By on December 16, 2013

TTAC commentator Seminole95 writes:

Sajeev,

The Wall Street Journal recently suggested that part of VW’s problem in the US is the slow growth in Passat sales. About the Passat sales, they attribute it to a cheapening of the components relative to the European Passat, stating: “The American model also got a simpler, lower-cost suspension that delivered a less precise ride.”

My question is: how does one tell a priori that they are buying a car with a cheap suspension? Many mainstream media car reviews do not discuss the objective quality and construction of suspension components, preferring to discuss subjective feelings of ride. In addition, a car’s ride may “feel” good now, but this does not mean that it will in 5 years.

As an aside, one of the reasons I am interested is, I am thinking about buying the new Honda Accord and trading in my old one. But the new Accords have the MacPherson struts whereas the old ones had a double wishbone setup.

Thank you, TTAC, and your readers for intelligent car discussion.

Sajeev answers:

Ya know, autojournalism is a tough gig: explain why you feel a certain way and you bore people with engineering jargon.  Well, that’s provided you actually have to chops to explain why a certain design/component behaves a certain way in the first place!  But I digress…let’s begin with some salient points:

  1. Some suspension designs are better than others, depending on application.  Sports cars shouldn’t have leaf springs (please accept my apology, Morgan) but I seriously doubt I’d ever want a truck without them (sorry RAM).
  2. The quality of suspension components makes all the difference in the world.  To wit, upgrading shocks (Konis, Bilsteins, etc.) on a seemingly terrible suspension can, by magic, make it the best in its class.
  3. Mainstream Auto Journalism or no, opinions on this subject are mostly subjective…if not entirely subjective!

Shall you feel a big difference between a new Honda Accord and the older models with double wishbones?  Possibly, but that could be attributed to a host of suspension and chassis changes, not the original design. Don’t believe me?  Just look at what BMW’s done in terms of suspension feel utilizing this same McPherson strut template.

Now about the Passat: the 2014 model (at least) has a fully independent suspension on all trim levels. Even the base model Jetta, according to the website, regained complete independence from solid axles.  But let’s say you like the Toyota Corolla or Ford Mustang: is your ass critically fine tuned enough and do you even care on those rare occasions when a modern solid axle vehicle feels juuuust a little wonky on a curvy+bumpy road?

We all aren’t a Jack Baruth on track…and hell, even Jack Baruth drives a Lincoln Town Car with a watt’s link solid axle on the street, son!

So this is much ado about nothing!  My bigger concern is the quality/configuration/durability of the suspension components, not their basic design.  Sloppy tuned shocks, poorly sized sway bars, defective ball joints, etc. are a bigger concern.  And none of that can be addressed at the time of purchase, sadly.

 

Send your queries to sajeev@thetruthaboutcars.com. Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry…but be realistic, and use your make/model specific forums instead of TTAC for more timely advice.

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140 Comments on “Piston Slap: What Makes a Bad Suspension?...”


  • avatar
    schmitt trigger

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but doesn’t all boil down to classic physics problems, you know mass-spring-friction and tuning for critical damping and all that stuff?

    Having said that, I know a vehicle is far more complex than a simple physics example would be.

    • 0 avatar

      You forgot beancounters who remove things like rear sway bars. And a host of other people that can change a design with no regard to the science of the matter. Take it from the guy with a “stiff” Lincoln Mark VIII versus the overstuff Town Car versions.

      • 0 avatar
        fallout11

        I own a coil spring rear ended RAM truck, and have to say that while I had my doubts, 2 years of ownership have turned my head, it is as responsive, manueverable, smooth riding, quiet, and carries the load just as well, if not more so, than my previous leaf-sprung Ford.

    • 0 avatar
      Luke42

      The math breaks down that way.

      However, there is a lot that a talented team of suspension engineers can do with a sub-optimal design. For instance, I test drove a Jeep Wrangled Unlimited which has a lot of unsprung weight (solid axles) and a basic architecture which looks like it belongs on a John Deere product. And, yet, the thing drove in a very civilized way on suburban streets, and the stiff sway bar even made it feel “sporty” (considering). It rode better than the 1998 Ranger and 2004 F-150 that I would use as comparisons, and wouldn’t scare off the average shopper coming CUV or minivan.

      And, yet, when I climb under the jeep, I’m reminded of the Kubota B8200 4WD tractor I learned to drive on (as well as the John Deere 4WD tractor that my dad owned later).

  • avatar
    pragmatist

    You can’t tell much about suspension from a verbal description. Travel,center of gravity, spring rates, dampening, geometry, rigidity, isolation ALL play a part. The only thing you can partially go by is the actual driving tests by knowledgeable reviewers.

  • avatar
    Flybrian

    Speaking of which, I’m tired of not being able to choose a modern car with a plush, compliant ride. Tired of ‘Euro-tuning’ et al.

    • 0 avatar

      I’d just like a car with 17″ wheels–that actually looks GOOD with them–so I can have sidewalls that don’t punish occupants!

      • 0 avatar
        ponchoman49

        My 1979 Olds Cutlass Calais with P205/70 R-14 tires, std front and rear sway bars and firm ride cargo coil springs delivers a very solid smooth ride yet can be flung around some of the twistiest roads with ease. It’s amazing that we now need 20″ tires to get decent handling numbers with a resulting punishment in ride quality and horrific traction in snow.

        • 0 avatar
          bumpy ii

          We don’t. 20s are for bling, but 16 or 17″ is necessary for larger brake rotors and calipers.

          • 0 avatar
            28-Cars-Later

            16” should be the standard IMO, 17” just feels like an odd size and a way to gouge people on oddball tires.

          • 0 avatar
            tedward

            This is partly due to the tire industry, it’s not just the stylists at the car companies. Very few cars have rotors that require more than a 15″ rim…very few. But, if automakers want to run smaller diameter rims (to keep rolling resistance and replacement tire costs down for instance) then they’ll have to equip tires with stiffer sidewalls to achieve similar turn in and body lean control in exchange. Guess what? Those are all high performance summer tires, which the vast majority of drivers shouldn’t be provided by an OEM as standard because they will never change them out when temps start falling below 39F. Personally I think that a smaller rim with a stiff sidewall tire is THE sweet spot for (back) road use, but I also believe the track rats when they claim a larger diameter rim leads to further gains on a racetrack’s smooth and predictable surfaces.

            Another handicap for perception of performance on small rim setups is the width of OEM rims. You are likely to see a base steelie rim show up in 6 or 6.5″ widths, and right there you are limited to a 195 section width if you want to get the most out of your rubber (tire width not to exceed rim width for best results.) 195 might let you achieve a quick turn in response, but you are going to lose mid corner grip and corner exit traction vs. a wider tire and rim. So, instead of upgrading that 15″ narrow width wheel to a 16 or 17, just get another 15-incher but upgrade the width and get a stiffer tire. Tires are FAR cheaper at smaller rim sizes as an added bonus.

            Aftermarket suspensions play much nicer with a realistic sidewall size as well. People fail to realize that just a tire change alone can give you that same too-stiff result, and few try to find a compromise that works because they picked their rim/size for looks not performance.

          • 0 avatar
            rpn453

            “Very few cars have rotors that require more than a 15″ rim…very few.”

            That may have been true at one time, but even my little Mazda3 can’t fit 15″ wheels over the rotors. However, I have learned that my 17″ summer wheels are unnecessarily large. My 16″ winters give a more compliant ride and provide more consistent traction during hard cornering on many of our terrible roads. Plus, I bent one of the 17″ wheels and damaged the sidewall of one of my Michelin Pilots a few months ago on a half-assed road repair. Many modern wheel sizes are well beyond the point that they hinder performance on real roads. My 205/55R16 winters seem to be a good compromise. It’s hard to find anything with decent sidewall stiffness that has less sidewall than that size. They’re usually 1-ply, with the lower speed ratings that are typically associated with mushy sidewalls.

            I don’t disagree with anything else you’ve said. Knowledgeable autocrossers using the same car as mine would likely skip the 17″ wheels and go with a 225/50R16 on a wider rim.

          • 0 avatar
            tedward

            rpn453

            Sounds like we’re in the same boat actually. My daily is a Sportwagen, so really the Golf, which has the same dimensions in most technical respects as your car. I agree that at this size 16 works best. I do run 17’s myself in the summer on that car, but it see’s mostly smooth roads when driven hard and my goals are pretty high for the wagon on outright grip so the bigger rim does help in that regard. My smaller BMW is only for lumpy back roads and never being sensible on route choice. That’s on 15’s with, ludicrous for the street, Direzzas, albeit at a relatively narrow section width of 195.

            You can fit 15’s on your car by the way, your rotor should be just over 11″ (front), I don’t remember the exact size. I’m not saying you should though, I would call out 15’s for B segment cars.

          • 0 avatar
            rpn453

            I wanted to fit 15″ wheels for winter but they wouldn’t clear. Not even steelies. The base Mazda3 sedans had smaller brakes and could fit 15″ wheels.

        • 0 avatar
          Brett Woods

          How True. 1979 Olds rode like a Rolls Royce and handled like a dirt tracker. Those old American cars were friendly to thrash and didn’t spin. (Knowledge from my 14 year old ass)

      • 0 avatar
        korvetkeith

        Continental DWS I got in 255/40/18 are cushy. I love having the big wheels and nice ride.

      • 0 avatar
        Mullholland

        I agree, Sajeev. But isn’t your post here really a commentary on contemporary car design. Unfortunately, car designers have to make up for the deficiencies in their creations by super-sizing the wheels, comfort be damned. A rough choppy ride is simply the price we pay for fashion. This slab-sided/big wheeled trend is getting pretty tiresome…sorry for that, but there really was no pun intended.
        Also, many posters have mentioned a change in struts and/or other suspension components can transform a vehicle’s ride and handling—in addition, careful, well researched changes in the make, tread pattern and composition of your tires may help turn a mediocre handler into more of a corner carver.

        • 0 avatar
          tonycd

          I think today’s fashion for giant wheels isn’t just because every stylist in the auto industry suddenly became tasteless and untalented.

          I think it probably has more to do with the rise (literally) of SUVs and the increasingly demanding regulations that cars be able to survive a T-bone crash with one. Today’s cars are generally much more slab-sided, with higher beltlines. The result is a tall, continuous expanse of sheetmetal that can only be relieved in two ways: detailing as decoration (i.e. Bangle “flame surfacing”) and giant wheel openings. And once you have giant wheel openings, they look completely stupid unless you fill them up with giant wheels.

          Now, when people go a step beyond that and specify that the big honkin’ wheel-tire combination is all wheel and no tire, that’s the unnecessary part of the problem.

          • 0 avatar
            fastwagon

            Solution 1. Two-tone paint jobs
            Solution 2. Learn to love the slab look.
            Solution 3. Another way to jazz up the wheel/tire assemblies. Retro whitewalls, anyone?
            Solution 4. Stigmatize SUVs and reduce their presence.
            4a. Light trucks and other high-center-of-gravity vehicles are half again as likely, in single-vehicle accidents, to result in fatalities. Though that might seem like karma….
            4b. The “I’ll kill small-car drivers and save myself” attitude of many SUV buyers is worthy of moral condemnation by itself.
            4c. Ban tall vehicles from the passing lane. After all, the signs say, “Trucks prohibited from passing lane.”

          • 0 avatar
            burgersandbeer

            @ Fastwagon

            I’m with you against huge trucks and SUVs being used as commuter vehicles. Maybe there should be a multiplier on your ticket if you are caught speeding/driving recklessly in a heavy, high-COG vehicle (or poorly maintained hooptie for that matter).

            Unfortunately, I am more against traffic enforcement for revenue collection than I am against large SUVs. I sadly can’t think of any way to stigmatize them or otherwise provide a disincentive for their use that doesn’t conflict with my desire for a minimally meddlesome government. Barring a creative solution, I think we have to live with them.

          • 0 avatar
            rpn453

            “Maybe there should be a multiplier on your ticket if you are caught speeding/driving recklessly in a heavy, high-COG vehicle (or poorly maintained hooptie for that matter).”

            I’d rather they got rid of all this grey area judgement stuff. Just remove those who have proven they can’t handle the responsibility of driving from the road and I’ll be content. The level of punishment for being at fault for harming others on the road should be directly related to the level of damage done. Killing or seriously injuring people while driving should be a lifetime driving ban. Injuring someone should be a suspension until that person is fully recovered. Any property damage should be paid back fully over time – up to twenty years, if necessary – in installments at every license renewal. They’d could cap vehicular damage liability per incident at $100k or something. If you want to protect yourself from liability, drive something small. It would be pretty much impossible to seriously harm another person driving a modern car if you’re in a sub-compact and driving at legal speeds.

      • 0 avatar
        olddavid

        I’m curious as to what you consider a “stiff” alternative on your Lincoln? Steel springs instead of air? I’ve vacillated between the two with no clear victor decided by my ass. Also, why not stick with the factory rims? I know why I went larger – a steal on some F1 Fondmetals with nearly new tires – but absent that factor, the directionals from Ford would’ve done everything I want the car to do – including looking good. I have a hard time believing a population that accepted the rear twist beam as “semi” independent would know or feel the difference between the holy grail double wishbones vs. Mr. MacPherson’s strut.

    • 0 avatar
      Baldpeak

      BMW’s have been getting softer over the years. People on the BMW forums constantly complain about how soft the 3-series is now, anyway. Personally, I don’t believe you really need a stiff suspension unless you have some serious sports car bodywork that actually generates some downforce. If a suspension is soft yet still provides good performance, to me that’s perfect. Plus it will actually perform better on really bumpy surfaces.

  • avatar
    Feds

    Nil Internetus Carborundum: don’t let the internet get you down. Tuning and development play a much more important role than base suspension design, especially on street cars.

    Examples: This has McPherson struts:

    http://www.seriouswheels.com/pics-2008/nopq/2008-Porsche-911-GT2-Phantom-diagram-of-chassis-and-drive-assemblies-1280×960.jpg

    This has double wishbones:

    http://i293.photobucket.com/albums/mm52/mkorom/87%20Chevy%20G20%20Project/87ChevyG20Project008-2.jpg

    Which one is going to do a better job getting you down the road comfortably?

  • avatar
    calgarytek

    You won’t feel the difference in the Accord until you decide to corner and find, unfortunately, it does not feel as planted or as communicative as your current one. In terms of suspension durability, I’d say macpherson struts are less durable than double wishbones. The strut, in a setup with one lower control arm, now has to absorb lateral loads than it did in a double wishbone setup. You’ve got the upper/lower control arm as well as the steering nuckle dealing with the lateral loads while the strut is relegated to doing what it does best, compression/rebound/damping.

    On a sidenote, with 1 lower control arm setup, you will always feel cheated when taking the front tires off to discover that the front suspension is…basic. But you won’t get that feeling with your current Accord. You take those tires off and it’s instant ‘whoa’, and ‘oh yeah look at that pair of legs…’

    RIP Honda Accord, 1988-2012
    RIP Honda Civic, 1988-2000
    RIP Honda Integra, 1988-2001

    DOUBLE WISHBONE FTW!!!!

    • 0 avatar
      danio3834

      You can add Chrysler Cloud Cars 1995-2006 to that list too. Total sleeper suspension.

    • 0 avatar
      thornmark

      At the same time the current Accord Sport manual is faster and gets better numbers than any prior Accord 4 cylinder.

      The new hybrid is the best handling mid-size hybrid and uses amplitude-reactive shocks, normally found in Acuras. The amplitude-reactive shocks would probably fit other Accords as well.
      http://www.caranddriver.com/reviews/2014-honda-accord-hybrid-test-review

    • 0 avatar
      ponchoman49

      Yup even Honda is cost cutting to make room for all the electronic toys and features that many are demanding today. They are even still using an archaic timing belt on V6 models when literally everybody else is using superior and longer lasting chains. This is the way that Honda and other companies can keep prices in check with there other competitors. It’s often those hidden things that people don’t realize until it breaks or needs to be replaced.

      • 0 avatar
        tonycd

        Full disclosure here: I’m a Honda V6 owner.

        But I completely disagree with the insinuation here that Honda uses a timing belt on its J Series V6 as a symptom of a generalized cheapout on its contemporary models. Honda historically goes for weight savings and high-RPM smoothness (e.g., thinner glass and sheetmetal, high-RPM four-cylinder mills). The Honda engine has been around for several years, and its rubber timing belt is quieter in operation than the chains available at the time and allows a lower-profile engine for weight savings. It’s a belt that’s spec’d for replacement at 105,000 miles, and anecdotal evidence is that it will usually last considerably longer for those owners neglectful enough to fail to change it — not exactly the hallmark of crap componentry.

        Now, timing chain design has advanced in the interim, and I’d expect that the next-generation Honda V6 will probably incorporate a timing chain. On the other hand, Honda is a smaller company than you think and reuses a LOT of components across models (now that IS actual cost reduction), so in this era of rising pressure to improve MPG, there’s nothing to say they ever will do an next-gen V6 at all.

        I can’t tell you I was thrilled to pay this year to replace my timing belt. But in the bigger picture of carmakers’ choices, it bugged me a lot less than if I’d bought a car where all the parts throughout were cost-cut trash — *cough Nissan GM cough* — which emphatically was not the case here.

        • 0 avatar
          sgeffe

          I was an apoplectic critic of this move, and had been waiting for that shoe to drop ever since the Civic went to “the dark side” in 2001.

          Until I drove a 2013 Accord for the first time. (This was a 4-cylinder Sport, which convinced me I was going to purchase another Accord. I confirmed I’d be getting a V6 after testing one a couple weeks later. Both of these test drives occurred in early October, 2012, just after the new Accords debuted.)

          As I’ve opined in this space before, the Accord will still hang with you as will as the SLA-equipped Accords of generations past. It just doesn’t feel quite as crisp; that may have to do with the newly-implemented electric power-steering, which is OK, but could probably use a touch more feel, along with the new suspension out-front. The suspension does supposedly use many Acura-spec parts. Overall, unlike on the first Civics with struts, it seems that Honda got this one right.

          None of those shortcomings got in my way, as my 2013 Accord Touring Sedan in the garage can attest. Best Accord ever; even negotiating the snow-rutted streets of NW Ohio this past week, not one bit of extra noise, creaks, squeaks, groans, etc.! The car has the bank-vault feel of the 4th-and-5th-Gens! As I’ve stated before, in my previous Accords, the “honeymoon” has been over by this point as things have started to loosen, rattle, etc. Not so this car! Hopefully it keeps up!

      • 0 avatar
        George B

        Honda claims that they changed the front suspension design to make room for the extra bracing required for a “Good” result in the IIHS small overlap crash test.

        IIHS – 2013 Honda Accord 4-door small overlap crash test
        http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VdxmKpR_3Xc

        http://www.popularmechanics.com/cars/news/industry/how-the-newest-crash-test-is-making-cars-safer-15887984

      • 0 avatar
        burgersandbeer

        Timing chains are overrated. While the chain itself almost never breaks, a variety of engines will wear down and break the chain guides. A quick google search shows potential problems with the timing chain guides on Nissan’s VQ engines, Ford’s modular V8s, BMW V8s, and Audi V8s. There are probably more. When this happens, the cost of replacing your timing belt is going to look like an oil change compared to replacing chain guides. Google this repair for the Audi B6 S4 to see how bad it can get.

        Timing belts are at least designed for reasonable service.

        • 0 avatar
          zamoti

          180k miles on 3.0 VQ, no timing issues here. While I cannot speak about the other brands, I don’t see a wild amount of issues with VQ timing chain guides; looks like some Quests had tensioner issues, but for the wide application of the 3.0, 3.5 and 3.7, you’d see a lot more than that if it were truly a problem.
          I also owned Volvos, specifically a 960 which had a truly awful 30k mile change interval on the belt. NO THANK YOU. Go hang around a popular Volvo forum and wittness the groaning about the job itself or the $500+ cost of the change by an indy. That does not seem like reasonable service to me.

          • 0 avatar
            burgersandbeer

            Your one example doesn’t make the whole VQ engine series immune to the problem. It’s probably not an epidemic or anything, but it can happen. My BMW M62 engine went to 196k miles without guide failure, but that doesn’t mean the engine isn’t known for it.

            I agree that a 30k interval on a timing belt is definitely not reasonable. That was not what I had in mind. I was thinking of the more common 90-105k intervals that you see on cars like Accords.

        • 0 avatar
          rpn453

          You can’t use cars with a large engine stuffed into a small bay for comparison! They’re just generally terrible to service. If the engine and engine bay are the same size and layout, a timing chain won’t be any more difficult to get to than a timing belt.

    • 0 avatar
      krhodes1

      The basic design of the suspension has very little to do with it. After all, a BMW M3 has struts and will feel significantly more planted than an old Accord. Rather Honda has made the decision to soften the ride and make it more compliant, which to some extent is not compatible with exceedingly precise handling. TANSTAAFL

      The biggest reason to have double wishbones on an ordinary passenger car is to allow for a very low hood and fender line. As that is not compatible with current fashion or pedestrian safety regs, there is no point anymore. Struts are cheaper, have fewer parts to fail, and in the real world work just as well, at the expense of needing more height.

      • 0 avatar

        You’re so right about that. Cars are not yet building blocks in the sense that everybody uses the same blocks, but the differences come out in the tweaking. Things that are not conveyed in numbers or by saying, “this one has McPherson, that one has IRS, that has a multilink setup”. That only tells half the story. For a suspension to shine it takes experience, dedication and sensibility. It still depends very much on the talents of your people.

      • 0 avatar
        olddavid

        I had completely forgotten about that aspect of the wishbone setup. The Honda styling with the emphasis on low overall height and little profile between wheelwell and hood was probably a large unknown factor in many purchases. It’s a design element you cannot point out while “feeling” the sleekness of the packaging. Like Potter Stewart defining pornography – he couldn’t, but knew it when he saw it. I knew many Lincoln people who went Honda in the mid 1980’s and referred to their Accord as a little Lincoln. Had to be there.

    • 0 avatar
      raph

      I’d argue against Mac struts being any less reliable than a double wish bone with the exception of heavy duty applications. In 20 years of Mustang ownership I’ve had zero component failures and only needed one alignment.

      • 0 avatar
        danio3834

        I agree. From a straight up cost of onwership perspective, nac strut is better in my opinion. Typically one lower ball joint versus an upper and a lower. I’ve replaced countless Honda upper AND ball joints at the same milage intervals as mac strut cars seem to wear out their lowers, so longevity doesn’t seem to be any better, they just have more wearable parts.

        • 0 avatar
          gtemnykh

          Agree with Danio,

          Older wishbone equipped Hondas have always been somewhat fragile in regards to suspension. Been there done that with replacing top and bottom balljoints, the tops requiring the replacement of the whole top arm. The same vintage Corollas/Camries seem to have much more durability built into the suspension, which is of a simpler mac-strut variety.

          Don’t know if this is all related, but it seems to me that Hondas also have faster wearing CV joints and boots than Toyotas (Subaru is probably the worst in this regard though).

    • 0 avatar
      krayzie

      I think Honda has been for the longest time trying to replace the nicer components with cheaper crap to see how much they can get away with it.

      But I got to say MacPherson Strut holds alignment much better and longer than Double Wishbone that’s for sure.

      • 0 avatar
        Zykotec

        I actually think they stopped ‘wasting’ money on double wishbones because only about 5% of us cared…and going for the basic Ford Falcon type struts opens up more interior space, which is something the other 95% care about…
        the two best compromises of handling and comfort I’ve ever had was my ’90 Accord cb7 (even if a U-turn in it would better be described as a ‘detour’), and strangely enough a ’89 Scorpio…which has about as basic an independent suspension as possible.

    • 0 avatar
      calgarytek

      Wow, great discussion here.

      I appreciate the feedback and differing points of view but I’m in disagreement with the majority.

      In terms of deck height and pedestrian safety regs, you can relocate the strut attachment to the upper control arm. Then you can have all the height you want. It’s somewhat similar to what was done with the hiperstrut/revoknuckle setup, which I consider a compact double wishbone.

      Also, save for the Ridgeline, all compact, midsize, and full size pickup trucks use double wishbones with a strut attachment or two. And if deck height is any indication, most pickup trucks have been getting bigger/taller/heavier in the last 20 years. And they’re not getting away with just one lower control arm.

      That suggests that a short/long arm setup (double wishbone) is more suited for heavy duty applications, given that the extra attachment points tends to spread the stress out. Based on that alone, double wishbone setups are more durable than modern day ‘macpherson strut’ setups. The flakiness of Honda’s ball joints may have been due to cost cutting at the time, but there’s ample after market replacements.

    • 0 avatar
      burgersandbeer

      I believe the Miata still has double wishbones at the front.

      To add to the departed:

      Mazda6, 2003-2008
      RX-8, 2003-2011

  • avatar
    danio3834

    MACPherson strut is such a loose term because all the setups used today barely resemble the very first Mac strut setups, which I wouldn’t want to have under anything I pilot with any kind of power.

    Today we have modified Machperson strut suspensions commonly used due to light weight, easy packaging, and with the right combination of contraints, good handling.

    What’s the difference between a good suspension and a cheap one? Well, you can have a good cheap suspension setup which most modern Mac strut setups are. They have some performance compromises in the name of packaging and cost savings, but still more than competent for the 95th percentile.

    To get an idea of what a no holds barred performance suspension looks like, have a look at high end sports cars and sedans. Most use complex multi-link setups, sometimes with a strut, sometimes with the spring and shock separate. The main thing that makes them expensive is their careful placement of control arms, torsion rods, toe links, tie rods etc. using as many as necessary to constrain the suspension to achieve the optimal tire contact patch under the greatest range of suspension travel possible.

  • avatar
    Kenmore

    Harsh rides suck, especially in our era of disintegrating road surfaces. I freakin’ hate my car and my ass getting hammered by bad roads and the consequences of ever-lower sidewalls.

    Give me floaty-boat suspensions and fat tires; I’ll drive slowly enough to keep them safe.

    • 0 avatar

      I agree, specially as to the harsh suspension and minimal side walls. There’s no place in my garage for that. However, totally floaty boat suspensions are a thing of the past and when most drive something like that today, they associate it the wallowing with unsafety. I think some makers have found a good middle ground. Ford and the French make suspensions that handle well while still being comfortable. GM and Fiat are a little belong. Others are usually either too harsh or too novocaine for me.

    • 0 avatar
      NMGOM

      Kenmore – – –

      Yup. You hit the nail on the head, as did “Flybrian”, above with his comment:
      “Speaking of which, I’m tired of not being able to choose a modern car with a plush, compliant ride. Tired of ‘Euro-tuning’ et al.”

      I have two BMW’s, a 325i and Z4 3.0 si. The latter I’d expect to give a little back-beating on a 2-hour trip: it’s a sports car that’s trackable. But what is the excuse for the formers rough ride? Euro-think? Well, I too have had about enough of that. America doesn’t have smooth-as-glass roads! Who the heck cares about cornering perfection if you can’t go fast enough to do it with vibrating the car (and your body!) to pieces?

      Frankly, when I really have to go a long way in good comfort and spaciousness, I take my 1996 Dodge Ram pick-up, with new shocks and 300-400 lbs of weight in the back: real comfort. Potholes? What pot holes?

      So, I fully tune into Jack’s Lincoln. Used to have a ’66 Continental, for which you could even ask: Railroad tracks? What railroad tracks. Now THAT was a good suspension.

      Here’s a thought: I am not convinced that IRS can ultimately give the best ride over large vertical deformities: speed bumps; railroad tracks; pot holes; curbs, broken pavement; frost-heaved expansion joints; tar strips; etc.

      I haven’t done the energy math, but empirically, it seems that the very thing for which people criticize bar-axle / live-axle designs, is ALSO the very thing that is a virtue for absorbing deformities. Namely, you are transferring some energy from one wheel and its suspension components, to the opposite wheel and its suspension components. Essentially, you are doing “energy-and-displacement sharing” that is simply not possible with IRS. Does this make sense, or am I off track?

      It would seem that the ultimate example of this effect is the Ford Raptor Pick-up going over moguls and logs in a forest like they don’t exist…

      ——————–

      • 0 avatar
        danio3834

        “So, I fully tune into Jack’s Lincoln. Used to have a ’66 Continental, for which you could even ask: Railroad tracks? What railroad tracks. Now THAT was a good suspension.”

        Ah yes, the old school solution for a plush ride, moar sprung mass!

        I have a ’63 Thunderbird that was built in the same plant as your Continental and it subscribes to that theory too. Looking at the under body, not a fleeting though was given to weight savings anywhere. Also, they have some of the biggest, most deadly coil springs up front that I’ve ever had the misfortune of trying to compress.

        The neatest old school suspension/steering solution I’ve seen recently is the independent setup on the front of the ’35 Chevy line. Youtube “Car suspensions: Spring Harmony” to see what I mean.

        • 0 avatar
          NMGOM

          danio3834 – – –

          Thanks!

          What a great little fun video (brings tears to my eyes):

          Looks like the folks in 1935 got it right.
          Have we really made that much suspension progress since then (as far as comfort is concerned)?

          I used to have a 1967 Jeepster Commando with leaf springs all around, and it rode just fine – a little choppy maybe, but no big deal.

          ————-

      • 0 avatar
        tedward

        NMGOM

        I’d look to your tires and rims as the likely culprit. Does the 325i have runflats? Even if it doesn’t BMW specs some beautiful (and oversized) rims for certain trim levels that might not be helping any. The 3-series has enough suspension travel and doesn’t actually have super punishing damping so it’s certainly not the car itself.

        The Raptor has obscene suspension travel and damping tuned to play nice with moguls. This comes at a direct cost to the trucks on road capabilities. It is comfortable, but like an off-road biased old Land Rover it is a tippy mess on dry roads if you ask it to act like a car. I think it’s the right way to go for a performance truck, but you probably wouldn’t want that in a BMW road car.

        • 0 avatar
          NMGOM

          Hi tedward – – –

          Yup. You’re right. Thanks for the advice.

          The 325i (European special ordered, built at Regensburg) came with dreadful run-flat Bridgestone Turanza tires as OEM. They rode like an unsprung vehicle!

          I complained and had BMW switch to run-flat Continental Conti-Pro Contact tires, and now the ride is MUCH better (e.g, old ladies in the back seat don’t have their dentures rattling anymore), but cornering ability at the limit is reduced.

          When the Conti’s wear out, I’ll switch to non run-flat, but there is always the issue of where to put the spare and jacking kit. Perhaps use a space-saver donut for practicality?

          ——————-

    • 0 avatar

      I have an e46 sport package…and it comes with 17 inch low profiles..in NYC, that is both harsh and expensive as you can’t dodge every pothole. I went “backward” to 225/50 x 16, and while you lose the scalpel, you gain a lot of compliance. It is a tradeoff but lots less expensive in rims and the car still sticks in corners.

      The roads are getting worse….

      Oh, and good suspension keeps the wheels on the road. I love the way the e46 is perfectly sprung and damped. I’ve stayed stock but for Bilsteins, and there stayed non race. Many car makers cheap out on dampers, making it out of warranty….and that is it.

      Tires are still the biggest change. A 2012 golf with OE 17 inchers is lots tighter than the same car with 15 inch winter tires…turns become totally different.

      Fav car was an AMG Mercedes with adjustable suspension. Comfort was just that…comfy. Sport was hard edged Rally Car. Normal was what you’d expect in a Mercedes. Now, to see that below a six figure price point.

  • avatar
    rickhamilton620

    I’m not sure how the suspension compares to the previous gen Passat, but the current gen’s always had a independent rear suspension.

    • 0 avatar
      Brian P

      The longitudinal-engine B5 and B5.5 (1998 – 2005) had a twist-beam, but only if it was not 4motion. VW knows a thing or two about building twist-beam axles. Those cars rode and handled well, twist-beam or not.

  • avatar
    mitchw

    A couple of years ago at a VW dealer, I asked the salesman specifically about the simpler suspension. His answer was instant and seemed schooled; you’ll really only feel it if you’re driving on the limit.

    Let’s take off those driving goggles, hmmmm?

  • avatar
    Onus

    You’ll like the McPherson design when you go to get wear components replaced. Much less parts to be replaced. Usually you’ll have just one ball joint on each side. Struts tend to last longer and many SLA ( double wishbone ) suspensions ( like the f150 ) use struts.

  • avatar
    AMC_CJ

    It’s always been, in my professional opionion, that the late 70’s-80’s GM G/A Body (Malibu, Monte Carlo, Regal, etc.) was one of the best chassis setups of all time.

    Full frame. “A” control arms with coil overs in the front, and coil springs with a solid rear axle out back. Simple, very solid, and a very good ride or good handling.

    I have a 78 and 79 Malibu. the former a V6 sedan, the latter a V8 coupe. The 79′ has the F-41 suspension package and is a amazingly great handling car. Sure, it’s not quite as good as the modern Mustang sitting next to it the garage, but it’s not that far off either. Plus, it’s very easy to control. The back end breaks out slowly, and unlike the Mustang, it feels far better on rougher roads.

    The 78′ has the standard suspension. Much more softer, but sometimes it’s nice to hit a speed bump at 25mph without care though. Same cars, and they both run the same tires but the 79’s are a little wider with a rim an inch bigger. Different spring rates and sway bars though, and it makes a big difference.

    • 0 avatar
      fastwagon

      The F-41 was not promoted nearly as much as it deserved to be. Back then, it cost something substantially under $100, and made a huge difference in the ride. Had GM pushed it more, they might not have lost so many buyers to European brands.

    • 0 avatar
      sgeffe

      My Mom had an ’80 Cutlass Sedan with the h/d suspension, and an ’83 Regal Custom sedan with the “Gran Touring” suspension (their term for heavy-duty), as these were hand-me-down company-cars from my traveling-medical-salesman Dad, who needed the ability to carry a trunkful of wares.

      I could tell the difference when I inherited my first car, a 1978 Cutlass Salon (yup, the “aeroback”) 2-door. Sloppy, numb handling. (Though the fact that the Salon was a poor, used-up hooptie as a result of my Aunt’s negligence may have had something to do with it.)

  • avatar
    Beerboy12

    Rear suspension on a front wheel drive car is not that critical compared to the front. The beam axle with trialing arms is perfectly adequate on any passenger car mid-size and smaller. In fact, from a cost, performance point of view, the beam axle is, when done well, better. Engineering technology and knowledge can produce acceptable handling with any of the common setups used today.
    Safety is a big player in suspension set up these days. Safe, predictable handling is now a priority over outright performance and comfort.
    So, double wishbone suspension, nice to have, but just not necessary. If this type of thing is high on your list of priorities when buying a car, raise your price point above Accords and Passats.

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      Agreed. The beam axle is simple, cheap, reliable, and effective. That, plus struts up front are good enough for me.

    • 0 avatar
      danio3834

      Twist beams are kind of an in-between solution versus a straight trailing axle or fully independent and are often referred to as “semi-independent”. They offer a compromise between cheap to manufacture and reasonably good handling. VW, Toyota and GM seemed to have employed them most often over the years, and they didn’t work out too bad.

      • 0 avatar
        Wheeljack

        There are alternatives to the VW approach that are better. The original Fiesta had a beam axle with trailing arms that allowed a decent amount of compliance. The advantage that the Fiesta had was that it wouldn’t lift the inside rear tire under hard cornering like the Rabbit/Scirocco were famous for. Fiestas made excellent autocross cars with minimal modifications.

  • avatar
    bumpy ii

    “a modern solid axle vehicle feels juuuust a little wonky on a curvy+bumpy road”

    Just? Lol, might as well have a pogo stick back there.

    And, no love for Autozine Technical School?
    http://www.autozine.org/technical_school/suspension/tech_suspension1.htm

    • 0 avatar
      krhodes1

      Exactly – with a heavy live axle you can have decent handling or a decent ride, but you can’t have both at the same time. A Mustang is an extremely competent tool on a SMOOTH racetrack, but will scare the crap out of you at speed on a frost-heaved back road in Maine. BTDT, can’t wait to try the new one with a real suspension under the back end.

      Now front-heavy light FWD cars are a whole different story. The “twist beam” style of beam axle works really well in that application. It is very light, and usually the bulk of the weight is up by the pivots anyway. My Jetta GLIs back in the day and my Fiat Abarth now certainly do not suffer from not having IRS.

  • avatar
    Chicago Dude

    Let’s say that you have a 5-year old car and feel that the ride quality has deteriorated since new. Where do you go for an honest assessment of the suspension components and quality replacements (perhaps the upgrades that Sajeev mentions)? I want it to drive like a luxury car, not a sports car. All the stuff you see online seems like it is targeted to sports car drivers.

    • 0 avatar
      bumpy ii

      At 5 years, I’d say replace the shocks and see what you get. Everything else is bushings that all gradually deteriorate at about the same rate, producing a loose, slushy feel, but 5 years is early for those.

    • 0 avatar
      rpn453

      Don’t rule out shocks with a sporty reputation. My buddy had a 12k mile 2008 40th Anniversary RX-8 with factory Bilsteins. His friend wrote it off into a light pole while he was drunk in the passenger seat one night (oh, the irony). So he found a 50k mile 2004 RX-8 for cheap to replace it, but didn’t like the suspension feel compared to the 40th so we figured the shocks were worn out. Imagine our surprise when the OE Tokicos off and found them to be stiffer than the new Bilsteins he had ordered. Nine-year-old used shocks usually put up minimal resistance to motion when you put your weight on them. We threw the Bilsteins on anyway and it improved the ride in every way; both comfort and performance.

      • 0 avatar
        DeadWeight

        rpn – I have an RX-8 with the stock Tokicos & have a very high opinion of them. They’re like brand new even with approx 90k on them, and they help the RX-8 obtain what I consider to be as close to the most ideal ride of any vehicle that has true sports car capabilities while also being more than comfortable enough to be used as a daily driver in the real world of less-than-ideal road surfaces.

        The only other vehicles that obtain this beautiful compromise that that I can think of off the top of my head are specific equipped last gen BMW 3 Series (and the generation prior), the Cayman, and…a select few others I can’t think of at the moment.

        But yes, the Bilstein equipped RX-8s (the R3 and the 40th edition) had a firmer ride, with even less
        roll, so for those inclined towards the firmer ride, they’re the better tool.

        The other part of the magic with the RX-8 is that the vehicle has torsional rigidity of 30,000 nm/degree, which places it at the level of some exotics, which are chock full of carbon fiber & titanium bits. As a fellow B&Ber remarked when I raised this point a few months back, the RX-8 was one of a very few cars he had worked on that would always lift both its front & rear off the jack stand contact points – that’s how rigid it is. This provides the foundation to dial the handling to 11 with stiffer shocks, etc. if one were so inclined to tune it so.

        I honestly now regret not buying one of the last new 2011 RX-8s when I had the chance to do so.

        No new vehicle that I’ve test driven in the last 3 years has as good a combination of handling & daily driver ride comfort, while having a backseat that can actually seat 2 normal sized adults (and definitely 2 children) if need be – in fact, the back seat has more leg room than my previous sedan, which was a 3 Series.

        On top of this, the RX-8 with proper snow tires is so capable in even deep snow or on icy roads that I promise many would have to drive it to believe to what degree.

        I can live with the 19mpg economy of this car forever, and I may in fact buy another one, for all of the reasons stated.

        • 0 avatar
          rpn453

          I was the one who made the comment about jacking the RX-8!

          I actually picked up and delivered the ’04 RX-8 for him, so I had fun with it for a couple days and then did a 150k mile highway trip with it. I wouldn’t have thought it needed any suspension work, but coming directly from his 40th Anniversary I guess he had become accustomed to the feeling of it enough to sense that something was “off” with this one. I believe it related to the behavior of the back end when cornering at the limit. He has a number of turns and curves that he regularly takes and the rear was stepping out less progressively over bumps and undulations than with the 40th. He feels all is right with it now. Being stiffer, the Tokicos might have an advantage on smoother roads or in quick transitions. I’m sure they just made them to the specs that Mazda desired. I do give them credit for having like-new damping at nine years of age.

          It’s a great car. He came into town for a flight south a few months ago and left it with me for garage storage for the week. He said I could drive it but I had no expectation of using it beyond taking it home from the airport after riding there with him. My mind wasn’t even thinking in that direction because he planned on bringing his B8 S4 until he noticed a sidewall bulge. I’ve driven that a lot and, despite the comfort and power, the weight and isolation make it less fun to me on non-snowy, non-icy roads than my highly communicative Mazda3. My rational side was thinking that the RX-8 uses a lot of fuel, and I find his exhaust a little obnoxious when driving in traffic. It’s smelly and noisy with no cat (legal here, BHR midpipe) and a Borla cat-back, with 200:1 premix in the fuel. Plus, I don’t want to risk damaging it, especially since other people’s cars usually take some getting used to before they’re truly comfortable and familiar enough to really push. I didn’t expect myself to feel connected with it by the time I got home. But I was, much earlier; the moment I left the airport. All the controls and the suspension tuning feel just right. I put about 250 miles on it that week, and at least half of that was just for fun. I even enjoyed the exhaust noise – which is loud but does not drone at all – when I’m in light traffic, taking it to the redline or rev-matching downshifts. The snaps and pops as it shoots flames out the tailpipes during fast shifts are a nice touch. But I’d still throw the cat and OE exhaust back in there if it were mine, so I could feel a little more considerate of others when driving among traffic.

          You really do feel the chassis stiffness when driving it. It was especially obvious on one of the roads I regularly use that has a smooth but deep depression in the right side of the curb lane at one point. It just doesn’t seem to twist at all.

          I’m a thick 5′-10″, and I find the back seats more comfortable than those in a lot of larger vehicles with more apparent room. I’d have no problem doing a cross-country road back there.

          • 0 avatar
            DeadWeight

            That was you. Sorry I had forgotten who had relayed that.

            The Bilsteins on the R3 & 40th are most definitely stiffer, IMO. So much so that I think they change the character of the ride quality enough to render far less comfortable as a daily driver anywhere outside of areas like Nevada, Arizona, etc. (i.e. smooth roads predominate).

            I agree with you about the OE cat etc. A cat-less 8 with an aftermarket exhaust sounds great, but if used as a daily driver, gets sort of old, especially since the 8 is not tuner friendly in terms up power output.

            If used as a daily driver, it has the best combo in stock form, which is sporty let comfortable.

            The one thing I’d say with confidence is that the automatic should never have been paired with the Renesis or any rotary. It’s not just that you lose 3000rpm, 35 horsepower and some other performance, but a slushbox in form and function complete mitigates against every reason that exists for the rotary’s raison d’être & joie de vivre.

          • 0 avatar
            rpn453

            No problem. I don’t expect anyone to remember those details amongst the mass of information these comment boards provide. I do know you as the RX-8 guy though. Shortly after my buddy got the RX-8 he was talking about eventually wanting an FR-S/BRZ once the used ones get cheap. I told him it’s a pointless downgrade and linked your comments on the subject. It’s not that he wants to ever sell the RX-8, but he’d like to have a collection of cars someday and he likes the looks of the FR-S/BRZ. He’s now thinking in the right direction – 911, Cayman, or Z06 – but I can’t see him getting tired of the RX-8 anytime soon and he has better things to do with his money for quite a few years ahead.

            I assume you’ve driven those versions? I haven’t even been in an R3. Are you sure they didn’t just stiffen the springs on the R3? Could the 19″ wheels on the R3 be responsible for the difference? I had both sets of shocks in my hands and used my weight to force each of them through their stroke. At least one pair of the Tokicos were very obviously stiffer. If I remember correctly, the fronts were pretty close and the rears were a lot stiffer. I can’t imagine that gas shocks could get stiffer with use. They still moved smoothly through their travel so it wasn’t a matter of stiction. I’ve never removed any other shocks that had damping comparable to that of any new shock. It’s always been comical how little damping used shocks provide whenever I’ve leaned on them, up until those ones.

            I checked the Bilstein Canada site that he ordered from (Essex Distributors), and the shocks they sell are the same regardless of model year and trim, so I doubt they’d be any different than the OE Bilsteins. TireRack shows the same thing.

            Regardless, his ’04 is still a comfortable ride with the Bilsteins, even on our beat-up northern climate roads. The only further change I’d make would be 235/45R18 rubber when it comes time for tires, to fill out the wheel well and rim width a bit, and give a little more impact and curb protection. I’m not a fan of stretching tires out over a wide rim, despite the benefits in quick steering transitions. I’m plenty used to allowing much floppier tires than that to set before changing directions.

            Mazda certainly would have been better off not offering the automatic. Those poor cars are tragedies. They’re the thalidomide RX-8s; born with major defects that were entirely preventable, for the sake of comfort and convenience.

  • avatar
    krayzie

    Dang I didn’t even know Accord got rid of the front double wishbone. Next it’s gonna have a turbo lol!

    • 0 avatar
      calgarytek

      I know, sad, the downfall of Honda :(

    • 0 avatar
      sgeffe

      Hopefully, enough folks at Honda are noticing that the J35 V6s are consistently pulling-off better EPA numbers than the “Eco-Bust” Fusions and the like.

      Unfortunately, I’m noticing that my Accord V6 is backing off a bit, efficiency-wise with the onset of winter weather, but then again, all Honda motors seem to run better on summer-versus-winter fuel-blends, and at ambient temps of 40-degrees F and up. (I’ve had this happen with my previous four Hondas.)

  • avatar
    TR4

    Sajeev said: “Sports cars shouldn’t have leaf springs”

    IIRC the recent Corvettes have leaf springs front and rear.

    • 0 avatar
      krhodes1

      There is a BIG difference between a fiberglass composite mono-leaf and a strapped together stack of steel leaf springs. The problem with traditional leaf springs are friction within the leafs, and unsprung weight. Also axle location when the design is so cheap that the springs themselves are the primary axle locator. The transverse single leaf setup of the Corvette avoids all of that.

      Then you have my Triumph Spitfire where the transverse steel leaf spring IS the upper suspension arm in the back! Swing axles, doesn’t get any more cheap and cheerful than that. Of course, you get a suspension that is more stubborn and defiant than independent! :-) Spitfire also has full-fledged double wishbones up front, the Honda fanboiz would love it.

  • avatar
    Toshi

    Unless you’re an autocrosser, in which case I question your choice of an Accord, then suspension layout is near-irrelevant in the face of much larger choices regarding tuning of said parts at the factory.

    That said, hitting a bump mid-corner is a good test of a suspension’s geometry, IMO. On my drive home for the prior four years there was exactly such a bump (495 to Northern State transfer ramp before S Oyster Bay Rd, on Long Island).

    The beam-axle cars we had would step laterally a bit mid-turn–manageable and predictable but not ideal. The other car with a multi-link rear (and those hallowed double-wishbones up front) just soaked it up while maintaining its line.

  • avatar
    vvk

    My 2012 Passat has fully independent suspension. The ride, however, is terrible. In low speed local driving it feels like the front shock absorbers are disconnected. I cannot stand it driving around town. It is good for long highway trips, very smooth at high speed.

    • 0 avatar
      Marko

      I’m driving a family member’s 2013 Passat today, and I don’t find the ride “terrible”. Not Lexus smooth, either, but it does as well as I’d expect a $25K family sedan to do. This one is an SE, if that matters – is yours an SEL?

    • 0 avatar
      Brian P

      The above two posts illustrate the dilemma that suspension designers have. What’s too compliant and wallowy for one end user is too harsh and stiff for another. And then there’s how people describe what it is that they don’t like … What does vvk mean by “shock absorbers disconnected”? Wallowy until it hits the bump stops? Or harsh and unyielding as if the shock absorbers were locked up solid?

      Firm low-speed (I am talking about shock suspension movement speed, not road speed!) damping is necessary to avoid wallowing and bouncing but it transmits more small bumps through to the chassis.

      • 0 avatar
        vvk

        The front end bounces up and down like the shocks are not working. There is also pronounced unchecked diagonal motion whenever it hits a bump. Body roll is bad but that is to be expected.

        Marko, my Passat is base model with manual transmission. The tires are 215/60-16 Continental ContiProContact. I recently drove a loaner Passat while my car was in service. That one had extremely poor ride (worse than mine) and completely lifeless steering devoid of any feel. I suspect it had EPS, while my Passat has hydraulic PS and its steering feel is actually not bad.

        Personally, I prefer a firmer ride, which is why I always buy European. However, I think my father-in-law’s Buick LeSabre has an outstanding ride. It is soft and smooth but body motions are very well controlled.

        • 0 avatar
          tedward

          Once again, tires. 215/60 is a lot of sidewall and the continentals are not, in any sense, a performance tire. 215 is also probably way too wide for the rim. Car companies probably do this to provide a useful performance upgrade from the base trim levels, and also to try and offer the old school (I wanted a boat but I had to buy a car instead) customer that wallow they have been craving. Also, cheap.

          • 0 avatar
            vvk

            The LeSabre is on 205/70-15.

            I have had plenty of cars with tall sidewall tires. My parents used to have a 1994 Subaru Impreza that had 165/80-13 from the factory — great ride, no complaints.

            I once rented a Peugeot 106 in Europe that had 155/80-13, as far as I recall. What a terrific car that was. The tiny Michelins were beyond excellent. Ride and handling of the 106 were extremely impressive.

            Also, I recently had a loaner Passat SE with 17 inch wheels that was even worse than my Passat. At least my car has fairly good steering feel. The loaner, I can only assume, had EPS because steering feel was absent.

          • 0 avatar
            tedward

            vvk

            Interesting. If the SE you drove was a 2.5 also it’s the same steering rack, EPS only shows up on that engine with the Golf/wagon. In that case it would be the wider and way heavier front tires trading in less feel for higher grip levels.

            Maybe the compression/rebound settings just aren’t to your liking on those dampers. Personally I’m not a huge fan of that class of cars. Even the Mazda6 and Fusion are floaty by my standards, although I’ve only driven one trim level on the new Fusion (early reviews made it seem like they defied class expectations, they don’t). I would agree with the premise that “mid size” (should read yacht sized) cars have traded in far too much control for marginal interior volume upgrades over the current compact cars. I don’t agree though that the Passat is outside the norm for the class, if anything I’d say it’s just on the stiffer side of the median of what’s available.

            I like sidewall also (see my other posts on this thread) but the cars you mention as alternatives weigh far less and are far shorter and narrower than a mid sizer in America today. That’s going to make a far bigger difference than any suspension decision a company can make.

            I’d even submit that cars this large just aren’t that safe, but that may be influenced by my inner enthusiast trying to scare pedestrian shoppers out of cars I don’t want to buy. Bring that volume back to where I spend my money!

          • 0 avatar
            vvk

            tedward, I know what you are saying! I prefer smaller cars, too.

            I am not sure what MY the loaner Passat was but I have read that MY2014 now have EPS, so that was my thought.

            Last two times I have taken my BMWs in for service I got the newest Camry, one SE, one LE. That’s a midsize car and I am very impressed with the huge improvement over the previous model. The suspension in particular is very well calibrated. I used to hate getting Camry as a loaner but this latest model is excellent.

      • 0 avatar
        NMGOM

        Brian P – – –

        “What’s too compliant and wallowy for one end user is too harsh and stiff for another.”

        Good observation. But it would appear that some modern technology systems (as on the Porsche 911 and the McLaren MP4-12C) are exploring ways that can vary the ride type according to preferences. Certainly the MP4-12C’s hydraulic/air-suspension seems to allow an inherently comfortable ride WHILE providing excellent cornering and handling. Price? Don’t ask. And Porsche’s PASM seems able to inhibit or counteract body roll with active engine mounts, among tother things.

        But are these just exercises in over-engineering, for which Europeans are famous?

        ————-

  • avatar
    mikedt

    Since the average driver takes turns at speeds considerably under the yellow advisory signs I’m guessing most people don’t notice anything in a suspension beyond its ability to soak up expansion joints and potholes.

    • 0 avatar
      Kenmore

      You’ve perfectly described me. Except I can no longer get that ability to soak up expansion joints and potholes due to contemporary trends.

      An early ’70s American full-sizer would be my benchmark. I always slow for curves so “handling” isn’t a concern.

      • 0 avatar
        Marko

        Perhaps this is why full-size trucks and SUVs are so popular – all that suspension travel makes for a smooth ride, at least in theory. I’m sure many CUVs are tuned for a smooth ride as well.

        • 0 avatar
          Kenmore

          Agree and that’s why I miss my Silverado so much. But it was too thirsty to justify its occasional use as a hauler.

          The new Colorado will have my attention, not least because it should easily fit my present garage layout.

        • 0 avatar
          Zykotec

          CR-V’s weren’t tuned for anything smoothish at all until the 3rd generation, which still handles roughly like a normally comfortable mid-sizer…
          My 03′ with H&R springs and Konis was just perfect XD

    • 0 avatar
      golden2husky

      ….Since the average driver takes turns at speeds considerably under the yellow advisory signs I’m guessing most people don’t notice anything in a suspension beyond its ability to soak up expansion joints and potholes….

      Ain’t that the truth. I hate getting stuck behind them when a beautiful, tight sweeper is in front of me. So damn frustrating. I dated a girl who said people were supposed to slow down for curves where I sped up. I dumped her and found a woman who not only got it, but did it too!

    • 0 avatar
      Brian P

      Haha … I try to double the yellow-sign speed. Triple starts getting sketchy!

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    VW’s fortunes in the US are not tied to its suspension calibration, because most US buyers don’t care much about that.

    Maybe VW is struggling due to its ongoing reliability issues, arrogant dealerships, plain styling, cheapened interiors, and high prices. Just a guess.

    • 0 avatar
      vvk

      > Maybe VW is struggling due to its ongoing reliability issues, arrogant
      > dealerships, plain styling, cheapened interiors, and high prices. Just a guess.

      My 2012 Passat has been flawless, dealership service has been terrific (and free,) I love the styling, the interior looks and feels great and the price is exceedingly low.

      I hate it precisely because of its “Americanized” suspension calibration. I put “Americanized” in quotes because I have driven plenty of American cars and none are nearly as bad as my Passat. Not even close.

      • 0 avatar
        PrincipalDan

        @vvk, you’re reminding me of the Car and Driver article that did a first review of the “Americanized Passat” which featured the VW logo recreated with McDonald’s golden arches.

    • 0 avatar
      challenger2012

      I have to agree with this statement,” Maybe VW is struggling due to its ongoing reliability issues, arrogant dealerships, plain styling, cheapened interiors, and high prices.” Years ago, I was looking at a VW. I went into a dealership. I said I will not pay MSRP on the car I was interested in. The salesman said, “No way.” I left. A Couple of years later, the dealership closed, the price you pay for being arrogant.

  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    “The quality of suspension components makes all the difference in the world. To wit, upgrading shocks (Konis, Bilsteins, etc.) on a seemingly terrible suspension can, by magic, make it the best in its class.”

    This is what the haters ignore about certain platforms. Enthusiasts (who are no more rational that fanatics but we shouldn’t judge them for it) will upgrade those components because they are enthusiasts. I’ve seen LeSabres with upgraded shocks and sway bars from Bonneville SSEi models, W-bodys with sway bars taken from Impala SS models, and of course Panther’s with set ups for everything from autocrossing to trying to out pillow the ride of 70s land yachts. Personally I’d like to try out the soft shocks, stiff sway bars thing that was supposed to be a hallmark of the Italians and their suspension tuning.

    Anyway… the only way to know how a ride will be long term is to own the vehicle long term. Or to lease and then at the end of the lease see if the suspension is meeting your expectations.

    • 0 avatar
      Zykotec

      According to the late Colin Chapman, and iirc the engineers at Morgan, swaybars only limit your suspension, and is only used to correct a ‘bad’ design. And springs should have long travel and be ‘soft’ while dampers should be stiff. Theoretically this will work both for handling and comfort. Never tried it myself though…

      • 0 avatar
        Brian P

        Doesn’t make sense. Body roll will eventually stabilize at what the combination of geometric roll center and roll stiffness (determined by spring and antiroll bar rates) settle out to be. Unless the geometric roll center is very high, the above is a recipe for harsh ride quality (the firm dampers will transmit more NVH through) AND a lot of body roll. While body roll is not a direct proxy for grip … it does not help matters if the roll becomes excessive.

        I’m more experienced with tuning roadracing motorcycles than cars. I’d rather use the softest straight-rate springs that I can get away with which keeps both front and rear off the bump stops (still a lot stiffer than many original-equipment springs), firm low-speed compression and rebound damping to control ride motions (inherently transmits a lot of “road feel” – which is good on a race bike), but internal damper valving that “blows off” beyond a certain flow rate (compression or rebound travel speed) to avoid overloading the tires (compression) or avoid having the tires leave contact with the ground (rebound).

        The various German cars that I’ve owned, in my opinion, have slightly higher damping rates than I’d like but slightly softer spring rates than I’d like.

        • 0 avatar
          burgersandbeer

          “Unless the geometric roll center is very high, the above is a recipe for harsh ride quality (the firm dampers will transmit more NVH through) AND a lot of body roll. ” and “The various German cars that I’ve owned, in my opinion, have slightly higher damping rates than I’d like but slightly softer spring rates than I’d like.”

          That sounds about right for my sport package E46, though I’m not sure if it is still working as originally designed (115k miles, original springs and dampers).

          The body roll borders on ridiculous (springs too soft?), while a dip in the road feels more like a free fall (too much rebound damping?). You can really feel the weight transfer to the corners as the car leans, which I suppose is good to keep me informed, but the extent of roll seems unnecessary.

          My E39 was stiff but more consistent. Minimal roll and while I noticed bumps and dips, I didn’t brace for impact. Hell, my Mazda Protege had far less lean without making every dip feel like jumping off a cliff.

          Time for an overhaul or just an overrated design?

          • 0 avatar
            vvk

            > That sounds about right for my sport package
            > E46, though I’m not sure if it is still
            > working as originally designed (115k miles, original springs and dampers).

            My sport package E46 has the best suspension I have ever experienced. Body motions are exceedingly well controlled, impacts “roll over” without jarring, the car feels like it is machined out of a solid chunk of steel. There is almost no body roll. It is extremely responsive and precise, while at the same time when by kids were babies I would always pick this car because the ride was so smooth and quiet. Recently I replaced its shocks with Koni Sport and I am still trying to dial it in — definitely a step back compared to factory setup.

            My M Sport 550i is also very smooth and quiet but not as precise, even on 19″ summer Michelins.

          • 0 avatar
            burgersandbeer

            @vvk

            Either my suspension is shot or this is another case of two people having a very different opinion of the same ride.

            Are problems over dips symptomatic of worn dampers? I don’t really notice any bouncing, excessive dive under braking, cupped tires, or other typical symptoms. There is one stretch of highway that gets pretty bouncy, but it does that to every car I’ve driven over it in.

          • 0 avatar
            vvk

            burgersandbeer, I would start by replacing front lower control arms.

            Also, check your sway bar links to make sure they are still attached.

          • 0 avatar
            burgersandbeer

            vvk, I replaced the control arms with the performance package version for the better ball joints integrated into the arm. Changed bushings as well. I will check on the sway bar links.

    • 0 avatar
      golden2husky

      Now picture a Buick Century with Addco sway bars. Eibach lowering springs, KYB performance adjustable struts, urethane bushings…this thing can lock bumpers with a 3 series on anything twisty….love a sleeper. But ride on this car is awfully stiff, until you are at 80 or so. Then it feels just right

      • 0 avatar
        vvk

        When I got my Passat I had a 1996 Buick Century Wagon with 153k miles. I needed a disposable wagon to haul stuff because we had just moved at the time. That car had a terrific ride compared to my new Passat.

        • 0 avatar
          NoGoYo

          My N-body is stuck with crappy rear suspension…the wheels are on separate arms, but the arms are linked together. It’s some weird semi-independent suspension setup that GM fortunately abandoned for the 2nd gen N bodies.

          • 0 avatar
            Brian P

            Twist axle. Lots of front-drive cars have that suspension arrangement. Some manufacturers get it right (VW used it for decades), others, not so much. The bushings that attach the trailing arms to the chassis are a critical design element.

  • avatar
    honda_lawn_art

    Oh man, ’65 galaxie. Beautiful.

  • avatar
    340-4

    Having grown up driving mushy 60’s cars, I was blown away by the handling of the ’96 Eagle Vision I upgraded to.

    Recent experience:

    Good suspension: 2001.5 Passat. Rest of car: YEURGH.

    Bad suspension: previous gen Impalas. YIKES in the curves; felt like it was going to fly out from under me. Trim level didn’t matter.

    Good suspension: 2012 Maxima. Solid, confident, firm.

    Bad suspension: 2013 Altima. Fine around town, chaotic and not confidence inspiring at speed or in twisties. Doesn’t feel planted.

    Good suspension (surprisingly!): 2014 Charger SXT AWD. This thing feels like the Maxima did, only smoother (wheelbase and weight, and RWD bias is likely behind this). You want to push it, and that rwd bias just feels so right.

    • 0 avatar
      Brian P

      Had a 2013 Altima as a rental a couple months ago, so I can relate. The wacky steering doesn’t help matters. The “weight” of the steering initially feels in the ballpark, but then you realize that whatever is pulling it back to center seemingly has no relationship to cornering force or anything else that the front wheels might be wanting to do.

  • avatar

    Sajeev, let’s not forget that the 2015 Mustang WILL finally have independent rear suspension. I’m interested to see how that “little” tweak will affect sales (not to mention the reviews on handling).

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    Does anyone else think the sudden demise of the Passat can be traced directly to the success of the Ford Fusion? I think so.

    The Passat, like all VWs, has always looked and driven “European.” That’s what made it stand out in a market choked with generic Camry/Accord clones. What held the model back? Simple: price and reliability concerns. That reduced the market for the Passat, in essence, to VW fanboys, which is a narrow slice of the market.

    The latest-gen Passat addressed the price issues (and the jury’s out on the reliability rap), and while the Euro-sedan DNA was somewhat muted, enough of it shone through to create a pretty unique product – a Camry/Accord clone with a very different flavor, at a reasonable price. That’s why it sold so well. All those buyers who always wanted a European flavored sedan at a reasonable price finally had one.

    Enter the Fusion, which also “drives European,” at a similar price point to the Camry/Accord, without VW’s quality rep, and Ford’s massive dealer network to trade on, and suddenly the Terror from Tennessee has real competition. Oh, and yes…the Fusion looks like a freakin’ Aston Martin.

    Any wonder that the Passat’s sales have dropped off so badly? I don’t think there’s much question about it.

    • 0 avatar
      Zykotec

      As a Norwegian I still can’t quite get my head around the fact that the Passat is something special in the US, while here it is basically what the CamCords are over there,only it’s usually a wagon, with a diesel, and a manual, and without the reliability…and the good looks (subjective, I know)

    • 0 avatar
      LeeK

      This is the best assessment I’ve seen of the issue. VW chose to downplay the Europeanness of the Passat for higher volume sales against the Japanese, Korean, and American competition. It worked to a degree — US sales doubled in five years for the brand, but it has now stalled due to two factors: the competition got even better (particularly the Fusion and the Accord), and VW doesn’t have competitive products in the red hot CUV segment. The Wall Street Journal article is misguided, as the average customer wouldn’t know a thing about suspension setup on a vehicle and coulddn’t tell the difference in a double-blind test.

      Certain posters repeatedly bringing up their horror stories of early 2000s VW that were reliability nightmares keep ignoring the fact that as a brand VW reliability is up. They are slowly climbing from the bottom of the ratings to about mid-pack (right with Hyundai, according to Consumer Reports), which is no small feat considering that all brands are improving at the same time. But why deal with facts rather than dispense anecdotal snark?

  • avatar

    Not being an expert like our 1-post guest Ahmad Khan, I suspect that tire design changed quite a bit around 1990s. Before, the roll-under was a significant effect, so suspensions often were made to change camber when compressed. Mercedes used to take that road to ridiculous extents. The Dunlop D60 and its contemporaries had a significant band along the edge of the thread that the car was supposed to ride in a corner. Then, over some 5 or 7 years, magic happened. These days I can see pick-ups corner on 55% aspect tires with almost no roll-under. If I am correct about the tire evolution, the suspensions must’ve changed too. If the tire is designed to work best when kept upright, the rear beam axle is suddenly a sensible choice, and sway bars are vital to maintain optimum geometry rather than “fixing bad design”.

    Anyhow, I wish Sajeev or B&B shared some concrete tips for evaluating suspensions on test drives. I refuse to belive that such skill cannot be operationalized and taught.

    • 0 avatar
      Brian P

      Sure, it can be taught. The length of time for a normal test drive and the road conditions available might limit some of what can be done, but I’ll get an idea in the first five minutes if something is in the ballpark or is out to lunch. If the vehicle in question is available as a rental car, that’s one option for getting an extended test drive, and I just might have done that once or twice …

      The steering is something I pay most attention to. If it is turn-with-a-pinkie-finger light under all circumstances, FAIL. (Toyota/Lexus, listen up. Every one of your current products – possibly save the FT86 which I have not driven! – fail instantly on this point.)

      The next thing is to establish whether the self-centering has any relationship to cornering force. This is trickier and might require something like a big parking lot to set up your own little corner or slalom course, and it certainly requires going at an enthusiastic pace … take a corner multiple times if possible, gradually going faster and cornering harder, and note how it feels. While already cornering, turn the steering in a bit more to ask the car to turn in more and see how it feels … possibly asking it to go a smidge beyond the traction limit. It’s possible, or even likely, that you will establish that the steering centering force has little relationship to cornering force well before you actually get to a traction limit. If that happens … FAIL! (Hyundai, Nissan, Chrysler, pay attention here. 2013 Altima FAIL. Chrysler 200 FAIL.) There are some obvious limitations to being able to do this on public roads … but the steering on the Altima and Chrysler 200 just feel wrong even in normal non-straight-line driving. The 200 even feels wrong when going straight. (Lousy feel just off-center prompts overcorrecting when driving straight – at least, that’s how the rental felt)

      Find a corner with a mid-corner bump or dip. Go around it, see what happens.

      On a recent business trip, I had occasion to do a detour through Deals Gap and surrounding area. Knowing that this was a possibility … my rental-car pick was a Ford Focus, because among common rental cars, in my opinion, those have the best-sorted suspension and steering. The steering initially feels a smidge overassisted relative to, say, a VW Golf 6 (which is the best-driving “normal” car that I know of), but when you corner harder, the steering still feels right on those.

      One thing to keep in mind is that whether a car is “fun” or not has little relationship to whether it is “fast”. It’s often more entertaining, and certainly less license-busting, to explore modest performance limits at a moderate pace, rather than high limits at a higher speed where the consequences of an error are much greater. There are many cars out there that are not particularly fast, and some that are outright slow, which are way more entertaining than they have any right to be, and certainly more entertaining than some so-called professional reviews (who often do tests and go by the numbers) would lead you to believe. And there are others that are high-powered wide-tire-equipped rubbish.

      • 0 avatar
        NMGOM

        Brian P – – –

        “One thing to keep in mind is that whether a car is “fun” or not has little relationship to whether it is “fast”. It’s often more entertaining, and certainly less license-busting, to explore modest performance limits at a moderate pace, rather than high limits at a higher speed where the consequences of an error are much greater. There are many cars out there that are not particularly fast, and some that are outright slow, which are way more entertaining than they have any right to be, and certainly more entertaining than some so-called professional reviews (who often do tests and go by the numbers) would lead you to believe. And there are others that are high-powered wide-tire-equipped rubbish.”

        Absolutely spot on! That’s why I bought a simple 2007 Jeep Wrangler “X”, with which I have a lot of fun, as opposed to the BMW Z4, which, with one more ticket, will probably cost my license! In order to have fun with a high-end sports car, you have to drive near its limits (or ultimate capabilities). If you do that, you are WAY beyond speed limits in most areas.

        —————–

  • avatar
    Volt 230

    My 93 Corolla with KYB struts handles just fine unless I try to go faster than a Corolla should.

    • 0 avatar
      bumpy ii

      That generation was more or less a bigger body on the AE90 chassis, which meant MacPhersons up front and three links in the rear. Japan got the hot-dog sporty versions, but the basic bones were there.

  • avatar
    Seminole 95

    Thanks all for the interesting comments. Golden2Husky, I am jealous, my wife hates it when I fly into a turn.

    As side comments, I drove the new Accord. It did not seem as planted and seemed busy. I have also driven my Dad’s pricey 2012 Lexus ES350 Hybrid, it seems like they put lipstick on a pig. I could tell they put a lot of sound deadening material in it, but underneath it, the suspension seemed very busy and always searching for the road. But alas, maybe it was my imagination on a short test drive, I wish there were more objective standards for suspensions. I second Pete’s suggestion above.

  • avatar
    tedward

    I’d say a poor suspension can be attributed to two main factors, the quality and tuning of the dampers used and (less so) the stiffness of the car’s chassis itself. Car companies cheap out on suspension components…period. Until you get to the top end of the OEM market you cannot buy a suspension which matches the control and consistency of even a set of Bilstein sports (which are considered good quality but far from the top end of the aftermarket.) The solution is to buy a car with good bones (stiff chassis, good steering, other things you like) and then radically improve everything about the cars handling with a damper upgrade. In this way the suspension industry is exactly like the car audio scene…Panasonic will always have a nicer unit for less available, even if they supplied your own car’s OEM unit themselves.

    Suspension design or layout has almost nothing to do with it, it’s down to component quality (at least for street use) and appropriateness of application. The 500+hp Mustang for instance, probably shouldn’t have a solid rear axle but pair up some nice dampers with a fwd C segment live rear axle setup and you can get phenomenal results (and save significant weight as a bonus.) Exceptions can always be made here for exceptional engineering.

    As far as evaluating suspension on a test drive…I think you just need to drive a lot of cars back to back, but you really really need to control for tire type and size (or self educate and account for it in your head.) The main signs of a poor or worn suspension are diagonal suspension movements and cars that take a long time to settle after a bump or are inconsistent in their efforts to do so. Good signs are consistency and suspension movements that feel like they are isolated to each corner and moving in as few directions as possible. If you drive two cars that are equally soft or hard those would be the characteristics I’d use to separate them. Hope thats helpful to the people asking questions above.

    To summarize…if your car doesn’t have an aggressive and expensive acronym attached to it’s trim name you do not already own a high quality suspension, even if it made by Sachs, bilstein, etc…

  • avatar
    rpn453

    Different strokes for different folks. Just make sure your test drives are thorough and you’ll weed out the stuff you don’t like.

  • avatar
    NMGOM

    How do we determine quantitatively, what a bad suspension is?
    Everyone can always have an opinion, but numbers would let us know if our impressions are right, and to what degree.

    We certainly have two major ways to measure horizontal cornering performance: skid-pad and slalom.

    But what about “vertical performance”, which we commonly call ride quality? How to measure that?

    Well, if some sort of accelerometer (like a seismometer for earthquakes) where attached to the following places on a car, it would do just that:
    1) The lower suspension arm, where it is attached to the wheel;
    2) The floor on the passenger’s side (or a side panel on the car);
    3) The passenger’s seat itself, on the cushion.

    It should not take too much guessing to see that the first tells you what the suspension has to deal with; the second tells you what the car has to deal with; and the third tells you what the human has to deal with. Some of the motion-vs.-time traces, their maxima, and their slopes, could be quantified for measurements in all three cases.

    But what about standard test roads specific for this ride quality?

    I could suggest three things:
    1) A straight smooth concrete road with 1/2-inch high by 1-inch wide metal bars going straight across it, separated by 20 feet. There could be 10 such bars. These would simulate severe expansion joint or tar-strip conditions on real roads;
    2) A straight smooth concrete road with 2-inch deep by 1-foot long metal trenches or troughs embedded into the concrete, running half-way across the road, but then staggered with another trench coming from the other side. Each half-trench could be separated by 20 feet. This would be meant to measure, not surprisingly, pot holes (mild ones at that!).
    3) An undulating straight road surface with sinusoidal “waves” that are perhaps 3 inches high and have a wavelength of 10 feet. 10 such cycles could be molded as concrete into the concrete road. These would measure the ability of the vehicle to handle larger scale, uneven road surfaces;

    Perhaps the testing could be done for:
    1) City speeds, say about 30 mph;
    2) Back-road highway speeds, say about 60 mph.

    Anyone have any feelings on this idea?

    ——————–

    • 0 avatar
      Brian P

      The trouble is that every spring-mass system (like your car) has a certain natural frequency at which it will vibrate. If you strike that frequency just right and there is not enough damping, it can lead to excessive ride motions, but if you take the SAME vehicle and change only the frequency of repeated bumps and only change it slightly, it gets away from the natural frequency and the problem does not manifest itself. Every vehicle has a natural ride frequency (actually, normally, separate frequencies for front and rear vertical motions and for roll!) but the degree to which they are dealt with varies – and that is the job of the dampers …

      For pickup trucks (which normally have stiff rear suspension with leaf springs for load-carrying reasons) the issue is called “freeway hop” – go to youtube and search that term (and ignore the videos that are obviously from the low-rider crowd)

      For suspension quality, personally, I’m less concerned with the ride motion and more with reactions to mid-corner bumps or dips while cornering – and the dampers make a huuuuuge difference here. My previous car was a 2006 Jetta Mk5 with stock dampers, and it would step sideways at the rear on some corners with choppy pavement – not for lack of good suspension geometry (multi-link IRS on that car) – but my dad now has a 2011 Golf which has the same basic suspension design (completely interchangeable, in fact) but different damper calibration, and having driven that car, they appear to have sorted out the issue. I suspect that the Jetta dampers had a bit too much high-speed rebound damping and they weren’t letting the wheels droop down into dips quickly enough to follow the road.


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