Toyota's attempts to address its recall woes include a software tweak known as "brake override." It kills the engine if you depress the brake and accelerator. Trouble is, enthusiasts require that for brake stands, rock-crawling and heel-and-toe. Will they survive?
Two-pedal engine shutdowns are nothing new; the technology has been clandestinely used by manufacturers for years as a preventative safety measure. Nevertheless, the LA Times and the rest of the mainstream media discovered it yesterday when Toyota announced new vehicles will include the feature, so we got a chance to hear about it all over again. The coverage triggered a realization that three things near and dear to our hearts might be in serious trouble with the potential for proliferation due to Toyota's current problems. Whither the smokey brake stand, the heel-and-toe shift, and controlled rock crawling? Is this the beginning of the end for enthusiastic driving?
What, exactly, are we getting worked up about? Let's address the issues one at a time.
The Brake Stand (aka, the Smokey Burnout)
The brake stand is a hallowed tradition for hooligans everywhere. In order to properly pull one off, the driver applies the brakes, shifts into first gear, and mashes the gas. Since most cars' front brakes are much stronger than their rears, the back tires usually break loose and belch a cloud of wonderfully stinky rubber smoke. When you release the brakes, the car moves forward as normal, usually producing a bit more smoke as the tires hook up.
Rock crawling, real, honest-to-God slow rock crawling, requires the use of both feet. In OHV parks and places like Moab, four-wheel geeks apply measured amounts of brake and throttle simultaneously. And while we love manual transmissions for street and track use, automatics have a definite advantage in heavy off-roading. The two-pedal transmission allows you to easily two-foot the pedals, precisely modulating rpm while controlling approach speed.
Last but decidedly not least, we come to the heel-and-toe downshift. It's a staple of performance driving, a technique that improves lap times and car control, and a hell of a lot of fun. In the heel-and-toe, a driver uses the balls of his right foot to depress both the accelerator and brake pedal simultaneously. The technique allows you to slow for a corner and downshift smoothly at the same time. It's often difficult to learn, but the payoff — less time spent in corner entry, no drivetrain abuse, a significant sense of satisfaction — is more than worth the effort.
"But wait," you say, "aren't we talking about Toyota? What cars or drivers would even be affected?" Good question, but the answer isn't as obvious as you would think. Toyota's volume lineup may be populated with beige offerings, but there are, and have always been, a few bright spots. The Lexus IS-F and upcoming Toyota FT-86 are certainly worthy of a good ol' fashioned brake stand, and we have no doubt that the FT-86 would benefit from some heel-and-toe action (the IS-F is offered only with an eight-speed automatic). Consider, too, the dirt-road crowd: Toyota's FJ Cruiser has decent off-road chops, and the Land Cruiser, while soft and pudgy, can occasionally find itself in the hands of an awesome owner, one who flogs it off the beaten path.
Are these time-honored activities coming to an end? Thankfully, the answer is no.
We recently spoke with Bryan Lyons, Toyota's communications representative for matters related to safety and reliability. He gave us the skinny on performance driving under Toyota's latest electronic nanny. According to Lyons, brake override is still in the development and validation process, but in its current state, it will allow for hoonage in almost any scenario. The software works by monitoring the brake-and-throttle dance — essentially judging pedal position down to the millimeter — and making a judgement call as to whether or not something is wrong. If the car decides that the driver has two left feet, it drops engine speed to idle and waits for a change in pedal position. There is a timed delay in the cutoff to account for steep hill take-offs and the like.
At this point, this all seems like a mixed blessing: It still sounds bad for the activities we love. But there's yet a third parameter being monitored that acts as a saving grace: road speed. Toyota's system is constantly evaluating vehicle velocity, and it only comes into play above a certain speed. By juggling the three monitored elements — pedal position, time depressed, and speed — Toyota will be able to implement its recall fix without neutering the fun cars it produces.
Good thing, too. We're really looking forward to seat time in the FT-86.
Photo credit ISS Forged Wheels