These days, we don’t have time to properly examine the goods we buy. Becoming an expert on a product before we’ve even bought it just takes too long. We opt instead for a quick summary of the item, something clipped to fit within the brackets of a tweet.
We notice this most in the automotive realms as a horsepower figure. It’s the first number touted in any performance car ad, and for many, it’s enough to make a decision. Sadly, this has tarnished the reputations of several great small, lightweight cars. “Your Mazda MX-5 only has 160 hp? Your Subaru BRZ only spins up to 200?”
The truth is, however, you can have more horsepower than anyone else and still underperform. In fact, power is fairly disposable in the area of performance driving. But it’s not alone in this. You can rack it up with strong brakes, great tires, and precise steering.
Because all of them are worthless if you have a bad suspension.
I’ve had the displeasure of coming to understand this personally. I bought my Subaru WRX about a year ago with just over 114,000 miles on the clock. It was incredible, the best car I’d ever owned. It was fast, crisp, and edgy. I still love the WRX, but after a year and another 16,000 miles, the struts are worn out and spongy. Subarus are known for their long-living struts, but this set has seen enough, and now the WRX rolls like an old Cadillac. I find myself jealous of the snappy handling of my friends’ cars. A suspension job is certainly the next on the list.
A well-tuned suspension is essential for any performance car, and for several reasons.
We’ll start from the beginning: launch. When you take off from the starting line, inertia forces as much of your car’s weight to stay in place for as long as possible. If your rear suspension is squishy like a gummy bear that’s warm from being in your pocket, much of that weight will shift back onto your rear wheels. When your car has to throw itself over its own shoulder, the effort spends a good deal of your initial torque – force better used getting you off the line.
On the other end, there’s braking. Your car, which presumably has four brakes, has an arrangement to keep them all balanced. All of your car’s weight rolling around on soft springs tends to undermine this balance. Then there’s the back-to-front weight shift. On worn-out struts, it takes an extra moment for that weight to settle over the front tires, where it needs to be to keep the tires from sliding. Use gravity to your advantage.
Of course, a great suspension is most noticeable in handling. Body roll is caused by centrifugal force, which is “An apparent force that acts outward on a body moving around a center, arising from the body’s inertia.” In layman’s terms…well, just watch a chase scene in a 1970’s cop show. Body roll leads to messy steering, sliding tires, and fairly hazardous conditions. Tires help, but they’re at their best with a decent suspension to keep the vehicle’s weight distributed evenly between them.
So where do you start? A decent set of struts and springs. This is the core element, and aftermarket upgrades from someone like Eibach can make a huge difference. For an even better, stiffer setup, you’ll want a lowering kit. Ground Force has this down to a science. You can also add specially designed sway bars from Hellwig, and even upgraded bushings from Energy Suspension create a better feel.
It’s time and past to make all that horsepower count. I’m doing it in the WRX. What sort of suspension upgrades do you recommend?