“Nothing handles like a Porsche 911” - said a new found friend.
Technically, he’s correct. But I could also say ”Nothing handles like a 1993 Ford Taurus”, or “Nothing handles like an Abrams Tank”. Because each of these cars/tanks are unique, of course they don’t handle like each other.
Nonetheless, he was trying to make a point about handling so I decided to continue listening (even though I often pretend to listen by nodding my head and making the “mmmm” noise). As we progressed, he kept asking me if I thought a particular model of car was “good at handling”.
- The McLaren 12C - of course
- The Dodge Viper - yes, with all the normal caveats about personal safety (it tries to kill you occasionally, but corners well)
- The E39 M5 - yes (great steering feel and turn-in for a big car) ... and no at the same time (lots of understeer at the limit).
- The Fiat 500 electric I just purchased - no, well maybe actually yes (it always understeers when driven hard, but I can park it anywhere, and its got nice steering for an electric car)
Then I decided “good handling” is crap. Its a rubbish term for a composition of attributes - steering feel, cornering limits, damping effectiveness, slalom speeds, cornering G, turning radius, likelihood to kill, etc. Furthermore, everyone prioritizes these attributes entirely differently to where the term becomes meaningless.
- To the car enthusiast? Cornering velocity, steering feel, and the likelihood to kill are probably the most important items in “handling”
- To the average driver? Maneuverability (tight turning), and steering feel dominate.
- To the modern BMW driver? How stiffly the car is sprung/damped directly correlates to how good handling his/her 3 series is.
Talking about handling across an audiences is useless - so why do we insist on lumping all of these terms together? I can’t answer if a car is “good handling” because you and I may be talking about different things!
But strangely ... I can answer if a given car is “bad handling”. This means it has no endearing quality about any way it changes direction. I owned a 1998 Ford F150.
- Steering feel? Nope, it simply didn’t have it. I wasn’t even convinced the front wheels were connected to the steering wheel. Which is part of why I drove it into a completely stationary pillar at 5 mph on accident.
- Cornering velocity? Just no
- Damping effectiveness? This was primarily controlled by how much crap was in the rear bed
- Spring stiffness? Incredibly stiff, BMW drivers would love this
- Likelihood to kill? High. Its like having Stevie Wonder at the wheel.
So, I’ve decided that when anyone asks me if a vehicle “handles good” (should be “handles well” for proper grammar) - I just reply “It doesn’t have bad handling”.