Driving in the Rain

As you may or may not know, I live on Cobb Mountain in Lake County, California. This is a really beautiful piece of country, and many parts of it enjoy microclimates - almost nanoclimates, really - that really mitigate the impact of weather. Unfortunately, my particular portion of the hill isn't in one of these areas and we get the worst of all worlds; hot in the summer, where people just around the corner from us are ten degrees warmer, and cold in the winter, although that's an affliction shared by pretty much the whole hill. Clear Lake is at about 1000 feet, and we're at about 2700 with only one significant mountain range between us and the coast (since we're on top of the second one.)

I fairly recently began driving a 1993 Subaru Impreza. 1993 is the first model year for the Impreza, and the 1994 model is pretty much the same. My vehicle is an LS model, which means it has all the options, but it also means it has an automatic transmission. All 1993 and 1994 models have the original 1.8 liter "EJ18[S]" powerplant, which has about 110 horsepower and 110 ft-lb. In spite of its low output per liter it does not have a particularly flat torque curve, and has basically nothing to give you until about 3000 RPMs (out of a max of 6000.)

Today was the first day when it was actually raining when I walked outside. Most people dread this on their way to work, but I'm a bit perverse, and I haven't really had a chance to drive in the rain at all. Now, I have driven on the road when it was wet once, and it was a greatly enjoyable experience; I let it get slightly sideways going around a sharp turn with the gas off, and the ass end started to come around. Then I just gently goosed the throttle and the car immediately took off in a straight line.

Today I came down Loch Lomond and Siegler Canyon road. This way is longer, but it's also a whole hell of a lot twistier:

[gmap |id=map |center=38.88154580068334, -122.67505645751953 |zoom=13 |width=500px |height=500px |control=Small |type=Hybrid]

And twisty is what I like. I came to a few unstartling conclusions which I will share with you now.

First, you never ever ever go hard around a turn (hard meaning, fast enough to make you slide out) without either braking or accelerating. My car has the legendary Subaru ABS system, it's legendary for a reason. It's also got the legendary Subaru all wheel drive, but since this is an older vehicle it has no limited slip differentials. Front and rear diffs are the traditional open type, and the center differential is supposed to split torque more or less evenly, but I'm not sure how that actually works. Point is, when the car starts to slide it does so pretty evenly but there's no guarantees; if the vehicle had front and rear limited slip then it would be a lot less scary to slide.

Even so, a more salient point is that you have no control when sliding sideways. In order to get control you must get the wheels to do something meaningful in relation to the road. Braking gets the ABS involved, while accelerating gets all four wheels involved. Actually, either way you involve all four wheels, because Subaru uses four-channel ABS. ABS doesn't necessarily stop you any shorter than foot braking, and with a well-trained driver in fact it increases stopping distance. However, what ABS gives you is that you can brake as hard as you want and still be able to steer. Thus, when entering a corner, I brake as normal. However, when I stop braking, if I'm still in the turn then I get on the throttle immediately and keep the front wheels pointed in the direction I want the car to go. I didn't get very sideways or anything, these are exceptionally twisty roads with no shoulder to speak of, and they're a great place to destroy your car.

Anyway, the quick summary is that my Impreza is a lot of fun, even in the wet and with the shitty tires it's wearing right now, because of AWD and ABS. Just don't forget to always be braking or accelerating, and leave yourself lots of room to accelerate as you come into a turn. Also, stay nice and far off the bumper of any car in front of you, because they will almost certainly not be able to corner in the wet as well as a car equipped this way, and you don't want to be jumping on the brakes (even with ABS) in the middle of a turn.

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