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Mazda zooming to new heights with Skyactiv

A biweekly roundup of automotive news, good, bad and just plain weird: Mazda doubles Skyactiv engine production Any driving enthusiast will be cheered to hear that Mazda's Skyactiv gamble appears to be paying off.

A biweekly roundup of automotive news, good, bad and just plain weird:

Mazda doubles Skyactiv engine production

Any driving enthusiast will be cheered to hear that Mazda's Skyactiv gamble appears to be paying off.

The Japanese automaker is still smaller than juggernauts like Toyota or Honda, but is currently selling machines like the proverbial hotcakes.

Skyactiv is a full suite of technologies that incorporates a lightweight chassis, sporty transmissions and high-compression engines, all in the name of improved efficiency without sacrificing driving pleasure. The public seems to have reacted to the new tech very positively, and Mazda is reacting to global demand by building twice as many powerplants as originally anticipated.

The only full Skyactiv car currently available in Canada is the CX-5 crossover, equipped with a peppy gas-burning four-cylinder (diesel models are selling well overseas). However, the Canada-favourite Mazda3 is also available with that same zippy four, and soon will embrace the chassis upgrades as well.

Personally, I'm delighted to see Mazda doing well, as they're one of the few companies still producing fun-todrive machines throughout the range. I also can't wait to see how they use this technology to make the next MX-5 even better.

Holden factory loses millions in stolen engines

In any business, it's a very good idea to keep a close eye on your inventory. After all, if you don't, things can be mislaid or forgotten, or stolen.

You know the sort of thing: paper clips, Post-it notes, V-8 engines.

Looks like workers at a Holden plant in Australia have been stickier-fingered than you might expect. Not content with lining their pockets with surplus clickytop pens, they've been walking off with entire engines - the company is reportedly missing $2.5 million worth of engines.

Holden is the Australian version of GM, and we were lucky enough to get their rear-wheel-drive Commodore rebadged as the Pontiac G8 for just a single year in 2009.

These are V-8 muscle cars, and the engines normally sell through dealerships as a cratemotor program at $10,000 a pop. Once on the black market, the engines were quickly snapped up by unscrupulous hot rodders.

So far, details are scarce, but police are reportedly looking for a trained kangaroo with a really big pouch. Lexus upholstery: the sound of one hand folding

The instrument panel in the 2013 Lexus ES350 is hand-stitched by highly trained Japanese craftsmen. That sounds pretty good: just the sort of tidbit you can impart to your passengers to really impress them. Or bore them to death.

Either way, just twelve "Takumi," meaning "artisan," do the stitching for the entire production run of ES350s (the rest of the Lexus's interior is assembled by robots). It's not easy to get the job, either.

To prove mastery, applicants must fold a piece of paper using the principles of origami - in this case, the face of a cat. Well, that's not so bad. Wait, it says here that they have to do it with one hand, and the non-dominant one at that; if you're right handed, try folding with your left hand.

It's little details like this that are so typical of Lexus products, and just one more reason why they are the lone Japanese luxury company that seems capable of beating the German marques at their own game.

Electrified record-breaking from Audi and Nissan

Audi's R8 e-tron is making waves this week for laying down a blistering time at the Nürburgring, pretty much a requirement for any sportsoriented car these days. The all-electric bruiser blitzed around the track in a very respectable eight minutes and nine seconds. That's just five seconds off the nasty, environment-pummelling V-8 version.

Good enough to make it on the record books as the fastest lap for a production electric car. Which you can't buy yet.

Not bad, but over to Nissan where their happy little Leaf, hardly a race-car, has set its own record by being the quickest electric car up the hill at the Goodwood Festival of Speed . . . in reverse.

Since an electric motor and transmission are capable of running in either direction with just as much zip, Nissan had only to disable the little car's reverse speed limiter and then it was forward - er - backward into the history books.

Internet sensation of the week: Gymkhana 5

At some point, Ken Block is going to run out of things to do. He's already the coowner of a successful shoe company, a respected rally driver, and the star of a series of Internet videos that show him pitching various allwheel-drive terrors around a technical track.

It's called Gymkhana, and it's part barrel-racing, part World Rally Championship, and all kindsa crazy. Who can count how many tires have been vaporized in Mr. Block's quest for further hoonery?

This time he's hitting up San Francisco, the hilly seaside city that boasts one of the most iconic car chases in cinematic history: the Mustang vs. Charger battle of the Steve McQueen flick, Bullitt. As you might expect, things get a little . . . airborne.

Frankly, to say any more might spoil it, but I highly suggest you head over to YouTube and check out Gymkhana 5 to see some of the best, silliest, stuntiest driving you'll ever witness. And remember:

"If you're going to San Francisco,

be sure to fly, your car right through the air. . . ."

Watch this space for all the week's best and worst of automotive news, or submit your own auto oddities to mcaleer.nsnews@