When technology doesn’t always makes things better.

Posted on July 30th, 2002 in Opinion by Julian Edgar

I am not a fan of oversteer. In any typical real world, real road, real driver situation, it’s more dangerous and harder to control than understeer. And obviously the vast majority of car companies agree with me because with very few exceptions, all cars that are sold today lean towards understeer as their final handling trait.

But perhaps that statement should be analysed a little – good things need to occur in moderation.

Rear wheel drive cars that handle well can almost always be power-oversteered, so a car like a Mazda MX5 has slight turn-in understeer and slight power oversteer. Good front-wheel drive cars have power understeer and slight lift-off oversteer – something like a Peugeot 206 GTi or 307 for example. Four-wheel drive cars typically have turn-in and power understeer, although really brilliant examples like the Evo 7 Lancer can alter this to turn-in understeer with little exit power oversteer.

So, while the situation is a bit more complex and subtle than covered by this blanket statement, it’s a fact that most standard cars – when pushed past the limit – understeer. If the designers have the choice between neutral, understeer or oversteer (and of course they do have that choice!), then they have nearly always gone for neutral-followed-by-understeer. It makes cars safer and much more user-friendly. And that’s a good thing – it saves lives.

But some important aspects of that situation are changing. How? Well, with each of the (very good handling) cars that I’ve nominated above, the driver has an input into the handling characteristics – he or she can use the throttle to edge the car into the handling trait that’s desired. (Like the throttle lift in a front-wheel drive to get the tail happening, or less throttle in a constant four wheel drive to diminish the understeer on a corner exit and so make it more neutral.) So it’s understeer that can be tweaked, if you like.