Ford Focus Torque Vectoring: What’s in a Name?

Ford announced on Tuesday that its 2012 Focus would be equipped with torque-vectoring technology to improve control and lateral stability when cornering.

Torque vectoring has become something of an industry buzzword, and Ford has demonstrated that it is no slouch in marketing its new technology, even when that technology’s newness is contestable.

Ford’s system gathers data from vehicle sensors to apply nominal braking force to the wheel with the least amount of traction — generally the one toward the inside of a corner. Differential gearing, which allows one wheel to turn faster than another in cornering, distributes more torque to the wheel that is rotating at higher speed. Thus, braking the inside wheel directs additional torque to the outside wheel.

“For the driving enthusiast, it provides more aggressive, confident handling,” said Jim Hughes, chief engineer for Ford Focus, in a telephone interview.

The on-road benefit provided by this technology depends on the data loop that exists between the wheel-speed sensors and the brake system. As on most electronic stability control systems, braking force is continuously regulated in respect to wheel speed and torque differentiation. Ford’s setup, however, is designed with an eye toward improved handling rather than crash prevention.

While torque vectoring is new to entry-level cars, technology of this type has been used to improve handling and stability of some of the world’s best performance cars for years.

Rather than employing the vehicle’s brakes to alter torque distribution, other systems tend to employ computer-controlled clutches within one or more gear differentials to precisely alter torque distribution — particularly on all-wheel-drive vehicles. However, Porsche, like Ford, has already used brake actuation to redirect torque on its 911 Turbo and Turbo S sports cars.

Some critics argue that only systems that employ differential clutches should wear the torque-vectoring label. Mr. Hughes said that while developing the Focus’ system, the brand “looked at several different premium vehicles.” He did not, however, humor the debate. “I believe we achieved a good balance of confident control and improved handling,” he said.

The 2012 Ford Focus will arrive in dealerships in early 2011.