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A Layman’s Guide To Handling

A Layman’s Guide To Handling

Whenever there is talk about cars the conversation will eventually come around to handling. Television pundits talk about this as if of the holy grail but if the average owner tried what he saw on the box then pretty soon he would be disappearing backwards into the local undergrowth. Because of this passion for driving and the need for safety, manufacturers tend to invest quite a lot of time and money into the science of how a car handles.

Handling refers to how a car responds to driver input in corners. In other words, the better the handling the faster a corner can be dealt with although, of course, you don’t always have to exploit this to the max! How well a car handles is largely a function of the car’s suspension – comfort issues aside — which comprise the parts that attach the wheels to the car and allow them to move up and down. The steering and tyres as well as the vehicle’s weight also play major roles.

It is easy to assume that handling is only really relevant to high performance cars but that isn’t so. Handling comes into play in emergencies and we all experience those from time to time. If you have to swerve to avoid an accident, your car’s handling is very relevant. A car that handles well will respond more crisply and predictably to your  steering and braking inputs, for example. Understanding how this works makes for a better driver.

A poorly handling car will lose grip more quickly and loss of control is swiftly followed by a spin or slide as the inevitable outcome. Better handling requires stiffer suspension, which makes for a harder and often less comfortable ride so the car makers have to come up with a decent compromise. Some manufacturers do a better job than others in this regard but by and large this compromise is, ahem, handled well. Obviously the cheaper the car the less likely it is that it will handle well but then that is to be expected.

It is of course perfectly possible to change how a car behaves. Changing tyres, for example, will have an effect. A car fitted with tyres built to improve economy and wear will not be as effective at the limit than tyres built for performance. That’s the trade-off. It is also possible to change suspension components to give a better handling ride but this will always be at the expense of comfort.

This sort of do-it-yourself approach is all very well but the car has to be up to the job. A vehicle that is meant as a family run-around will not really be up to sports car handling whatever you do. Best to buy the right vehicle from the outset. If you want handling to be a priority then buy a car that’s built for performance straight off the shelf.

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- who has written 474 posts on Motor Blogger.

Geoff is a freelance writer and photographer.

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