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Electronics make better drivers of us all

While many may lament the move away from simpler vehicles, it's hard not to be impressed with the technology found underneath the latest contenders.

There was a time when driving a sports car successfully required a skilful driver. With only mechanical connections between the person in the driver's seat and the road surface, one false move could be disastrous. But when the driver got it right, there was a thrill in knowing that the car took that last bend so quickly because of his skill.

Of course with the march of time the sports car has developed into something a lot more sophisticated. In fact, much of the time this price-premium segment has been at the forefront of the market-wide advance in dynamics and safety systems.

Electronic Traction Control (ETC) has been around since 1971, and Electronic Stability Programs (ESP) arrived around 20 years later. The systems are now so commonplace that they are standard even in the most humble of mini hatchbacks, and the result is that cars are easier to drive than ever before. But in the past few years these once revolutionary systems have been overshadowed by much more sophisticated additions. And no manufacturer is leading the way in this department more than Porsche.

In fact, the latest 911 - indeed, all of Porsche's cars - are so usable and accessible that even a learner driver would be comfortable behind the wheel. Part of this is down to the changes in car design and the engineering of a modern chassis, which make the car much more mechanically stable than ever before. But the biggest advancements come in what Porsche terms its chassis controls system: PSM, PTV Plus, PDCC, PASM and PADM.

Porsche Stability Management (PSM) is simply another acronym for electronic stability control: constantly monitoring levels of slip across all four wheels via the anti-lock braking sensors and modulating the torque output as a result. Like many systems it now offers a two-stage interaction, and with the car in Sport mode the degree of slip is more than with the system fully engaged. The result allows a slight wag of the tail in powered corners, with the system cutting in when the talent behind the wheel runs out.

Porsche Torque Vectoring (PTV) acts much like a limited slip differential, apportioning torque across the rear axle and applying the brakes to selected wheels. With the power pushed to the outside wheel, the effect is a tighter line though the bend and a greater resistance to understeer. It works in conjunction with the firm's mechanical limited slip differential to ensure greater stability and grip through in turns.

The optional Power Steering Plus, a speed-sensitive set-up that increases its weighting at higher velocities and decreases in resistance while manoeuvring, makes for a far sharper and more responsive sports car.

Porsche's Dynamic Chassis Control (PDCC) uses hydraulics to resist roll and optimise the camber angles across the axles, ensuring that the tyres remain in the optimum position and maintain the largest contact patch with the tarmac. Combined with the firm's Active Suspension Management (PASM), which constantly monitors the reactions of the dampers and adjusts the response, it makes for a car that can outgrip what you believe is possible.

But Porsche, being renowned for innovation, has another rather more surprising trick up its sleeve. Porsche Active Drivetrain Mounting (PADM) uses electrically adjustable engine mounts that increase or decrease their stiffness to control the engine's movement of mass in heavy cornering or braking, reducing any unwanted chassis behaviour.

So while many may lament the move away from simpler vehicles, it's hard not to be impressed with the technology found underneath the latest contenders. Not only that, but they make the car faster - which for a sports car can only be a very good thing indeed.

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