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July 24, 2017

Jinba-Ittai: The Theory of Everything Mazda

It’s written in every Mazda brochure: Jinba-Ittai. These four Japanese characters, translated as the feeling of oneness between rider and horse, is something that has shaped Mazda for over three generations.

Surprisingly, Jinba-Ittai wasn’t something conveniently coined by Mazda’s marketing department. The term actually surfaced when then MX-5 Program Manager Toshihiko Hirai started printing them on his business cards. This was in 1987.

With the world turning its attention away from the lightweight sportscar category, Mazda had no benchmark for the MX-5. With two years to go before its global debut, engineers drove the prototype repeatedly changing settings, measuring, and accumulating data. Knowing that their target was not outright speed, but a sense of fun and happiness, they settled when they no longer felt the existence of the car. When the feeling of strangeness disappeared, Mazda knew they found Jinba-Ittai.

Today, Jinba-Ittai isn’t just limited to chassis dynamics; the word has transformed into one that encompasses Mazda’s entire philosophy from design to ergonomics and safety. It’s now part of their human-centric design philosophy.

By repackaging their cars’ front-end, particularly moving its wheelbase forward, they have moved the complex drivetrain hardware that would normally crowd into a driver’s foot area. This results in a brake pedal that’s moved closer to the accelerator and an accelerator that’s wider.

Onto the pedals themselves, using an organ-type accelerator pedal rather than a traditional hinged one offered a more natural movement between foot and ankle. This enabled the driver to rest the ball of his foot during pedal application. Furthermore, the pedal travel itself has been taken into account as not to veer away from the most comfortable zone of movement.

After looking at the pedals, Mazda zeroed in to provide a natural and relaxed seating posture. They’ve gone through great lengths, measuring joint angles and muscle conditions in a relaxed posture. And after identifying what the ideal driving position is, they engineered the seats and placed vehicle controls in locations that enabled and promoted this posture.

Finally, the predictability and linearity of the vehicle’s handling makes up the final piece of the Jinba-Ittai puzzle. Taking into account subtle body movements, Mazda has lessened minute steering corrections (less hand movement) and tuned the suspension for less float (less head movement) ensuring a more comfortable drive. Even the brakes were designed not to be grabby. Upping things even more is G-Vectoring Control or GVC. Part of Skyactiv-Vehicle Dynamics, GVC adjusts the engine torque in response to steering inputs thereby reducing understeer.

It’s a misconception that Jinba-Ittai is just for the sporty or enthusiastic driver. On the contrary, it works even for every day driving when it’s important that the driver feels his car’s responses and be able to smoothly react to it.

Human sensations haven’t changed since the original MX-5’s debut and won’t for the foreseeable future. People find the same things beautiful today as back then, and cars that are in sync with their sensations still fit like a glove. This challenges Mazda to continually develop Jinba-Ittai even further. The story of Jinba-Ittai is far from being complete; it’s just starting.


  1. Sponsored or not, this is actually true. For a non-luxury car to develop things like driver-vehicle oneness (I dont know a more appropriate term), things that focuses on the driver and not just building cars and selling to whoever may want it, they gain my respect.

  2. It actually makes sense to put in efforts to improve the driving experience on daily driver cars - after all, its where most of us spend a lot of our time. Kudos to Mazda for looking into the most important part of the car - the driver.

  3. Mazda is good but it's undeniably a BMW copy cat.

  4. Jinba-ittai... doesn't sound appealling in sa mga pinoy.. Jin ba itay o beer?

    1. ^I lol-ed at your pun. But it doesn't hide the fact that you are just commenting for the sake of the comment, you trash.


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