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

  • Dr S 20 Apr 2012

    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 20 Apr 2012

    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 20 Apr 2012

    Ah man, I missed a trick not putting a 'Nurburgring Edition' sticker on my XJ40.

  • Chapppers 20 Apr 2012

    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 20 Apr 2012

    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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