A couple of weeks ago I was reminiscing about my old Fiesta XR2, which was a great little car but understeered like crazy if you pushed it little too much. And this got me thinking about handling characteristics of modern cars.
Remembering my first few cars—which were never all that old—all of them kept me on my toes. They understeered, locked their brakes, didn’t brake all that well, suffered from brake fade, came without power steering, aquaplaned at a hint of standing water, and a bunch of other heart skipping capabilities. They weren’t terrible cars. They were cars of their time. These were the things we dealt with as drivers.
Fast forward twenty-five years and I look at the last couple of cars I’ve owned and it’s a different story. I used to own a Subaru Impreza which I tried to throw around in the rain but the four-wheel drive and traction control kept everything in check. The Hyundai Tiburon I’ve been driving for the last ten years is a great little car. I bought it specifically because it was one of the last cars you could buy without ABS, traction control and all the other smart car goodies. Ignoring a couple of big moments, it’s a hard car to lose control of, except in the rain. So technology has come a long way. Yay technology!
But is that a good thing? I’m not so sure.
Firstly, from a funability standpoint, I actually want a loose handling car from time to time. It’s quite nice to feel a car breakaway from under you in a corner so you can bring it back. I like to anticipate and compensate for a car’s shortcomings. This is what driving is all about. If it wasn’t fun, I’d get the bus every day.
Secondly and more importantly, I don’t think super safe handling cars are a good thing. I think ABS and traction control are great things but we put too much faith in them. They stop us from knowing the limits of our vehicles. Now not all of us want to know our cars’ limits but we should get a progressive feel for the limit. I find it a little scary that the onboard computers rob us of that ability because when a car lets go, we won’t be prepared for what comes next and speed threshold is going to be a lot higher than we would want on that occasion. It makes us complacent, lazy and ill-prepared for a big moment. And that’s not good.
I may be an old fuddy-duddy but I want a car to drive, not a car that drives me. Then again, I don’t like cell phones. J