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The quest for cleverer cars.

"Hi tech - Hi Cost - Hi Stress."

We seem to be getting more and more gadgets fitted to our cars. The list of possible enhancements seems to be complete and then another great innovation comes along. All types of entertainment equipment are available including DVD and various voice activated MP3 music, SAT nav and telephone systems.

Many gadgets now seem to be aimed at the incompetent driver and this will inevitably move towards a completely self driving car where you input your destination and various radars sensors and GPS technology will drive the car to the destination for you. This bring the issue of driver satisfaction and driver enjoyment to the fore. Lets take a look at some of these enhancements and see if they are really worth the extra cost.

Give me a track day car any day with no electrical gadgets or assistance except for ABS

ABS braking systems. These sense the wheel motion and as the wheel locks up the brake is released allowing a driver to maintain full control over the car in an emergency situation. Even an experienced driver employing cadence braking will be unable to brake as efficiently as a car fitted with ABS. The only downside of ABS is when moving to a car without ABS the impulse to stamp on the brake is not diminished and this can put the car into a lethal slide. Overall though most people will concede that ABS is an essential.

Power steering. With cars getting heavier and wheel sizes increasing the muscle power required to move the steering wheel is much greater. Power steering though takes away a lot of the feedback you get from the road, we all remember taking a fast corner in a non power steering car and fighting against the tug of the corner and some how that seemed to improve the driver experience and involvement. Makers have woken up to this and now produce power assisted steering giving greater assistance at lower speed when steering becomes heavier and less at high speed when you really want the steering feedback to tell you how the car is behaving in the corner.

In car gadgets

Various braking enhancement systems, are in place and all work in a similar way. The braking enhancement systems starts or enhances the braking process in an emergency situation. Simple systems detect a stab of the brake pedal and increase the braking force applied to assist the driver in avoiding a collision.

It appears that drivers do not brake hard enough in emergency situations. TorqueCars have mixed feelings on this, when you get used to the system you actually start to rely on it and although at first this is a safety enhancement it can actually be the opposite should you find yourself in a less well equipped car. Other braking enhancement systems detect your foot lifting off the throttle and it starts the brakes or at least moves the brakes toward the discs and starts braking. This system can really impact on driver enjoyment on fast bends when you have always relied on lift off over steer to help you round the corner - the last thing you want is for the brakes to be applied!

Traction control. Most drivers turn this of when they go onto the track and TorqueCars have yet to see an effective implementation of traction control. The best ones are fitted to 4 wheel drive cars like the Nissan skyline and Audi quattro which alter the power to each corner of the car to maintain power and stability in the corners. Nearly all traction control systems sap power from the engine. For the ultimate drivers car TorqueCars would not recommend a traction control method which holds back the power and full enjoyment of high speed cornering.

The next one just made us laugh. Audi have introduced  a system which prevents the car from rolling backwards on a hill in that instance where you transfer your foot from the brake to the accelerator. Everyone learnt clutch control and hill starts in their driving test do we really need a feature that compensates for lazy habits to this extent.

Then Japanese makers come along with technology that helps warn the driver if he is tired. Lane sensors detect that you are drifting out of your lane and vibrate the seat to warn you. Others monitor you blink rate and give you a warning if they detect that you are getting drowsy. Nissan have devised a system which detects alcohol on your breath and will not start the car. What happens though if your car is full of drinkers and you are the one who didn't drink and was elected to do the driving. Whilst a Moron detector would be a good and long overdue addition to a cars arsenal of gadget we cannot see it happening! Many of these headline grabbing features are just publicity stunts and add very little to road safety. Other enhancements are useful until the driver adjusts his driving style to rely on them.

Give me a basic track day car any day with no electrical gadgets or assistance except for ABS brakes and I will be happy.

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