Until this week I’ve never been completely sold on the need for the electronic gimmickry – ESP, DSC, ASTC, TSC, call it what you will – that steps in and holds our hands when the roadgoing gets tough.
My Luddite-like distrust isn't an all-encompassing one, because clearly anti-lock brakes, to pick one example, have been an effective and logical safety development.
In fact, I’ve warmed to the potential of driver aids. In deepest Finland yesterday I discovered a new respect for our cars’ electronic trickery (while at the same time uncovering a previously untapped level of incompetence to my driving).
I was taking part in Land Rover’s Nordic Adventure, which involved driving in a convoy of Evoques, Range Rovers and Range Rover Sports through the beautiful snow-covered Finnish countryside to an ice field near Pukinpellontie, a small and brilliantly named settlement about 65 miles north of Helsinki.
On the ice field a variety of courses had been laid out for us to sample the capabilities of Land Rover’s fleet in temperatures as low as minus 23 Centigrade.
Given that the previous time I drove in a snow-bound country I ended up putting my hire car on its roof, I should have felt more secure with Land Rover’s modern driver aids to assist me. With very little to hit on the desolate ice field, I was curious to do some on-the-hoof research into how much of a help they actually are.
The first test was an icy handling course which I tackled in a Range Rover Sport HSE with Dynamic Stability Control (DSC) switched on and L-R’s Terrain Response system on the ‘grass/snow/gravel’ setting, which optimises the engine, transmission, suspension and traction for those surfaces.
In that setting you get a high level of traction control to reduce the chances of wheelspin, an extra slug of torque when you pull away, a more progressive throttle response and sharper gear changes.
While I over-reacted to every hint of understeer or oversteer, I could feel the car’s electronic brain working to moderate a lot of my frantic inputs. Progress around the ice course was almost exclusively in the intended direction.
Next time, I turned off all of the Sport’s electronics. Sure, I could scrabble around the lap, but with all the grace and poise of a drunken puppy on polished lino. It was just as well I had soft snow banks to arrest my progress – if I’d been on an icy stretch of twisty public road, there would have been a substantial chance of being pitched into the scenery.
Drivers with plenty of experience in snow and ice – like most of the five million Finns – would probably make less of a fudge of driving in those conditions without driver aids. However, I’d hazard that many Brits without years of regular ice driving on our roads would struggle.