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Driving Notes

First-Ever Mazda Ice Academy Showcases i-ACTIV AWD System

February 8, 2016, by Mike Antich - Also by this author

Wintery conditions allowed the i-ACTIV AWD system to provide a real-world demonstration of its capabilities. Photos courtesy of Mazda.
Wintery conditions allowed the i-ACTIV AWD system to provide a real-world demonstration of its capabilities. Photos courtesy of Mazda.

Mazda held its first-ever Mazda Ice Academy in Crested Butte, Colorado, the first week of February to demonstrate its i-ACTIV all-wheel drive (AWD) on a purpose-built ice driving course. Attending the event were two waves of journalists and a separate dealer group.

At 8,885-feet elevation, the wintery conditions of Crested Butte allowed the i-ACTIV system to provide a real-world demonstration of its grip and steering control in inclement conditions while driving on snow-covered, icy roads.

The temperature during the daylong test was -6F (without windchill).

The Mazda Ice Academy had three purpose-built ice tracks, which were designed to function as modules to test various aspects of the Mazda i-ACTIV AWD performance and capabilities versus competitive AWD models.

The first module I drove was a tire comparison of all-season tires versus winter tires. The tire test was conducted with vehicles equipped with all-season Yokohamas versus a CX-3 equipped with Bridgestone Blizzak winter tires.

The module featured a slalom to test the cornering grip and traction, which concluded with a “panic” brake-stopping test. The difference between the all-season Yokohama tires and the Bridgestone Blizzak winter tires was very noticeable. The Blizzak tires provided superior grip and traction due to their cross-hatched tread pattern to ‘hold’ snow in its tread, and a multi-cell “hydrophilic surface compound” to break the surface tension of water.

Climbling a snow-covered hill, starting from a dead stop mid-way up.
Climbling a snow-covered hill, starting from a dead stop mid-way up.

The second module I drove was a hill ascent test. The exercise featured the Mazda CX-3 and Mazda CX-5, and two AWD competitive models. The test compared the performance and capability of the different AWD models to climb a snow-covered hill, starting from a dead stop mid-way up the hill. The i-ACTIV system excelled in this exercise, effortlessly negotiating the hill with no loss of traction.

The third module included a slalom with traction control turned off on a drift test track while driving an MX-5 convertible with the top down. Needless to say, it was a huge thrill and a great opportunity to hone your skills in negotiating under-steer and over-steer driving situations.

The event also featured an urban driving loop through Crested Butte, switching out between Mazda models and competitive products at the end of each loop.

The concluding event featured exhilarating “hot laps” with a professional driver behind the wheel of an MX-5 pushing it to its limits into wild drifts on an icy slalom.

Driving a slalom with traction control turned off in a convertible MX-5 with the top down.
Driving a slalom with traction control turned off in a convertible MX-5 with the top down.

Mazda’s predictive i-ACTIV all-wheel drive technology was introduced in the 2013 Mazda CX-5, the first sixth-generation vehicle with a full integration of SKYACTIV Technologies.

Subsequent models with i-ACTIV AWD include CX-3, which went on sale in 2015, and the all-new CX-9, which will go on sale in 2016.

Mazda’s innovative i-ACTIV AWD works similarly in all models in which it is implemented, complementing Mazda’s Jinba Ittai—“horse and rider as one”—and Hoshiru Yorikobi — “joy derived from driving” — philosophies. These two philosophies were incorporated in the design and engineering of the i-ACTIV AWD to allow for precise control and spirited driving dynamics. The i-ACTIV AWD successfully implements both of these philosophical tenets.

In normal operation, vehicles route approximately 98 percent of their power to the front wheels, but torque transfer can reach as much as 50:50 front-to-rear if the vehicle determines more power is needed for the rear wheels.

Where many systems are touted as sending power from “the wheels that slip to the wheels that grip” — a reactive AWD system — Mazda’s i-ACTIV AWD is predictive, analyzing road, engine, transmission, weather, windshield wiper use, internal and external temperature, yaw sensors, steering, and other conditions more than 200 times per second to determine optimal torque transfer.

The Mazda i-ACTIV AWD uses 27 different sensors that feed to a central control module to determine how wheels need to be driven.

As they say, the proof is in the doing and the Mazda i-ACTIV AWD accomplished this with ease to allow drivers to confidently drive on the most challenging snow-covered and icy roads.

Related Photos: Mazda's Ice Academy

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Amy Winter-Hercher

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Amy is an associate editor for Auto Rental News and Business Fleet.

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