A very bumpy drive in the new Mini Coupé has made me wonder why modern cars are so uncomfortable. Is it the car designers’ fault – or the public’s for buying them?
Back in my younger, spottier days I owned an Mk1 VW Golf GTI that had been ‘slammed’ – i.e. the suspension lowered so much that the car’s underside was almost skimming the tarmac.
My GTI looked pretty cool – or at least I thought so at the time – but every time I went over a pothole I would wince as the rock-hard springs sent judders up my spine.
I had the same feeling the other day driving the new Mini Coupé, the latest, sportiest addition to the Mini range. In order to make the two-seat Coupé even more agile than the regular Mini hatchback, maker BMW has firmed up the dampers and anti-roll bars – with predictable detriment to ride quality.
In fact, the Mini Coupé is so teeth-rattlingly uncomfortable that I found myself tackling country lanes more slowly than in the – objectively much slower – Ford Fiesta I drove last week.
It’s unfair to single out the Mini Coupé, however. Plenty of the cars I’ve tried recently have been unnecessarily hard-riding: the BMW X1, Citroën DS4 and Honda Civic, to for example. At a time when our road network is in a chronic state of disrepair, chiropractors must be rubbing their hands with glee.
Who’s to blame for poor ride quality?
I think motoring journalists are at least partly to blame. My Which? Car colleagues and I try to provide balanced, down-to-earth reviews of cars in realistic conditions. But many car magazines and websites base their verdicts primarily on lap times where cars are driven to their limits. And while a car with very stiff suspension will excel on a circuit, it will be a pig to live with day-to-day.
Car designers must also bear some responsibility for the decline in ride comfort. It’s a fact that cars look better with big wheels; that’s why showroom cars always sport glitzy, oversized rims. So it’s hardly surprising that the men in black polo necks fit the largest rolling stock they can get away with – and that gives us worse comfort.
It’s also true that we, the car-buying public, have brought this upon ourselves. If firmer suspension is available as an option, we’ll usually choose it – witness how many Audis and BMWs leave showrooms in S line and M Sport specifications. It’s difficult to fault the car manufacturers for giving the public what they want, especially when most are prepared to pay extra for it.
Don’t go for the sporty option
The problem with all this perceived ‘sportiness’ is that it doesn’t make cars any faster or more enjoyable to drive on real roads. Softer suspension, coupled with smaller wheels and taller, higher-profile tyres, lends a car a suppleness that allows it to ‘flow’ along winding roads, rather than bouncing and crashing from one corner to the next.
So next time a car dealer presents you with an options list, stick with standard-size wheels and think twice before ticking the box marked ‘sports suspension’. You will make your car a lot more comfortable and probably more fun as a result. Even if it doesn’t look as good.