I just finished watching Chris Harris Latest video about the Porsche 918. For your viewing pleasure I have embedded it below.
In the video he states that the Porsche 918 is “the most complicated, and most impressive piece of car calibration ever achieved, and I don’t disagree.
The car makes a spectacular lap of the Nurburgring which, once again, I have also embedded for your pleasure.
The amount of coding, processing, and computing power required to get such a technologically advanced car to behave in a reasonably “analog” manner such that a human (a skilled human in this case) can drive it properly with a large portion of the electronic stability systems shut down is quite an achievement. Certainly the Porsche 918 provides an epic experience, but I don’t think it is all it’s cracked up to be.
Don’t get me wrong, if I win a multi-million dollar lotto, I will buy one in a heartbeat, specifically for the “epic experience”, but I think something is missing. Harris, hinted at it, but didn’t talk about it much. It’s the disconnect from the man-machine interface, the layer of computer power that is between the driver and the car. The 918, the LaFerrari, the McLaren P1, and all the other current hyper cars all probably have a similar problem. But they aren’t the only ones.
I recently had the pleasure of driving a Ferrari 458 Italia, and I have a lot of seat time in Porsche’s highly regarded 997.2 GT3-RS 3.8, which in my opinion and the opinion of many others, is one of Porsche’s best cars. Both cars provide the requisite “epic experience”; the sound from the engine, the way a car with a high revving engine accelerates, the lateral g-force that it can sustain, the rock solid feel of the brake pedal, the feedback of the steering. Both of these cars have all the things that make you feel “alive” and “in-touch”, and “in-tune” with the mechanical bits of the car. But they both have a flaw. The electronics are too good. They make heroes out of ordinary drivers. They don’t spit the ordinary drivers out and make them realize what they are messing with.
In some ways this is simply part of the march of technology, and some people think this is fantastic; especially R-35 Nissan GT-R lovers, and a whole generation of Gran Turismo and Forza Gamers who love the ability to hit the reset button. If you agree, I’m not disparaging you, I played a huge amount of GT when it was new, but I like downhill skiing for the same reason I like my 944 Turbo that has no stability control or ABS brakes. There is no rest button. You are responsible for the repercussions of your own decisions, good or bad.
On the other hand, I am very happy that my wife is driving a car that has a very effective, although intrusive, traction and stability control system. She is a decent driver, but does not have the advanced skills gained from years of auto-crossing and race track driving. She does prefer a real 3 pedal manual transmission so for me it is a win! The extra margin of safety provided by these systems has probably kept her from harm at some point. Statistically these systems have proven to prevent crashes, rollovers, and other incidents. For the NTHSA reports you can click on the following links:
Report from Toyota through 2001 – http://www-nrd.nhtsa.dot.gov/Pubs/811486.pdf
I even prefer the fact that my daily driver station wagon also has traction and stability control. Out on the open road you never know what is going to pop up and catch you unprepared, and I would be lying if I said the software hadn’t helped me avoid an embarrassing incident or two.
I’m not done yet; more to come!