Traction control--no car does well on sheer ice.

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | May 01, 1991

Dear Tom and Ray:

I am in the fortunate position of being able to purchase pretty much any car that I would like within a reasonable or even a slightly unreasonable range. Right now I'm looking at an Acura Legend LS, as well as the Lexus LS 400. I know the Lexus was in a tie for your most awesome car competition, but I am concerned about its performance on ice. We found that front wheel drive cars like the Acura get excellent traction on ice. The Lexus, of course, is a rear wheel drive car. I understand that its "traction control" device ameliorates this, but I am interested in your opinion as to whether that is all advertising hype or, perhaps, true. If there is any way you could help me out I would certainly appreciate it.

RAY: Well, first of all William, no car does particularly well on sheer ice. For that, we recommend sled dogs and flame throwers. But let's assume that you're talking about general winter conditions, including snow, ice, slush, and even slippery wet roads.

TOM: Under those conditions, rear wheel drive cars have a tendency to "fish tail" during acceleration. When the rear wheels lose their grip and start to spin, the rear end of the car is free to slide around, which is dangerous.

RAY: What "traction control" does is prevent the rear wheels from spinning. We've tried it and it really works!

TOM: The Lexus uses the anti lock brake system and the engine to control traction. When the computer senses that one of the rear wheels is starting to spin, it first uses the brakes to reduce the speed of that wheel. If that wheel doesn't regain traction, the speed of the engine is cut back until the wheel is going slowly enough to grab again, then everything returns to normal.

RAY: That helps you get started on snow, ice, or even sand. But more importantly, it helps keep you from losing control of the car as you accelerate around a slippery corner.

TOM: We haven't driven the new Acura Legend yet, so we can't really recommend it. If it's as good as its predessesor, it's probably wonderful. But we have driven the Lexus LS-400. And if you're determined to spend an unreasonable amount of money on a car, buying a Lexus with traction control is a very reasonable way to spend it.

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