MAZDA’S aspirations as a maker of top-notch all wheel drive vehicles has been put to the test at a media outing in Colorado’s snowy Rocky Mountains recently where the company made no bones it’s on the march to take on Subaru and Audi.
It’s re-branded its system as i-Activ AWD and equipped models such as the CX-3, CX5 and CX-9 and brought along two similarly specified rival SUVs – a Honda CR-V and Subaru Forester – for comparison testing.
The Japanese company even threw in a drive of its new rear-wheel-drive MX-5 sportscar on a tight slalom course carved out of ice to test both grip and control, GoAuto reports.
This was meant to showcase how the US-spec, 2.0-litre ND-series roadster copes on winter tyres with the stability control switched off. Its brilliant chassis and sharp steering performed very well and drifting was well controlled.
The CX-5 was pitched against the CR-V and Forester. According to Mazda North America Operations engineer David Coleman, the idea was to demonstrate how the so-called predictive software sets i-Activ apart from systems on rival AWDs.
I-Activ uses steering, engine, transmission, ESC, ambient temperature and even the wipers-on sensors to send torque to the wheel/s that the system thinks is/are about to start slipping, significantly improving traction by cutting lag times, thus increasing safety and efficiency.
Around a similar slalom course to the MX-5 route, the CX-5 powered around at speed with reassuring poise, while the others slithered somewhat, lacking the control and feedback of the host brand’s SUV.
“There is so much data now that flies around the vehicle’s electronic system, and that is the strength,” says Coleman. “We feed that data into the management system so we can better assess the activation of the AWD system.
The second test was a steep uphill ice/snow gradient, with each vehicle parked halfway up with the front wheels turned to the right, as they might be if tackling a circuitous slope.
As Mazda says i-Activ’s software is specifically designed to identify an impending loss of grip in exactly this sort of situation, the CX-5 ambled up and over effortlessly, while the CR-V slid sideways and back a little before clumsily making the grade, while the Forester just dug its front wheels in as its AWD system struggled to realise that the rears were standing on snow.
However, a repeat attempt in the Subaru’s X-Mode – which alters engine, transmission and torque inputs according to terrain – saw the latter nearly match the Mazda’s capabilities.
Coleman says that having i-Activ means the driver never has to do anything differently, just drive.
Regardless, it is clear that in the ice/snow conditions of Colorado, i-Activ’s combination of surefootedness and winter tyres makes Mazda’s AWD system impressively effective in keeping the vehicle moving with confidence and control.
Mazda’s hope is that buyers seeking AWD will have Mazda and i-Activ front-of-mind in the same way as Subaru Symmetrical AWD and Audi quattro.
“The goal for the Mazda i-Active AWD system is to preserve the precise, intuitive feeling you expect from Mazda, even on low-grip surfaces,” said Coleman.
“i-Active AWD is directly aimed at trying to eliminate some of the traditional disadvantages of an on-demand AWD system,” Coleman says. “It’s a predictive system, rather than reactive, because it anticipates tyre slip and activates AWD before that happens.”
Critical to the intelligence of the Mazda system is active torque coupling. “It’s electronically activated so it can respond instantly and at any speed,” Coleman says.
“Predicting the need for torque transfer does no good if you can’t deliver it when needed. Instant reaction allows rear torque output to be controlled more precisely. Further, to eliminate delay from mechanical backlash, the Mazda system runs a small pre-load under most conditions.”