I know what you’re thinking, I was thinking the same thing too: Don’t we already have those (sort of stupid) push-button parking brakes already? That’s not much of an innovation. Au contraire mon frere. What Ford now offers is not a pushbutton electronic parking brake. No, this is an electronic version of the same sort of handbrake Sebastien Loeb used to slither up the Sisteron like an electric eel up a drainpipe.
Or, to put it more plainly: This is totally cool!
The all-new Ford Performance Drift Stick is a first-ever from a major car manufacturer. Basically, it is a rally-inspired electronic handbrake that can, if you’re good enough and coordinated enough, momentarily (momentarily is the key here) lock the rear wheels so you can either slide the car through corners and/or position the car for better corner exit. I raced rallies for a couple of seasons, and it’s not a particularly easy trick to master, but like a lot of tricks, when you get it juuust right, it’s a total gas.
Big Name Or No Name?
The Ford Performance Drift Stick was developed and designed for the Focus RS (a pretty good candidate for you and your navigator to run in the next Friday-Nighter Rally). Ford also mentions the Performance Drift Stick was approved by “rally and stunt star” Ken Block, for what that’s worth (not very much t’me). Block’s one of these half-talented narcissistic knuckleheads that seems to be all too common these days. I’m not saying he can’t goof around with a car in spectacular fashion, but what I am saying is doing it on film is not even close to doing it for real on a rally stage. When he does rally, he’s a make-up-the-numbers kind of guy that scrapes into the top ten with a current career best placing of ninth. So for me and my various rally friends, adding his name to a product doesn’t really help matters much. You might feel different, but so be it.
The Drift Stick stems from the Focus RS’s Drift Mode and was developed by the same team. The Drift Stick itself is a trick looking aluminum lever between the driver’s seat and manual transmission’s gear selector. It is not, however, just a lever connected to the rear brakes, oh no. This is 2017, so even the most mundane of cars, let alone a Ford Focus RS, comes chock full of stuff and systems and computers and such that must be accounted for. The Drift Stick interfaces with the Ford Performance all-wheel drive system in conjunction with the anti-lock braking system. It opens up the rear-drive unit clutches and applies hydraulic pressure to lock the rear wheels; to kick the car into a slide essentially, but you’re not necessarily aware of all that. All you do is simply pull that trick looking lever.
Ford says the results are “clutch-free drift turns very similar to the experience of a real rally car.” Personally, I’d love to get my hands on one and see if this is true.
Plug & Play
The traditional route, a hydraulic handbrake, would have been a real pain to put in a production car. For starters, it would have required considerable alterations to the car, so Ford went entirely electronic. Turns out, going fully electronic opened up a number of interesting benefits. In fact, the electronic Drift Stick has many similarities with the professional calibration tool Ford already sells. So integrating the Drift Stick with this existing technology was literally as easy as plugging in a USB cable.
This allows you to recall diagnostic data and upload powertrain calibrations for the Focus RS. Slick!
There’s a bunch of other nifty advantages by going with this digital design. You get instantaneous engagement and release of the rear brakes. The Ford Performance Drift Stick is also light, requiring just five to six pounds of pressure to operate, significantly less than a hydraulic handbrake. Installation and removal is easy, if you go with this after you’ve bought your Focus RS. There’s no welding, hole drilling, or calipers needed like you’d do with a hydraulic kit. The Drift Stick connects to the on-board diagnostics port on the car, so it can function as a calibration tool. Pretty nifty, eh?
Pricing & Availability
The kit comes with the Drift Stick lever, all the mounts, circuit board, and professional calibration functionality. And, get this, the car’s warranty is not voided by its installation. The Ford Performance Drift Stick will be available starting December 1st at any authorized Ford Performance Parts distributor for $999. Ford also, rightly, points out how the Drift Stick is intended for track use only (my emphasis added).
And if I have to point out why Ford is right in saying this, and why you should not go screwing around with stuff like this on everyday streets with traffic and pedestrians and such, then I have only four words for you: Hand. Me. The. Keys. Seriously you slack-jawed chucklehead. You shouldn’t even be driving if you’re out there taking dumb risks like that. Take the bus. Take a taxi. Leave stuff like this on the track where it belongs.
Tony Borroz has spent his entire life racing antique and sports cars. He means well, even if he has a bias toward lighter, agile cars rather than big engine muscle cars or family sedans.