01 October 2018
Dave Mcleod | Verve
MAZDA'S 2018 I-ACTIV AWD EVENT
It seems that with each new generation of motor vehicle comes a whole new suite of aids and safety measures designed to keep everyone from drivers and passengers to pedestrians and even wildlife, out of harm's way. And as around 90% of motor vehicle crashes are caused (at least in part) by human error, it would appear that the automotive world's unquenchable thirst for autonomy is probably quite right. However, in the meantime, before we hand over the reins completely and retire to the back seat to check our social media accounts, we ask, "Do these ever-increasing number of driver's 'aids' have to be so intrusive?" Mazda took us to the Southern Hemisphere Proving Ground (SHPG) to show those of us that love to drive, that all is not lost.
There's no denying that when it comes to safety and driver's aids, Mazda has more than its fair share. I would list them all but quite frankly neither of us has the time. Suffice to say, they are there for when you (hopefully never) need them. That being said, Mazda invited me to the ice and snow conditions of Cardrona to experience their SKYACTIV-VEHICLE Dynamics, a location that thanks to G-Vectoring Control and i-ACTIV AWD, I now like to call i-Pisa (the SHPG is on the Pisa range for those that didn't know).
Mazda has a challenger spirit that comes from its core Japanese heritage and has made itself evident by being an enduring and ever-evolving corporation (did you know it began life as a cork manufacturer just under a century ago?) Anyway, thankfully, their list of achievements is far-reaching from their expressive vehicle designs and revolutionary power plants to being the first Japanese brand to win the 24-hour Le Mans endurance race.
The relevance of the brand's history becomes very apparent when you look at the ethos that surrounds their SKYACTIV technology and of course the reason for us being up on i-Pisa. Mazda's proprietary technology SKYACTIV is underpinned by Hashiru Yorokobi (which to all intents and purposes can be translated into the fun/ joy of driving) and Jinba Ittai (car and driver as one). What this results in, is a dynamic handling aid that includes the entire vehicle (chassis, body, engine and transmission), yet delivers its assistance in the most natural of ways. It allows the driver the leeway to have fun and manoeuvre (and even push) the vehicle to the best of their ability and only then will it intervene-in essence, SKYACTIV is there for when, or if, we run out of talent.
Of course, talk is cheap, so Mazda NZ sent us off to complete four modules to prove the point, and prove it they did.
Our first exercise was a Mazda Gymkhana or barrel race.
An 'off-the-mark' bolt to a 180-degree turn around a
cone and back to stop inside a fictitious garage. This module showcased the i-ACTIV AWD, clever tech that (predictively) plays with torque and weight distribution electromagnetically and effectively eliminates wheelspin.
Now I'm not one to boast, but for winning the challenge I received a Mazda engraved (alright embroidered) beanie.
Next was a driving experience on sheet ice in both a CX SUV (I scored the CX-8), followed by a first-ever chance to drive the BT50 ute on the SHPG. Even with all the Mazda assists on, it struggled (albeit admirably well) to circle the cone left in the middle-seems you can't beat physics.
However, this was usurped by the traction off fun in the ute-Torvill and Dean would have undoubtedly been ashamed at how I gleefully spun with reckless abandon.
In truth, it handled better than I was expecting.
Drifting in the MX-5 RF was next, something we only touched on previously but now a fully fledged thing. We spent a great amount of time powering sideways around half and full circles and momentum shifting on a near figure 8 course. I'm still smiling.
The last module was a snow slalom that included the CX5, 8 and 9. This exercise was designed to highlight just how far you can push the traction and stability envelope before SKYACTIV comes to the rescue. The G-Vectoring Control, DSC, TCS all work seamlessly behind the scenes to keep you pointed in the right direction but not at the expense of a bit of drifting fun. If, and that is a big if, you are capable of correcting the drift before a spin then the CX will leave you to your own devices, however, over-extend and you have the full support of SKYACTIV behind you-it's really reassuring to know.
Last but not least was a hot (or is that cold), high-speed lap in the MX-5 with Mike and his team from Tracktime behind the wheel. Rapidly dancing around the snow on a makeshift course between a dramatic cliff face and a large mountainside drop is always an adrenaline buzz.
Although this exceptionally fun yet informative day was a closed session for the press, the event was also open for the rest of the week, extended to specially invited Mazda guests and all courtesy of Mazda NZ. Not only did it highlight the ongoing commitment and drive for customer excellence but it also showed just how far Mazda's vehicle safety has come but how keen they are to keep putting a smile on our faces along the way.
"Rapidly dancing around the snow on a makeshift course between a dramatic cliff face and a large mountainside drop is always an adrenaline buzz."