In the late 90s when I was asked by Network Ten to host its vast array of motor sport programs, one of the first things I wanted to do was qualify for a CAMS Licence. I confess I had no intention of going racing or having any pretensions of being good at it! I wanted to do the advanced driver training course to get a sense of what I was talking about and better equip me to do those fun test drives of real racing cars for my RPM show.
It was in this environment that I first had the opportunity to drive All-Wheel Drive cars, including the legendary Subaru WRX STI. Some of this experience was on dirt roads as part of our regular televising of Australian and World Rally Championships.
In a lot of our coverage of various forms of racing, we would discuss the handling characteristics of rear, front and all-wheel drive vehicles but I was surprised at how hard it was to explain the advantages of All-Wheel Drive to people who hadn’t had the experience, which brings me back to advanced driver training.
It’s those extreme test situations like pushing a car hard through a racetrack corner, that make you feel the confidence that AWD grip provides.
I once did a feature story on the GT Production Car Championship and in a single day drove a variety of cars in several categories featuring all three forms of drive train. While you can’t compare the power of a Porsche 911 to a Toyota MR2 for example, the sheer unrelenting grip of a WRX STI stood out. A Subaru Impreza WRX STI won the GTP in its final years 2002 and 2003.
But we can’t all have the opportunity to drive a race car at such speed.
All-wheel drive family cars are often helping you get around the place safely at normal speed when you don’t even realise it. It could be the slight steering adjustment you had to make to avoid an obstacle on a blind corner, negotiating an oil spill or avoiding a brick that’s fallen off the ute in front of you. You react accordingly and move on. We don’t get to replay that moment in a two-wheel drive car to see just how much harder it would be.
Whatever level of driving you’ve experienced you will have no difficulty feeling the love off-road. All-Wheel Drive SUVs give us stability on loose gravel or in X-Mode on bush tracks where a misjudged puddle can trap one or two wheels or a slip into a deep rut can leave them in mid-air.
It’s an entirely different skill set, a long way from the sweeping smooth bitumen curves of Sydney Motorsport Park, but you’re just as thrilled and re-assured.
16 September 2021