As a Vehicle Dynamics engineer, I would be expected to know the definition of handling. Wikipedia says ‘’the way a wheeled vehicle responds and reacts to the inputs of a driver, as well as how it moves along a track or road’’. I should also know what good handling is and how to achieve it. Mass properties, roll, pitch and yaw inertias, suspension and tyre characteristics, aerodynamic lift and yaw effects…. (the list continues) all need to be considered. But what is good handling?
For me, good handling equates to driver confidence; achieved through consistency of response by the car to my inputs.
When developing the Rover 75 chassis concepts, there was much discussion about the kinematic and compliance characteristics of the axles. It was vital that we achieved good handling from the outset, as the intention was to provide exemplary ride comfort. Softer suspension, large wheel travels and compliance provide comfort, but soon expose any handling deficiencies. Imagine a weave test conducted at 150km/h on a test track. Apply a step steer input to change direction. As the car settles, does it describe the arc you intended, or does it continue to tighten its line – in effect creating a spiral? As speeds and inputs increase, this can sap driver confidence and (worst case) lead to a spin. My boss at BMW described this as ‘aufziehen’ (but my recollection of the spelling may be incorrect). I have used this term ever since as a simple way to describe a complex event.
So, does Rover 75 handle well? Substantial changes were made during both concept and development phases. Adopting a perimeter front subframe and modifying the steering lever geometry improved sideforce steer linearity. At the rear, a new concept was utilised. This started with the arrival of a large crate (containing a complete BMW 3 series rear axle) at our workshop in the Flight Shed at Longbridge, with the obvious message ‘try this’. We fitted it to our mule car (a Rover 620ti, with Rover 75 suspension components). This axle was further optimised (making use of the space vacated by the differential) and became the production solution. The result? Linearity and driver confidence. Good handling. Unflappable.
Just before launch, the head of the BMW performance team tried my test car at the Nuerburgring Nordschleiffe and was impressed. Single steering inputs with finger and thumb, without the need for correction. As we began the descent from the highest point of the track, he turned to me with a grin and suggested we would now start to catch up the other performance cars who had previously passed us on the uphill stretch. Flat out and unflappable. A great handling demonstration!
Rover 75 provided a great basis for creating MG ZT. We only had to develop the desired sporting character as the linearity and confidence were already in place.
I was delighted to see a recent article (‘Can you handle it?’) in Autocar magazine (19th February 2020) by senior contributing writer Andrew Frankel. His definition of handling? ‘the ability of a car to execute the instructions of its driver’. The article gives a great insight into what makes a satisfying car to drive. Well worth a read, especially as I agree with him! (See my blog ‘Are you sitting comfortably’ from 5th January 2020).
I wrote an internal MG Rover document in October 2000 to outline the dynamic targets for future MG products, starting with MGTF. It included ‘’increased confidence via consistency of response to driver inputs, more progression at the limit of adhesion, better agility through linear steer response and to sit ‘in’ rather than ‘on’ the car.’’ A nice fit with Andrew’s thoughts. By the way, MGTF handles well if the geometry is set correctly. Unfortunately, production tolerances often robbed cars of their ability to shine. So, our fully adjustable replacement lower arms will come to the rescue!
I have had the pleasure of meeting Andrew a few times. The first was at a low key (no budget!) launch of MG ZT260 at Mallory Park race circuit. We had a couple of cars, a few hours and no PR team, so no excuse not to perfect our powerslide techniques…….
Handling? Can also be defined as the enjoyment of driving.