On Track, All The Time: Stability Control Explained

On Track, All The Time: Stability Control Explained image

Text: Anton Andres / Photos: Manufacturer Press, Euro NCAP | posted November 23, 2015 14:35

A quick guide to the electronic stability control system

Back in the day, the only thing stopping you from smashing your head against the windshield was a lap belt. These days, cars come with a host of safety technologies that not only keep you safe in a collision but also prevent the accident in the first place.

According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and the National Highway Transport Safety Administration in America, one-third of fatal accidents could be prevented by the use of this technology. It is a device designed to keep you in control of your vehicle and safe from harm. We are talking about the stability control system.

The system is known by many names such as electronic stability control (ESC), active stability management (ASM), vehicle stability assist (VSA) but they all do the same thing: assisting you in vehicle control and stability.

Pioneers of stability control

While we're used to European cars being equipped with this system, it was actually Toyota who was first in fitting this device to a production car. Called Anti-Skid Control, it was an optional extra in the 1983 to 1987 Toyota Crown. BMW also offered stability control in the E32 7 Series as an option in 1986. Mitsubishi followed suit in 1990 with their Diamante flagship sedan, improving on Toyota's system by integrating it with their traction control system and was noted to be the first integration of the two driver aids. Another noteworthy mention about the Diamante was that stability control was standard from the mid-level models and beyond.

By 1995, the German big three (Audi, BMW, Mercedes-Benz) offered stability control standard for their mid and large car offerings in Europe and in the USA. Fast forward to this decade and stability control is now standard in all cars offered in the US and several parts of Europe. The system is also making its way to our cars as well.

ESC off

So what is stability control? Stability control is an electronic system that aids the driver when a skid is detected. A series of sensors measure the car's steering angle in relation to the car's direction and will then apply brake pressure to single or multiple wheels. ESC also has the ability to cut engine power to help the car steer better or track straight on slippery road conditions. While the system does not improve cornering performance per se, it does minimize the loss of control.

Stability control doesn't just kick in when loss of control is detected. Similar to a motion detector, a myriad of sensors making up the stability control system constantly monitors the car. In this case it continuously tracks steering and vehicle direction. Even before wheel slip is detected or an evasive maneuver is made, the system prepares itself by gathering information from the ESC sensors and begins to make the necessary brake pressures and throttle inputs to maintain stability.

ESC also has the unique ability to work on most surfaces. Before being put on sale, these systems are put through vigorous testing on dirt, snow, greasy roads, and even ice to guarantee control no matter the situation.

Of course, ESC isn't foolproof and has its limitations. On extremely slick surfaces, the car may not be able to creep forward because the system prevents wheelspin in first place when various systems were tested by Consumer Reports. However, there are some cars equipped with a 'snow mode' which recalibrates the program for winter driving. Also, not all ESC programs are calibrated the same way with some manufacturers putting in less intervention than some, particularly in sporting models.

The benefits of ESC can be seen whether fitted to a front wheel drive, rear wheel drive or all-wheel drive car. For trucks and SUV's some manufacturers offer Roll Stability Control or RSC. Because of their higher center of gravity, SUV's and the like are at a higher risk of tipping over onto their roof. RSC and ESC prevents or minimizes the possibility of a rollover.

Stability control is slowly but surely gaining traction in the Philippines. It has become a standard feature on many mid-level compact sedans, mid-size sedans, crossovers, SUVs, and even pick ups. However, a lot of these cars are over a million but there are some brands that offer this lifesaving device in cars costing one million pesos.

Mazda offers stability control on mid-level Mazda2 onwards and standard throughout the Mazda3 range

One of the cars with stability control standard is the 2015 Philippine Car of the Year, the Mazda 2 starting with the mid-level SkyActiv-V variant at Php 865,000. Mazda also offers ESC in its 3 compact sedan, standard on all SkyActiv equipped models which start at Php 965,000.

Honda offers VSC in the top-spec City and mid-level Jazz

Honda also offers stability control with their subcompacts, namely the City and the Jazz. For the City, stability control is available in the top spec VX+ model which starts at Php 988,000. The Jazz on the other hand offers it in the mid-level VX model, priced at Php 918,000.

Ford offers one of the lowest priced cars with standard ESC

Not to be outdone, Ford's Fiesta and Ecosport come standard with stability control in their mid-range Trend models. At Php 795,000 it could be said that the Fiesta is the cheapest car equipped with ESC. Meanwhile, the Ecosport equipped with ESC starts at Php 885,000.

More cars with ESC under 1 million pesos

Speaking of crossovers, the Chevrolet Trax LS and the Nissan Juke are equipped with ESC as well and both are priced under one million pesos.

ESC has come a long way since its humble beginnings in the early 80's. We now have much more advanced technologies that makes stability control even safer, react faster and maintain control better. With up to one-third of accidents prevented thanks to this technology, it's safe to say that stability control is here to stay and, eventually, become standard in all our car choices in the future.