This paper presents the development of a controller for autonomous, steady-state cornering with rear tire saturation (“drifting”) of a rear wheel drive vehicle. The controller is designed using a three-state vehicle model intended to balance simplicity and sufficient model fidelity. The model has unstable “drift equilibria” with large rear drive forces that induce deep rear tire saturation. The rear tire saturation at drift equilibria reduces vehicle stability but enables “steering” of the rear tire force through friction circle coupling of rear tire forces. This unique stability–controllability tradeoff is reflected in the controller design, through novel usage of the rear drive force for lateral control. An analytical stability guarantee is provided for the controller through a physically insightful invariant set around a desired drift equilibrium when operating in closed-loop. When implemented on a by-wire testbed, the controller achieves robust drifts on a surface with highly varying friction, suggesting that steady cornering with rear tire saturation can prove quite effective for vehicle trajectory control under uncertain conditions.

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