Upgrading your car suspension is not a decision to be taken lightly. There will undoubtedly be clear benefits to doing so - improved grip and handling for the road and track day fun being top of the list - but there are pitfalls too... such as the potential to upset day to day comfort...
We recently teamed up with Evo magazine, and their reader Mark Reeves; a keen driver, occasional track day goer and the owner of a E92 BMW M3. Mark agreed to take part in a unique test which saw his car’s standard suspension get upgraded with Öhlins Road & Track coilovers. Once fitted, he would then drive to north Wales, to experience the famous Evo Triangle road-test route (one of the most demanding drivers’ roads in the country) before lapping the Anglesey Circuit to truly explore the M3’s limits by trying some extreme suspension settings recommended by our Öhlins’ experts.
To fit the suspension, Mark was sent to authorised Öhlins distributor Mick Gardner Racing, who removed the M3’s standard suspension and replaced it with the new Öhlins Road & Track kit and complete a full geometry check.
“Having been into motocross from an early age, I knew all about Öhlins’ Mark said, ‘They really have a great reputation. I stopped the bikes after I had a big accident and switched to four wheels and have had the M3 for just under a year. It’s an amazing all-rounder. It came with EDC suspension, although to be honest I only ever used to use the Comfort or Sport modes. Coming into this opportunity, I was after a slightly sharper turn-in and for the body control to be a bit tighter, but without making it too stiff.
I had worried that swapping the suspension would mean I would have to put up with a few warning lights, but the Öhlins kit overrides the EDC error messages. It’s too good a car to have warning lights flashing, so that’s a nice touch!”
There are few finer ways to spend a day than exploring the roads of Snowdonia in a powerful, rear-wheel-drive car, as Mark found out when he headed to north Wales.
“I love driving great roads - I’m very lucky to have Cumbria, the Yorkshire Dales and the North York Moors all pretty close to where I live. The Castleton and Kirkbymoorside roads are particular favourites. The problem I had with the EDC suspension however was that on roads with lots of lumps and bumps – like those in North Yorkshire – it had good body control but was too stiff and seemed to be unsettled most of the time. It never felt quite how I wanted, when I wanted.”
The Road & Track kit offers simple, combined compression and rebound adjustment front and rear, via our unique Öhlins one-click adjuster. Mark started with a baseline setup of ten clicks front and 20 rear – a middle setting that left him with options to go firmer or softer, depending on how the M3 felt. Once he was satisfied that he had a proper feel for the first setup, he returned to make some changes before heading out again to see how it compared…and judging by the time Mark spent in his car between adjustments, it was an addictive and rewarding process!
“This was the first time I had driven these roads, but they were brilliant! There really was a bit of everything, from fast open corners to tighter, twistier sections with some proper bumps and compressions. To start with I instinctively reached for the EDC button as the car felt too comfortable to work on the fast stuff, but once I’d done a few miles I realised it could up its game when it needed to.
‘We went a bit firmer with the next setup – five clicks front and ten rear – which I preferred, as it sharpened things up without harming the ride. I then tried a more extreme setting, which felt amazing through a few of the fast, smooth corners, but didn’t work anywhere near as well overall.
After driving the roads of North Wales, Mark headed to the spectacular Anglesey circuit. It was a completely new track for him, but with a setup he was happy with on the road, he was keen to see how it would transfer to the track…
“I’m not a hardcore track day driver – I suppose you could say I’m an occasional but enthusiastic track day goer. I had been steadily learning the M3, but always treated it with respect so I was surprised by how connected I felt to it at Anglesey. You can only commit so much on the road, but on track I could really lean on the suspension and feel it working.”
With regular stops into the pit lane to tweak the suspension for a more extreme track-based setup, Mark was able to go faster and faster. He gradually began to carry more speed into the braking zones whilst turning in with more commitment.
‘It really was magic!’ Mark concluded ‘It felt like a different car. The steering was more responsive to inputs, but was also finding a bit more bite and precision. I loved the way I could really push it into the corners knowing there was still some grip and stability in reserve. I think I even got the tail moving a few times, so I know I’m feeling happier to go for it. That was great fun.’
“Equally, I’m thrilled with the road setup. It delivers the body control I was after, but also manages to round off the sharp edges that the standard EDC suspension had in Sport mode. This is the perfect everyday setup that I can live with, no question. I really feel like I can get so much more from the car and myself, which is really exciting!”