A comment several articles ago on quantifying ride evaluation (the ‘ass-o-meter’ as one commenter put it) lodged in my brain. It reminded me that I never expanded on the additional data acquired during this magazine test three summers ago. I’ll do that here, add a few words on the timed track testing and then give you hungry readers some enticing graphs, to balance out my verbose ramblings (wink wink!).
In the last article, we explored what influences a suspension to ‘feel sporty’ vs. actually deliver better performance. A great car rewards us with a sublime driving experience while many (most?) let us down in a various ways. As part of that article, I dove into fairly technical terms without much introduction, so I’m taking a step back to do an overview and define a few terms. Then, I’ll get into the real meat of Suspension Truth and why we’re on The Truth About Cars – more seat-of-the-pants impressions tied to juicy technical details and real-world test data like shock dyno graphs, 3-axis accelerometer results – even raw shock velocity measurements from our Aim EVO system! From here we’ll be able to give metrics for different vehicles and see what we like and what we’d like to improve.
Edit: Now with updated graph
So, what the heck does a manufacturer mean when they offer a ‘Sport Suspension’ and is it something you actually want? While I haven’t examined every version available, themes have carried through various makes/models, so what follows are safe generalizations. I even throw in a dyno chart!
Our newest segment, “Suspension Truth”, comes to us courtesy of Shaikh J Ahmad. An engineer by training, Shaikh is the owner of Fat Cat Motorsports, and a self-styled “Suspension Wizard”. Shaikh creates custom suspension components for a variety of cars, including the Mazda Miata and RX-8, the Nissan 350Z, Mini Cooper and Honda S2000. Back when I had my 1997 Miata, I ordered a set of coilovers from Shaikh, based on his reputation for creating suspension setups with a previously unheard of balance between ride and handling. The Fat Cat coilovers are one of the few products I’ve ever bought that were able to live up to the hype. Over the next few weeks, Shaikh will delve into the science of suspensions, and provide his own analysis of a number of production cars.
What’s your least memorable train ride? Simple question, right? If you’re reading this, I’m going to assume all of them. Unless a screenwriter threw you into an adventure film without your consent, it’s what we’d expect. This brings to mind a popular driving metaphor – ‘handles like it’s on rails.’ That’s our ideal in suspension tuning, to be glued to the ground and also as comfortable as possible. Easy when you’ve controlled every degree of freedom as with a train track and groomed earth beneath.
Size and weight are a big part of GM’s DNA. They beat Ford not with a frontal assault on the Model T but by offering a larger, heavier, flashier car. They thought they could do the same to BMW. But, even as the Bavarians packed on the inches and pounds, car buyers “in the know” saw the additional size and weight of Cadillacs as a sign that the General either lacked technical competence or just didn’t “get it.” Well, maybe the “new GM” really is different. With the 2013 Cadillac ATS, the company has pulled out all the stops to directly challenge the BMW 3-Series with a rear-wheel-drive car that is—surprise—a few tenths of an inch smaller and a few pounds lighter. Could the people who tried to sell us the Cimmaron have gotten this one right?
I hoped that BMW’s GT concept would be a one-and-done type of experiment, like the X6 or the Two-Mode hybrid drivetrain, selling as badly as it is. No such luck. Auto Motor und Sport has caught a forthcoming 3 Series GT prototype wallowing and leaning its way around a test track in Germany. That’s right, what you’re looking at right there is a 3 series… a nameplate that’s synonymous with sharp handling and a nailed-down ride. And just look at it, leaning on its tip-toes like a dune buggy that’s been developed by a French suspension engineer. Unless of course this isn’t a 3er GT at all, but the planned X4 ”SAV”… but then, how is anyone supposed to even tell the difference between the two? One’s a softer, slightly larger, slightly jacked-up fastback 3 series, while the other is… essentially the same thing? Talk about losing the plot…
Three-wheeled cars offer unique advantages in aerodynamic design and build costs, but they also work from a fundamental disadvantage in terms of handling. Put simply, three wheels can not possibly generate the same levels of mechanical grip as a four-wheel design. EV startup Aptera, which recently unveiled its “design intent” 2e EV, found out just how hard it can be to make a three-wheeled design operate to mainstream standards during shakedowns for the Automotive X-Prize in which it is competing.