Rarely does a week go by when someone doesn’t politely suggest that car reviewers might be a little too focused on a car’s ride and handling.
Yes, a sports car has to steer like it's on rails and a luxury car needs to feel plush, but why does the suspension and steering tune matter so much on an A-to-B buzzbox?
Surely it’s cabin space and layout, infotainment, fuel economy and running costs that are more important to most buyers, right? Aren’t we in journo Lala Land remiss to focus our attention elsewhere?
Yes and no. Obviously, all of those things are vitally important. And, given the fact that spoiled car journalists spend much of their time in borrowed press cars (tough life, hey), one that’s easy to overlook.
But I’d retort that a car’s ride and handling affects every single owner every bit as much as the touchscreen, fuel use or servicing costs. Even if said owner isn’t a ‘car person’ and can’t articulate things the way a professional test driver might.
Simply put, a car with well-sorted springs, dampers and stabiliser bars, well-matched tyres, a good steering tune, and a balanced chassis will make you happier for every minute you’re in it, will make you less stressed, and will make you safer.
You may not ever really notice a car riding well, but you can be sure you'll notice one that doesn't.
A car that rounds off sharp inputs, doesn’t shake over low amplitude ruts and maintains good body control over undulations and through corners will subtly make every dreary work commute more cosseting. Just as much as a good sound system will.
A car with good noise, vibration and harshness (NVH) insulation will be less wearying and taxing than one without. Just like a car with good Bluetooth phone quality will.
A car with consistent linear steering free of excessive resistance will be easier on the arms and more predictable, just like a car with a ‘just right’ seat height and good hip point will.
And a car with good spring/damper tune will keep your tyres on the road more effectively, and will therefore make the car safer, just like all the fancy electronic tools and active safety technologies will. It all comes down to your contact patch, after all.
Frankly, the cars that impress me most are offerings such as the Australian-tuned Hyundai Tucson, Holden Spark and Ford Everest, or the Germanic Volkswagen Golf. In my view, all of these lead their segments for ride comfort and handling balance.
Conveniently, this also makes them feel quite premium. A car with an austere, basic cabin bereft of features can be made to feel like an upmarket choice if it rides like a cloud without wallowing about like a cork in the ocean.
Sure, most people won’t be able to explain in technical jargon why their car’s ride and handling matters, but you can bet your bottom dollar that they know a comfortable, safe and even fun-to-drive car, regardless of segment, when they are behind the wheel.
Ride and handling vernacular isn’t as accessible as infotainment or safety tech talk, but it matters just as much. And that’s why we hone in on it.