Technology emulating life. This phrase is becoming more real in the automobile industry than ever before. Putting aside self-driving cars and autonomous public transport, even driving like a proper enthusiast can now be done with technology. Instead of training and developing various driving skills, manoeuvers that were the domain of petrolheads can now be done by pushing a button.
Technologies like auto-blipping make heel-toe manoeuvers unnecessary, while many sports cars and supercars come with launch control that enables optimal starts from stand still. You are no longer required to know how much to rev your car so that you avoid too much wheel-spin and get the best traction to pull off the fastest time on a drag strip. Forward the below video to 1:16 to see the Porsche 911 Turbo Cabriolet using launch control.
Ford has recently released technology in their cars that allow amateur petrolheads to perform like pros. The 2015 Ford Mustang came with a burnout function, while the Focus RS comes with the now famous drift mode. Earlier this week, Autocar revealed that the 2017 Mercedes-AMG E 63 will come with four-wheel drive as standard rather than the rear-wheel and four-wheel drive options now available. The article also disclosed the fact that the four-wheel drive system has been developed to provide a rear-biased drive. In addition, the chairman of AMG, Tobias Moers told Autocar that it will have a drift mode, making it the second production car in history to sport one.
So what is the line-locker on Ford’s Mustang that allows you to do a burnout and, quite literally, shred your rear tyres?
Someone familiar with drag racing will be able to tell you the line-locker is an essential part of getting a car off the line in the best way possible. All rubber provides better traction the hotter it gets. It is the reason you see Formula 1 cars zig-zag on the formation lap and the reason the tyres are wrapped up before being installed on the cars; to keep the tyres warm and sticky. Before a drag race begins, the burnout heats up the tyres so that the car gets the optimal amount of traction. The blueish-black tyre smoke also looks goddamn cool… if you’re a bit juvenile. The line-locker on the Mustang electronically locks the front wheels with the brakes while letting the rear wheels spin.
The irony of installing this feature on the Mustang is that Ford says the line-locker function can only be used on a track, yet using the car on a track would void the warranty. For the first time Ford has made the Mustang for right-hand drive markets, yet some of the largest markets (UK, Australia, and New Zealand) have a big issue with the feature.
Anti-hoon laws in Australia and New Zealand have been used to ban the burnout mode while police in the UK will definitely be on the lookout for anyone doing burnouts on public roads. Chief inspector Phil Vickers, operational roads policing lead for Lincolnshire, Nottinghamshire, Leicestershire and Northamptonshire, told Car Magazine, “We recognise that many enthusiasts look after their cars, but behaving in an anti-social way like this draws attention to the driver and means we’re more likely to become involved.”
The burnout mode in the Mustang sold in Australia has been removed. Mechanically, the car is fully capable of pulling it off, but the software to actually do it has been removed.
The Focus RS’s drift mode was a freaking cool innovation in technology and wowed journalists and petrolheads alike. Ben Collins, the former Stig, showcased the drift mode when the hot hatch was launched and said you can drive it like a hooligan. Seeing how it has become the centre of the car’s marketing campaign, it is quite surprising that Ford hadn’t planned on introducing the Focus RS with a drift mode.
The all-wheel drive on the car has two clutches that works in conjunction with the Electronic Stability Control System. It can send up to 70% of the torque to the rear wheels of the Focus RS giving it a rear-bias making it easier to perform a drift. The function of the twin-clutches is that it can divert that 70% of the torque to just one of the rear wheels. Which means that the Focus RS can drift on demand with ease.
Ford Performance’s chief engineer Jamal Hameedi, explained to Car and Driver that the drift mode is an excellent teaching tool to help develop your skills. It does most of the work for you and has a safety net in case you mess up but you still have to know the basics of drifting.
Road safety experts in Australia are furious that unlike the Mustang and its line-locker, the Focus RS got to keep its drift mode when sold in the country. Even though Ford has categorically said that the mode is only to be used on a track and put a disclaimer when shifting into the mode saying so, the argument is that there is nothing real stopping people from using it on public roads.
Besides all the bans and the authorities cracking down on these features for amateur petrolheads, there’s the price of all those rear tyres that will need to be changed. Ford seems to really want to make you pay for new tyres as the drift mode and burnout mode will most definitely wear them out much faster.
The drift mode on the Mercedes-AMG E 63 will work in a similar manner to Ford’s Focus RS. The details have not yet been revealed but AMG chairman Tobias Moers told Autocar at the Paris Motor Show that the 612bhp saloon will be able to send all 626 lb ft (850Nm) of torque to the rear-wheels, which should allow the E 63 to drift. The Electronic Stability Control will act as a safety net by controlling the amount and length of the drift.
So what do these technological advancements mean for petrolheads? Could it mean a reduction in actual driving skill or would it enhance driving skill by allowing amateur enthusiasts to practise before they perfect the art?
In my opinion, it boils down to passion. Most people will probably never use these functions or use them extremely sparingly. Those who use them will probably never go beyond trying it a few times with the safety net on and leave it at that. However, those who truly want to learn techniques that allow them to set the best time on a drag strip or drift like Ken Block will continue to learn the skills required because their passion will drive them to do so. I know I will.
I think of these technologies as a stepping stone to hone skills. When I get my hands on these three cars, I will test out their features and the technology. Having tried drifting on completely non-assisted cars, I will use the functions as a base to learn more about how best to create tyre smoke and look out the window rather than the windshield while doing so.
I believe a proper petrolhead would do no less.