Ringside Seat: does the 'ring ruin road cars?


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

 

 

Comments (65) Join the discussion on the forum

  • Kawasicki 26 Apr 2012

    Lost_BMW said:
    Kawasicki said:
    Standard response of those who can't think of a logical counter argument.

    Wasn't your main point that compliance is required for road use, a certain amount of compliance usually is, but also a certain amount of control. A car set up for fast road (including the Ring) use is simply uncomfortable. Have you been in a tarmac rally car? The fastest car down a bumpy B road will not be acceptably comfortable for 99% of drivers. Anything more comfortable than a tarmac rally car will no longer be set up for ultimate speed, but a compromise between comfort and control. So car manufacturers have been setting some cars up biased more towards control rather than comfort, if you don't like these models there are more comfortable options available.

    Also, lower profile tyres are not always a poor choice for comfort and road holding, there are no hard and fast rules in suspension design, no matter how many times a myth is repeated.

    By the way I don't need your approval of my credibility, I'd be pretty sad if that was the case.
    I ran an ex Tour of Cornwall winning Sunbeam Lotus, in full tarmac spec. as a daily road car for c.3 years (debatable idea!) and can confirm it definitely was not comfortable. But bloody quick and good fun. Loads of body control, fantastic and direct steering but crashy to the point where the light back end often felt like it was going to bounce us off the road on bumps.

    FWIW, I reckon a 'softer' car with the same sort of power to weight would be quicker and safer, certainly less tiring to drive, on average roads for most drivers. All within legal speeds/visibility/traffic conditions etc. of course, 'not condoning mad driving on the public highway.
    What always surprises me is that completely over the top crashiness does not have to mean poor road holding or grip on rough roads, it very much depends on the vehicle. My old 944 Turbo with sport pack suspension was pretty harsh on bumpy b roads, but the grip was totally insensitive to the surface. A Seat Ibiza I drove was also harsh, but really struggled on bumps. It depends on the car.

    I agree softer cars are more easily driven near their limits than harshest cars by the majority of drivers, saying that should sports cars be set up for the majority of drivers? I don't know the answer. I've been with journalists who were scared witless using 7/10ths the capability of a car, so maybe manufacturers are making cars that are tuned to an extreme level.

    But crashiness does not equal poor road holding. Otherwise rally cars would be soft and compliant.

  • Lost_BMW 25 Apr 2012

    Kawasicki said:
    Standard response of those who can't think of a logical counter argument.

    Wasn't your main point that compliance is required for road use, a certain amount of compliance usually is, but also a certain amount of control. A car set up for fast road (including the Ring) use is simply uncomfortable. Have you been in a tarmac rally car? The fastest car down a bumpy B road will not be acceptably comfortable for 99% of drivers. Anything more comfortable than a tarmac rally car will no longer be set up for ultimate speed, but a compromise between comfort and control. So car manufacturers have been setting some cars up biased more towards control rather than comfort, if you don't like these models there are more comfortable options available.

    Also, lower profile tyres are not always a poor choice for comfort and road holding, there are no hard and fast rules in suspension design, no matter how many times a myth is repeated.

    By the way I don't need your approval of my credibility, I'd be pretty sad if that was the case.
    I ran an ex Tour of Cornwall winning Sunbeam Lotus, in full tarmac spec. as a daily road car for c.3 years (debatable idea!) and can confirm it definitely was not comfortable. But bloody quick and good fun. Loads of body control, fantastic and direct steering but crashy to the point where the light back end often felt like it was going to bounce us off the road on bumps.

    FWIW, I reckon a 'softer' car with the same sort of power to weight would be quicker and safer, certainly less tiring to drive, on average roads for most drivers. All within legal speeds/visibility/traffic conditions etc. of course, 'not condoning mad driving on the public highway.

  • havoc 25 Apr 2012

    A post I can agree with.

    Your earlier post was leaning towards hyperbole, which was my issue with it, and your reply then seemed to go the other way when addressing my response.

    My main issues are with cost-cutting in suspension design, as mentioned earlier, and with image-over-substance ultra-large alloys on 'mainstream' cars, inc. performance biased ones - cost-for-cost leading to increased unsprung weight and less compliance.

    As for 'softer alternatives' - not powerful ones, not any more. And cars like my NSX, like most road-biased Lotuses, like the older hot-hatches - GTi-6, Clio 172, etc. show, as you say, that you can have body control without excessively stiff primary ride or crashy secondary ride.

    So why are manufacturers pitching stuff like S-Line Audis, like my wife's MkV GTI, like the latest M-cars and even the Elise 111R at us? Either cost or marketing...including bloody N'ring lap times.

  • Kawasicki 25 Apr 2012

    5
    havoc said:
    You're either trolling or splitting hairs K - either way I can't be arsed to respond to your post.

    Try addressing my points meaningfully and we'll have a conversation. Oh, and try not to contradict yourself too - helps with the credibility!
    Standard response of those who can't think of a logical counter argument.

    Wasn't your main point that compliance is required for road use, a certain amount of compliance usually is, but also a certain amount of control. A car set up for fast road (including the Ring) use is simply uncomfortable. Have you been in a tarmac rally car? The fastest car down a bumpy B road will not be acceptably comfortable for 99% of drivers. Anything more comfortable than a tarmac rally car will no longer be set up for ultimate speed, but a compromise between comfort and control. So car manufacturers have been setting some cars up biased more towards control rather than comfort, if you don't like these models there are more comfortable options available.

    Also, lower profile tyres are not always a poor choice for comfort and road holding, there are no hard and fast rules in suspension design, no matter how many times a myth is repeated.

    By the way I don't need your approval of my credibility, I'd be pretty sad if that was the case.

  • Britcar David 24 Apr 2012

    EDLT said:
    Lots of road cars have brakes that won't cope with track-days, its not because of the ring it is because track focused brakes don't work when cold.
    Absolutely, couldn't agree more, but that's not the point I was trying to make. I was trying to say that cars tuned as 'performance' cars on the ring can't always cope with 'performance' in other areas as the ring is such a unique track it doesn't really relate to other circuits.

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