It all centres around the new Ford Focus RS. Along with being one of the safest hatches in the world (it comes with a raft of airbags and stability control, amongst other safety features), the Focus RS is built as a car capable of being used on the road and on the race track.
So far, it sounds like almost any of the affordable hot hatches on the market. The difference comes in the form of a button that enables something called 'drift mode'. Drift mode allows the driver to perform an epic, tyre smoking drift within the safety net of the vehicle's advanced stability control system.
Before we get on to how it works, here's some of the commentary from the media and commentators this week, according to News Corporation:
Harold Scruby: Harold is the self-appointed boss of the Pedestrian Council of Australia. The body that speaks for pedestrians — they're those two legged creatures that no longer look around when crossing roads or train tracks. Instead of focussing on improving pedestrian awareness and safety, he's chipped in two cents about drift mode:
“A disclaimer is not going to stop an idiot from trying this on public roads," said Scruby.
“We urge Ford to reconsider its decision, recall these vehicles and disable this driving mode.”
“Ford cannot absolve itself from its duty of care to road users and its customers with a disclaimer in the dashboard.”
Jack Haley: Jack is the senior policy manager at the NRMA. According to Jack, there's no such thing as a race track in Australia:
"Any sustained loss of traction on public roads is illegal," Haley said.
Professor Brian Owler: Professor Brian is the former president of the Australian Medical Association. Closely following Scruby, Owler had the most stupid comment of all three, suggesting that Ford is only marketing the Focus RS to young people and that buyers of this car don't have access to race tracks, ever:
“They’re obviously marketing the car to young people who are interested in that type of driving. The problem is most people don’t have access to a race track. Without a race track it’s inherently dangerous,” Owler said.
If you haven't spotted the theme yet, each and every one of these commenters has absolutely no idea how this technology works and has little clue why somebody would actually use it and where somebody would use it.
They are suggesting that each person that buys this car will switch on drift mode each time they head to the shops, or while they pass through a school zone. You know, much the same way that anybody that uses a steak knife is likely to knife people at random, or how drivers with SUVs aim to run everybody down. Why else would you use a steak knife, or drive an SUV?
The same nonsense reasoning is being applied to the Focus RS, which was built by Ford to use as a daily driver during weekdays and as a track car on weekends. At just over $50,000 it's the ultimate road and track weapon.
Before you get caught up in this, you need to understand why the technology exists and how it benefits the user and the car.
The Focus RS features an all-wheel drive system capable of sending up to 70 per cent of torque to the rear axle, in addition to torque vectoring, which allows the vehicle to shuffle between 0 and 100 per cent of torque between the two rear wheels.
These two systems work in unison with the car's advanced stability control to give the driver control over a well executed and maintained drift — something that normally requires a great deal of experience and talent.
Why is the system so good? It's brilliant because it gives a driver that was going to perform a drift anyway, control over the vehicle's ability to drift. Under controlled conditions, a driver is able to hang the tail out and get even more out of their cut-price performance hot hatch.
The other thing conveniently neglected in all coverage of this feature is the fact that almost any car that sends torque to rear wheels in some form is likely to be able to drift (just watch our Holden Insignia VXR ice drifting video). By disabling stability or traction controls and standing on the throttle mid-corner, you can just as easily drift.
It's also worth mentioning at this point that Ford has already given in to the predicted level of nanny state behaviour with the Mustang. Ford Australia turned off 'line lock' mode, which disables the rear brakes to allow an incredible smokey burnout without overheating the rear brakes.
Should we just force everybody to walk and abolish all cars, just in case something happens?
Ironically, all of this coverage is simply increasing demand for the Focus RS, which already has a huge waiting list in Australia. Should Ford recall the vehicle and disable drift mode? Hell no! We can't pander to political correctness and the insane level of nanny state behaviour being demonstrated in almost every facet of life.
Do we condone the use of this mode on public roads? Absolutely not. Should you be able to use it at your discretion at a race track or closed road? Absolutely!
Please stop embarrassing Australia with any more drift mode commentary. We're already the laughing stock of the world when it comes to road safety and our incredibly low speed limits and speed camera tolerances. Don't make it any worse.
As I write this, there is a beautiful blue Ford Focus RS sitting in my garage, I have had it all weekend and in that time I have engaged Drift mode just to take photos of the dash switches changing. No one died during the process, least of all Paul Walker (some in the media have poorly attempted to link drifting with his death).
The sheer, utter and relentless stupidity of those in the media that call themselves auto experts has been rather fun to watch over the last few days, as one idiot after another chimes in to blame Ford for putting in a feature that, well, basically every car already has the capacity for.
Every modern car can have its stability and traction control systems turned off. If it's a rear-wheel drive, it can then slide around given the right motivation. If it's all-wheel drive, it can powerslide or depending on the level of torque control, also drift. All Ford has done with drift mode is retune the car's torque vectoring system to push power to the back and create a set of safety measures around it to stop the car from spinning.
Unlike the majority of idiots that you've probably seen on television trying to get a minute of airtime, I have actually driven the Focus RS, extensively. I have also destroyed a set of tyres in drift mode around a race track in the said car. I can safely say that drift mode is something you will only ever do on a race track when you're at the end of life for a set of tyres and want to send them off with a bang...and lots of smoke.
The hypothetical scenario that a few owners would attempt to use drift mode on a public road are no different to anyone that turns off a car's active safety systems and tries to slide around. Idiots are going to be idiots. It takes about the same amount of time to turn off ESC in a modern car as it does to engage drift mode in the Focus RS. You even get the same ESC off yellow warning light in both cases.
I am not seeing these apparent experts criticizing Ferrari, Lamborghini, Porsche, BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Audi or other manufacturers of high-end performance vehicles for having a 'track mode', which is basically the same principle as drift mode, in the sense that it turns off a great deal of the active safety features that would help you if you lost control.
In fact, Ford should be applauded for having a drift mode, as it allows what many owners of such vehicles would already attempt on a racetrack, but now with the safety and knowledge that the computer systems inside are keeping an eye on the angle of the car and ensuring that it doesn't come fully unstuck. To be perfectly honest, I found drift mode a little boring, it doesn't do anything but destroy a set of tyres. You can do that in your mum's Corolla with the ESC switched off, also.
More importantly, I am ashamed to be part of the media system that has taken such a negative stance on what is in principle a form of freedom. A decision by a car manufacturer to say 'we will let our buyers decide' on how they wish to drive their car.
To my fellow colleagues who took it upon themselves to crucify Ford for this feature, shame on you, for you should know better.
The rest of the world hasn't even bat an eyelid about Ford's drift mode but here in Australia, where the nanny state is in full swing, there are a host of completely deranged imbeciles that are more than happy to jump down anyone's throat if it means some free publicity and there are plenty of media outlets that are happy to let them. Thankfully, we rid ourselves of such imbeciles some time ago.
I for one applaud Ford for not only building the best hot hatch on the market today, but also for not taking away the right of its buyers to choose how they wish to drive the car which they purchased, with their own money.
Thank you Ford, thank you for drift mode.
MORE: Ford Focus RS review
MORE: Listen to us discuss drift mode on the CarAdvice Podcast
MORE: Global head of Ford Performance says Australia is the only country offering negative feedback on drift mode
UPDATE 18/07: The global head of Ford Performance has offered some insight into 'drift mode', suggesting that Ford has had no negative feedback outside of Australia:
In an exclusive interview this week, Dave Pericak, the global director of in-house tuning arm Ford Performance, told CarAdvice that the feedback has been extremely positive.
“We have had no negative feedback. In fact, it’s been quite the opposite,” Pericak said.
“Also, as far as ‘thinking twice’, yes…on more and more innovations like this. If you are a true car person, then you not only appreciate features like this but you love them. Our customers love the fact that we get it and we understand them.”
“I was hugely disappointed when we had to remove the line lock feature from the Mustang for Australia. This too has been a huge success globally.”