Get a grip

Traction control rocks.

I’ve mostly been unconvinced by my Mini’s flashing little yellow light, in part because the stability and traction system driving it is one of the cheapo kind that’s linked only to the anti-lock brake sensors – it’s rather like the inverse of anti-lock, I suppose. Also, it can’t work until the wheels are actually moving, so it doesn’t help when pulling away on slippery surfaces. Oh, and there’s enough rubber, and insufficient torque, that it’s normally only possible to trigger the system by driving like a complete hooligan. Which I tend not to do.

Driving on snow, however, it turns out to be well worth the modest investment. It cannot – and indeed, should not – make one forget about the slippery stuff, and the tail still wags away when invited. But somehow, the car manages to head solidly in the direction you point the front wheels, the little yellow light flashing with manic joy as it finally gets to do something. It’s a slightly disconcerting experience, in that (if you’re a bit mad and there’s nothing around, including any ditches) you can simply nail the throttle and… not much happens. It happens to an accompaniment of weird slithering and thumpy juddering sounds, but it’s a damn sight less scary than the car swapping ends.

Best of all, the steering wheel completely fails to do the usual twisty writhing thing, since the wheels aren’t spinning. Couple that the steering being fairly weighty, and there’s nearly as much feel as in the old non-power steering Rover 213 I used to have. All in, the Mini feels like the safest thing I’ve driven on snow. There’s still fun to be had with a prod of the right foot, but more importantly it’s easy to back out, when you realise what a bad idea that is. Or when a townie nutter in a Discovery thinks ‘4WD’ means ‘indestructible,’ and rounds the corner ahead at forty, sideways.

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