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The Benefits Of Electronic Control Systems
posted on May 06 2014 by Harvey Yates
Advances and Retarding
The cockpit of the 190SL from the 1950s is a lovely place to be. It is uncluttered, simple and rather pleasant. Just as well really as there was a lot that a driver had to do in those days.
Controls such as steering, brakes and, given the low power output of the 190, the accelerator, had to be used with restraint if the road surface was less than optimum. A sneeze at an inopportune moment could put you through a hedge. Journey times would vary depending on the weather and how many drain covers there were en route.
Once front wheel drive came along with its reassuring understeer to warn you when you were going too fast, the general consensus was that rear wheel drive required a more skilled driver. If you were wild enough to opt for a car with a propshaft, you needed extra training. Or robust life insurance.
It was nonsense as most rear wheel drive cars have near perfect weight distribution. It makes the car much easier to control when approaching the limits of adhesion.
The first significant change was anti-lock braking (ABS). When a colleague bought a Vauxhall Calibra so equipped he enjoyed showing us all how it worked. The car park was bereft of skid marks at the end of the demonstration. I wondered where it would all end.
Traction control and ABS have brought a substantial change in driving style to the general motoring public. My first day on an advanced driving course was blessed with what is, for some strange reason, called driving rain and I approached one corner slower than what I would have done in the dry and left acceleration until the front wheels were straight. The instructor asked: “What motorbike do you ride?”
His assumption was spot on. If you drive a vehicle, such as a motorcycle, without such aids for any length of time you take into account the conditions because you have to. This has given rise to the criticism that modern systems deskill drivers. I am not so sure.
The current C-Class benefits from, as standard: an active bonnet, adaptive brake lights, adaptive brakes, anti-lock brakes, attention assist, collision prevention assist plus, electronic stability programme (ESP®) and a tyre pressure monitoring system. The number of airbags is nothing short of remarkable. As optional extras there are proximity control, lane-change control and blind spot warning functions together with brake system optimisation.
So apart from such engineering masterpieces, what have Mercedes engineers ever done for us?
These innovations make the car safer for drivers, passengers, other road users as well as pedestrians. Surely this has to be a good thing. It is not as if the driver will lose concentration because there is nothing to do other than steer the thing and make it go faster. The plethora of controls on the 172 SLK shows this to be wrong.
Whilst there were many drivers of old who regarded automatic advance and retard a frippery, designed to reduce the driver/car relationship, ask yourself whether, if you were driving in marginal conditions, such as slippery roads, you would rather indulge your nostalgia in the 190SL or be driving the technically impressive C-Class.
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