Do Modern Cars Have Too Little Ground Clearance?

There are several reasons why we love good, fast sportscars and supercars. They are the supreme modern expressions of freedom and passion for all things mechanical. However, there is something these cars don’t seem to do very well these days, which is offering enough ground clearance.
Every time a new Porsche, Ferrari or even a Volkswagen is launched, European car companies set up special events for customers and journalists in places where the sun shines and the roads are twisty, fun, and most importantly very flat.

The South coast of France, sunny California or Portugal all immediately spring to mind. Yet I know very few people who are in the wine making industry and own a supercar. In reality, most supercars are owned and driven in cities like London, Paris, Dubai, New York, where they expose their limitations.

It’s not just supercars either, as regular family cars are getting in on the low-rider act. Old box cars had their door sills just a bit lower than the center of the wheel. But now, you can’t even go over a speed bump without slowing right down. The way things are going, I wouldn’t be surprised if you won’t be able to stick your foot underneath your car in ten years. With such low ground clearances, it’s no wonder SUVs are becoming more and more popular every year. It’s because a Citroen 2CV can do something a C6 can’t.

Let me try and explain what’s going on. Modern cars are increasingly packed with technology. A few years ago, it was airbags and active dampers, and now, it’s scanners and cameras to keep you in your lane, safe and sound. This is making them heavy, which in turn compromises handling, braking and acceleration. To keep things on the straight and narrow, corners are cut. Well, not corners, rather millimeters from the suspension system.

The Mark V Volkswagen Polo is 13 mm lower than the previous generation. A Lamborghini Aventador is about 30 mm lower than its V12-powered predecessor was a decade ago. Porsche is doing it too: the new Boxster, new 911 and new Cayman are all road-huggers. The old air-cooled 911 went rallying, but the new one is only at home at the track.

It’s not just the Europeans either. Take a look at your grandpa’s Cadillac and instantly spot the curb-mounting potential yours hasn’t got.

Another part of the problem is that we’re instinctively drawn to sleek shapes. So if it’s low, has big wheels and shines, we like it. Do we really need to put up with harsh damping and 17-inch chrome wheels on a supermini just to be able to go to work and cary our groceries?

Sure, a vehicle with a ground-hugging stance looks great and also usually handles better. A lower suspension reduces body roll and excess movement when cornering, and can help a vehicle feel more nimble and keyed into the road.

Owners of BMW coupes are often immunized to the effects of their 320i’ low ride. They are accustomed to making a complete stop before going over a bump. They prefer wider boulevards to time-saving side streets during rush hour and make stupid excused when they have to replace lower bumpers. But why? Why can’t all cars be at least 150 mm off the ground, if not more?

Car companies think that boring people want boring suspension setups that are good for the commute and nothing else, and that enthusiasts will always expect ungraded sport setup that’s got a colorful name and delivers “a more engaging drive”. And if they happen to get annoyed with everyday ownership, that’s their problem.

That’s just wrong. For a car like the new Porsche 911, which is going to sell tens of thousands of examples per year, this could be problematic. Even if your daily commute involves the most beautiful twisty California roads, you’re still going to have to park, maybe cross a railway track, an intersection, hit some potholes here and there.

So tell me, are you happy with the ground clearance of your car? Have you noticed cars are getting lower as well?


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