Mazdas on Ice

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceMazda Ice Academy
Crossovers have been part of Mazda’s lineup for years, but the Japanese automaker’s reputation leans toward the sporting aspects of the driving experience (think zoom-zoom), so the company’s products are not typically part of a consideration set when drivers think about vehicles for extreme winter conditions. With the intention of changing that mindset, Mazda invited journalists to a very cold and snowy Crested Butte, Colorado, for the first Mazda Ice Academy to experience the CX-3 and CX-5 crossovers in a winter wonderland. And since it’s Mazda, they also brought along a few MX-5 roadsters — just for fun.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceJinba Ittai
For years journalists who attend Mazda press conferences at auto shows have been hearing the term “Jinba Ittai” bandied about. Roughly translated from the Japanese, it means “horse and rider as one.” As Vehicle Development Engineer Dave Coleman explained, the idea is that a car should behave so naturally that it feels like an extension of the driver’s body. This is the philosophy Mazda designers and engineers evoke when working on the MX-5, and it is now being used to explain Mazda’s new Predictive All-Wheel Drive system.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperiencePredictive AWD
The idea behind the Mazda’s i-ACTIV AWD is that the vehicle should do what the driver expects it to do based on inputs, no matter what the driving conditions. In low-grip situations — such as driving on packed snow and ice — turning into a corner or climbing a hill should still be a consistent, predictable experience.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperiencePlanning Ahead
Every Mazda is constantly taking stock of its situation with a variety of sensors throughout the vehicle. In fact, the i-ACTIV AWD system takes into account 27 different types of data, analyzed 200 times per second, all from sensors that already existed in the vehicle. The AWD system takes into account outside temperature, wiper operation, incline, steering angle, individual wheel speeds, gas pedal position and more.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceTaking Action
An example of how this information gets used: If the outside temperature is below freezing and the wipers are on, the system can predict that the road surface will have low friction and send power to the rear wheels before the front wheels begin to spin. A typical all-wheel-drive system depends on that front wheelspin to indicate the need for all-wheel drive. Granted, that operation can happen very quickly, but sometimes if the road is slick enough, a bit of wheelspin could cause issues.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceComparison Testing
Mazda brought a couple of the CX-5’s competitors — the Subaru Forester and Honda CR-V — for journalists to try in a variety of icy situation to compare how the i-ACTIV system stacks up against other all-wheel-drive systems in the segment. All vehicles were shod with Bridgestone Blizzak tires (more on those later), so traction was the same for all vehicles. Attendees drove each vehicle through a slalom course followed by a long, sweeping turn, and then tested for traction when turning at the top of a slippery incline. Speeds were kept consistent for all vehicles.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceThe Slalom
In the slalom, the Mazda and Subaru both performed equally well, turning in consistently and holding the desired line between the gates with little difficulty. The CR-V was less consistent, understeering and then turning suddenly when least expected.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceThe Sweeper Turn
In the long, sweeping turn we saw similar results; however, the Subaru seemed to hold its line in the turn better. The Mazda stayed in the turn but tended to oversteer more than the Subaru. The Honda was outclassed by both other vehicles, being unable to manage the turn smoothly at the same speed.

© Mazda North America OperationsTop of the Hill
The final maneuver was the most telling example of Mazda’s predictive all-wheel drive. Each vehicle drove to the top of a small incline, stopped and the driver turned the steering wheel one revolution. Drivers then accelerated from the spot to see what would happen. Both the Subaru and Honda spun their front wheels, losing traction and sliding sideways before the rear wheels engaged. The Mazda, having detected the incline and temperature (among other things), recognized the situation and engaged the all-wheel drive before any wheelspin occurred, making for a smooth and easy departure.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceSticky Tires
Conditions at the testing site in Colorado were extremely slippery. To properly showcase the all-wheel-drive systems, Mazda teamed up with Bridgestone to equip the vehicles with Blizzak winter tires. These special tires are very impressive. Acceleration, cornering and stopping are dramatically improved with Blizzaks. To showcase the winter tire’s abilities, we were invited to test the Blizzaks against all-season tires.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceAll-Season vs. Blizzak
Mazda equipped one CX-3 with all-season tires and another with Blizzak DM-V2 winter tires and had us perform a series of exercises, including acceleration, negotiating a slalom and hard braking — all on packed snow and ice. We knew the Blizzaks would perform better, but were surprised by how much better. The Blizzak tires made acceleration easy with very little wheel slip, and braking distance was about half that of the all-season tire-equipped CX-3 when stopping from 25 mph.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceMazda MX-5 — Fun on Ice
The MX-5 roadster is one of the best-handling sports cars on the road — so why not see how it does on ice? That was the thinking when Mazda brought a few Blizzak-shod MX-5 Miatas to a snow and ice-covered autocross course. The temp was well below zero, but it’s a Miata — so naturally we had to drive with the top down. Did we learn anything autocrossing the MX-5 in single-digit temps? Of course we did — we now know how much fun getting sideways in a convertible in the snow can be, and that Miata is still one of the most enjoyable cars on the road — bone-dry or snow-covered.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceFinal Thoughts
There are plenty of very good all-wheel drive crossovers on the market and for many slippery situations most of them are perfectly capable machines. However, there are instances where Mazda’s i-ACTIV all-wheel-drive system outshines the others, and the technology behind it is quite impressive. But for driving enthusiasts, the ultimate snow vehicle might very well be the MX-5 Miata — with the top down and a big smile frozen across the face, of course.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceMazda MX-5 Miata

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceMazda MX-5 Miata

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceMazda MX-5 Miata

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceMazda MX-5 Miata

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceMazda MX-5 Miata

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceMazda MX-5 Miata

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceMazda MX-5 Miata

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceMazda MX-5 Miata

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceMazda MX-5 Miata

Mazda Ice AcademyMazda Ice Academy

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