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Thread: How Mazda Made a Real Sports Car: Behind the Scenes at Mazda R&D

  1. #1
    armthehomeless's Avatar
    armthehomeless is offline Rollin deep in a Lincoln
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    Default How Mazda Made a Real Sports Car: Behind the Scenes at Mazda R&D



    It's not the sort of place you think of as a proving ground. But it's here, on lonesome route G16, also known as Carmel Valley Road, south of Carmel, California, and just a few miles from Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca that some of the most defining work happened on the 2010 Mazdaspeed 3.

    There's a cattle guard on this road — an ugly, rough and terribly placed cattle guard — which is responsible for many of the suspension tuning changes on Mazda's latest sports car. Oh sure, the 2010 Mazdaspeed 3 has been around the Nόrburgring and it's been flogged at proving grounds and other double-secret testing locations around the world, but it's here at the cattle guard on G16 that the car's final suspension tuning decisions were made.

    And those decisions were made by our passenger, Dave Coleman and a small team of engineers based at Mazda's R&D facility in Irvine, California, whose job it is to align Mazda products with the needs of U.S. consumers. Dave is a vehicle development engineer for Mazda's sports and performance cars. That means he's the guy who signs off on all of Mazda's sports cars.

    Trust us. These guys know what they're doing.

    The Cattle Guard Test
    A couple of open-throttle passes over the cattle guard in question makes that painfully obvious.

    Our first pass is in a first-generation (2007-'09) Mazdaspeed 3. We hit the cattle guard at wide-open throttle in 2nd gear and bad things happen. There's a brutal thwack as the right front suspension bottoms out, followed by body wallow. It's enough to make any chassis engineer (or anyone with an ounce of mechanical empathy) cringe.

    Then we blast over the obstacle in the new 2010 Mazdaspeed 3. The car doesn't so much as wobble. It's stable and utterly unfazed. We jam it in 3rd and disappear into the twisting heaven of pavement that awaits. Coleman becomes instantly giddy.

    The goal, he says as I toss the hatchback through another series of bends, was to make the new car capable of handling this kind of road at speed. That goal and many other not so easily measured goals have been accomplished. The 2010 Mazdaspeed 3 is a complete car. But its success won't ever be measured by instruments — that's not how Mazda USA does things. Instead, it will be measured by feel, by soul and by passion — because those are all characteristics of a good sports car. And Coleman knows it.

    Setting the Target
    According to Coleman, after the success of the first-generation car (it won almost every comparison test it competed in), two camps developed at Mazda regarding which direction the next version should go. One camp wanted to go all-wheel drive and compete with the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution and Subaru WRX STI. The other camp wanted to do nothing. Changing the styling alone was enough, they said — sort of a "don't fix it if it ain't broke" strategy. After all, no one could argue with the car's success.

    The all-wheel-drive option was ruled out fairly quickly because of cost concerns — something Mazda learned the hard way in the '90s with the third-generation RX-7.

    "That whole group of cars from the '90s — the RX-7, Toyota Supra and Nissan 300ZX — were so obsessed with chasing performance that they priced themselves right out of the market," Coleman says. Not to mention the fact that a $40,000 economy-car-based sports car — no matter how good it is — is a tough sell, especially in today's economy.

    But leaving the car alone wasn't all right either, Coleman tells us. "The first-generation car was fast, but it looked the same as the standard Mazda 3." And, he adds, "It also wasn't a sports car." The problem, Coleman discovered, was a fundamental difference in the way the development team in Japan thinks about the car versus the way the American team thinks about the car.

    Mazdaspeed vehicles are designed and tuned by the same team in Japan that is responsible for the parent vehicle. And that team thought of the Mazdaspeed version of the car simply as a powerful Mazda 3. "We thought of it as a sports car," he says, "and that's a fundamental difference."

    Creating a Sports Car Chassis
    With all the hard points already set — the basic suspension pieces and engine are carryover from the first-generation car — the team was free to concern itself with the tuning that makes a sports car a sports car.

    "Once we convinced the Japan team that we should be making a focused sports car, there was a real breakthrough," Coleman says. "We've got a huge depth of talent here....it's just deciding what to with this car that's the challenge."

    Ride around a racetrack or down a back road with Coleman and you quickly understand that he knows what to do with a sports car. The old car, Coleman explains, was largely a product of "powerful Mazda 3" thinking that wasn't ever tuned away. "It rides well and it's smooth over rough pavement, but it lacks the composure of a sports car," he says. And even though it was competitive (or dominant, depending on your view), it wasn't the sports car Coleman would have preferred. The goal with the 2010 model was to make it capable of dealing with any kind of road — rough or smooth — at the massive speeds its engine can produce.

    Pushing to compete against cars that are a level above the product's price target achieves this goal, according to Coleman. In this case, that meant the Evo IX was often used as the benchmark for the Mazdaspeed 3's handling character.

    "We knew a car like the Evo was too hard-core to pull off with a front-drive chassis," Coleman says, "but we wanted that level of composure." It's the Evo's ability to charge fully committed into a corner and then deal with the unexpected that the team would ultimately try to emulate. "That kind of damping characteristic was the target," Coleman says.

    Sports Car Powertrain
    Because the first-generation car was already the most powerful car in its class, the engine is largely carried over to the 2010 model. Minor changes — like the removal of the belt-driven power steering pump (it's replaced by an electric pump) and slight rerouting of the intake — don't change the car's power rating, which remains at 263 horsepower and 280 pound-feet of torque.

    The problem was that the power ended abruptly at about 6,000 rpm and the redline is 6,750 rpm, which left 750 rpm of worthless needle sweeping at the top of the tachometer.

    "The first-generation car was fast but not as fun as it should be with this kind of power," Coleman says. But the changes aren't what you'd expect. "Conventional sports car thinking is to shorten the gear ratios, but we made 2nd through 5th gears taller." In reality, they changed all the ratios, but the tire size changed as well, giving only gears 2 through 5 a change to the pavement.

    The original car would fall off the torque curve again and again in every gear. The new gearing drops the engine lower in the rev range during hard driving, which is better suited to the power plant's all-in-the-middle power delivery.

    The taper at the top of the power band was also smoothed out through engine calibration changes. There's now a less significant drop in power, which makes hard driving — where much time is spent in the upper reaches of the tachometer — more fun.

    Where It Matters
    We drove both the old and new Mazdaspeed 3 around Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca and down Carmel Valley Road to explore their differences, which are dramatic.

    On the street, driving hard over rough pavement, the new car is outstanding. So outstanding, in fact, that we found ourselves wanting more power. On the right road, using only 3rd and 4th gears, where it can easily put power to the ground, the chassis is now capable of outshining the engine. And it doesn't really matter how stupid you decide to get. Want to dive into a suspension-crushing dip filled with rough pavement at 80 mph? No problem, the new car can handle it.

    There are limits, of course, and now when the red-misters find them they'll be going fast enough that only a smoldering pile of a once-brilliant car will remain. But they'll have to do something truly stupid to find themselves there.

    This is because the balance is still very front-biased. You probably won't slide backward off the road in this car. Even wild attempts to get the rear around were met mostly with understeer. "That's thanks to a 62 percent front weight bias which we can't change," says Coleman. "That kind of weight distribution just keeps the rear planted."

    But it's still very fast. So dramatic is the improvement that we reached our fear-of-death threshold before the chassis gave up. This is a fast car, and on a road where it can maintain momentum, it will give an Evo or STI a solid run. And, in most ways, it's equally engaging to drive.

    On the Track
    On-track development was limited to what could be learned from the old car before 2010 prototypes became available. And, again, it was done by feel, not by time or through instrumentation. Turns out this crew has a pretty good feel for things since our measured lap times were faster in the 2010 model.

    Around Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca the new car was 1.34 seconds quicker. Part of this is thanks to wider tires. The new car wears 225mm-section-width rubber vs. the old car's 215.

    But, largely, there's a measure of control available here that isn't present in the old car. The difference isn't as dramatic on a smooth racetrack as it is on a rough road, but the new car is sharp in ways the old car never could be. It's a pleasant surprise.

    Lap Times — 2009 Mazdaspeed 3 vs. 2010 Mazdaspeed 3:

    2009: 1:51.33
    2010: 1:49.99

    Torque This
    But Laguna Seca and the twisting roads of California's Central Coast were just a couple of the many locations used by Coleman and crew to tune the Mazdaspeed 3.

    Pick the right night to drive around Mazda's R&D center in Irvine, California, and you might get another surprise. It's here, not far from the real homes of the Real Housewives of Orange County, on a wide street between warehouses that Coleman and others on the team tuned the new car's torque steer. And by "tuned" we don't mean the kind of over-thought calibration that involves a racetrack, a highly developed procedure and a data logger measuring deviation.

    Nope. This is old-school, seat-of-the-pants stuff designed to get the new car as close to the threshold as possible. It's a fine line with torque steer. Too much and owners will complain and the car will get panned in the press. Too little — at least with front-wheel drive — and your sports car will be slow.

    "Our goal," says Coleman, "is to convince a potential buyer that there really is 263 hp under the hood."

    Tune by Burnout
    Starting with a calibration that passed the Japanese engineering team's rigorous torque-steer test, Coleman and crew drove the old and new cars back-to-back. Tuning as they went, they turned up the torque in the 2010 model until it matched or exceeded the old car's ability to make the tires beg for mercy in 1st and 2nd gear. These weren't burnouts, exactly, but the ability to haze the tires does add character — something all good sports cars possess.

    Remember, taller gears and bigger tires require more power to achieve this goal. Fortunately, there was enough power in reserve in the first few gears to make this happen.

    Torque steer is managed in the new car by a revised version of the original system that doles out torque based on gear selection and steering angle. It significantly limits torque in the first three gears if there's any steering dialed in.

    Coleman, seeming rather proud of his unconventional tuning techniques, points out that the new car is better than the old car in the torque-steer department — something we can verify. Partially because of its less compliant suspension, partially because of its new tires and partially because of its sophisticated control system, the new car has less torque steer than the old car.

    But it's just as powerful, a hell of a lot more fun to drive, and it's got a lot more soul. Coleman and Mazda's band of hard-core engineers have done their pocket protectors proud.

    [Source: Edmunds Inside Line]
    2014 Mk7 Golf R | DSG | Reflex Silver | Leather | Drive Assist | Bi-Xenon Headlights
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  2. #2
    Flake is offline New Member
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    Great read.

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    LYNCHY's Avatar
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    Wow sounds impressive i so want to drive one

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    That discussion of awd and RX7's disingenuously leads readers away from the fact there is already an MPS with awd which could have been adapted to the 3 without huge development costs.

    Leaves me with the impression that Mazda know this car should be awd but chose to increase their profit margin by charging the same money as a WRX while providing only half as much hardware.

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    Enigma's Avatar
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    Good Read

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    Quote Originally Posted by kmh001 View Post
    That discussion of awd and RX7's disingenuously leads readers away from the fact there is already an MPS with awd which could have been adapted to the 3 without huge development costs.

    Leaves me with the impression that Mazda know this car should be awd but chose to increase their profit margin by charging the same money as a WRX while providing only half as much hardware.
    There is an after-market kit available to turn your 3 into an AWD.
    I believe MPS Garage has it...?

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    Nope not MPS garage

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    Quote Originally Posted by LYNCHY View Post
    Nope not MPS garage
    I was sure it was someone on here that put me onto it Lynchy, I'll have a trawl through Google and see what I can find...

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    Always enjoy an article like this, helps to appreciate the car even more...and good for bragging to the mates lol!!
    I already fell in love with this car and now this information is coming out even more

  10. #10
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    Mazda are hiding something...

  11. #11
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    Quote Originally Posted by Team Green View Post
    Mazda are hiding something...
    ??...

  12. #12
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    with their technology they have at their finger tips surely that Mazda could have brought out a special hot model......

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