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How Does a Wheelbase Affect the Ride?

by Chris Weis

Chassis configurations have been modified and altered over the years for theory evaluations and to accommodate requirements. The wheelbase of a vehicle is the distance between the front and rear axles, and can help determine the vehicle's classification. A manufacturer's claim to be "best in class" may partially depend on the wheelbase of the model being flogged. Important ride and handling characteristics are reliant on the wheelbase and related chassis geometry.

Stretched Out

Imagine parking this behemoth in a modern parking lot.

Early luxury cars relied heavily on long wheelbases to attain ride quality. A long wheelbase could overcome the primitive performance of early tires and shocks. This configuration allowed ample passenger comfort in gradual turns and straight lines, but making a u-turn on a country lane might require a minor miracle, or at least a box-lunch packed ahead of time. Turning radius is greatly reduced by a long wheelbase, and can be impractical in modern traffic.

Sporty Shorties

Short wheelbases have tighter turning angles and can corner faster than equivalent vehicles with long wheelbases. That is why sporty versions of existing models are two-door bodies rather than four-doors. The extra chassis length needed to accommodate the back doors detracts from any spirited handling. Plush ride quality is sacrificed for purposeful performance. Jeeps and their ilk, epitomize this notion. Steep inclines and uneven surfaces are easily traversed with a short wheelbase vehicle.

Weight

Long wheelbase vehicles may smooth out the roads most traveled, but a school bus has a long wheelbase, but the ride is not good. Wheel size and spring rates, along with the center of gravity all contribute to ride character. Wheelbases are sometimes increased to allow lower placement of heavy drive line components to lower the center of gravity. A low center of gravity reduces body roll in turns, and provides a "planted" feel.

Bounce to the Ounce

The closer the axles are to one another, the less time exists for shock absorption by the separate suspension components. The relative size of the wheels can amplify a rough ride, like a Jeep, or help proportion the chassis to the purpose, like a Camry. A long wheelbase with large wheel diameter might provide the smoothest travel, but modern suspension technology can provide superlative solutions in moderate wheelbase configurations.

References

About the Author

Chris Weis is a freelance writer with hands-on experience in accident investigation, emergency vehicle operation and maintenance. He began his writing career writing curriculum and lectures in automotive mechanics at New York Technical Institute. Weis has contributed to "Florida" magazine and written procedure and safety guidelines for transportation concerns.

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