Power, as they say, is nothing without control, and that couldn’t be truer than when it comes to cars. Everybody gets giddy about brake horsepower this and torque that. They boast their 0-60s and their track day lap times, but all of that is meaningless without one thing: handling.
A car’s ability to handle is what makes it win or lose, what makes it joy or a chore, it is the essence of the car. You can have 1,000bhp, but without the means to translate that to something usable on the roads, it may as well be 100bhp.
And handling is actually more important than power. A bold statement we’re sure you’ll agree, but one with merit. A car with only a small amount of power, but that handles brilliantly, can be a lot more fun than something pushing out big numbers.
Handling is always accessible, whether you’re going 10mph or 100mph. Power isn’t. but if you still need convincing, here are ten reasons why we think handling is the most important vehicular attribute.
Being at one with your car is a wonderful thing. That sense of being in perfect harmony. You know what’s going on, you can feel every response to your every input. This is what good handling affords you, it creates that link between man and machine, and that means you have more fun.
If your handling is off there is no way you can have any confidence in your car. Will it understeer, will it oversteer? There’s no way of knowing if your handling is all over the shop. It makes your car unpredictable and frankly, scary. And who wants to deal with that every time they get behind the wheel?
Quite obvious this one, and it sort of feeds into point number two, but decent handling means your car is ultimately a lot safer. But not just when you’re on the limit.
In everyday driving, if you’re presented with sudden hazard, a car that handles will get out of the way, it will go where you point it without hesitation. So you won’t hit whatever jumped out on you.
There’s a reason race teams hire suspension experts. It’s because suspension that’s well set can win races, and that’s a fact. With good handling, cornering is more direct, the car ‘loads up’ when you want it to, and when you’re coming out of the corner, it can put the power down cleanly and quickly. Hello podium.
You may remember out suspension guide, in which we talked about things like camber, and tracking, and toe in and toe out. All these elements contribute to a car’s handling, and if they’re off, it means bad things for your tyres. They’re scrub, they’ll wear and they’ll be junk in no time if your suspension is skew-wiff.
As we said at the beginning, power means nothing without control. But it’s different the other way around, because control can still be everything without power. If you have a 50bhp Lupo you’ll still have an absolute riot if it handles well.
Leave the engine, fit some decent suspension instead and you’ll be able to play with every horse your engine has.
Handling isn’t all about being low and fast. Car manufacturers labour for months over the suspension, brakes and tyres of even the most wafty of cars. That’s because handling can see to it that a car is serene and peaceful, rather than being jarring and unpleasant.
If you have got a car running big power, you need to be able to put it onto the road. Soft suspension won’t do the job, weak brakes won’t keep it in check and budget tyres are just going to break traction at every given opportunity.
So for every bit of power you add, do the same to the chassis. That way, you’re not wasting money on power you can never use.
Decent handling, as we said in point one, connects you to your car. It takes out the unknowns, and by doing so, you get proper feedback from your car. And then, when you push it, you’ll feel it slide, you’ll feel it reach its limit, you’ll know what it’s doing, so you can hone and perfect your driving accordingly.
A car you can happily chuck about is just more fun. It can turn the commute into something you look forward to rather than dread. It makes every journey an event, something exciting and rewarding. And lets fact it, isn’t that what driving should be about?