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Chassis in comparison: BMW 1 Series, Opel Astra and Mercedes SLK

Rossen Gargolov
Adaptive and standard chassis in comparison
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N omen est omen: The spring springs, the Damper dampens - but the technical working group in the depths of the wheel house has not been explained so succinctly for a long time. Because the tuning of a chassis is a science in itself, which is transformed into an even larger playground with advancing technology and more powerful electronics: that of adaptive shock absorbers.

Here, too, the name says it all. They should be adaptable and provide the optimal damping force for the road or road condition within milliseconds. True all-rounders when it comes to sportiness, driving safety and comfort - this is what manufacturers generally promise. But what do the electronically controlled damping forces really bring, which have now worked their way from the luxury class to the compact? Are they worth the investment?

Standard chassis scores on rough roads

With the Opel Astra GTC, for example, 980 euros are due so that the Flex-Ride chassis strives for the best possible contact with the road. Once the integrated interventions in the steering response and throttle response have been faded out, the front-wheel drive car offers the Tour and Sport tuning levels, which it easily does justice to on the ISO wagging course. The Opel Astra GTC masters the alternating curves in sport mode with greater stability and without the teetering of the body that occurs during tours. The tide turns in the 18-meter slalom, as the more pronounced, dynamic axle load distribution in the softer level ensures more traction and grip.

And the comfort? On the rough road, over bad cobblestones and rough joints, the tour mode, which looks elegant in everyday life, struggles in vain for optimal road contact, in the sport setting it only gets harder, the contact less. The standard chassis with fixed rebound and compression stages of its dampers filters out the uneven terrain at least a bit better. With longer bumps, even when fully loaded, the standard damping guarantees greater driving safety. And as far as the sporty component is concerned, the basic chassis gives the Opel Astra GTC better agility.

Does the good old compromise coordination of the supposed high-tech damping really show its limits? Of course, the electronically controlled oil flow of the shock absorbers helps to further optimize the chassis. But also using the exampleMercedes SLK cannot convincingly put the 1,416 euro adaptive system in the spotlight.

No noticeable comfort advantage with the SLK

The individually electronically controlled dampers pass the driving dynamics tests with flying colors. Sport is sporty - the Mercedes SLK winds its way through the pylon course in a jagged manner, with a slight side incline, reliably and unapologetically: target fulfilled. In normal mode, the SLK then, as expected, leaves sporty talent lying around, bends deeper into the springs on the front axle, bounces. Despite its fluffiness, the adaptive system cannot claim a noticeable advantage in terms of comfort. On short transverse joints, the Mercedes SLK sometimes gets out of step, with long waves it seems underdamped.

Counter-evidence with a Mercedes SLK 250 with identical tires and conventional chassis technology: In terms of driving dynamics, the standard counterpart falls behind because the adaptive sports Modus leaves a fundamentally more harmonious impression. On the rough, rough road, however, the basic technology ensures better ground contact - which may seem less comfortable, but is safer.

BMW 1 Series does Convincing

Ultimately, of the three selected pairings, only the BMW 1 Series is convincing the adaptive damping. The driving experience switch lives up to its name. Due to the somewhat higher spring rates in contrast to the standard suspension, the BMW 1 Series, which is switched to comfort, initially appears firmer on rough terrain, but cushions and dampens short, hard stimuli better. The sport mode is naturally coarse, but this does not affect driving safety. In addition, the controlled chassis of the BMW 1 Series elegantly handles long waves when fully loaded and masters the driving dynamics tests with distinction.

And the moral of the story? They are adaptive, the adaptive dampers. You try hard to cover a wide range of requirements. They even tighten automatically when the control electronics are fed with a large number of parameters. But a standard chassis is by no means a bad solution - and also significantly cheaper.

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