By Jim Bray
Winter may be on its way out soon, but there's still enough of the "old person" around to ensure that snowy Canadian roads will be challenging for at least a few more weeks. That means there's still ample opportunity for more skid-related fender benders before spring springs and the grass starts rizzing.
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And to that end, Mitsubishi Canada has been on the road as well, bringing some professional drivers and some of their Outlander SUV/Crossovers to Alberta to not only showcase the "crummy weather capabilities" of their vehicles but to give some handy tips to attendees who find themselves oot and aboot when the white stuff sticks.
I love these events; they're not only fun but they can help you "navigate the neige" with more confidence and skill. I did a similar type of thing a couple of years back when Ford came through and will always show up for such events because you can never have too much practice - and it's a real hoot sliding around a snowy open area in someone else's vehicle (and they treat you really nicely, too).
So it was that Mitsubishi and their folk, armed with a squadron of Outlanders, came through Calgary last Saturday on the last leg of their three stop tour to Wild Rose Country. They were accompanied as well by representatives from Morrisport Advanced Driving, a group of personable driving experts with whom I've worked before as well.
The event kicked off with a short presentation by Morrisport's Lawrence Howlett, who outlined what we could expect from the two hour session and then gave us some insight into such issues as proper seating position, the physics of vehicle control and the benefits of such technologies as traction control and ABS, as well as Mitsubishi's systems of All Wheel Control
There are actually two such systems - well, one's an enhancement of the other - available on the Outlander and given Mitsubishi's legendary record when it comes to rallying, the company appears to have gotten the technology down pat. The basic AWC sends torque, when the vehicle's electronic brain deems it necessary, from the front to the rear axle to help ensure good traction when the front wheels (the base model is a front driver - like many, many others in the SUV/Crossover market these days) start losing traction.
The "Super All Wheel Control" that's available on the GT trim level ups that ante by adding torque vectoring between the front left and right wheels as well, for even better control when push comes to shove.
Both systems work well, as we noticed during the driving part of the event, but the bottom line as always is the proverbial nut behind the wheel, which meant the driving part of the experience was even more important because it gave us a chance to actually put the words into practice. And so we did!
The event, held at Calgary's WinSport complex (aka Canada Olympic Park), had us navigate a slalom course initially, starting slowly and building up speed as we got comfortable. Thanks to fresh snow it was plenty slippery, which of course worked to the benefit of the exercise, but the combination of Mitsubishi's AWC systems and the expert guidance meant that very few cones were clobbered.
From there, we did an acceleration and braking course - basically a straight line between cones during which we peeled out as much as possible on snow (surprisingly peelable, thanks to the Mits technology), barrelled toward the braking zone, then tromped on the pedal. The first time was kind of tentative, then we got faster and more aggressive on the brake pedal to showcase not only the Outlanders' performance but also to show us the difference between braking with and without using the anti-lock brake system.
I've always been of the opinion that if the traction control and/or ABS comes on then you aren't doing your job as a driver, but sometimes it's nice to have the electronic robots on hand just in case. This is especially true these days; my first car with ABS was an original generation Infiniti Q45 with first generation ABS and traction control and it was more annoying than useful, but those days appear to be long gone as technology has marched onward.
From there, we went to a "fork in the road" event where we went like a bat out of hell toward said fork - laid out again with cones - the instructor waiting till the last minute to tell us if we should take the left or right fork, or stay in the middle and stand on the brakes. This not only taught us to listen and to pay attention, it also helped showcase the benefits of looking as far down the road ahead of you as possible so you're ready for whatever might happen in front of you.
The focus, as it should be, was on the importance of smoothness behind the steering wheel. Not just smoothness on the wheel itself, though of course that's critical, but smoothness on the pedals as well. Sure, the nannies and AWC can help a lot, but the bottom line as always is that the pilot in command is, indeed, in command and should take those responsibilities seriously.
It reminds me of a line in the movie "Contact," where the young girl heroine is trying to find people to talk to on her ham radio. Her dad tells her "small moves," meaning basically that being smooth and gentle on the tuning knob would help. And it did: she ended up in an alien-designed space transport!
It's the same with driving. Sure, there are times when a panic stop or swerve might be necessary, but the lion's share of your time behind the wheel will be better and more efficient if you keep your eyes peeled on the conditions around you (and as far ahead as you can see) so that, if you do need to make some kind of course correction, you can do it with smaller, more controlled - and smoother - moves. Racers such as the Morrisport guys know and practice this and they helped attendees understand the concept before unleashing us to wreak our own special havoc on the snowy lot.
The bottom line of the event is that it gave those of us who were there a chance to learn about and practice - in a limited manner under controlled conditions - optimal steering wheel control, vision and anticipation, as well as some obstacle avoidance and emergency braking tactics in both a straight line and on curves.
You can do this on your own on any reasonably large, snow-covered parking lot. Sure, you may not have the expert guidance we had during Mitsubishi's event, or a bunch of cones to lay out, but any practice is good practice and if you can learn to control your vehicle better by doing a few donuts after the mall has closed for the day, you'll be more confident and more skilled when push really does come to slide in the real world.
Besides, it's fun!
Copyright 2017 Jim Bray
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