Have to admit I’m intrigued by the thinking behind VW’s decision to allow drivers of its fruitier models to disable their ESP systems for the 2012 model year because I’m split right down the middle when it comes to whole idea of switchable ESP.
Fact is, none of us is as tasty behind the wheel as we’d secretly like to believe. When push comes to shove and you lose control of your car at anything above 40mph, chances are you’re going to have some sort of a prang. Yet ESP systems, good ones like those you’ll find in any VW, will prevent that accident from happening at all quite often.
At the same time, though, there are instances when it’s desirable to be able to switch it off. On track days, for example, so long as you know what you’re doing it’s quite nice to lose the electronic safety net and allow a car to slide around beneath you for a while. And that’s precisely the remit of the new VW system apparently; if you want to remove the ESP and throw your Scirocco sideways through a few corners, you can. And best of luck with the tyre bill.
But while I’m sure that VW’s decision to allow GTi and Scirocco drivers to ditch their ESP systems is not some kind of ruse to increase the profits of its parts department, at the same time I’m not entirely convinced it’s the right way to go. For on the one hand the system is so good as it stands that it makes a full blown spin a virtually impossible thing to achieve, even in the snow. Yet on the other, it’s one of the least intrusive systems you’ll come across when driving quickly around a track.
Most of the time, in fact, you’re simply not aware that it’s there, not unless you get very close indeed to the point of no return, which is when you could use a helping hand, after all.
And in the rain around the Nurburgring last year, with none other than Hans Stuck at the wheel of our very own Scirocco R, ESP was no less than 100 per cent necessary. Without it even the great man himself might have been in trouble on a couple of occasions; and with me at the wheel I suspect I wouldn’t have made it half way round the lap before fulfilling an appointment with a slab of cold, grey, surprisingly expensive-to-replace Adenau Armo – had I decided to switch the system off.
So overall it seems like an odd decision to me. Surely the best way to make people believe that your cars are more exciting to drive is… to make them more exciting to drive. Not more likely to spin if and when the idiot behind the wheel runs out of talent?