ACCURACY, AGILITY, PRECISION – they’re the kind of driving benefits nearly every automaker strives to deliver, particularly those promising any kind of enthusiast appeal.
It comes as no surprise then that Mazda, which prides itself on its range of driver's cars, has been busily working on a new chassis technology called G-Vectoring Control.
A little like 'the hand of god', G-Vectoring Control works by shifting weight to the front wheels during cornering – a relatively simple goal that requires more science than it does theology, with some pleasantly surprising results.
The name sounds impressive - G-Vectoring Control - but unlike "torque vectoring" differentials you may be familiar with, Mazda takes a rather different approach.
Instead of playing power between driven wheels to ‘push’ a car around a corner, Mazda's G-Vectoring Control (GVC) is designed to help everyday drivers add a motorsport technique to their daily drive – and they won’t even know it’s happening.
The result is that GVC produces a more accurate and responsive front end which, Mazda tells us, then makes the car feel more agile, as well as reducing a driver’s need to add small cornering corrections.
It aids in all situations from low grip and low speed, to straight-line highway driving.
ON THE ROAD
So, how does it work in theory, and, more to the point, how does it work in practice - from behind the wheel? Mazda Australia took us to the USA, and put us behind the wheel to find out.
To get to the very basics of the system, G-Vectoring Control (GVC) detects steering inputs and uses that data to limit torque to the driven wheels, thus shifting weight forward ever so slightly.
You could achieve a similar result yourself by lifting off the throttle, causing your vehicle to pitch forward slightly. However, thanks to its electronic smarts, GVC does it imperceptibly, and with far greater control.
The result is that the front tyres are better able to ‘bite’ into the road surface, which in turn delivers better steering accuracy.
That’s dumbing the system down quite a lot - Mazda claims eight years of development work went into the GVC system, and only the latest generation SkyActiv management systems have the computing capacity to allow the system to work fast enough.
As a simple “here’s what the system does” in its most basic form, we were given an oblong track, marked out on a bitumen car park – set the cruise control (to remove driver variations) at 32km/h and followed the curves.
Certainly, the car handled a lot like a Mazda6, or so we thought. After a few laps GVC was deactivated and we tried again.
Instantly we found had to shuffle the wheel around more, adjusting two or three times on a constant radius bend, whereas with GVC a constant radius was achieved by a constant steering angle.
So how is that possible? Without GVC, any delay in steering reaction results in human instinct taking over. If a car doesn’t respond the way we expect, we 'up' the input, then, when the car does respond, we then need to alter that directive to compensate.
Mazda’s discovery of this comes from an extensive investigation into human locomotion. When humans walk (or make any movement) we do so smoothly – our bodies move, accelerate and change direction in a particular way.
The neck, and the muscles within, work as the accelerometer for the act of walking and we make tiny adjustments to keep our actions smooth.
That same effect occurs when driving a car; our bodies react like they would if we were walking, but with the timing gaps of mechanical reactions required to move a car, we feel things differently.
By removing the delay between the movement of your legs and arms on the car controls, and the actual response of the car - in other words, where the car compensates to smooth out the variables in our natural reactions - the act of driving becomes more fluent, more controlled.
That’s a remarkable approach to vehicle handling, and unique in terms of modern passenger vehicle engineering, We dive a little deeper into how the system works here.
We tried the system out on sealed surfaces, in the dry, in the wet, and on gravel; and the results were all very similar. Each time, with GVC activated the car felt surer, more connected. Switch it off and the wheel-fiddling we never knew we were doing returned.
At freeway speeds, GVC is able to make such incremental adjustments that remove the need to busy yourself with the steering wheel far less to maintain a straight line, reducing the tendency to make minor back-and-forth corrections of the wheel even on arrow straight roads.
But the big red on/off switch, used to demonstrate the difference in back-to-back drives won’t be a feature of production vehicles, in fact the system won’t be switchable at all.
For Mazda owners, that means that when GVC first appears in the updated Mazda3 due later this year, there’ll be no comparisons, the system will simply do what it does to deliver a better drive.
Clearly noticeable in the driving we did is that, unlike stability control which has a very obvious impact on a vehicle’s behaviour, GVC is neither intrusive, nor disruptive. It is an invisible hand that simply makes us better drivers, and driving better.
That white centre marker on the steering wheel marker told us the story – buyers wont get one of those either, but watching it bob from side to side with the system off, and then settle right down with GVC on, spoke volumes.
It’s an unusual approach to driver enjoyment, providing assistance that owners may never be aware of.
Mazda has taken a gamble with G-Vectoring Control, and, yes, the system won’t instantly revolutionise automobile design or technology.
It will, however assist drivers to 'drive better', reduce fatigue, and amplifies Mazda's commitment to its “Zoom Zoom” philosophy and the fun and agile feeling it engineers into its products.
Sure, because it's invisible, not everyone will 'get it'. But, having tested it side-by-side, with and without, we're convinced - it's subtle, but it simply works.
No doubt, some won't pick the difference even when its working for them. But the fact that it is working for them, is what a commitment to progress is all about. And that's something we support.
Consumer reaction to this engineering-led driver engagement aid will be interesting, and we look forward to seeing what local buyers make of the system when it arrives locally.
Disclosure: Kez Casey travelled to the USA as a guest of Mazda Australia
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