How can good ride be stiff ride?

RIDE, schmide. It’s just about the uncoolest thing in the car world you can obsess about.

But, just as I caught myself wearing socks and sandals while queuing up at the cashpoint last night, so too do I love a nice ride (arf).

What makes a good ride, though? Surely it’s just about soft springs and marshmallows under the wheelarches? Soft = better; it’s a linear and direct connection. Well, that’s what I used to think.

Then I drove the somewhat stiffly-sprung Porsche 911 GT3 RS, and ohmylikeGod fell in love with it – despite detesting it at first, because of an intolerably stiff ride. Utterly inexplicable at the time, it was: me coming back and enthusing over its absorbency, damping quality, sheer depth of talent.

A few years later, I went on my one and only Maserati launch – the Quattroporte GTS. Similar experience; on the taut side, I thought, when I first drove it. Only to emerge at the other end wanting to marry chief engineer Paul Fickers. Luckily, I instead asked him what was going on.

Yet again, the same thing I asked to another chassis top cheese a few weeks ago – and, like Fickers, he said it’s all down to bump steer. See, at speed, it’s not so much the disturbance of ruts on our sensibilities, but the way the car physically reacts to them, that upsets us.

You can have a pretty stiffly set up car, that still seems more than fine, simply because it’s rock-solid assured over even the nastiest of surfaces. This is what the Maser does so well – and, probably, what the Porsche excels in, too.

Chuck in modern cars’ absorption of the nasty harshness that used to so pain us, plus iron-fisted control from decades of damper experience, and you’ve a stiff ride that’s also a good ride. Bizarre but true.

Such as setup also bypasses the other disadvantages of softly sprung cars that made their ride qualities so illusional:

•    Roll
•    Pitch
•    Lean
•    Free and easy body damping characteristics
•    Uncanny ability to excite toddlers’ stomachs
•    The way they suddenly run out of ideas when roads get really challenging

See: Ride CAN be cool. Kinda.

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