Fun to Drive:

Mazda – Zoom Zoom is Alive and Well

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07_deign_LSumming up a valuable trip to Japan with Mazda for the Tokyo Motor Show takes only a few words or phrases – fun to drive, Zoom Zoom, SkyActiv, Innovation, KODO, Monotsukuri, rotary

Fun to Drive a Key Strategy  Interviews with top Mazda executives at the Tokyo Motor Show reinforced their commitment to producing vehicles that are fun to drive from the get-go.  This is a key difference for the small Japanese automaker.  Mazda wants to “refresh the heart and soul with the joy of driving”.  Mazda North American Operations’ “Driving Matters” tag line is serious.

SkyActiv Yields Substantial Profit Improvement  Mazda has targeted its product development resources at its SkyActiv flexible production system that has yielded significant weight reductions, body rigidity improvements and engine performance improvements.  SkyActiv is the result of a complete re-thinking of how automotive product development should work and was funded by a $2 billion stock offering in 2012 combined with another $0.6 billion in subordinated loans.  Using common architecture, the same designs, parts and processes in its variety of vehicles, Mazda has substantially improved its per unit profitability.  New product development costs are a fraction of what they were previously.

SkyActiv engines – SkyActiv-G (Gasoline) – SkyActiv-D (Diesel) are recent developments that both have compression ratios of 14.0:1.  High for a gas engine and low for a diesel.  While the star of the Tokyo Motor Show was the RX-Vision featuring a SkyActiv-R (Rotary) engine, the rotary is only a dream at this point with a small team of 50 engineers working to solve fuel economy, emissions and reliability challenges.  Present engines are Stage 1 of Mazda’s powertrain development progress.  Meeting future emissions and fuel economy challenges will come in two further stages with Stage 3 complete sometime in the 2020-2025 time frame.

Mazda is committed to the internal combustion engine and by 2020 90% of its powertrains will still be internal combustion engines but will be modified with hybrid, plug-in hybrid and idle-stop technology to meet regional requirements.  There will be little reliance on EVs except where required by regulations.  When these advanced technologies are required, Mazda likely will draw on its comprehensive technology sharing agreement with Toyota.  Even when using Toyota technology, Mazda will maintain its uniqueness with in-house systems engineering.

KODO Design Brings Human Touch Where Computers Have Taken Over  Mazda’s KODO design language has now found its way onto all Mazda’s in production, Mazda is striving for uniqueness.  In fact, Mazda is proud that its solutions will be uncommon in an auto industry that has become commoditized.

Mazda’s Design Chief, Ikuo Maeda, says that the company begins its designs using traditional design methods like renderings by hand and hand-sculpted clay models.  He contends that mainstream carmakers using computer-aided designs yield styles that are too often reminiscent of each other.  At a distance, it is difficult to tell one mid-size car from another for instance.  Mazda’s KODO designs try for a unique play of shadow that changes with lighting and perspective.

Autonomous Driving and Mazda  Mazda’s CEO, Masamichi Kogai, does not dismiss driver assistance technologies or autonomous driving cars out of hand, but clearly is a strong believer in Mazda’s fun to drive attitude.  He says driving keeps a person young, alert and agile.  This attitude was a central part of the presentations by and conversations with every Mazda manager we came in contact with.  The consistency was refreshing.  Passion for cars and enthusiasm for driving is Mazda’s litany.  So, where does autonomous driving come into the picture for Mazda in the future?  Autonomous technology should take over if the driver has an issue that would impede the safe operation of the vehicle.  Autonomous technology would steer the vehicle safely to the side of the road where help could be summoned.

That said, Mazda is competitive in the driver assistance technology it offers today:  smart brake support, active LED headlamps, pre-collision throttle control both forward and in reverse, driver attention alert, blind spot monitoring with rear cross traffic alert, radar cruise control, lane keeping assist and lane departure warning.


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Owners Rate Most Fun to Drive Cars

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Fun to drive can be defined an infinite number of ways.  The sports car driver will say power and acceleration, braking and handling are the main contributors to fun to drive.  There is also the element of sexy head-turning styling ringing the sports car driver’s bell.  The sport utility driver will add functionality to that equation.  A smart fortwo driver may think its quirky styling, minuscule size (even with its funky transmission) add to the fun to drive experience.

The most fun to drive vehicles in AutoPacific’s New Vehicle Satisfaction Research – those with 85 % or more of their drivers totally satisfied with its fun to drive characteristics include:

2014 Chevrolet SS1.  Chevrolet SS:  We can certainly understand this one.  Fully loaded 4-door sedan with a Corvette V8, the SS is a great value and adds sedan functionality to a high performance platform.  Not a big seller, the SS buyer certainly understands the special car they are driving.  One hundred percent of the respondents were totally satisfied with its fun to drive characteristics.

2015 Chevrolet Corvette2.  Chevrolet Corvette:  Corvette is the quintessential American sports car.  Big with dramatic styling and powered by a large displacement push-rod V8, the Corvette not only has the dynamics for a fun to drive winner, but also the looks.

 

2014 Porsche Cayman3. Porsche Cayman:  Curvaceous styling with Porsche DNA, German precision and sprightly dynamics have 94% of Cayman drivers totally satisfied with the fun to drive of their car.

 

 

2014 Porsche Panamera4.  Porsche Panamera:  The most expensive of the fun to drive vehicles is the Porsche Panamera 4-door sedan with 93% of its owners totally satisfied.  Sometimes criticized for its ungainly looks, it checks the boxes for fun to drive.  Panamera is in the top ten in power and acceleration.  Panamera is top ranked for braking. Panamera is in the top five for handling.  Not bad for such a large car.

2014 smart fortwo5.  smart fortwo:  There are fifteen cars that score 85% or higher in fun to drive.  Surprising is one of them is the smart fortwo with 92% of its drivers totally satisfied with its fun to drive.  Acceleration and powertrain performance clearly are not strong suits for the fortwo.  Only 28% of fortwo owners are totally satisfied with power and acceleration, so there are other things contributing to its fun to drive.  Maybe it is handling? – 72% are totally satisfied with its handling.  Maybe getting good fuel economy is a contributor? – 76% are totally satisfied with fuel economy.  Maybe just fortwo’s quirky styling just puts a smile on their face?

2014 Porsche Boxster6.  Porsche Boxster:  The first of the “baby” Porsche entries has sometimes been called a chick’s car, and maybe it is if you watched the episode of Two and a Half Men where Alan buys one, but its owners 91% of its owners are totally satisfied with how fun to drive it is.  Owners rate the Boxster in the top ten of totally satisfied with power and acceleration, braking, and handling – all strong contributors to fun to drive.

2015 Nissan 370Z Coupe7.  Nissan 370Z:  A “classic” sports car, 90% of Z-Car owners are totally satisfied with its fun to drive attributes.  It is in the top ten in power and acceleration, but comes up shy in handling ranking 12th and poorly in braking where it ranks 53rd.

2014 Jaguar F-Type8.  Jaguar F-Type:  Jag’s new sports car entry has 90% of its owners totally satisfied with its fun to drive.  F-Type is in the top ten in power and acceleration, 11th in braking and 25th in handling.  Clearly, F-Types powertrain strongly contributes to its fun to drive and combined with its classic styling owners score the car very strongly.

2014 Subaru BRZ9.  Subaru BRZ:  The BRZ may be a new category of sporty coupe.  It is built to be extremely maneuverable and fun for a young person.  Small, rear wheel drive, and with the ability to drift around corners, 89% of its owners are totally satisfied with its fun to drive.  In the case of the BRZ, its power and acceleration does not deliver on its looks or fun to drive image.  Only 30% of BRZ owners are totally satisfied with its power and acceleration ranking it 225th.  About 56% BRZ owners are totally satisfied with its braking.  Where BRZ shines is in handling with 84% of its owners totally satisfying.  It appears that Subaru could improve the standing of the BRZ if engine power was increased substantially.

2014 Chevrolet Camaro10.  Chevrolet Camaro:  A classic American muscle car, 89% of its owners are totally satisfied with its fun to drive attributes.  Camaro ranks 17th in power and acceleration with 73% totally satisfied.  It ranks 18th in braking with 77% of its owners totally satisfied.  Camaro ranks 10th in handling.  These are solid results for a sporty coupe showing Camaro succeeds not only on the basis of its iconic image and styling, but also on dynamics.

2014 Ford Mustang11.  Ford Mustang: The outgoing Mustang still has a lot going it with 88% of its owners totally satisfied with its fun to drive.  Mustang owners rank its power and acceleration 28th with 68% totally satisfied.  Mustang falls to 95th in braking with 65% totally satisfied.  It is 55th in handling with 71% totally satisfied.  Clearly, style, image and reputation have gone a long way in contributing to Mustang’s position among fun to drive cars.

2014 MINI Paceman12.  MINI Paceman:  The wierdly styled MINI Paceman is totally fun to drive for about 88% of its owners.  46% of its owners are totally satisfied with its power and acceleration ranking 156th, other MINI entries rank substantially higher.  About 67% of its owners are totally satisfied with its braking ranking 52nd.  About 75% of owners are totally satisfied with its handling – 27th.  Head-turning styling and image strongly contribute to the fun to drive aura of the MINI Paceman.

2014 Mazda Miata13.  Mazda Miata:  Miatas, or MX-5s, are famous for how fun to drive they are.  About 86% of its owners are totally satisfied with its fun to drive attributes.  Miata is not supposed to be blindingly fast it is supposed to be fun and most owners recognize that.  Still, ranking 109th, 53% of its owners are totally satisfied with its power and acceleration.  About 68% are totally satisfied with its braking – 48th.  About 64% are totally satisfied with its handling – 29th.

2014 Mitsubishi Lancer EVO14.  Mitsubishi Lancer EVO:  The last Lancer EVO ranks 14th in fun to drive with 85% of its owners totally satisfied.  Generally, a car sold for its performance never lives up to the expectations of its owners in power and acceleration, but the EVO seems to be an exception.  About 71% of its owners are totally satisfied with its power and acceleration – ranking 22nd.  About 78% are totally satisfied with braking – 13th.  About 78% are totally satisfied with handling – 15th.  This is a pretty good all-around performance for dynamic attributes.  Sayonara EVO, you will be missed.

2014 Scion FR-S15.  Scion FR-S: The FR-S is the Scion version of the Subaru BRZ.  About 85% of its owners are totally satisfied with its fun to drive.  Like the BRZ, FR-S owners want more power and acceleration – only 33% are totally satisfied – ranked 222nd.  About 52% are totally satisfied with its braking – ranking 178th.  About 73% of FR-S owners are totally satisfied with its handling – that is what the car is designed for after all – ranking 37th.

Top Ten Fun to Drive Brands:  The ranking of brands includes the fun to drive results for all their entries.  The top ten brands are:  1) Porsche, 2) MINI, 3) BMW, 4) Audi, 5) Jaguar, 6) Fiat, 7) Scion, 8) Cadillac, 9) Lincoln, 10) Mercedes-Benz.


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Manual or Automatic Transmission? What Enthusiasts Prefer to Drive

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Whizzing around tight corners, while rapidly shifting the gears of a manual transmission is exhilarating! However, reality dictates that I spend most of my driving time mindlessly crawling through rush-hour traffic, so the thought of constantly burying my leg into a clutch while shifting from 2nd to 3rd back to 2nd every five seconds has made me think twice about buying a car with a manual transmission. Driving an automatic now-a-days just seems more convenient for day-to-day driving. And apparently I am not alone here.

VehicleVoice recently surveyed its panel to find out how much of the vehicle-driving population still drives a manual transmission. Looking specifically at enthusiasts (after all, aren’t they primarily the ones driving a stick shift?), the data reveals that, despite a significant portion of our sample claiming stick-shift know-how (89%), only a fraction of them (24%) are actually driving one today.


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