 40-mpg-on-the-highway government ratings.
Plus, the Mazda3 is a recommended buy of Consumer Reports magazine, where its reliability is rated as above average.
Starting manufacturer's suggested retail price, including destination charge, is $15,995 for the base 2012 Mazda3 i SV sedan with five-speed manual transmission and no air conditioning.
The lowest-priced Mazda3 with automatic transmission is the 2012 Mazda3 i Sport sedan with air conditioning, with a retail starting price of $18,490.
But both these Mazda3 price leaders have last year's 148-horsepower, four-cylinder engine, not the new, fuel-efficient SkyActiv engine and transmissions that help attain the 33/40-mpg rating.
Buyers must move up to the higher-level Mazda3 i Touring sedan, with starting retail price of $19,495 with manual and $20,345 with automatic, to get the new, 155-horsepower, four-cylinder, SkyActiv engine.
The 2012 Mazda3 SkyActiv five-door hatchback is a bit more expensive, with a starting MSRP, including destination charge, of $20,095 for a 2012 i Touring hatchback with manual and $20,945 for i Touring hatchback with automatic.
In comparison, a 2012 Ford Focus SFE sedan that's rated at 28/40 mpg with 160-horsepower, four-cylinder engine and automatic transmission, has a starting retail price of $19,885.
The 2012 Hyundai Elantra sedan that's rated at 33/40 mpg with 148-horsepower, four-cylinder engine, has a starting retail price of $16,120 with manual and $18,370 with automatic.
Mazda isn't exactly turning away from its "have fun, enjoy performance" marketing mantra as much as it's layering on a message about saving gasoline and money at the pump, too.
Thus, the 2-liter, double overhead cam, direct gasoline injection four cylinder that has the SkyActiv label on it produces 7 more horsepower than last year's four banger even as it gets 21 percent better highway fuel economy and some 18 percent better city fuel economy, per the ratings from the feds.
The technology isn't new in the auto industry. European car companies have had direct-injection engines for years, and tweaking exhaust systems and computerized engine and transmission control modules has been going on for decades.
But Mazda engineers did more, though it's not necessarily visible.
Bumpers are more streamlined aerodynamically now. The Mazda3 body structure was revamped and dropped 220 pounds. A lighter vehicle, after all, uses less gasoline to get around.
Yet, the Mazda3 structurally also is more rigid this year, in part because of high-strength steel that doesn't carry the heft of more traditional steel.
To a casual observer, though, a 2012 Mazda3 looks pretty much like the 2011 version, with body styling that's sporty looking and expressive, especially when it's painted a Sky Blue color that was on the test Mazda3 5-Door.
Still, some people don't care for the way the shape of the front grille resembles a big, smiley grin.
The test Mazda3 hatchback, which didn't quite weigh 3,000 pounds, retained the capable handling and good road feel that Mazdas are known for.
Less than 15 feet, from end to end, the car nimbly wound through constrained parking garages, held its line and composure in sweeping curves and slipped into parallel parking spots easily.
Torque peaks at 148 foot-pounds at 4,100 rpm now compared with 135 foot-pounds at 4,500 rpm in last year's four cylinder. It doesn't push a driver's back hard into the seatback, but it's not wimpy, either. This compares with 146 foot-pounds of peak torque at 4,450 rpm in the 2012 Ford Focus and 131 foot-pounds at 4,700 rpm in the Hyundai Elantra.
The test Mazda3 moved smartly along in city traffic and, without effort or change in driving style, got 33 mpg in travel that was 70 percent city and 30 percent highway.
This translated into some 475 miles on a single, 14.5-gallon tank of gas.
Note that the 40-mpg label is on Mazda3 sedans. The automatic Mazda3 hatchbacks, which included the test car, are rated at 39 mpg on the highway.
The ride in the Mazda3 hatchback was noisy as 16-inch tires conveyed significant sound from pavement surfaces into the passenger cabin, and a driver sometimes has to turn up the radio volume to hear over the road noise.
But fit and finish on the tester was excellent, inside and out. The Grand Touring test model came well appointed with heated front seats, eight-way power driver seat, moonroof, leather-wrapped steering wheel, leather-trimmed seats, four-wheel disc brakes and Bluetooth hands-free phone connectivity all standard.
The back seat is cramped for three adults, but legroom of 36.2 inches in the Mazda3 sedan and hatch is more than the 33.2 inches in the back seat of the Ford Focus.
Cargo room grows to some 42 cubic feet when the rear seatbacks are folded down in the Mazda3 hatchback, a bit less than the 44.8 cubic feet at the back of the Focus hatchback.
The Mazda3 sedan and hatchback earned four out of five stars in an overall crash test rating from the federal government.