“If you’re doing it right, people won’t notice.”
That’s probably the most apt description we heard of Mazda’s latest driving technology, G-Vectoring, which we experienced at a recent event in sunny Monterey, California. G-Vectoring Control, or GVC, is the culmination of an eight-year engineering partnership between Hitachi and Mazda, and it will largely go unnoticed by the vast majority of the driving public. But for Mazda, it’s the latest small detail of many that make its cars some of the best drivers’ cars in their segment — and beyond.
Spirited drivers and enthusiasts will tell you that by and large, Mazda is the leading authority of fun in virtually every segment it competes in. The company’s ethos of Jinba Ittai, or “unifying horse and rider,” plays out in everything from its small roadster to its large three-row SUV. Ask anyone who drives or has driven an MX-5 Miata to describe the experience, and “extension of your own body” is likely going to appear in the top three responses. That same commitment to driving purity is carried throughout its lineup.
However, an immense amount of work goes into making Mazdas the quiet overachievers that they are. Driving an all-wheel drive CX-5 won’t seem all that different from the standard front-wheel CX-5 because Mazda’s engineers went to great lengths to effectively hide the negative concessions one makes when purchasing an AWD vehicle (added weight, fuel consumption).
G-Vectoring works under a similar approach — completely un-intrusive to the driving experience, it took our group of 10 or so journalists the better part of a day and a battery of tests to get a grasp on what exactly it did and the difference it made in real-world driving. Like the human body, GVC helps Mazda’s cars behave more naturally. Mazda’s goal was to eliminate jerk as much as possible — not jerks, though it’d be nice to eliminate them too; jerk is the formal term for changes in acceleration. GVC cuts down the response time between lateral acceleration and steering inputs, giving Mazda’s cars a small but net-positive change in cornering manners.
Before we jump in, try to imagine — or look up on YouTube — a race car coming up to a turn. Just ahead of the curve, the car will slow down, or even poke the brakes in order to “load” the front end — that is, to quickly shift the car’s weight and lean vector onto the front corner wheel to increase traction as to allow the car to hold the turn faster and longer. This loading process happens with just about everyone, race settings or otherwise, but it’s more pronounced for illustration purposes in a race car.
What Mazda has done with G-Vectoring is essentially mimicked this process on a near-imperceptible level. By using the car’s computers to monitor steering inputs, the car will — again, imperceptibly — reduce engine torque for a matter of milliseconds. It’s unnoticeable, but just enough to load the front wheels when making a turn or series of turns. Although the actual process itself is undetectable, the results are apparent in the cockpit with reduced steering corrections required for a smoother, more confident cornering experience and a more enhanced and direct steering feel.
Where G-Vectoring is most noticeable is on snowy or slick straights at speed. Using optical tracking software, Mazda’s engineers were able to illustrate just how reduced the driver’s small steering inputs were. Tiny corrections — ones that many wouldn’t notice, essentially small spasmodic movements — are eliminated almost entirely as the car feels those small steering inputs and adjusts in milliseconds to counter them. Though small and imperceivable, those small movements can add up over a long drive and result in quicker onset of driver’s fatigue.
We were offered a chance to test G-Vectoring in a few different settings, but the most noticeable was on an oval track set up at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. After putting the car in cruise at 30 miles per hour, were were told to hold the corners as consistently as possible. Adding some spice to the mix was the fact that half the oval was soaked down prior to our outing, adding a layer of uncertainty to holding what was already a tighter corner.
Without GVC, there was noticeable jitter in the driver’s steering inputs. Small corrections to keep the car tied to the corner throughout the turn, then smaller corrections to counter them. Once GVC was flipped on (notably, buyers of new Mazdas won’t have a switch — it’s all GVC, all the time for consumer vehicles), the steering jitter noticeably quieted down, and holding through the turns — even the wet ones — was perceptibly easier and more confident.
During our tests, Mazda paired us up with a data engineer in the backseat. Though I hardly felt any changes during the drive itself with GVC on or off, the data pulled indicated that with the system off, my steering inputs were considerably more aggressive and reactionary.
So what will Mazda charge for a piece of software that 99% of the general driving populace won’t notice? Actually, nothing. It’ll start coming standard on nearly all new Mazda vehicles as standard equipment. There’s no additional hardware, no sleazy options package or paywall. It’s a small gift from Mazda to its drivers and a commitment from its engineers that there’s no step too small in the quest for the best-driving cars possible.
GVC will first be available on the Mazda6 sedan, followed by the 3, CX-3, and likely CX-5. Mazda still has some knots to untangle before it’s able to put it on the MX-5 or the new turbocharged CX-9 (the addition of the turbo presents some additional challenges). GVC won’t be retroactively available for older models because of the inconsistencies that the new code will pose for the car’s computing systems.