Drift Mode: Geek Speak

Drift Mode: Geek Speak

by May 12, 2016

Given that all-wheel drive turbo cars tend to deliver slingshot speed and sure grip ahead of spectacle, the Drift mode feature in the forthcoming Ford Focus RS could make it a uniquely awesome proposition among rivals.

A six-speed-manual-only, white-hot hatch that offers a pushbutton pick from all-wheel drive adhesion or oversteer craziness, for $50,990? Yeah, we’re interested!

Just based on this mode – provided it’s any good – the Focus RS will be much more fun than all-wheel drive turbo rivals, the Subaru WRX STI and Volkswagen Golf R. Drift mode should even give the relatively affordable Focus RS an ace over the Mercedes-AMG A45 and other high-price hotties. Sure, the Benz has sheer outputs and a wild exhaust soundtrack in its favour, but it can’t hang the arse out.

Ford Focus RS rearMeanwhile, the fact hot front-drive alternatives such as the Renault Megane RS275 are all out of entertainment value at lift-off oversteer could make the Focus RS the overall pick of the hot hatches.

But does Ford’s Drift mode actually work and, if so, how?

Well, firstly, ‘Drift’ is just one of a series of electronic stability control calibrations in the RS, which also include ‘Normal’, ‘Sport’ and ‘Track’. Track loosens the safety net, while Drift mode lets you do just that, by giving the ESC an uncommonly high intervention threshold.

There’s more to it, however. Extreme torque-vectoring of up to 70 per cent of engine torque to the rear wheels and up to 100 per cent of that to either rear wheel brings power-oversteer potential not usually found in anything other than a rear-wheel drive car.

This helps get the all-wheel drive Focus sideways, and then the specific electronic stability control program helps the driver turn the slide into a drift – rather than a spin. It does this by monitoring the car’s yaw rate, and the driver’s corrective action, using the ESC’s sensors. If the driver isn’t doing what’s needed to keep it all under control, the software steps in.

The result, in theory – and judging from the videos we’ve seen online – is a hot hatch that can drift like a Falcon, or a Mustang.

Ford Focus RS driftingFord’s Drift mode is a bit like the sporty or competition ESC modes found in cars such as Holden Commodore SS and C63 AMG – and the opposite of the average Toyota system, which kills any hint of driver enthusiasm.

Through adept tuning, the former systems give the driver the latitude to get loose, as long as it senses they have the skills and are using them to control a perfect tail slide. The Focus RS just takes this approach to the extreme…

Serious steerers, of course, can turn the ESC off completely, but Ford says there’s enough room within the Drift mode’s lax limits to have a lot of fun, leaving no need.

The average drift icon is a tuneable, high powered rear-wheel drive in which drifting is the default mode, rather than an option, which could make the Focus RS, with its ability to be driven neatly and quickly or fast ’n’ loose, the best of both worlds.

Slide ways

The Focus RS in drift mode

Ford drift mode diagram

When the drift button is pressed, the steering, engine and exhaust slot into sports settings, but the dual-mode adaptive dampers stay in normal mode. The extra body-roll this promotes allows easier and smoother transitions into and out of a drift.

Torque vectoring is introduced via electronically-controlled clutch packs either side of a ‘Rear Drive Unit’, which is a lighter set-up than a centre diff. This gives the RS a more rear-drive feel than a regular all-wheel drive.

One clutch pack apportions as much as 70 per cent of the RS’s 257kW/440Nm to the rear wheels, and the other up to 100 per cent of this to the outside wheel, in a superior approach to the more common system of braking individual wheels to divert torque.

The fact there’s still 30 per cent of power or more going to the front wheels means the Focus RS four-wheel-drifts rather than executes full-on power-slides like a dedicated rear-drive drifter, but smoking all four beats plough understeer.

A lenient ESC calibration lets the driver get away with a lot, provided the system senses he or she knows what they are doing. Demonstrate a lack of skill or go too crazy and the ESC will call ‘clown’ and clamp down.

Was Ford first?

Ferrari’s system explained

Ferrari driftingIs Drift mode, as Ford claims, an industry-first feature? Side-Slip Angle Control (SSC) from Ferrari is the closest thing we’ve seen, but it’s more like a highly evolved competition mode ESC and has an entirely different objective to the Focus RS’s party trick.

In SSC, an ESC algorithm takes inputs from lateral G, yaw angle, steering angle and speed sensors to allow a controlled amount of slide with the aim of assisting the driver lap a circuit quickly as possible.

By allowing a degree of lateral slip, the system lets the driver slide the front and rear of the car within raised intervention limits.