Out­side Line

Mode but­tons are all well and good, but only if they gen­uinely add to the Thrill of Driv­ing

Evo India - - BRIEFING - RICHARD MEADEN @Dick­ieMeaden Richard is a con­tribut­ing ed­i­tor to evo and one of the mag­a­zine's found­ing team

IF YOU’RE A REG­U­LAR VIS­I­TOR TO THE pages of evo, you’ll be fa­mil­iar with our Tolkienesq­ue war of Dig­i­tal ver­sus Ana­logue. It’s been waged for years now, the once pre-em­i­nent forces of feel­some good em­bat­tled by the creep­ing scourge of elec­tronic evil.

The most ob­vi­ous man­i­fes­ta­tion of this dig­i­tal dy­namic rev­o­lu­tion is in the var­i­ous driv­ing modes most even vaguely sport­ing cars now of­fer. We now have an un­prece­dented abil­ity to tai­lor a car to our spe­cific tastes. For once, I don’t have a downer on this par­tic­u­lar area of progress, but I do ask my­self how many of us ac­tu­ally make full and reg­u­lar use of the tech­nol­ogy.

The an­swer is some­thing we’ll have to crowd source, so feel free to share. Per­son­ally I find it de­pends on the car I’m driv­ing. If I’m in an M BMW I’m for­ever fid­dling with the steer­ing, damp­ing and pow­er­train and trans­mis­sion set­tings. I can find a sweet com­bi­na­tion for a cer­tain stretch of road, but then it doesn’t feel quite right when the road changes, so back I go, tog­gling through the op­tions to ramp some­thing up, wind it back or dial it out. It’s fun for a while, but then I wish it would just work hap­pily across a broad spec­trum of con­di­tions. In other cars, for ex­am­ple my re­cently de­parted Lexus RC F, I set­tled on a com­bi­na­tion of set­tings and rarely touched the but­tons again, save the odd prod of the DSC and e-diff but­tons if I was feel­ing mis­chievous.

Cars aren’t equipped with road tester’s pants, so they can’t use the seat of said un­der­gar­ments to un­der­stand what’s go­ing on. In­stead, myr­iad sen­sors paint a bi­nary pic­ture of how hard the car is work­ing. Pitch and yaw, steer­ing an­gle, wheel speed, throt­tle po­si­tion and count­less oth­ers con­tin­u­ally pro­vide a stream of hi­fi­delity in­for­ma­tion to cre­ate one big fully in­te­grated dy­namic ma­trix. So, in­stead of just work­ing with the steer­ing to af­fect how the car changes di­rec­tion, en­gi­neers also play with the e-diff and torque vec­tor­ing to change the rate at which the car ro­tates into a cor­ner. Brake steer is an­other ex­am­ple.

It’s brain-achingly com­plex stuff to merge and re­fine so that the whole car re­sponds seam­lessly, and – when done well – mas­sively im­pres­sive to ex­pe­ri­ence the dif­fer­ence as the car’s responsive­ness is ramped up with each dy­namic mode. But what are we ac­tu­ally feel­ing as we tog­gle be­tween set­tings?

En­gi­neers re­fer to it as ‘ex­pe­ri­ence func­tion’, which sounds a bit dry, but is ac­tu­ally rather fas­ci­nat­ing, for it’s as much about the psy­chol­ogy of the driver as it is the car’s dy­nam­ics. How so? Well, it stands to rea­son that when we push a but­ton that en­gages a mode called Com­fort or Sport or Back­wards Through Hedge we want to feel like some­thing has changed in the car.

In the good old days, nascent it­er­a­tions of these dy­namic modes could be hi­lar­i­ously ex­ag­ger­ated. My neck still twinges at re­call­ing the vi­o­lence of Lam­borgh­ini’s Corsa mode, which ba­si­cally mim­icked the highly caf­feinated and testos­terone-fu­elled gearshifts of an an­gry Ital­ian boy racer. Not so much a dy­namic mode as Self-Destruct Mode.

The sneaky ge­nius of to­day’s ex­pe­ri­ence func­tion is that for a short pre-de­ter­mined pe­riod you get a marked step-change in the way the car feels. But it does so by over or un­der­shoot­ing to make Sport feel all an­gry and manly and Com­fort all fluffy and cud­dly. And then, hav­ing fooled the prim­i­tive or­ganic com­po­nent be­hind the steer­ing wheel, it set­tles back to sen­si­ble lev­els. Very clever, but like some sleight-of-hand magic, it feels a bit disin­gen­u­ous.

Who does it best? Pre­dictably, Porsche is very good at strik­ing a bal­ance and en­sur­ing each rotation of the switch or push of a but­ton not only de­liv­ers a tan­gi­ble dif­fer­ence in ride or re­sponse, but a mean­ing­ful one that you can se­lect and stick with. In re­cent years As­ton Martin has in­tro­duced multi-mode dy­namic set­tings, which has brought a new di­men­sion to its cars. How­ever, I would say Fer­rari is con­sis­tently the best at of­fer­ing a suite of dis­tinct and finely judged set­tings. The cars are un­be­liev­ably so­phis­ti­cated, yet not only do they man­age to feel nat­u­ral, but each mode very def­i­nitely al­ters the state of the car. And all via the de­li­ciously tac­tile Manet­tino, for a bit of added the­atre.

I sus­pect there’s some­thing of a para­dox in ex­pe­ri­ence func­tion and dy­namic modes in gen­eral. When the cal­i­bra­tion of each dy­namic mode gen­uinely ex­pands the per­for­mance en­ve­lope it’s an­other tool for us to use. But if this com­plex cal­i­bra­tion has been per­fectly ex­e­cuted the chances are the car is bril­liantly sorted any­way, so there’s lit­tle need to med­dle. Con­versely, ill-sorted cars that use dy­namic modes and ex­pe­ri­ence func­tion as smoke­screen are the ones you’re for­ever hunt­ing that elu­sive sweet spot. I’d be in­trigued to know what you think. ⌧

Lam­borgh­ini’s Corsa mode mim­icked the testos­terone-fu­elled shifts of an an­gry Ital­ian boy racer

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from India

© PressReader. All rights reserved.