If you think there’s too many distractions in modern vehicles, Mazda agrees with you. The motor industry maverick has adopted a ‘look but don’t touch’ policy in the name of road safety.
While rival brands offer ever-more complex control systems and instrument panels for the driver to grapple with, the Japanese brand has removed touch screen functionality from the fourth-generation Mazda3 small car that launches mid-year in Australia.
It has literally moved the screen that contains navigation, entertainment, smartphone mirroring and Bluetooth information beyond the reach of the driver and closer to the windscreen.
The new Mazda3’s instrument cluster also contains information that only relates directly to what Mazda calls the “art of driving”. For instance, you won’t be able to toggle through and find out what song is playing, or get turn-by-turn navigation instructions.
This back-to-the-future policy flies in the face of the trend toward configurable digital dashboards that allow different looks and information to be displayed.
At the recent CES technology show in Las Vegas prototypes of screens that stretch across the entire dashboard were unveiled.
But Mazda engineer Matthew Valbuena told The New Daily at the global launch of the new Mazda3 the company’s research had shown its new strategy was safer, even if it might potentially disappoint customers looking for high-tech features.
“It does seem a little counterintuitive, but when you look at it from the viewpoint of driver safety a supported driving position is best,” Mr Valbuena said.
“What people don’t realise is, yeah, it’s really easy to reach out and touch the touch screen and execute what they want to do. But in a driving scenario you can’t operate a touch screen without taking your eyes off the road.
“When you have your hands on the steering wheel and you reach … you inadvertently add torsion to the wheel. You are actually turning the wheel, so the lane centring position is varying.
“So to avoid that concern and really optimise the driving function – because when the driver is behind the wheel that’s the most important function they should be doing – we removed the touch screen interface.”
Repositioning the screen further away also has the benefit of less eye refocus time, Mr Valbuena revealed.
“The amount of time it takes for you look at the car ahead and look at the screen is reduced when the screen is farther away because you don’t have that dramatic difference in distance that requires your eyes to adjust,” he said.
The Mazda3 is a key car for Mazda. Since the first generation launched in 2003 more than six million have been sold globally, with almost 10 per cent of them accounted for in Australia. The outgoing third generation was No.4 on the sales charts in 2018 and overall, Mazda is only outsold by Toyota here.
This independent thinking is typical of Mazda, which is one of the smallest independent mainstream car manufacturers in the world.
The new Mazda3 is the start of a complete technical and design overhaul of the entire range using a new development system dubbed “human-centric”.
Essentially, this means focusing on developing cars around the needs of passengers rather than trying to build better vehicles than rival brands, a process Mazda calls “machine-oriented” and “very inefficient”.
This approach has reached into every part of the car and drove the simplification of the interaction between driver and controls.
“We did lots of research and testing with cameras and sensor data looking at steering input,” Mr Valbuena confirmed.