2010 Mazdaspeed 3: Half Inch vs. 1,000 Miles
August 31, 2010
It's hard to believe, but sometimes a half inch makes a difference in 1,000 miles. In this case, it's the distance between my hip and the throttle pedal of the Mazdaspeed 3, which is a half inch too short for me to be able to drive 1,000 miles.
When you're on the road all day, an automobile's driving position becomes more than just an abstraction. You encounter the layout of the controls, the placement of the seat and even the way the pedals work in the most physical way possible, and the slightest ergonomic miscues become physical aches and pains and even compromise your ability to drive the car effectively.
So if the driving position doesn't fit, you notice. And the driving position of the Mazdaspeed 3 doesn't fit me.
It's not really Mazda's problem entirely. Every company has its own set of human factors that determine the typical driving position in its cars, a combination of dimensions related to safety and comfort that are set down in its big engineering book of standards and practices, the recipe book for building a car that every automobile company compiles over time. And one element of the determination of a car's driving position is the size of the people expected to drive it. That's why the driving position of the Honda Fit and the Volvo S80 are entirely different.
And the Mazda 3 from which the Mazdaspeed 3 is derived is scaled for someone just a bit shorter than me. That's all well and good, because a driver seat is adjustable for just this reason. The trouble is, you can't move the pedals, too. So the gas pedal is just half inch too close for me. This shouldn't be more than an annoyance, but in a car like the Mazdaspeed 3 it's a disaster.
There are general issues of comfort, of course. You have to consciously pull your foot a little farther off the gas when you're decelerating. You have to readjust your internal calibration that tells you where the brake pedal is in relation to the gas pedal. Instead of easily articulating your ankle, you find yourself moving your leg. And as you inevitably tire over the course of a long day on the road, your foot gets lazy and you're leaning on the gas pedal all the time.
With the Mazdaspeed 3, a little weirdness with the gas pedal also leads to some weirdness in your driving. The light-effort action of the throttle pedal really bothers me anyway, because it ends up artificially giving you big throttle responses even when you're trying to be precise. So with the throttle pedal a bit too close, I find myself zinging the throttle like a fool at low speed because I'm trying to coordinate the snappish clutch pedal. And the fact that the relatively big turbo comes on boost with a bang is one more thing that conspires against my ability to find balance in throttle inputs at high speed.
So it turns out that a half inch difference in where the Mazdaspeed 3's throttle is placed makes me drive like an idiot when I'm going fast and feel painfully clumsy and out of sorts when I'm driving slow. A tilt/telescoping steering wheel would help a little bit, but probably I won't be happy until Mazda changes its standards and practices to incorporate a driving position scaled for slightly larger people, much as Nissan did when it designed the 350Z.
All in all, it's a reminder that the ergonomics of a car's driving position have more to do with your ability to drive than you realize.
Michael Jordan, Executive Editor, Edmunds.com @ 17,954 miles.