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Does a STIFFER suspension handle better?

I’m guessing the answer to that question is: yes and no.

I’d love to hear you guys/gals chime in!

Sometimes, but not necessarily. Heavy duty trucks have stiff suspensions, but it is stiff for different reasons than an Italian supercar’s stiff suspension. The latter is stiff to reduce body roll and keep the car flat to the pavement during extreme cornering, the former is stiff due to heavier springs and stiffer shocks to increase payload and towing capacity of the chassis. Few people would consider a heavy duty truck to be an excellent handling vehicle, despite the stiff suspension.

Good guess.

English sports cars from the 1950s had stiff suspensions. Drive one.

Then drive a Honda Accord built any time in the last 20 years.

Tell me which one handles better.

Stiffer doesn’t mean better handling in all cases. A well designed performance suspension will feel stiffer than a typical factory set-up, but only because the performance suspension is working to keep the tires planted evenly on the road during more extreme maneuvers. Most factory set-ups are designed for comfort and will sacrifice handling to feel softer.

That being said, stiffening up the suspension is not necessarily the best way to get it to handle better. I’ve seen some ‘fast-n-furious’ tricks than lower the car and stiffen the suspension, but also wreck the handling. I laugh at them when they hit a bump in the road and bounce all over the place!

I’ve installed a few well-engineered performance suspension upgrades. The ride does stiffen a bit, but the improved handling is awesome. Hotchkis suspension is one of the kits I’ve used, and they are top-notch.

If the car was a “sport” version to begin with stiffing the suspension might degrade the handling. On a typical family sedan stiffer suspension would likely improve handling by keeping tires in better contact with the road. Sedans with standard suspensions are tuned more for comfort and smoothness over handling.

The answer can’t be generalized since it depends on the car you start with and how it came equipped from the factory.

If a stiff suspension was the be-all and end-all to good handling, then nothing would handle better than a rigid hard-tail chopper like they rode in “Easy Rider”.

Suspension less, except for frame flex, go-karts handle quite well, provided they are raced on billiard table smooth racetracks. Put some ripples and bumps on the pavement and they bounce all over the place.

Yes and no. Citroen and Morris have used an hydraulic suspension. It was quite a piece of engineering that kept the cars quite flat in turns but soaked up even the worst of road conditions. Look around. Inspect the suspensions of the cars you drive. It will be enlightening, I’m sure.

The most critical contributions suspension makes to handling are keeping the tires flat on the road surface, keeping the distance between the tires constant no matter where the wheels are relative to the car, properly compensating as the car rolls for the fact that as you turn the inside arc is smaller than the outside arc, and compensating for the fact that the wheels tend to be “pushing” ahead as you turn…the angle of the turning axis relative to the road needs to lean back some to compensate (known as “caster angle”).

One other important contribution is preventing bumps from affecting the entire car, isolating the effects to only the “bumped” wheel and tire as much as possible. That’s why independent suspension with low “unsprung weight” is better than a solid axle with big heavy wheels.

And I’m overly simplifying.

So, as you can deduce, suspension and how it affects handling is far more complicated than just stiffness. That’s why a modern Civic can drive circles around and MG-TC while still providing a better ride.

And, even in a modern car, if you stifffen the front suspension too much for the rear suspension the inside wheel will lift on hard corners and you’ll lose your handling.

Handling for gas pedal athletes and handling for someone who wants an easy driving car can be different things. You might want to define what you want in “handling”.

My priority (you didn’t ask; I know) is not necessarily fast cornering but instead is straight line stability on a freeway without the constant need for steering correction. German cars are very good at this as are some Mazdas. The Pontiac G8 has it too.

If you can comfortably steer your car down a freeway with one hand for more than a few minutes, that may be (not is) an indicator that your car has good straight line stability. One of our past cars, a German Opel, with no power steering could be easily kept going straight down a freeway or highway with a thumb and forefinger.

Again, define “handling”.

One thing that has been done industry-wide in recent years to vastly improve handling without sacrificing ride quality is to improve the stiffness of the chassis. One notable example on the sporty end of this is the C-5 (1997) Corvette. The C-5 platform had vastly more torsional stiffness than the previous generation ('82-'96 I think). The C-4 Corvette was a notoriously rough-riding car, and the convertibles had so much cowl shake that it was like driving a shoe box with no lid. The C-5 is actually fairly comfortable if one has reasonable expectations (it’s not a Sedan de Ville), and it handles very well, thanks largely to the stiffer chassis.

i second that, define “handle better”

i guess a lot of people like it stiffer, but the times i rode on the highway in a honda civic (a 2003 coupe) the suspension felt uncomfortably stiff , i could feel every seam in my gut, only time i ever felt remotely carsick, but in town it could corner great (quickly)

but i liked the plush suspension of my old 1982 300sd, fantastic piece of engineering, and not at all stiff, so maybe different strokes for different folks

Several years ago I was surprised by how similar the ride in my VW was to a friend’s Corvette. I think of my VW as being a fine driving and fine handling car with accurate steering and with a ride that is not at all soft like an old US car but a ride that is a little stiff and not harsh.

One of the ways they’ve improved handling over these past decades without compromising ride is by lowering unsprung weights by the use of modern materials and manufacturing techniques (cast aluminum where they used to need steel), and larger diameter alloy wheels with low profile tires. For example, you can get a 315mm width with a rolling radius of about 315mm by using either a 215x65/14 or a 215x40/18. I suspect the latter is lighter.