Skid Marks

MAZDA JINBA ITTAI: When car and rider move as one


The test drive of Mazda models allowed people to see for themselves what sets Mazda apart from the competition.

Members of the Miata Club Philippines filled the parking lot with their well-loved Mazdas.

Last Nov. 23 to 26, Mazda Philippines opened its doors to the public to allow them to feel and experience what Mazda, specifically Jinba Ittai, is all about.

It was a very casual, almost family-like affair. Guests and the motoring media had a chance to try out and test drive the full model lineup of Mazda (sans the MX-5 and MX-5 RF) for a test drive around a specifically set up course to allow drivers to see for themselves what sets Mazda apart from the competition.

Since I and the missus were both looking at buying a new car to beat the looming excise tax increase, we moseyed to Mazda’s academy grounds, set up on a parking lot on the corner of 38th and 9th Streets in the Uptown BGC area.

And since my brother and sister-in-law were also set on buying a new car, we invited them over to try see for themselves, and of course, experience what Mazda’s latest cars are like.

Mazda in the past suffered from a poor public image, having a perception of being unreliable for its after-sales parts and services, including from third-party suppliers.

Berjaya Auto Philippines, the parent company that represents the Mazda brand in the Philippines, has been working very hard to change public perception and image through various interactive activities and events.

Aside from the Jinba Ittai Academy, which Berjaya Auto Philippines/Mazda Philippines president Steven Tan says won’t be the last, Mazda also supports the motorsports development program of the Automobile Association of the Philippines which aims to find and groom the next generation of race car drivers and prepares them for more rigid competition in the near future.

The brand also regularly participates in the local motorsports scene, fielding two Mazda 2s in the touring car and time attack series in the country.

Mazda is the only other active manufacturer (aside from Toyota) that supports the local motorsports scene.

There’s also hope that Mazda will bring the Global MX-5 Cup in the Philippines soon.

And need I mention that Mazda also supports the Miata Cup staged by the local Miata Club members in the country? The Miata Cup is the longest run one-make race series in the Philippines.

What am I getting at? Mazda places a premium on driving enjoyment—a huge premium, and of paramount importance.

Attending the Mazda media conference held in Hiroshima, Japan earlier this year, journalists were pounded with one single idea: Mazdas should always be fun and enjoyable to drive, regardless of conditions.

To achieve this, driver and car should act in perfect unison, hence the Jinba Ittai mantra (which translates to horse and rider as one).

Another way to look at it is being in perfect balance of both car and driver.

It would have been easy to add ludicrous amounts of horsepower or tons of grip, but simply doing so would reduce driver involvement. It would be fun and amazing flat-out on track.

Fresh for 2018, Mazda’s Philippine model lineup features the latest SkyActiv vehicle dynamics GVC, which smoothens cornering and makes driving fun and relaxing at the same time.

But not everyone drives fast. And not everyone likes to drive a sports/race car.

All Mazdas, regardless of make, size and purpose, should be fun and enjoyable to drive. You can have a sedan/station wagon, SUV, or a sports car that, while different in looks, size, weight and purpose, as long as it possess a unifying DNA: Fun to drive. Balanced. Or a feeling of oneness with each other.

I digress here, but I just wanted to make that point. If you look at today’s current line-up of Mazdas, all of them have excellent driving positions.

The steering column aligns perfectly to your shoulders. The gas pedal is placed naturally such that when you sit and spread your legs, your right foot falls naturally on the accelerator.

The clutch is snappy, encourages fast shifting and footwork, but feels light while still being progressive.

The brakes offer excellent feel, feedback and modulation. And there’s good visibility around you with minimal blind spots.

At the Jinba Itta Academy, the average Juan can walk in, sign up, and test drive the Mazda models.

Engine and transmission response is immediate, and steering is alert but not nervous.

Truly, Mazda has come up with a good model, a paradigm for other manufacturers to follow suit.

I know all this because I have driven all Mazda models on both road and track, both locally and abroad. And I compare them with their competitors.

But not everyone has that opportunity. Thus, segue back to the Jinba Itta Academy, this is where the average Juan can walk in, sign up, and test drive the Mazda models.

They say a master archer and horseback rider, together with his/her steed, can feel for each other. A horse can adjust its stance and stride when it feels its rider is stretching his bow for a shot.

This is the very sensation that Mazda wants you to feel as you are about to take a corner. Mazda’s G-vectoring control is the modern, digital answer to a horse adjusting its stride and stance.

G-vectoring reduces engine torque very slightly when the steering wheel moves off-centre to allow for a slight weight transfer to the front tires, giving it slightly more initial grip, improving turn in and very slightly reducing the braking effort required.

It feels very natural, like you just learned how to drive smoother, but it does work, as I experienced before at a special driving seminar at MINE Circuit, Mazda’s own race track and proving ground in Japan.

Mazda’s G-vectoring control-equipped lineup: the CX-9, CX-5, CX-3 crossovers, and the Mazda2, Mazda3, and Mazda6 cars

The question is, can the average person feel this? My brother-in-law Lence got to test-drive the Mazda CX-5 and the 2018 CX-3.

Although the CX-5 was introduced earlier this year, supply has been limited, and it’s only now that Mazda Philippines has gotten a steady stream of supply.

The CX-3 has been updated for 2018 as well. According to my brother-in-law Lence, both the CX-3 and CX-5 drove very well, which was something they, together with his wife Shantelle, weren’t expecting.

Sound insulation was very good, interface with mobile devices was excellent, and the design was very different, a break from the usual and very chiselled, bold and handsome.

The interior space was also pretty good for the CX-5, although they felt the CX-3 was a tad small for them with their dog Challah.

As for the G-vectoring control? They couldn’t really feel the difference, which was probably because of the relatively small area of the parking lot. I guess the lads at Mazda have to look into this for future events.

Mazda Philippines president and CEO Steven Tan (center) with Mazda Japan-trained Jinba Ittai instructors from the Philippines and Malaysia

However, the more important desired results was there: my brother and sister-in-law are now more confident about the Mazda brand and its models.

Will they buy one? Ultimately, it depends on their budget, versus what they can (features-wise and discounts) get from the competitors given the same budget.

But at least now, they, like many other people who tried out the Jinba Ittai Academy, are slowly changing their perception of the brand to a far more favorable and positive one.

As for the missus? Her heart is set on that Mazda CX-3.

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