"I don't like them. I do not see the reason for them. We do not see the sense in sitting there burning the back tires. It's not fast." – Stephan Reil
Drift modes are popping up in sports cars all over the world, but Audi Sport development boss Stephan Reil refuses to have anything to do with them, insisting they're a waste of time and tires. So if you want to show off with a wild-looking, tire-smoking, perfectly controlled drift in an Audi Sport model, you will have to brush up on your car control, not your button pushing.
"No drift mode. Not in the R8, not in the RS3, not in the RS6, not in the RS4," Reil said. "I don't like them. I do not see the reason for them. We do not see the sense in sitting there burning the back tires. It's not fast."
That seems a bit like Reil and his team are missing a trick that is proving popular with enthusiast buyers and isn't technically difficult to do. It's also a whole lot safer than holding down the skid-control button for long enough to switch off all the electronic safety nets, which Audi Sport will actually let you do.
"You can do it yourself [drifting] with the ESP off, if you hold it [the button] for three seconds," Reil challenged. "Then it will not intervene for you even when it [the car] is fully out of control, because that's what you asked it not to do.
"You wanted the full control by pushing that button. You got it."
Almost every fast car, from Ford to Ferrari, now comes with (or soon will) a drift mode so drivers can just stomp on the gas and turn the wheel to instantly look like rally stars. The dangers of do-it-yourself drift control (which our forefathers used to call "driving") make up most of the moral defense for the companies that use the computer-controlled versions.
While critics have called drift modes irresponsible, proponents argue that it is far safer than switching off all the safety nets, because there is still a level of skid-control safety behind it.
"Drift control is a lot safer than just turning everything off," BMW M chief Franciscus van Meel said during the launch of the M550i xDrive. "The drivers can enjoy the car on a track but it still has another level of safety to catch them if they make a mistake."
But is that extra level of safety actually for the common good? Critics note there is no way to restrict drivers using drift modes on suburban streets.
Essentially, all drift modes maintain the car's slip angle by restricting torque delivery to the drive wheels and precisely braking individual wheels, though some utilize other strategies as well. It's often easier for carmakers to write the extra lines of software code to govern the slip angle than it is to find space on the dash or center console for the Drift Mode button.
Arguably, the surge in drift modes began with the Lotus 211 track car, which used a variable traction control knob that could vary the car's slip angle in real time, mid-corner. Ferrari was one of the first supercar makers to boast of its drift mode, with the F430, and Ferrari has improved its system on the 488 GTB. Pagani uses one, too, and McLaren fitted drift mode to the new 720S. Ford has it on the Focus RS, and Mercedes even features one on the E63 AMG, the go-fast version of the most traditional, conservative mid-sized sedan in the world.
BMW went further than that in 2014, tacking a drift mode on to autonomous 2 Series coupe and 6 Series Gran Coupe prototypes to create fast cars that could drift all by themselves, which shows you just how easy it is to use a drift mode.
But none of that is enough to convince Reil, who insisted anybody could drift an Audi Sport car if they trusted their skills and courage. Also, most other cars with drift modes are rear-drive, while every single car Audi Sport makes is all-wheel drive. "The car is much faster the way we do it, and drifting also does not really suit the architecture of our cars."