2012 Mazda Mazda3 Long Term Road Test


2012 Mazda Mazda3: The Prius and My Left Foot

January 24, 2012

2012 Mazda Mazda3 

I confess that I use my left foot to brake. I can’t help it, really.  It all came from a rally in the middle of the night in the Olympic rain forest when it snowed (while driving a Mitsubishi Cordia of all things) and I learned to balance a car while cornering by using the brake.

The Mazda 3 doesn’t entirely like this and will occasionally cut the throttle. Of course, it’s not the Mazda that's the problem, actually. It’s the Toyota Prius, and the panic about unintended acceleration, which of course has since been shown pretty comprehensively to be unintended driver error. 

But in any case, no carmaker wants to risk any confusion with pedal application these days. When you press the brake pedal, the car assumes that you want to slow down. The same thing happened with German carmakers after the Audi 5000 panic in the 1980s (another case comprehensively shown to be unintended driver error).

So the Mazda 3 doesn’t entirely like my left foot.

 

2012_Toyota_Prius 

There are times when I'm left-foot braking into a corner and the throttle will cut completely. Nothing dangerous, but certainly annoying.  And even more annoying when the automatic transmission seems to lose its place for a moment, prolonging the whole episode.

It really only seems to happen at low speed, and apparently there’s nothing more involved than looping the brake lights into the circuitry for the fly-by-wire throttle, or so I’m told. The car just assumes that if both the throttle and the brake are pressed at the same time, the brake should have priority. Most manufacturers have reacted to the Prius episode with similar measures, some simple and some more elaborate.

Toyota actually describes its own technology this way:

“As an added measure of safety, Toyota created the braking system enhancement known as Smart Stop Technology. This advanced technology automatically reduces engine power when both pedals are pressed at the same time under certain conditions.

Smart Stop Technology intervenes when the accelerator is depressed first and the brakes are applied firmly for longer than one-half second at speeds greater than five miles per hour.

In normal driving conditions, you won’t notice Smart Stop Technology as it is imperceptible. The feature doesn’t engage if the brake pedal is depressed before the accelerator pedal. This allows for vehicles starting on a steep hill to safely accelerate without rolling backward (known as hill start).

Toyota has installed Smart Stop Technology in all its new models since the beginning of 2011, making it one of the first full-line manufacturers to offer this braking technology as standard equipment."

All this just means that there are fewer cars that let me use left-foot braking. First German cars and now Japanese cars. There is hope for the future, though. I’m told that Mazda is working on a throttle-cut system that depends on brake pressure, so it’ll tolerate a certain amount of pedal overlap and let you use the brakes to balance the car while cornering. The protocol starts with the forthcoming Mazda CX-5 and will be incorporated with new model launches thereafter.

As the Mazda guy told me, “We are the Zoom-Zoom company, after all.”

Michael Jordan, Executive Editor, Edmunds.com @ 4,252 miles

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