Last week just might have been a small landmark in Autocar’s 114-year history.
Steve Sutcliffe, a driver whose abilities are held in high esteem by more than one supercar manufacturer, had to admit that electronic chassis ‘aids’ have reached a new level of competence.
“Yes, the electronics in this car are specifically intended as performance parts, not safety features. Switch them off and you will not be able to lap a circuit as fast as you can with them on, not even if your name is Fernando Alonso. You might just be able to match the system for a couple of corners if you fluke the perfect sequence of brake, turn-in, balance power, apply throttle at the exit.”
In a more down to earth way, I experienced something similar on the launch of the new Audi A8. That car will come with ‘Drive Select’ as standard, which allows you to choose from ‘comfort’, ‘auto’ and ‘dynamic’.
This switchable chassis tuning really does make a difference, especially if you specify the optional sports differential on Quattro versions, which can split the engine’s torque between the rear wheels.
So far I’m also the only Autocar staffer to have driven the Mito in both stock and electronically controlled Cloverleaf forms. The difference between the two – driven back to back at Alfa’s test track – was incredible.
It seems that we have moved into a new era, (partly thanks to the new high-speed Flex ray wiring systems) that will see electronic chassis controls so sophisticated that virtually no driver can out drive them. And better still, the average future car could now be wired to have three very distinct personalities.
Ideally, many of us would prefer that exemplary ride and handling was delivered through the engineering purity of the car’s layout.
But then again, these systems can also make 2.7 tonne cars – such as the new Range Rovers – handle with physics-defying alacrity.
25 years after the false dawn of digital speedometers and talking dashboards, it seems automotive virtual reality has finally arrived.