James Godwin vents his spleen and lets off steam regarding a topic so very close to many high mileage drivers hearts – Cruise Control and wonders if there is any point!
‘Set’, ‘Cancel’, ‘Resume’ and ‘On/Off’: three settings on a car I never thought I’d use or even need. Those little plastic steering wheel buttons on our rental fleet-fodder Dodge Avenger allowed my partner and me to enjoy a fortnight’s road trip last year, gliding effortlessly and efficiently across the Californian and Nevada blacktop in comfort and without fatigue. The cruise function also managed to coax more miles from the Dodge, whose anaemic 2.4 four cylinder pinto-like power plant (cheap and easy to service, otherwise grim) had the temerity to return just 23mpg on a good day.
At the back of mind at the time I wondered why I hadn’t used cruise more. One of the reasons was that I have never owned an automatic, and while the two auto/cruise labour-saving systems go together like peaches and cream, the marriage of cruise and a manual gearbox goes together like peaches and creosote. Cruise control with a 3-peddler is less flexible because the act of depressing the clutch and shifting gears usually disengages the cruise control. The resume’ button requires a nudge following each gear change, thus proving that cruise control is of most benefit at motorway speeds when top gear is used virtually all the time. While that is hunky-dory for the 13 stick-shifter owners in the States it’s a different story here.
Have you ever tried cruise and manual in the United Kingdom? I know a few drivers who use cruise to avoid subconsciously breaking the speed limits. Such tactics could work in the US or across Europe but not on this little Island. On a 200 mile jaunt our traffic calming limits vary to such a degree (50/60/70 anyone?) that only Advanced Radar and GPS Controlled systems work. Travelling 600 miles on a motorway here is impossible due to hitting the sea, a Vauxhall Zafira, or both. We are also supposed to have lane discipline, a practice where obedient motorists like me stick to the left unless when overtaking.
If I am overtaking (or undertaking on the M25: that Godstone part of the M25 is a waste of motorway capacity) I drop down a cog or two to pass people, and that act of changing behaviour mucks about with cruise controls controlling nature. On a parallel note I feel sorry for truck drivers shackled by limiters so intransigent that they have to change their behaviour and do unnatural things to fit in. Eager to experiment, I attempted to use the cruise lever for as long a time as possible on the 190 mile gallop down from Leeds to London. 6th gear, an indicated 80mph and a relaxed James at the wheel. The M1 was ok (it didn’t moan) and traffic average for a Sunday.
Now… I’m a fiddler, constantly tweaking and adjusting anything from the stereo to the air conditioning. Wipers are another area requiring constant attention: they were taken off their automatic setting, as the diagonal rain provided some variety to the conditions. It was at that point, 5.25 minutes in to the cruise contest that I switched cruise off. Why? Vast swathes of rain were accumulating across each lane, forcing fellow motorist to avoid the pools. Cruise would not have noticed or acted upon an aquaplaning situation. For sure the traction control and electronic stability system would intervene should the worse happen.
The trouble is, I usually find that my hands, feet and ahem backside are bloody good at detecting such situations, with gentle flicks and modulation of the pedals helping to manage the situation in milliseconds, and mitigating against the worst in should anything hit the fan or central reservation.
And there lies the rub, for while systems such as cruise want to control, they misunderstand who is boss and control freak. Me.