Quarter Mile Magazine

Handling: Fitting Coilovers

Okay, the Swift was not really short on handling and the new one is even better. Maruti engineers have worked to hard to strike a balance between ride quality and handling that it shows in the way it drives. But you never know, there could be just another way of improving it and we come to coilovers. Everyone knows, coilovers are a fantastic way of going round corners fast, but what about a small, less powerful car like the Swift? Can it really make a difference?

To find out we went to Pete’s Automotive Pvt Ltd, the friendly neighborhood performance shop to get a set of Bilstein B14 coilovers fitted. These monotube upside down dampers with height adjustable coil springs wrapped over the body are made inGermanyand the quality is exceptional. They are specifically made for the Swift and come with everything except the top mounting bushes. There is no damping adjustment like in the B16, but height adjustment comes in the way of a rotational spring plate that slides up and down on the threaded body. The dampers are also shorter than standard ones and provide an approximate lowering of 35-50mm at the front and rear.

What immediately ringed the bells for me, was that they are said to be developed at the fearsome Nürburgring Nordschleife – the same place where I scared myself silly in a Porsche GT2RS and a tuned Nissan GTR, a couple of months back. Now if these Bilsteins work there, we are not saying another word.

Fitting the coilovers takes about two hours. We have to admit, the mechanics at Pete’s do know what they are doing. I insisted on getting the car as low as possible, and this meant, the front McPhersons develop some negative camber which had to be attended to. Lowering camber plates or extension arms weren’t an option, so we resorted to old school methods. A bit of careful grinding at the mounting points on the dampers and we were back in business.

With the Bilsteins fitted, our down to earth project car was even more closer to the ground. Maruti had raised the suspension so much on the Indian Swift, the drop looked massive. The rear was set a bit higher but the ugly gap at the front was totally gone. We took it round for a spin and immediately ran into a problem. The front chin was scraping on the ground. A couple of turns at the spring plates to raise it a little and the front end was up to acceptable levels.

Although, it might sound like yesterday that we fitted the suspension, we did complete more than a thousand kilometers in it before telling you what it’s like. This is important, because although we have tried several coilovers on many a tuned cars, we have never really got a chance to know a car fully and then mod the suspension to really gauge the difference. And to make it a fair comparison, we drove on exactly the same road, on exactly the same conditions at around the same time on consecutive days.

Now before this turns interesting, let me talk through the negatives. The low ground clearance meant, I was cut off from the better part ofCochin. There were only two roads as against the original five where by I could get to the other end of the town I live in. That was okay, because the ride was so appalling I didn’t really feel the need to go anywhere. To be frank, I wished every trip was shorter and looked forward to getting back home, where every chair had suddenly turned LaZboys. Just as the new suspension turned 200kms old, the dashboard and the door pads began developing minor rattles and squeaks. While that early preview of the Swift’s build quality was helping my job as a road tester, I faced other problems. As my daily ride turned into a bone shaking torture cell, I started losing perspective and began praising cars like the Eon and the Tata Nano 2012 for their soft suspension and excellent ride. If I were to donate this suspension to someone, it would be to the road transport minister, so that he gets a taste of what his roads are.  Except that, I wound’t.

Because, before I drew conclusions, I went for a drive to Athirapilly which we at QM likes to call the Nürburgring of Kerala. It is where Quarter Mile conducts its important road tests and handling assessments. It’s a perfectly smooth ribbon of tarmac with tight twisy turns, long sweeping ones, big crests, deep drops and sudden camber changes. In fact, you name it and somewhere there is just that corner for you.

Anyone who drove the Swift would appreciate the suspension job carried out by Maruti. The handling is eager like before, the steering feel is better and the overall balance is set to be neutral with a hint of oversteer if you lift-off. Even with the 205 section tyres on our car, it gets into a progressive slide giving a lively feel, when given the stick. If there is anything you could complain about, it was the brakes. They lacked bite and overheats even faster than you normally expect them to.

If the sweet handling of the stock Swift is anything to go by, we expected the Bilsteins to take it to another level. And it delivered. The turn-in is much sharper, the balance is much more neutral and the body roll is virtually non existent. Those corners which felt ‘on the limits of grip’ earlier could now be taken with much more confidence at an even higher entry speed. Any amount of trail braking and the rear barely steps out. So you get a sharper turn-in with tonnes of confidence that encourages you to drive even harder. See the two pictures we managed on the run. The objective here was to carry maximum momentum into the corner, brake late and turn in sharpely, yet steadily into the corner. On the stock suspension, while approaching the corner around 60kmph, the car maintains a neutral stance with no understeer or oversteer. But if you look closely, you’ll notice that it runs a wider line (use the electric pole in the background for reference) and exhibits a fair amount of body roll. Same corner same speed, with the Bilsteins, it was a cake walk. So we tried upping the pace a little, a little more and then a lot more. Right close to the limits, the tyres progressively lose their plot and it settles into a progressive slide. And the lousy brakes? There is a massive improvement, primarily because there is little forward dive and the rear brakes are being used more effectively.

It might sound bizarre if we told you here about fuel savings, but because we could carry more speed through the corners and the engine doesn’t have to work as hard accelerating to make up for an otherwise drop in speed, we were also saving some fuel. This showed up in the average fuel consumption which was 10.8kmpl as against the 9.4kmpl on the standard suspension, despite being overall faster. Best of both worlds?

If you want superlative handling, the Bilsteins coilovers are the best way to go. Whether you are a newbie or a racing driver, you will be able to appreciate the improvements. It reminds me of those Polo Cup cars, with its harsh ride and low speed bumpiness. But once you go flat out, the handling makes you forget everything else. The only grouse we now have is that the Swift feels like it could do with a lot more horsepower. In fact, that is what we’re going to do next. Stay tuned.

2 thoughts on “Handling: Fitting Coilovers

  1. Aneesh

    Lovely write up.

    Looking forward to a whole series of articles on QM’s project Swift!

    Also, the Swift looks stunning with those alloys you guys have installed.

  2. Rehan Conyers

    The Swift, on the aesthetics front, scores ten-upon-ten from me. And with those heels, er…wheels, it certainly looks sexier. And sits squat to the tarmac after the coil cover fitting.

    Apropos to the write-up – It managed to keep me glued till the full-stop at the end. 🙂

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