Home » Mazda’s New 3.3L Turbo Inline-Six Puts Down Some BMW-Fighting Power

Mazda’s New 3.3L Turbo Inline-Six Puts Down Some BMW-Fighting Power

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Look at this, everyone! News! News about an engine! You know, the sort that still runs on internal combustion. With the global automotive industry racing toward electrification faster than David can rack up a zoning ordinance violation, I feel like I haven’t written about some hot gasoline engine news in forever. And this hot news comes to us today from Mazda, the Japanese automaker working hard to deliver on that “premium” brand image with the sort of performance those buyers like. Move over, BMW and Mercedes-Benz: Mazda has some pretty decent inline-six goodness headed our way soon.

The automaker today announced that its all-new 3.3-liter turbocharged inline-six motor will put out 340 horsepower and 369 lb-ft of torque on premium gas. That’s much better than previous announcements about this new motor, which had a more disappointing output below 300 HP—at least in some markets. But in the U.S., where it will debut on the all-new three-row CX-90 crossover—more on that in a second—it’ll be much more impressive, putting down torque on par with a BMW 340i and the Mercedes GLE 450. Seriously, not bad.

This new I6 will also be the most powerful gasoline engine ever produced by Mazda (move over, FD RX-7) and will be backed up by a 48v mild hybrid system for enhanced efficiency and performance. I guess we couldn’t get through a new car news release without talking about electrification a little bit.

Photo: Mazda

The new CX-90 crossover will debut at the end of this month. No clue what it looks like yet except for these shadowy teasers, but given the brand’s current (handsome, I think) design language we probably aren’t in for any big surprises or upsets here. Here’s the teaser lightened up a bit:

Shadwo1

Okay, that didn’t help at all. Sorry, I tried.

The CX-90 comes out at an interesting time for Mazda, and in theory, its sales success should help the scrappy automaker pay the bills for bigger and better things. It’s trying to go more premium than before—if you can’t beat Honda and Toyota and volume, beat ’em by being a more exclusive, more margin-heavy business—and more power is key to that. The three-row CX-90 also has a “performance-oriented” plug-in hybrid variant coming soon, Mazda’s first. That crossover will be joined by the smaller CX-70; both will be the counterparts to the slightly smaller CX-60 and CX-80 sold in Europe and Japan. There’s also the addition of the rotary engine range extender to the electric MX-30, which so far has only been sold in California thanks to its disappointing mileage.

On the whole, however, as one of the last remaining small independent automakers Mazda feels behind the curve when it comes to electrification—especially EVs. The same could be said of much of the Japanese auto industry, but Mazda doesn’t have the giant scale that Nissan, Honda and Toyota do, so it’s got to call its shots very carefully. No matter how good the cars are—and they are very good—there’s a sad chance Mazda could be left behind when the battery era is fully upon us.

[Editor’s Note: A few things worth noting: This engine, as a rather long inline-six, will of course be longitudinally-mounted and send power to the rear-wheels (or likely all wheels, if I had to guess). Also worth mentioning is why inline-sixes are making a comeback. It’s not about their smoothness (as great as that is) it’s largely about cost-sharing with inline-fours that use the same engine architecture. There’s more to it than that, like how hybridization can remove accessory drive packaging constrains, how stability control/traction control can make rear-wheel drive more palatable to the masses, and other packaging considerations. But that’s a tale for another time (after I’ve talked with a few more powertrain engineers).  -DT]. 

Luckily, Mazda says change is coming. According to Automotive News, Mazda seeks to add electrification of all models by the end of the decade, including the Miata. It’s dumping $11 billion into electrification through 2030 and is partnering with a number of Japanese firms for batteries and necessary EV tech. It may also look into more North American production, which it’d pretty much have to do to get those EV and hybrid tax incentives under the Inflation Reduction Act. We at least know a hybrid CX-50 is coming from the Alabama plant it shares with Toyota.

It’s tough out there for a small, independent car company that still cares about making stuff that’s fun to drive. But I’m sure the CX-90 will be one of the better-driving vehicles in its class, and a great option for anyone looking for a Japanese alternative to a German luxury brand with a less ostentatious badge. And in theory, that should pay the bills for all these big battery investments.

That’s a lot of weight to put on this I6. I hope they pull it off. An electrified future without Mazda in it just seems like a giant bummer all around.

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54 Responses

  1. Thanks for the article. Modern engines are more about shared piston structure and shared tooling. For sure Mazda is using their inline tooling to make this first ever in line 6 engine. Inline engines are also much more stable and therefore better for turbo or supercharging. Most makes are dedicated to a 500cc piston structure… With 2L 4 cylinders , 3L 6 cylinders and 4L v8s. Mazda has already gone all-wheel drive for the crossovers so that’s for sure to happen. Like it or not, you can count Suzuki Mazda and Subaru as part of the Toyota family from a strategy point of view.

  2. But Chevy’s turbo 4 banger has better numbers on regular gas. This is not much better than the v6 in the Colorado/Camaro. A better Highlander? Great.

    1. The V6 in the Camaro sounds great and has excellent power but it also absolutely chugs gas and isn’t at all refined. It’s a 10+ year old powertrain and it feels like it. It’s fine in a sports car or a truck but it wouldn’t fly in a near luxury car, which is what Mazda is aiming for. This will be much smoother and exponentially better on gas.

      Honestly that GM V6 basically feels like a V8 with two cylinders chopped off, and it drinks like one too. In a car like a Camaro it’s a great fit because the average Camaro buyer wants something fast and loud and isn’t concerned with fuel economy….but Mazda doesn’t sell a Camaro equivalent. They sell fancy family haulers and also the Miata….which is on the opposite end of the sports car spectrum.

      TL:DR-different applications, my guy

      1. My brother’s ’17 1LE V6 gets over 30mpg on the highway so I’m not sure the “chugs gas” is universal. He’s even hit 33mpg a few times. Maybe the automatics are worse than the manuals, but his car always seems to punch way above its weight class, and it sounds fantastic.

        1. GM has been doing a great job for a while now at taking advantage of low end torque and going to town on the overdrive in it’s manuals for the Camaro and Vette. Around town, you pay the price of the bigger motors and heavier cars, but on the highway they’ll beat my FRS easily. People getting 30+mpg out of the V8s on the highway is awesome.
          I drove a V6 Camaro convertible as a rental from Vegas to the Grand Canyon to Phoenix once. It’s not insanely fast, but the way it kept pulling hard on 75mph roads going to higher and higher elevations was very impressive.

          1. I recall in Highschool with a lowly 4 peed auto behind a FI GM SBC, 5.7. that ratty old Iroc would get around 25MPG floating down the interstate. The 1995 Formula Firebird with LTI v8 did the same or even a bit better, but with 300 HP versus 230 or so. I was always pretty amazed. Fast forward to the 2010’s and the 6 speed manual 6.4 Challenger weighing over 4,000 lbs can float down the interstate at 75 mph with AC on and get 24 mpg. But nobody buys any of these cars for fuel economy, just the enjoyment of driving them.

  3. I’m not sure how you get ‘fun to drive’ out of ‘three row crossover’. Sounds more like ‘boredom’ to me.
    Honestly, would it be that hard to build a two-door coupe with that engine as a halo car? It would bury the Supra and the Nissan Z. That little segment needs a wake-up call.

      1. …at an overinflated price, from some fool that “knows what they have” as it’ll be a rare collector’s item that was discontinued after 4 years on the market because everyone thinks this way.

        1. No, I’ll buy it from the divorcée of a rich gearhead that wants to move away and cares very little about its value beyond sticking it to their ex.
          That’s how I got the pristine, stock MX6 I drive regularly for $250.00.

  4. They should have been able to make those numbers with a normally aspirated 3.3L I6 and a mild hybrid assist, which would be a vastly better solution for a piggy 3-row than an I6 turbo.

    I love me some Mazda but sometimes it seems they blow around with the breeze. Occasionally they’ll be in front of the storm but often they’re chasing it.

  5. “That’s a lot of weight to put on this I6. I hope they pull it off. An electrified future without Mazda in it just seems like a giant bummer all around.”

    Agreed, we need Mazda as a manufacturer. A future without Mazda’s dealers on the other hand…..

    1. ewww, why. 4.0 I6’s will never die and if you want more power, LS swap the world. Even an old TBI 350 weighs about the same as an I6.

      Plus you would definitely have to fab the trans adapters.

  6. Has there ever been another car with an “Inline-6” badge? Plenty of V6 badges out there, but I don’t know of an I6 badge (outside of BMW’s future model plans).

    1. With a V6 you can have the 6 sit inside the capital V badge, which is pleasing to the eye. To do that with the I6 you would presumably need to have the I penetrating the lower part of the 6. Works for me, but I can understand why a designer might shy away from it.

    2. Some Fords in the ’50s had “I6” badges, but that’s the only one I can think of.

      Certainly lots of cars have advertised the fact that they have 6 cylinders over the years, but not many others have ever bothered to specify that those 6 are inline

    3. As a current CX-5 and former Miata owner the plastichrome Inline-6 fake fender vent badge is just terrible. There’s nothing at all “premium” about that.

  7. Put me in the not overly impressed camp. BMW’s 3.0 Liter (vs the Mazda 3.3) makes 42 more HP.

    However, that’s in 3 series, not something closer like the X5 at 335hp. WTF BMW? Why is the engine detuned so much?

    I would expect closer to 400 hp out of a 3.3L forced induction I6 these days. The 3.0 supercharged V6 in my 10 year old S5 made 333hp stock. Today it’s at 445hp with an APR stage 2 dual pulley setup on 91 pump gas. (I’m not impressed with Audi’s current 3.0T making only 349hp.)

    Doesn’t the CTS’s 3.6 Turbo from a few years ago make about 420hp? Is 400 from a new turbo 3.3 really too much to ask for? 340 is rather underwhelming.

    1. I think the thing to keep in mind is that this is the initial spec for the engine destined for a crossover. I’d be willing to bet there is a lot of room for more power with some more aggressive tuning which may be employed on a hotter version of the CX-90 or another sporty CAR (God-willing).

  8. Six in a row
    Is better you know
    The balance is fine
    with six in a line
    That smooth power drive
    makes you feel alive
    Design platforms with room
    For that special zoom zoom

  9. I was unclear. I think this is not a great turbo 6, makes 10 percent more horse power and 20 percent more torque than a ten year old non turbo chevy v6. And Mazda’s drink like me usually a lot. On primo. Maybe this new one won’t? I have had vehicles in the past that required the best fuel, with the amount I drive and the premium price I am not interested in that anymore. My point was the chevy turbo 4 has a lot more torque and 10 percent less horsepower. On regular gas. A better motor – less cylinders (debate able?), uses reg, more torque (I like torque), should weight less (can’t know yet). I think Mazda has produced yet another another weak product for any type of vehicle: sport, halo, lux, family hauler, truck…. With the 48v it might be great…
    The chevy turbo4 on the. other hand can be used in all applications. Better motor if your are in the business of selling vehicles.
    I have the chevy 6 in my Colorado ZR2. Better than the MDX for instance which gets better mpg but down on power on primo. Chevy v6 gets decent mpg for what it is, the alternative Taco is worse than a Mazda for mpg and down on power. The new Ranger is on the right track. I get 20 mpg highway on reg. driving to western ski. resorts so 70+mph. most of the time with the v6. With a yakima skybox on top. But I think I’ll be buying the new Colorado with the turbo4. If it hadn’t be used in the full sized trucks for a while then I’d wait, but it’s seems kind of proven… so far.

    1. I don’t think peak numbers are a good way to judge a Mazda engine, I have an ND2, and LS3 Chevy SS, both manual, and the Mazda is slightly more responsive and fun and I can’t get below 33 MPG driving hard, the SS gets 17 in the same very small town stop and go. The LS3 is known to have power everywhere but the ND2 seems to beat it, especially down low because the LS3 falls off the cam a little. Either way based on my experience with the ND2, if Mazda put the I6 in front of a manual transmission Mazda can take my money.

  10. I was unclear. I think this is not a great turbo 6, makes 10 percent more horse power and 20 percent more torque than a ten year old non turbo chevy v6. And Mazda’s drink like me usually a lot. On primo. My point was the chevy turbo 4 has a lot more torque and 10 percent less horsepower. On regular gas. A better motor. Less cylinders, uses reg, more torque. I think Mazda has produced yet another another weak product for any type of vehicle: sport, lux, family hauler, tow rig…. With the 48v it might be great… if they use this in a “performance” version.
    The chevy turbo4 on the. other hand can be used in all applications. Better motor if your are in the business of selling vehicles.
    I have the chevy 6 in my Colorado ZR2. I like it decent mpg for what it is, the alternative Taco is worse than a Mazda for mpg and down on power. I get 20 mpg highway on reg. driving to western ski. resorts so 70+mph. most of the time. With a yakima skybox on top .But I think I’ll be buying the new Colorado with the turbo4. If it hadn’t be used in the full sized trucks for a while then I’d wait, but it’s seems kind of proven… so far.

  11. I would be much more excited if this engine were being announced in conjunction with a RWD car, a stick shift, and no hybrid crap weighing it down–especially since I am going to be in the market for a new car come mid-summer. Alas, I am a niche consumer, and my options are dwindling rapidly.

  12. {Drifting off to dreamland} I could see myself getting one of these to replace my Skyactiv-D MazdaSpeed 6. It will be cool to have a MazdaSpeed6 with AWD and smooth I-6 turbo. {smile comes over my unconscious face}

  13. I’m excited to see if Mazda finds a way to utilize this in a sporty application. I get that they’ve long moved on from Zoom Zoom but if they could offer this with some handling improvements in a sedan and have it wind up around 40k I’d definitely be interested. I feel like all these manufacturers went out and benchmarked the B58 and we will be all the better for it because that engine rules.

    I’m excited to see where the new turbo straight 6s go. I think there are some interesting performance possibilities that won’t require the compromises that a V8 does. They’re also not going to be as stressed as all the 2 and 2.5 liter 300 horsepower turbo 4s are.

    I, for one, welcome our new straight 6 overlords. As long as there are ways to make them sound good…I have some doubts on that front.

  14. Interesting to consider what “hybrid-first” means for engine design. You’ve got a 48V starter/generator at the back by the transmission, no distributor drive, oil pump down low, no belts because everything else is electric. Do you let the front of the engine go all the way up to the grille and have a radiator on each side? If it’s an I-6, do you even need a harmonic balancer?
    Reminds me of the early 90s when suddenly the underhood rats-nest of vacuum hose was replaced by a throttle body and a magic box.

    1. You need a torsional vibration damper on an in-line six even more than you need one on a V. It’s a long crank whipping around.

      I used to design engines for OEMs, back when that was a career that had a future, and I’d rather have an inline six than any other layout. But they do force some packaging issues. You can’t have it go all the way to the front of the car because engine blocks don’t crumple in a crash, so you have to find two and a bit cylinders of extra vehicle length compared to a V6.

  15. Sounds like a great engine that’s going in a vehicle where 95% of its drivers won’t know what the inline 6 badge means nor really care. I know it can take a while to change established perception, but Mazda has been trying to be a premium brand for about a few decades now.

  16. Thanks for some good old ICE news today! I guess I’m starting to have EV-fatigue.
    Honestly, I’m not interested in battery-electric cars very much, to me they are massively over-hyped with many fundamental flaws. At least in their current form.
    I don’t believe they will be very successful outside of a handful of specific use cases.
    What I would really like to read about though, is other types of alternative fuels and drivetrain tech.
    For example, Brazil has a fascinating ethanol infrastructure. Poland and Turkey has an extensive LPG-network.
    The US had some success with CNG (Civic CNG models anyone?), I wonder why that stopped?
    Lastly, I’ve heard about some new synthetic biofuels being developed.
    While EVs are certainly interesting, I think readers would be better served by a more diverse coverage of new drivetrain technologies.

  17. I hope they put this engine in the next Mazda 6. I’d love to see it in an upmarket luxury coupe sort of halo car that’s more Eunos Cosmo than RX7, but that’ll never happen.

  18. Gimme that buzzin half dozen!
    Inline is just fine!
    Make mine inline!

    What else, what else…

    Six in a line, does me just fine!
    Ain’t no crime to go inline! (that one is kinda crap, unfortunately.)

    ….
    I think I’m done.

    1. Get inline
      Floor the 6 to its redline
      I don’t mind as long as my V is inline

      Get inline
      Are we ready for Mazda ditch the benign?
      Hopefully this 6 comes with manual shifts

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