Monday, March 5, 2018

How Mazda Designed The i-ACTIV AWD to Act Human


Based on the human walk—that’s how Mazda describes its i-ACTIV AWD system. It’s a good thing though that the system wasn’t based on me; if it were, then it’d suck. The moment I stepped out of the bus and onto the Kenbuchi Proving Ground located north of Asahikawa in Hokkaido, Japan, I slipped and fell in full view of all the Mazda engineers and experts. It’s reassuring to everyone concerned that Mazda’s all-wheel drive system takes inspiration from more graceful humans.

Comparing its all-wheel drive system to how humans walk may sound like a stretch, but actually, it’s not. Born out of their Human-Centric Design Philosophy, Mazda has made i-ACTIV AWD the world’s first predictive all-wheel drive system. Just as how humans will recognize a slippery road based on his senses, take judgement on what course of action to take, and to execute that action properly, Mazda’s system does something similar.


Since cars don’t have the traditional human senses, i-ACTIV AWD relies on a multitude of sensors (27 in all) to detect a slip, and then send power to the rear wheels even before the slippage actually occurs. The system monitors things like steering torque, steering angle, outside temperature, longitudinal g-forces, gas pedal position, wheel speed, engine rpm, vehicle incline angle, and even front and rear wiper speed 200 times a second.

These condition-biased sensors alert the car to obvious possibilities: cold weather could mean snow; wipers on means it’s probably raining, an uphill incline means weight has transferred from front to back equaling to the loss of traction, or amount of steering effort vis-à-vis the angle of the steering wheel correlates to possibly slippery conditions. In other words, i-ACTIV AWD does recognition, judgement, and operation all on behalf of the driver.



By default, the system runs with 99 percent of power sent to the front wheels and 1 percent to the rear (Mazda calls this pre-torque and is done to avoid any jerky switchover). However, if the central control module predicts a slip, it sends up to 50 percent of the engine’s power to the rear wheels even before the front wheels begin to lose grip. Plus, by using an electromagnetic rather than hydraulic clutch, the torque split can exactly match what the central control module is dictating resulting in power at the right set of wheels at the right time.

While some would counter that such technology is frivolous in a country that doesn’t experience snow and ice, Mazda counters that i-ACTIV AWD is a safety system and is meant to add an extra layer of driver control on changeable road conditions. Measuring the co-efficient of friction (mu), dry asphalt would be between 0.7 to 0.9 (the highest being 1), wet asphalt between 0.5 to 0.7, and snow between 0.1 to 0.2. Interestingly, standing water on asphalt is 0.3-0.4—just a notch higher than driving on snow. And with 136 days out of 365 recorded as rainy in Manila, it does become an important safety feature.



The question now is: how does it compare to other all-wheel drive systems in the market today? Without having to prod it out of Mazda engineers, they were quick to volunteer that they’ve benchmarked Subaru in developing i-ACTIV AWD. Though the verdict is still out on which system is more superior (no competitors were offered during this activity), Mazda does say that Subaru’s system does have its limitations. For example, it will have difficulty starting up a crest with the wheels turned. The reason? The AWD system may not transfer power smoothly between the front and rear with the wheels cocked.

As with everything else Mazda has developed, i-ACTIV AWD is an integral ingredient into the whole Jinba-ittai experience. Labeling it as the most superior all-wheel drive system in the market today is still open to debate, but one thing is for sure: it sure is a simple and elegant solution. Having a “brain” process all of the available information generated by the car’s various systems doesn’t just cut the complexity of rolling out an all-wheel drive system across Mazda’s entire line-up (all but the MX-5 is offered with i-ACTIV AWD as an option), but it also creates a fully unified and proactive system.


Driving on snow and ice here in Hokkaido does entail a measured quantity of slipping and sliding, but at the end of the day, I’ve always remained in control. During my time behind the wheel, it seems that the extension of my body—the car—is having an easier time adopting to the icy conditions than myself. And if it can perform beautifully in extreme conditions such as the ones here, imagine the amount of confidence it can inspire on our roads.

Additional photos by Mikko David.

25 comments:

  1. Mazda's i Activ AWD or Subaru's aging AWD? Based from articles, the Subaru's and the others are reactive, while Mazda's is predictive. Sounds more advanced than any other competitor ain't it? What say you guys?

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    1. u sound like a mazda fanboy. To me they are nowhere advanced. They cant even come up with a good body design that doesnt look the same. MONOLOOK is just a meh i want to be different.

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    2. What about the mazda's aging look? That looks the same across the board haha fck off mazda fanboy

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    3. LOL. That is called a unified design language you morons. Then again, you are used to a mishmash of clashing, disjointed, weird anime robot crapola from the likes of Honda, Nissan & Mitsu. All those Mazdas won design awards & Car of the Year awards the year they were introduced. Extra Rice pa more kiddos.

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    4. In contrast, Honda's designs for many years now look like they employed 1 designer for the front, and another designer for the rear. Nissan tries to be edgy & funky with that Juke and ends up with an odd, unappealing, laughable design. The rest of the Nissans are as boring as Toyotas from a generation or two ago. Mitsubishi tries hard for the futuristic, techie look but ends up with designs that get sickening in just a few months of seeing them, definitely won't be seen as classic, timeless designs at all. Boooorrriing.

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    5. Unified design? HAHAHAHA, where do you come up with this shit? That's some fancy name for lazy, recycled, and uninspired design.

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    6. Have you ever looked at BMW? All of them have the same grill and yet not one of you complains. How about Maserati or Audi? Hyundai's elantra and new Accent? You faggots always criticize Mazda's good design but turn a blind eye on others who does the same thing. As a small company, they chose to divert funds and resources into other important stuff rather than drastically changing their cars design.

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    7. Moron, that's what is called Kodo, Soul of Motion. That's a design language for a generation. Of course they should look similar to each other, that's by definition. In contrast, Hondas & Toyotas look like they were designed by committees who never heard or seen each other, hahaha. Ugly, boring, uninspired designs as stupid as their fanbois.

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  2. And how would you mazda haters say that the i Activ AWD is nowhere advanced compared to competitors? Every competitor has an reactive AWD, like our government that only reacts when problems arise. While the i Activ detects problems before they even make contact. You haters probably can't afford having a mazda or you're too blinded by your fanboyism.

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  3. Just because you are ignorant about industrial design dpesnct mean it doesn't exist. The ignorant ghey-troll above is in effect saying, "I don't understand quantum theiry, therefore it doesn't exist." Bwahaha. You deserve to own an ugly Honda or a boring Toyota. Bagay kayo. Wahaha.

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  5. How could you say toyota as boring design? When it is the only brand who is always in the 1st to change generation of its lineups launched before the others?...
    I am impressed the aesthetic and features design of mazda. Its the Quality, Reliability and Endurance that i feel discomfort...

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    1. You must be blind to ask that question. Though the Fortuner is quite a good looking car, the others are just typical commuter cars. Have you looked at the current Camry? lol. The honor of being the first always belongs to the Germans.

      Have you driven a mazda skyactiv model? Aside from the seldom premature battery wear of istop equipped models, it is as reliable as any other, as long as properly maintained. Touch and feel Mazda's cars in and out and then the competition's. You'll be shocked beyond words. In terms of endurance, a mazda 2 won an endurance race challenge recently and other Mazdas have been driven hundreds of kilometers from Manila to Ilocos with no problems. Do you have any experience to back your claims?

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    2. Claims? How about the millions who bought Toyota because they trust the reliability of their cars? Yan na naman yang premium materials na yan. Just because it feels premium doesn't mean its reliable. Feel good lang effect niyan.

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    3. People have a herd mentality, buying what is popular. Toyota has been around for so long, that's why it got a great foothold here. Reliability? Every modern car is reliable with proper maintenance, you're living in the past. And the last time I've read about Toyota owners, they have their fair share of minor problems too just like any other brand. Yes, the feel good effect is part of the experience. And btw, they have a different target market. Mazda won't ever sell anything close to the volume that Toyota sells because they're not selling cars to just anybody. Same with Subaru, they're after a specific type of customer unlike Toyota and the other big volume sellers. While Toyota and the rest of the gang sells cars to anybody who just needs to get from point A to B, Mazda sells cars to those who love to drive and stand out from the rest of the crowd. While Subaru is going after customers who value safety above all else.

      But with regards to the mass market segment:
      Honda City>Toyota Vios
      Honda Civic>Toyota Corolla
      Honda Accord>Toyota Camry
      Honda CRV> Toyota RAV 4

      See and compare the specs and pricing. Most buyers only care about those 2 things, with both brands having good reputation and popularity if that's your thing. Btw, what car do you drive?

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  6. Subaru AWD > Mazda AWD
    Mazda AWD > Honda AWD

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    1. Can you explain why?

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    2. Very simple. Only the Mazda has feed-forward and predictive operation. The Honda real-time 4WD & Toyota 4WD are reactive/feed-back designs, the front-wheels have to be slipping before the rear wheels get power. Subaru uses full-time 4WD, so its not comparable. It has bigger impact on fuel economy & drivetrain stress becuase it is always engaged even if its not needed, for example, driving straight in a smooth, flat road.

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    3. So if Subaru's AWD is inefficient compared to the Mazda, how is that better eh?

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    4. The drawback of Subaru's AWD may be attributed to higher fuel consumption but it does make it a superior choice during winter season, rough roads and off roading.
      It's the default choice abroad and consumers love its performance. I have to commend Mazda though for coming up with a better exterior design.

      Just imagine those sensors in the Mazda AWD once they bog down. We're not even talking about its performance against Subaru's AWD yet. Just watch in Youtube how Subaru's AWD trumps Mazda's AWD.

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  7. Those are Mazda 3s in the pics. Do those have AWD too?

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    1. Yes...in other markets, i-ACTIV AWD is offered as an option on all but the MX-5.

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  8. Great that mazda designed its cars to act like humans. Sana ganun din mangyari sa mazda fanboys, mag act din na parang humans.

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