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Friday 20th April 2012

Ringside Seat: does the 'ring ruin road cars?

It's an ongoing debate, one Dale stokes further with a visit to Jaguar's Nurburgring test centre



Testing cars at the Nurburgring, does it really ruin a perfectly good car? It's a topic that's rumbled on for some time. Indeed, if you've ever watched Top Gear you've probably seen one side of this argument. That cars tested and tuned on the Nordschleife are rubbish, apparently. James May, in particular, has been known to single out Nurburgring tuned cars as being crashy, over-damped and generally 'ruined'.

Great on the 'ring but what about elsewhere?
Great on the 'ring but what about elsewhere?
Sometimes I agree. Take, for example, the superb in many ways Vauxhall Corsa VXR Nurburgring. It's a beast of a hot hatch and will bloody the nose of many cars twice its size on any racetrack you choose. This car was designed to be lots of fun to drive fast, and also to specifically bring home a Nurburgring lap time.

But if you bought this car expecting it to be good in traffic, or commuting over the speed bumps of south London, you'd be gutted. And I would have to agree with May. The suspension is tuned to deliver a constant report of every bump and ripple right to your brain via your arse and hands. The pointy steering and Drexler LSD allow a quick driver to steer from the rear and then plant the pedal down on every corner exit. None of these things make the car 'better' for the average use that James May thinks it will see.

GT-R wears 'ring development on its sleeve
GT-R wears 'ring development on its sleeve
Is that the Nurburgring's fault? Or Vauxhall's? Or the consumer's for buying into it? Does anybody really buy the hottest ever Corsa then complain that it's stiff and too responsive?

No, no and no. These headline-grabbing laptime cars such as the Corsa VXR or even Nissan GT-R only prove that a fast car around the Nurburgring is a little stiffer than the average driver might like. They're not ruined, they're doing what they're supposed to.

So next I looked at a brand of car not really known for any laptimes right now, but is still extensively tested around the Nurburgring Nordscheife - Jaguar. It has been bringing its cars to the 'ring since the 70s, and in 2003 it cemented its position here with its Nurburgring Test Centre. Every single Jaguar model gets a Nurburgring workout.

Jaguar now has a permanent presence
Jaguar now has a permanent presence
"A test car is driven 390 laps around the Nordschleife and that's over 5,000 miles" confirms Jaguar's European Engineering Team Leader Phil Talboys. "Durability cars are driven enthusiastically lap after lap, looking for problems. But it's not just reliability that's improved. Input is taken from the ride and the handling too, and put together with data from roads and tracks around the world."

The only laptime Phil mentions is a 'target' for the durability test drivers to hit. But even then, he's coy. "Let's just call it a laptime plus X," he says, "so that we know the car is being consistenly hard enough."

Phil Talboys runs Jag testing at the 'ring
Phil Talboys runs Jag testing at the 'ring
Models like the XF are known for their combination of sporty handling with ride quality that turns even the harshest surface into a silent deep-pile carpet of effortlessness. (Unless it's cold - Ed) Even the velvet-padded sledgehammer that is the XFR doesn't come with a laptime on the window sticker.

So back to the question; does the Nürburgring ruin cars? No, not in my opinion, at least. The marketing types can sell it to the wrong people, the engineers can focus on laptimes instead of ride quality and you or I can simply buy the wrong car for our needs. But the Nordschleife remains a great place to consistently push a car to the limits.


Video: Phil Talboys talks Nurburgring testing

 

 

Dale Lomas
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Dr S

Original Poster:

3,341 posts

113 months

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Friday 20th April 2012 quote quote all
Nordschleife is indeed the race track where too stiff a set-up will ruin instead of improve latpimes. It's a far too bumpy for that matter...

theJT

229 posts

72 months

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Friday 20th April 2012 quote quote all
The problem isn't manufacturers making stiffened, sporty cars becuase they're too focused on 'ring lap times. The problem is when a manufacturer ONLY makes stiffened, sporty cars becuase they're too focused on 'ring lap times. As long as you can buy a softer, more "real road" focused version, there's no problem.

The reason we like hot hatches, and for that matter sports saloons, is becuase they're a good do everything compromise. Sure do 150, 160, 170+ mph, but you also want to be able to drive to work and back in the same car without getting your spine caved in since there's only one parking space outside the flat you live in.

Make the golf GTI faster, make the XFR more sporty - but don't do it at the expense of ride quality, becuase a car like those needs to do _everything_ well. If all you care about is cornering speed, buy a dedicated track car. That might even be some form of hot hatch, but the compromise version needs to exist along side it in the (electronic?) brochure as well.

2 Wycked

2,141 posts

118 months

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Friday 20th April 2012 quote quote all
Ah man, I missed a trick not putting a 'Nurburgring Edition' sticker on my XJ40.

Chapppers

4,099 posts

78 months

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Friday 20th April 2012 quote quote all
Once you understand the difference between "tuning for a laptime" and making a car durable enough to lap one of the world's most demanding stretches of tarmac without destroying itself, the Nordschleife actually justifies itself as a pretty good place to test vehicles smile

The Obeast

94 posts

31 months

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Friday 20th April 2012 quote quote all
I see the point that focusing on the nurburgring may make cars feel harsh on normal roads,but then one criticism i always read about cars is when people say theyre to wallowy when pushed hard.

So basically wheres the middle ground here? genuine question not pointless criticism of this piece
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Matt UK

9,551 posts

87 months

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Friday 20th April 2012 quote quote all
Chapppers said:
Once you understand the difference between "tuning for a laptime" and making a car durable enough to lap one of the world's most demanding stretches of tarmac without destroying itself, the Nordschleife actually justifies itself as a pretty good place to test vehicles smile
Agreed, but also think that manufacturers can get these two objectives mixed up, BMW seeming to be a prime example.

johnpeat

4,287 posts

152 months

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Friday 20th April 2012 quote quote all
This is just a small part of what is really a wider issue - that people tend to buy cars for reasons which have nothing to do with their actual needs (and so manufacturers will tend to target the wrong things because it WILL sell cars).

Someone will buy an M3 or a sporty Jag because they look great and the media has said they are great - but their intended use has nothing to do with why they were designed the way they were and what the media said they do best.

e.g. M3s or 'R' Jags which spend 95%+ of their lives on the motorway or in city centre traffic when the owner would have been MUCH better off in a lesser model which wasn't badly setup for those uses.

That leads into the whole issue of 'people buy R Jags and M BMWs not because they perform, just because they're the top of the range'. We've all seen these people - they chose 'the best' and then drive it almost totally ignorant of what they've actually bought (perhaps even complaining that it rides hard or the seat is hard or whatever).

If we chose cars with more logic - they'd be designed and marketted with more logic...

Mr fox

297 posts

38 months

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Friday 20th April 2012 quote quote all
Chapppers said:
Once you understand the difference between "tuning for a laptime" and making a car durable enough to lap one of the world's most demanding stretches of tarmac without destroying itself, the Nordschleife actually justifies itself as a pretty good place to test vehicles smile
+1

Ex Boy Racer

553 posts

79 months

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Friday 20th April 2012 quote quote all
Got the argument wrong way round in my opinion. We should be asking why the roads in our country are so awful that cars tuned for the Nurburgring can't handle them. As others have said, the Ring isn't like a billiard table and cars tuned on it are releveant to most advanced countries' roads. Why can't our roadworkers create a decent surface?

MartynVRS

550 posts

97 months

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Friday 20th April 2012 quote quote all
Spot on. Our roads simply aren't good enough as some sections are so bad that during a bend it unsettles the car so much it's dangerous.

BillericayDickie

34 posts

82 months

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Friday 20th April 2012 quote quote all
Ex Boy Racer said:
Why can't our roadworkers create a decent surface?
Of course they all do.. the electric man will put a lovely surface down over the bit he's dug up, and the water man will put a lovely surface down over the bit he's dug up, and the telecoms man...well, you get the idea wink

The road outside our office has been a consant stream of utilities works for the last 5 years and it resembles a patchwork quilt more than a road these days.

Ex Boy Racer

553 posts

79 months

[news] 
Friday 20th April 2012 quote quote all
BillericayDickie said:
Ex Boy Racer said:
Why can't our roadworkers create a decent surface?
Of course they all do.. the electric man will put a lovely surface down over the bit he's dug up, and the water man will put a lovely surface down over the bit he's dug up, and the telecoms man...well, you get the idea wink

The road outside our office has been a consant stream of utilities works for the last 5 years and it resembles a patchwork quilt more than a road these days.
Good point. But why doesn't the same thing happen in Germany? And why aren't we all up in arms complaining like mad?

TheEnd

14,321 posts

75 months

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Friday 20th April 2012 quote quote all
Cars with "ring tuned" suspension will be harder as they were race track tuned.
It's obvious I'd have thought, and if you want a soft tuned car, pick the non sporty non ring tuned version.


mat777

5,674 posts

47 months

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Friday 20th April 2012 quote quote all
BillericayDickie said:
Ex Boy Racer said:
Why can't our roadworkers create a decent surface?
Of course they all do.. the electric man will put a lovely surface down over the bit he's dug up, and the water man will put a lovely surface down over the bit he's dug up, and the telecoms man...well, you get the idea wink

The road outside our office has been a consant stream of utilities works for the last 5 years and it resembles a patchwork quilt more than a road these days.
You think it's bad in cities - I live in the sticks in a network on NSL country lanes and some of them are so bad that you cant go above 40 on them in a Land rover because the thing is jumping, rattling and crashing about so much. But as usual with public uamenities, the charge for them goes up but the money that is invested in them goes down, and then some idiot thinks that spraying it in tar and throwing gravel at it constitutes acceptably resurfacing it......


However, I think I know the real reason why cars ride horribly these days. Everyone is interested in speccing the biggest, blingiest alloys that are offered on their car, with the lowest profile veneer of rubber covering them. Why? I'd far far rather ride in comfort on our rally-stage resembling roads than have my spine shattered just to show off parts I cant see when driving to bystanders who probably wont care. Both our Audi A4 and Fiat 500 have the smallest wheels offered and they ride infinitely better than friend's cars with monster wheel syndrome. Sure, they might not corner as hard before the tyres peel off, but when was the last time anyone explored anything approaching those limits in their daily drive cars anyway?

RS133

2,169 posts

60 months

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Friday 20th April 2012 quote quote all
I'm not really sure what the point of this article is.

The Corsa VXR and Jaguars aren't really comparable, the Corsa was solely designed to put in a fast time at the 'ring, whereas the Jag's motives for using the ring are purely for stress testing as well as ensuring they don't make land-yachts.

It's not the testing at the 'ring that ruins the car, it's the level to which the car is focused towards the track that determines it's suitability on the roads.

mattlad

16 posts

52 months

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Friday 20th April 2012 quote quote all
mat777 said:
However, I think I know the real reason why cars ride horribly these days. Everyone is interested in speccing the biggest, blingiest alloys that are offered on their car, with the lowest profile veneer of rubber covering them. Why? I'd far far rather ride in comfort on our rally-stage resembling roads than have my spine shattered just to show off parts I cant see when driving to bystanders who probably wont care. Both our Audi A4 and Fiat 500 have the smallest wheels offered and they ride infinitely better than friend's cars with monster wheel syndrome. Sure, they might not corner as hard before the tyres peel off, but when was the last time anyone explored anything approaching those limits in their daily drive cars anyway?
Wider, lower profile tyres will ride worse than narrower higher profile tyres. Bigger wheels will give you better ride quality FOR A GIVEN TYRE PROFILE than smaller wheels.

French cars used to have a really good reputation for ride comfort (especially in the 70's / 80's) but part of the secret was that they used bigger wheels (with normal profile tyres) than their competitors used. Drive an old type Mini with 10" wheels and then try one with 12" wheels (both with standard profile tyres) and you will see what I mean!

So for best ride you want a larger rolling radius with relatively high profile tyres.

VeeDub Geezer

460 posts

41 months

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Friday 20th April 2012 quote quote all
mat777 said:
when was the last time anyone explored anything approaching those limits in their daily drive cars anyway?
I induced understeer in the heavy rain this morning.

Does that count? smile

Trevor M

57 posts

32 months

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Friday 20th April 2012 quote quote all
James May is correct in that whenever I've usually seen him complain about this, it is with regards to cars which should be what used to be called a "gentleman's express" and instead are harsh, crashy, road noise-drowned, 'ring lappers when they shouldn't be. One glaring example is the Aston Martin Virage. That is a gentleman's express if ever there was one, but instead it's got a jiggly, relatively harsh ride on a slow road -- when it really should be a magic carpet of speed on the highway, and a comfortable ride around town, handling bad roads with aplomb. And that they could certainly have done. BMW's had horrible rides for years, as did a lot of German cars, because of 'ring testing combined with ridiculous, stupid run-flat tires. Only recently have they changed philosophy for the better. I've read a couple of interviews with engineers from Mercedes talking about the change with German cars recently.

Meanwhile, there's no point in criticizing self-proclaimed 'ring specials. They are what they're advertised to be and there is nothing wrong with that!

jimbro1000

1,609 posts

171 months

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Friday 20th April 2012 quote quote all
Dr S said:
Nordschleife is indeed the race track where too stiff a set-up will ruin instead of improve latpimes. It's a far too bumpy for that matter...
Exactly - the 'Ring actually makes "race cars" suitable for general road use, not road cars suitable for race use. *ANY* car set up for very enthusiastic use on track is going to be pretty painful over low quality road surfaces (pity us poor people living in parts of Manchester where the roads are literally falling apart).

Any car that can survive an enthusiastic lap on the ring though is going to be soft enough to cope with bumps without being the motoring equivalent of a jelly trifle. That isn't to say that a car can be both soft and race 'ard in the same package - it just costs a lot more money. Most of those cars that mop-head complains about are run-of-the-mill road cars that have been stiffened up for track use and will, as a result, always be on the hard side as they don't have the expensive suspension design.

I know May had as much of a gripe about more expensive cars but those were deliberate attempts to put race settings on road cars which means, as always, he is missing the point (possibly as much as the engineers are sometimes). It takes a certain masochistic kind of individual to buy one of those (I seem to remember someone taking such a car to the Italian Riviera though - oh the irony!) and only those people would put up with it.

So given it is the enthusiasts/masochists choice why is anyone even complaining about such things in the first place?

monthefish

18,011 posts

118 months

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Friday 20th April 2012 quote quote all
johnpeat said:
That leads into the whole issue of 'people buy R Jags and M BMWs not because they perform, just because they're the top of the range'. We've all seen these people - they chose 'the best' and then drive it almost totally ignorant of what they've actually bought (perhaps even complaining that it rides hard or the seat is hard or whatever).
Very true.

There was a programme recently following the Dragons from Dragons Den about their day-to-day buisness, and being a car geek I rewound/paused the TV at the bit where Deborah Meadons Audi Avant came into view. It was an RS6, and I'm pretty sure she never, ever uses the performance of that car (in fact, she 'styles' herself as being a bit of an eco-warrior and so it is a bit of a hypocritical choice of car).

Presumably she just wanted 'the best one'.
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