Last week I went to see Prodrive to talk about the differences in road surfaces in the UK and in Europe (among other things) and before I went I invited you lot to come up with your own questions.
So here, in no particular order, are the answers to those questions – provided by Prodrive’s head of vehicle dynamics, Matt Taylor.
Which manufacturer has the best vehicles for compromise between ride and handling over their whole range - for UK roads? (bentleyboy)
This is a difficult question to give a definitive answer. First, the ride and handling compromise is, in part, something of a myth: many of the aspects of good handling (grip for example) necessitate a good ride. A vehicle with no body accelerations would have perfect ride isolation and exceptional handling.
As for which manufacturer has the best compromise: this is difficult to answer as much is down to personal preference. Jaguar has a long history of building cars for the home market and, without a doubt, remains a strong contender. Increasingly, many of the other brands are including the UK as part of their ride and handling development schedule to use the wide variety of surfaces we have on offer. Often the particular ride and handling characteristic of a vehicle is determined by the behaviour that the vehicle manufacturers think their customers want. This is often why a range of cars for certain manufacturers often feels similar to drive.
Should smaller wheels with higher profile tyres become an option for the UK. And would longer travel suspension as used to be favoured by the French help with damper calibration? (jerry99)
This question sounds like this may well be a ‘soap box’ of yours – not to worry, it’s one of mine too. Indeed the wheels and tyres on my previous vehicle accounted for over 100kg and, including their inertia, increased the effective mass of the vehicle by over 13 per cent.
Unarguably, the main driver for both low ride height and big wheels is vehicle styling, but from a ride and handling viewpoint there are lots of reasons to stay away from both. However, some of the younger chaps in Prodrive’s chassis department find the lower cornering stiffness of higher profile tyres difficult to accept. I guess that means while most dynamics engineers would welcome cars with smaller wheels with higher profile tyres, the high/low profile discussion is less clear cut.
I don’t think anyone argues against long travel suspension, but there are many reasons why it can be difficult to achieve. For example: pedestrian impact requirements necessitate lower front strut towers;, styling often likes a lower bonnet line; and good interior volume – in the boot for example – is more important to many people than ride.How does the road surface impact on road noise? I always notice heading off the Eurotunnel at the French end that there is less road noise, and my car seems comparatively quiet, why is that? Some cars (notably Japanese) seem to shout unacceptably loudly on UK roads. Is that the road, the car design - or just the tyres that need to be improved? (Big S)
Road surface has an enormous impact on road noise. Noise is a vibration and the vibration in a car is pretty much generated by two things: the road and the engine. The engine generates a pretty consistent range of excitation whereas the road is incredibly diverse.
As for the Eurotunnel experience – it’s difficult to say. In part, I’d say you’ve probably not long left the M25 on the UK side and so, by the time you’ve reached the ferry, the tinnitus from the dreadful Southern section hasn’t quite subsided. On the other side of the tunnel the roads are pretty good.
Is it the road, cars or tyres that need to be improved? All three influence the noise in probably equal measures and, to be fair, all are improving with time. If road noise irks you, then you could do well to play with the tyres on your car. That sounds expensive – and it is – but I’ve blessed eBay with some nearly new tyres on more than one occasion because they weren’t to my taste.
Is the low noise, low spray, high quality tarmac that one comes across only occasionally in the UK made from recycled glass? (Chuffy)
Bah! The embarassment – I have no idea.
Are oleomagnetic dampers the way to go or will active ride return in some form to improve ride? (Pagani1)
Generalising, there are two camps for adaptive damping in whatever guise. The first is in the luxury end where the adaptive dampers are fitted in order to keep the vehicle competitive and the cost is swallowed in the ticket price: Jaguar XJ, BMW 7-Series, etc.
The second is where the dampers are fitted as an option that the customer pays for. In the latter case, there is a trap. If the customer is to pay, then there’s usually a need for a switch to show he has the system. If there’s a switch, then there’s a need for the switch to make a noticeable difference.
Too often what you end up with is a ‘soft’ setting, which feels like some be-winged American monster from an Elvis Presley film, and a ‘sport’ setting that feels like someone’s just invented solid damper oil. In reality, the difference in damper calibration should be subtle.
It’s a tough problem and, unfortunately, without a greater take up at the lower end of the market, the volumes aren’t there to encourage vehicle manufacturers to offer them. We who care about such things – such as the readership of Autocar, – are but a small piece of the car buying public.
To your other comment about active – it’s difficult to say which way things will go.Is British tarmac too coarse grained, generally speaking, to provide a whisper-quiet ride? (ss)
I don’t think we can talk about ‘British’ tarmac – it varies so much. Certainly we have some stretches of road which use very low noise surfaces and some which are just unpleasant. Noise is very subjective and I often wonder if our surface changes are the biggest enemy. Autobahns, for example, are just noisy – you get on them and they’re noisy and you gradually block out the noise. In the UK, we keep introducing stretches of super-quiet tarmac that ‘reset’ our ears so that we then feel the full impact of the noisy surface when we return to it.
It’s just a thought.
Why is Jaguar still the best at balancing the ride/handling compromise in the UK, on UK roads? (Pagani1)
Jaguar has a very good process for ensuring a consistency of behaviour and its been making cars in the UK for a very long time. Jaguar has an enormous familiarity with our roads, the twists, the turns, the lumps and the bumps so it makes sense that it knows how to achieve its goals.
As for being the best? I’m sure I know people down the road who would be glad to hear your views and I have to say: Jag’s recent offerings really are rather good.
(Many thanks to you good people for asking the questions, and to Matt Taylor from Prodrive for providing the answers)