Skoda Octavia vRS

Getting to grips with electronic diffs

Skoda Octavia vRSIf you drive a rear-wheel drive car and are any sort of enthusiast, you’ll deem a limited-slip differential virtually obligatory. Only with LSD will you stand any chance of emulating Chris Harris; the satisfying feel you’ll get even when you’re not will deliver payback on the expenditure with every drive. 

But front-wheel drive cars? They’re more rare. Thanks to electronics, they’re often not all that necessary – and besides, the sheer aggression of the effect they have on wheels that are driven and steered can often terrify the inexperienced.

Car manufacturers have an answer: the electronic limited-slip differential. This sees power managed and individual wheels grabbed by the brakes to mimic the effect of a limited-slip differential without all the mechanical hardware and kerb-lunging drama.

Volkswagen Group calls this EDL, or electronic differential lock. At higher speed, a variation of this tech takes over; it’s called XDS and, instead of braking wheels, it applies a bit of ESC pressure to the inside wheel to tuck the front end in.

In theory, that is. I’ve always been a bit cynical. The purist in me says nothing beats the real thing. EDL? XDS? Pah, it’s just acronym-laden marketing hype for a tweaked type of traction control.

Unlimited appeal

But now, I’ve seen the light. Why? Because the roads have become greasy and, faced by constant deadlines, I’ve been getting stuck in to my driving. And EDL has been delivering front axle bite that’s had me grinning out of every roundabout and tight junction.

What do I feel? Instead of the car frustratingly being restrained by power-cutting traction control, EDL delivers the power and then manages it in the most efficient way possible. You can sense it efficiently being juggled across the axle, each tyre digging in right on the limit of grip, but not beyond. The clamped-down feel and authority under power is immensely satisfying.

This extends to higher speed cornering with XDS, particularly if you’re driving smartly and have a bit of power-on through corners (and feel the effect magnify if you squeeze in a bit more torque…).

Basically, it delivers bite to the front of the car; with this bite comes more accuracy, more drive and more purity. Yes, despite it being an electronic system. But then, all it’s doing is mirroring the dynamic effect a limited-slip differential would have anyway, so why shouldn’t it?

Yup, now the days are drawing in, I’ve seen the light. And as the temperatures drop, so I’ll be able to enjoy it more and more often.

It seems you don’t just need a rear-driver to have fun in the winter…

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