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Mazda G-Vectoring Control: Subtle, smoother driving

Automakers aren't known for subtlety. Watch any car commercial and there's a good chance you'll see burning rubber, hear an engine roar, or watch a suave guy in aviators shift gears as his vehicle hits warp speed in a tunnel of light. Big, brash, loud and nearly overwhelming. Multiply these messages in the off chance an all-new technology is actually involved.

That's what makes Mazda's latest innovation all the more surprising. Called G-Vectoring Control, Mazda freely admits it's subtle. Like, subtle to the point where it's nearly imperceptible. Counterintuitive? Perhaps. But for this car company, it's in line with their "Driving Matters" mantra, a manifestation that it takes a thousand small things to create a singularly satisfying relationship with your automobile. The company invited us to Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in Monterey, California, to give us a behind-the-scenes look at a technology that is nearly invisible, and a chance to experience it for ourselves.

What G-Vectoring is -- and is not

If you're even vaguely familiar with automotive terminology, you've likely heard the word "vectoring." It's usually tied to torque, as in "torque vectoring," a technology often associated with all-wheel-drive vehicles. To reduce a complex functionality into basic terms, torque-vectoring systems vary the amount of power going to each wheel via a differential. The idea is to enhance performance and grip by making best use of the engine's output and sending it to the wheel or wheels with the most traction in a given moment. Some may refer to such a system as active yaw control.

G-Vectoring Control (GVC) is not that type of system, nor is it meant to act as such. In fact, says Mazda development engineer Dave Coleman, "the only thing they have in common is the word 'vectoring.'" Rather than using a differential to assign power output to each wheel during intense driving conditions, G-Vectoring Control uses tiny modulations in engine output based on steering angle to affect the weight distribution and therefore improve vehicle dynamics and stability.

How it works

When a driver begins to turn the steering wheel, the engine can reduce power output in the slightest by modulating spark timing. Thanks to the laws of physics, this change in power shifts more load to the front wheels and in turn improves cornering response. Conversely, Mazda says, if the driver maintains a constant steering angle, engine power is recovered transferring load to the rear wheels to create stability. If you've ever abruptly lifted your foot from the accelerator at a higher speed, you've experienced such a dynamic change in a more discernable way, with the vehicle feeling like it is lurching. Conversely, if you've ever floored it you've likely felt a vehicle's load shift rearward. G-Vectoring, though, works in a nearly imperceptible fashion and in the blink of an eye.

Mazda's new G-Vectoring Control system can work in both front- and all-wheel-drive vehicles. And its not just performance driving in which GVC is a benefit, such as making turn in smoother during high-speed transitions. In fact, GVC's biggest benefit will likely be seen over longer commutes and in slippery conditions like snow and ice. When we drive, we subconsciously make thousands of tiny adjustments to the steering wheel. Mazda's G-Vectoring Control intends to smooth these out via nearly imperceptible engine output adjustments that change the lateral G forces acting on the car.

In the larger context of Mazda's SkyActiv vehicle dynamics and "Jinba Ittai" ethos -- which strives to unify a car and its driver as a traditional horse and its rider -- G-Vectoring Control aims to reduce driving fatigue and lead to a more satisfying, peaceful experience. Passengers, too, enjoy a smoother ride since they are not jerked around as much. Mazda has quantified these results by tracking the eye and torso movements of passengers riding in vehicles with and without GVC.

Trying it out

Before hopping into Mazda6 sedans fitted with G-Vectoring, Mazda had us do something different: Drive an ordinary CX-5 compact SUV at 5 and then 10 mph on a winding, closed-off course, then do the same in a Subaru Forester and Honda CR-V. The differences were notable, with the Subaru's notorious throttle tip-in making it difficult to smoothly accelerate, while also having a more difficult time tracking in turns, similar to the Honda. The intent was the show that Mazda has for years been working to make its vehicles smoothly handle G-forces. GVC is the latest step. The system has been in the works for 8 years, but it wasn't until Mazda's latest generation of ultra-precise SkyActiv engines and software management that the technology could be implemented.

Finally, we tested it. Using a similar course but driving in the 20-30 mph range, we went lap after lap to sense how the steering and motions of the sedan felt, toggling the system on and off via a big red button that a cynic might see as a placebo. But I don't think that was the case. Turns felt smoother, and the car seemed more in control, if only by the slightest bit.

Next we did the same thing, but with a tarmac that had been flooded with water to simulate a low-traction environment. Here the results were slightly more pronounced as the car was easier to control in corners, though differences were still slight. A better test came on the actual tarmac of the raceway’s circuit. We set our cruise control at around 30 mph to maintain constant throttle input, then went through a variety of turns and obstacles with the system off and on. Most telling was going through a narrow course close to a wall. You know how being inches from a freeway wall on a narrow stretch can be nerve-wracking? In perhaps it's best example of the day, GVC seemed to help here, like a friendly ghost helping co-pilot the car. In this scenario, it seemed easier to control the car, with less inputs needed to keep the vehicle on track.

Lastly, we did some real-world driving on the rolling highways outside of the raceway. Again, sensing GVC was difficult, but I'll tell you this: When it was on, I felt as though I had to concentrate less and could just enjoy driving more.

Coming soon to a Mazda near you

Mazda says GVC is the first technology of its kind, and it will be arriving this summer in the 2017 Mazda6 sedan, followed by the Mazda3 compact car. From there, it is planned to be rolled out in the majority of if not all new Mazda vehicles. Notably, the feature will be standard. And unlike our test cars, there will be no big red button to turn GVC on and off.

This was an interesting first taste of this technology, but the real test of G-Vectoring's success will be in the long-run. Its benefits won't be apparent in a 15-minute test drive around a dealer's lots, but over thousands of miles in an owner's hands. G-Vectoring is an essence as much as it is a technology, one whose traits will manifest in the background. Its results will be best appreciated in the way it makes Mazdas easier to drive in the everyday commute while offering a hint of extra performance in hard cornering and more confidence in on slick roads.

Ironically, its presence may best be felt in its absence, when you drive another vehicle without the technology. After doing so, you may just feel more stressed, more fatigued and more unsatisfied. G-Vectoring aims to mitigate these effects. And though the benefits may not be immediately discernable, Mazda has shown that the effects are real for drivers and passengers. After this first exposure, we're eager to experience more.


 

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