Jag's knuckle sandwich to the Germans: PH Blog


Look at the above picture for the driver control options for the Mercedes-AMG GT S and think about the decisions process required between pressing the start button and setting off along your favourite road. The start sequence in an Airbus A380 is probably more straightforward. Ditto the Audi R8 I was in the other week. Four modes in Audi Drive Select to choose from, including the configurable Individual. Then another three 'Performance Mode' options to choose from on top of that. See also 911 Turbo. Steering weight and/or gearing, anti-roll, damping, throttle response, stability control - all and more are configurable in these cars.

To what end though?

Are the Germans overcomplicating their cars?
Are the Germans overcomplicating their cars?
Interesting cultural differences were revealed over dinner at the Jaguar F-Type SVR launch the other week. The F-Type has just as much electronic 'trickery', with multi-mode dampers, torque vectoring by braking, variable torque split from the Intelligent Driveline Dynamics and the fully adjustable electronically controlled rear diff. Calibrating all that lot is beyond all but the cleverest of engineers. Which, thankfully, is how Jaguar keeps it, trusting the abilities of the experts to set it all up to work properly. Not the driver.

We all think of the German brands as supremely self confident when it comes to engineering and technology. But I think the bewildering array of configurability is smoke and mirrors, masking an uncharacteristic insecurity about how to set their cars up. Modern systems offer endless tweakability, and the opportunity to sign over some of that responsibility to the customer. I'd much rather entrust it to people who know more about it than me and get on with enjoying the drive, free from the distraction of wondering if I'd be having more fun if only I'd chosen a different mode.

I like the fact that when Jaguar sought to improve steering response on the F-Type it didn't think 'add another mode to the EPAS and be done with it'. Instead we get a rather extravagant piece of engineering in the shape of a new cast aluminium rear suspension knuckle. The benefits this brings are rather more difficult to communicate in snappy marketing speak than an extra button on the dash and promise of more 'control' for the driver. But I remember spending some time with Jaguar's handling guru Mike Cross and him explaining tweaks to rear suspension set-up have far more influence on steering feel than most people realise.

Jaguar's approach a little simpler
Jaguar's approach a little simpler
I pity the salesman in the Jaguar showroom trying to explain this to a customer fresh from the Mercedes, Audi or Porsche dealer asking 'but why don't I have five different steering modes?' Because, let's face it, we don't all have the luxury of one-on-one time with Mike Cross on a test track to demonstrate why improved camber/toe stiffness and subtle tweaks to anti-roll settings are more effective than a Sport button on the dash.

People mock motoring writers for banging on about steering feel and other subjective comparisons. But it remains a crucial measure of how much enjoyment you get out of a car and, ultimately, more important than stats on a spec sheet. Thankfully it's one British firms like Lotus, Aston Martin, McLaren and - in this case - Jaguar seem more willing to devote time and expertise to perfecting than most. All power to them.

Dan

 

 

 

 

 

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Comments (73) Join the discussion on the forum

  • richyd 20 Jun 2016

    Totally agree, and I much prefer the Jag's approach.I struggle with a sport button and 3 suspension settings in my wifes car!

    It's not all bad news from the Germans though - My GT4 only has a noise button for the exhaust and a sport button for throttle blipping, along with a sports suspension setting for track. All 3 are simple on/off switches on the dash. Haven't ventured into switching the stability off though - will leave that button alone for a while longer...

  • V8RX7 20 Jun 2016

    Does one size fit all ?

    I like the idea of being able to choose how I want a car to drive - commuting I might want quiet and comfort but turning off the motorway I might want to set it to loud and hard.


  • s m 20 Jun 2016

    Article said:
    People mock motoring writers for banging on about steering feel and other subjective comparisons. But it remains a crucial measure of how much enjoyment you get out of a car and, ultimately, more important than stats on a spec sheet. Thankfully it's one British firms like Lotus, Aston Martin, McLaren and - in this case - Jaguar seem more willing to devote time and expertise to perfecting than most
    It's an interesting one for sure - re Jaguar steering and Mike Cross, just looking at the recent Jag X-type SOTW...motoring writers all praised the steering feel on the X-type 2.5/3 litre......and yet people who owned them and lived with them said it was completely numb and lifeless

  • Dan Trent 20 Jun 2016

    V8RX7 said:
    Does one size fit all ?

    I like the idea of being able to choose how I want a car to drive - commuting I might want quiet and comfort but turning off the motorway I might want to set it to loud and hard.
    I guess that's the question and one manufacturers are forced to address, given technology permits a much wider range of easily accessible/tweakable dynamic attributes than we ever had back in the day. And the much-increased performance the market now expects as a base level.

    I like the compromise Jaguar has struck - you've got standard mode and you've got Dynamic, which tightens up all the configurable stuff such as throttle, gearbox, steering weight, dampers and the calibration of the all-wheel drive, torque vectoring, DSC and suchlike. For the SVR the gap between Normal and Dynamic is bigger. There is also the option to personalise the Dynamic setting to a degree, so if (for instance) you want to keep the standard steering weight in Dynamic you can now set that. But it's quite deeply buried in the preferences for the compulsive fiddlers/those interested in configurability to set up as a preferred default, rather than a series of hoops you have to jump through every time you fire the car up. As an example 'my' M4 long-termer defaulted to Sport steering and dampers but Efficient engine, meaning I inevitably had to opt to either a pre-configured M1 setting or press two or three buttons just to get everything in Comfort for general commuting or mooching. Why?!

    Cheers,

    Dan

  • DonkeyApple 20 Jun 2016

    V8RX7 said:
    Does one size fit all ?
    No it doesn't. And that is a good thing. If each manufacturer still retained the confidence to say 'this is our product and we have set it up how we feel best' then we would have more diversity, more character and a far more interesting car market. But that isn't how committees work and so we must endure products designed by boring people who collectively have no backbone or strength of character. And how it shows.

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