Driven by Technology

- Dong Magsajo () - November 19, 2008 - 12:00am

It’s that time of year – local car manufacturers are gearing up for the last quarter push with PR-driven efforts meant to boost sales numbers before the calendar year ends. As such, we in the motoring media have been literally driven to the point of exhaustion. Not that we’re complaining mind you. It is within our job descriptions to bring you the latest motoring related happenings – and if that means literally driving insane lengths just to give you the news, then that’s what we’ll do.

Good thing the last few driving-related activities swelled with enough technological highlights to keep us glued to our car seats. It’d be a shame if we started to look at events with disdain by categorizing them as mundane (and ultimately, unoriginal).

Two very specific test drives within the month of October that this writer feels deserve special mention are the Ford Focus Media Drive and the Honda Jazz Media Testdrive. In my own personal and very humble opinion, the said events stood out because of two very specific technological advancements highlighted by the manufacturers during the said events – the double clutch automatic (for Ford) and the drive by wire (for Honda) systems.

Though both the double clutch automatic system and the drive by wire system aren’t really new technologies in the automotive world per se, the launch of the new Ford Focus and Honda Jazz represent the first time in which both technologies are introduced to very specific markets locally. Finally, once unreachable technologies are brought down to the level of us mere mortals – for some serious mass consumption. And quite frankly, despite the fact that we in the motoring media do get to drive more expensive cars blessed with such technology regularly, I wouldn’t have it any other way. A shared experience is always better than an exclusive one, after all.

What do these technologies bring to the table? Let’s explain each one in detail, shall we?

A double clutch automatic system is essentially two gearboxes with a pair of clutches between them, one for odd gears and another for even gears. The system’s computerized controller calculates the next likely gear change and shifts the “idle” transmission into that gear. The advantage of a double clutch automatic system lies in the speed of gear changes. It is significantly faster than a human and a traditional automatic transmission and thus aids in quicker up- and down-shifts. This consequently gives a car equipped with a double clutch automatic system the advantage of more power on demand and better, more instantaneous control. To make you see just how far down the road we’ve gone, you’ll be glad to know that the double clutch system is the same kind of technology that the new Porsche 911 is highlighting at the moment. Now imagine that kind of technology mated to a more politically correct 2.0-liter turbodiesel engine. That’s what you can get with a much more affordable and beautifully face-lifted new Ford Focus TDCi.

The drive by wire system highlighted in the new Honda Jazz, meanwhile, can also be found in many European luxury makes (like BMW, for example). What it does is use electromechanical actuators and human-machine interfaces such as pedal and steering feel emulators to provide computer controlled intervention to vehicle control systems – in essence, giving the car equipped with it better response parameters. In the Jazz, drive by wire is used to optimize power and efficiency as it is applied to the car’s acceleration control. Real world driving conditions set in a course in Ilocos proved that the new Honda Jazz – partly because of the drive by wire system – can deliver in both the power and fuel efficiency departments. What it is, basically, is state of the art technology packaged in a hard to resist deal of an affordable car.

Though many will most probably argue that the changes in both Ford and Honda makes are mostly cosmetic in nature, the fact that the aforementioned technologies are now present in the upgraded models is quite significant. Slowly, the goodies found underneath the hoods of the cars being peddled at showrooms are beginning to become more and more relevant. Better power delivery, cleaner emissions – and perhaps more importantly better fuel economy – are being made standard through these technologies. In other words, the standards we are being subjected to are being improved. And this is significant both in the practical and financial sense.

The double clutch automatic transmission (or PowerShift, as Ford would like to call it) and the drive by wire systems are just two of many technological advancements that are slowly making their way into the mainstream automobile market. And it is technologies like these that’ll keep us gearheads working hard to get to that next level. As it is, we already can’t get enough of our cars. But at this rate, our wants and desires (not to mention our needs) will be driven even further by the technology made available to us.

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