Drift modes are pointless: Tell Me I'm Wrong

With both Ford andΒ now AMG offering officially endorsed tyre-smoking modes on road cars, has the whole sideways thing finally, um, drifted into parody? Really, what is the point? Even with a drift mode getting a car sideways carries significant risk of an expensive and embarrassing crash, it shreds your expensive tyres, if you do it on a track day you'll get sent home by the marshals and if you do it on the road you risk getting in very serious trouble indeed.Β 

Given my line of work and eagerness to burn the rubber in the name of a self-aggrandising hero shot I am, of course, being a massive hypocrite here. Especially given the opportunities to do this without fear of censure from any of the above. Well, other than making yourself look like a complete idiot when it goes wrong.Β 

I do wonder if we're clinging on to a bit of a relic from the past though. Look back through old car mags and you'll find a heroic lock-stops drift shot for even the most straight-laced road test of the latest hatchback or executive saloon. But back in the day it was also acceptable to drape bikini-clad models on cars and we now consider that a bit tragic. Will the same one day be said of the sideways video clip or cover shot?Β 

Expect more dramatic shots of this coming soon
Expect more dramatic shots of this coming soon
Rebel without a cause
Probably not. For all of the reasons above there's a rebellious thrill in getting a car sideways. The Man says you shouldn't. Tyre technology says you shouldn't. And the engineers have spent a lot of time and effort on trick suspension, traction control, electronic locking differentials, torque vectoring and any number of gadgets and gizmos to save you from yourself and channel the engine's power into forward rather than sideways motion.Β 

But, let's face it, cars still look cool when driven beyond the limit and in huge clouds of tyre smoke.Β 

Actually adding a calibration of the above to facilitate owners their own moment of sideways glory? This, I fear, is the moment it descends into farce. Because drifting for drifting's sake doesn't quite hold the same fascination as getting a car sideways - a subtle but important distinction. As a sport it has its followers but its appeal remains niche, as evidenced by the general lack of interest in theΒ 1,400hp drift record GT-R we drove recently.Β 

Block's videos still pull in millions of YouTube views but translated from staged fantasy and into mass market productΒ the Focus RS's Hoonigan-inspired setting faces a reality check. If it didn't have the promise of a drift mode you'd drive it on the road or on a circuit and simply enjoy its rather uncanny ability to rotate itself into a corner on the throttle. Believe it or not you can actually appreciate this sensation without creating clouds of tyre smoke and, at its best, the Focus RS is all we love in hot hatches with throttle adjustability in place of understeer.Β 

Can you mention RS without drift mode? Exactly
Can you mention RS without drift mode? Exactly
Ken from the Block
But in the back of your mind you know that Drift Mode is there. That Block-like showboating is but a button push away, if you're willing to look past the 'track only' disclaimers and have the balls to try it. Of course you're going to give it a go... Β If you do this on the road you're an idiot. I know this because I am that idiot and tried it on the launch on a quiet, well-sighted roundabout in the middle of deserted Spanish industrial estate. And though it'll hold an angle it needs more speed and commitment than I'd be happy deploying anywhere else.Β 

And if you do it on the track you'll toast your tyres in minutes. Again, I know this because atΒ our Anglesey track day I did perhaps two full-on Drift Mode passes out of the back hairpin. And after that the front tyres were shagged and all the Focus wanted to do was understeer.Β 

Genie out of the bottle, now we have AMG promising the same. This is a weird one too. For years AMG has mastered the art of making stupidly powerful rear-driven cars something Mercedes can sell alongside diesel C-Classes. And for those who really wanted to spend time on the lock stops there remained the 'need to know' option of a mechanical limited-slip diff. I had one on myΒ C63 Edition 507 Edition long-termer and it remains one of the more oversteery road cars I've ever driven. I loved it. But the way it kicked in before the ESP meant you needed to be on your toes. Β 

Attitudes have changed swiftly at AMG...
Attitudes have changed swiftly at AMG...
Sensible Germans
The latest generation of AMGs are very different though. S versions ofΒ the C63 andΒ GT have electronic locking diffs that work proactively with the stability and traction control systems. On driving both I was struck by how new-school AMG is all about getting the power down cleanly. Which is clearly faster and makes better use of the grunt, while making the cars more usable and more appealing to a broader audience. Such is progress.Β 

In LHD markets some AMGs have already been all-wheel drive for some time, the space taken up by the forward propshaft meaning we and other RHD markets kept our rear-driven cars. For the new E63 it's all-wheel drive for everyone. Unless you engage Drift Mode.Β 

Being that total hypocrite I can't wait to try it. 612hp through the rear wheels and someone else paying for the tyres sounds like a right hoot. But how many owners will actually try it? And, if they do, how many will actually be able to handle it? YouTube infamy awaits...Β 

Ferrari electronics good; not that good though
Ferrari electronics good; not that good though
Side-stepping the issue
Likewise theΒ Ferrari 488 GTB. The Side Slip Control is drift mode by a slightly more enigmatic name. And like everything in modern Ferraris is a form of electronic fluffery intended to reassure fragile egos that, yes, you really are a driving god up to the task of taming a 670hp turbocharged Ferrari. Trouble is when you actually go it alone and turn everything off for real you very quickly realise that you're not.Β 

And that's my problem with a selectable drift mode. First of all it fools people into thinking it's easy, when it really isn't and shouldn't be. Secondly there's nothing like official endorsement or corporate sponsorship to kill the illicit thrill that made something naughty feel so life affirming. So if you really want to go sideways getΒ an older RWD car with a limited-slip diff, some crap tyres and go fill your boots at a fraction of the speed, commitment and financial outlay. In a car like that Drift Mode is always on and you'll have a riot, quite probably under the radar of those who'd get upset about such things. Because if you need a special mode setting to do it you're probably in the wrong car to begin with.Β 

Tell me I'm wrong!

Focus RS drift video

P.H. O'meter

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Comments (125) Join the discussion on the forum

  • s2000db 06 Nov 2016

    No, you're right!

  • ikarl 06 Nov 2016

    Absolutely right.

  • TooMany2cvs 06 Nov 2016

    Grade-A brochurewk.

    See also... <long list>

  • generationx 06 Nov 2016

    When I used a Sierra Cosworth as a daily, "drift mode" was controlled by the right foot - none of this computer-controlled nonsense. The same, to a lesser extent, in a series of Mk2 Escorts.

    Does the new Giulia QV have this? I'm looking forward to finding out...

  • DanielSan 06 Nov 2016

    If you want to drift there's plenty of relatively inexpensive ways to learn, it's a a skill not just something any muppet can do with a button or not, and lets face it a drift mode isn't even really drifting... Stupid mode there purely for Ken Block wannabe's, just the type who love a gimmick.

    Buy a cheap rear driver and learn to do it properly.

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