We made our return trip in an automatic-equipped car. Called Sky-Drive, the new six-speed features more aggressive torque-converter lockup to provide better fuel economy and emulate the direct-shifting feel of a dual-clutch or manual transmission. To mask the added shift shock, Mazda has switched from a single-plate to dual-plate clutch and the damper features larger, less rigid springs. Aside from the occasional abrupt one-to-two shift, the gearbox provides quick, yet unobtrusive gear changes. A few times, we would have liked the transmission to downshift earlier on deceleration, but instead we were given a late shift right as the right foot moved back to the gas. There's a manual shift mode, but the calibration isn't quite right as there's a long pause between tapping the shifter and feeling the downshift. Mazda says that the logic hasn't been finalized, though. The company will also have the ability to offer paddle shifters in the next 6, though it's not clear if the diesel car will offer them.
Celebrate diesel diversity
Paddle shifters are a minor detail in the bigger picture here. Mazda's gamble -- and diesel is still a large gamble in the U.S. -- rewards buyers with what should be an affordable, fuel-efficient, and entertaining car. The Sky-D also offers enthusiasts another option in the extremely limited diesel market. With such a compelling character, we hope Mazda's 2012 diesel can convince buyers -- and other automakers -- that diesel engines deserve a bigger role in America.