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In Focus: Torque Vectoring and Stability Control

All MkIII Foci come with AdvanceTrac®, Ford's Anti-Lock Braking and Electronic Stability Control system. They also come with traction control and torque vectoring. I wanted to wait to write about all these traction-enhancing goodies until after I had a chance to properly test them in one of my favorite environments. I got that chance this morning.

Traction Control

Traction control will override the throttle when the drive wheels lose their grip while accelerating. On dry pavement, my Focus can't break the traction in a straight line, but on wet pavement, snow and ice, it really shines. It's still possible to get stuck in a situation where you can't take off from a stop on ice and snow, such as on an uphill, though. Traction Control can be disabled in the dashboard menu, under Settings > Driver Assist.

Anti-Lock Brakes

Everyone knows what anti-lock brakes are, I think. If a wheel locks up while braking, ABS will quickly pulse the brake on that wheel. This is safer, more effective and stops quicker than a person can stop trying to modulate and pump brakes without ABS. ABS can control each brake independently, while a driver is left to modulate all four brakes at once. ABS is at the heart of AdvanceTrac® Electronic Stability Control and Torque Vectoring.

Torque Vectoring

Torque vectoring will modulate the brake on a drive wheel if only one of them is losing traction. This typically happens during hard acceleration and hard cornering (understeer). It can also minimize the sensation that the car's trying to pull to one side or the other when you really get on it. While it's not as efficient as a real limited slip differencial, it does a satisfactory job emulating the same functionality: transferring the engine's torque to the wheel with the most traction. It works hand in hand with the traction control feature to improve acceleration and cornering performance.

Electronic Stability Control

Electronic Stability Control actively applies brakes independently if the system senses oversteer, understeer or loss of control that can't be countered by Torque Vectoring or Traction Control. The driver is most likely to notice this while cornering on surfaces with reduced traction, or while aggressively cornering under normal conditions. The brakes engage even when the driver is not depressing the brake pedal, and the car is noticeably slowed and stabilized. If you begin to enter a sideways skid, for example, the front inside and rear outside brakes will be modulated, and the car will right itself within the limits of traction available to the braking system. There is no performance gain from this system. It is only there to correct a condition where the car's traction limits have been exceeded due to road conditions, evasive maneuvering or a driver simply expecting too much of the car through a corner.


My 2000 ZX3 has none of these things, and I feel that the driving experience of my older Focus is very pure and unfettered because of it. One of my favorite things about driving my ZX3 is its insatiable appetite for lift-off oversteer, and the ease of which said oversteer is controlled. If a little front wheel drive hatchback from more than a decade ago could be considered a "driver's car," the base model ZX3 lacking AdvanceTrac® would surely earn the label. With the addition of all this technology, the new Focus seems a bit more conservative and grown up, and in my opinion, not as fun to goof off in. What it lacks in "hoon factor," though, it amply makes up for in driveability in bad weather and overall safety; and where I used to cringe at torque steer in the ZX3, the new Focus will make a very valiant attempt at laying rails on every corner until you try to push it too far.
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