Joining a “safety” driving course is a good idea from two points of view: you learn that you can do a lot more than you think you can and you learn that your car can do a lot more than you think it can. Both are a lot of fun in a controlled environment that takes away the risk. This course is not “extreme driving” but it has all the right elements: stability control, breaking, skidding, handling turns while accelerating and skidding, things like that.
So I had a driving course and it was fairly good. Although I thought it was too simple and slow I enjoyed it a lot. It was definitely a day worth its price. I was their with my good old Mercedes M-Klasse that is usually not supposed to be a lot of fun but I learned a thing or two about this wonderful car.
One problem I discovered quite early was that my breaking distance was a little on the long side. I asked the instructor about it and he performed a thorough investigation with a quick glance at my tires. His comment was “this is not what we call winter tires, this is what we call winter slicks.” And that cleared up the matter, as I was indeed driving on nearly racing slicks with barely any thread left. No wonder I took a while to stop on the snow simulator.
Besides having lots of fun and learning about my own car, I learned two unexpected things that day:
- I do not want a Lotus Elise
- I do not want a Renault Koleos
Lotus Elise looks like a lot of fun. I bet the guy driving it had a hell of a lot of fun there actually. The car is basically a cart, judging by the way it accelerates and corners. The problem is, it is also a cart when it comes to stopping. That stupid little car consistently had a longer breaking distance than my nearly 2 ton M-Klasse on “winter slicks”! I could not believe my eyes. Ok, I am all for fun driving but if I am out there on the road, I really want to have a car that can actually stop when necessary. But, granted, it is fun on the track!
(video: Lotus Elise)
I was not expecting much from Renault Koleos to begin with and it performed basically all right, but besides having really bad breaks, only marginally better than Lotus Elise, it developed a strange problem in the morning: it would always try to go sideways whenever the driver used the breaks really hard. That was weird and we could not understand what is wrong with it. What is wrong became apparent later when the front wheels of the Koleos lost ABS. A couple of exercises later the car had no ABS at all anymore. So, you see, the ABS started to fail on a single wheel and the car was, of course, going into a slide on that wheel, making the whole assembly skid. Once the ABS failed completely, the car became apparently more stable. Frankly, I would not want to have that kind of “technology” in my car.
(video: Renault Koleos)
But, overall, cars performed splendidly and most drivers were happy to learn a thing or two. I was particularly impressed with the breaks on this small new Fiat 500 and with the sideways stability and recovery of the Hyundai i30. Skoda Fabia predictably lost a few plastic parts during the harder shake-ups but otherwise performed on par with everyone else.
(video: Wet and snow circle)
Interestingly, the driver of this old Nissan did not know that she had no ABS at all until the first time she had to break hard. That did not interfere with her driving in the least though.
Again, this is a highly recommended exercise to learn more about yourself and your car. And it is a lot of fun, so I highly recommend taking such a course.