The other day I discussed with a friend of mine what Handling actually means. He did a bit of research and found a "definition" in a 1996 CAR magazine issue. They spelled out five criterias then:
1. Grip: absolute lateral grip does matter. Tackling a corner fast is more fun than tackling it slowly
2. Steering: A good steering gives crisp, accurate response at the start of a corner and then responds proportionally afterwards. As the front tyres get a greater cornering load, the steering should weight up, gaining more self-centring force. Then, as the front tyres begin to slide, the steering should get lighter, so you know what's going on. This is what "steering feel" is all about
3. Progression: The tyres should not grip completely and then suddenly let go. Their slip-angles should build up gradually to tell the driver what's going on
4. Controllability: Even at the limit, when there's no more grip to be had, the car should respond crisply to inputs from steering and throttle, and in the steady state it should be balanced - understeer or oversteer should not predominate. Throttle response should be progressive and predictable
5. Stability: the car should not be thrown off its line by bumps. Under braking the car should follow the bidding of the steering wheel, rather than tramlining, or being deflected by the road's bumps and cambers
A bit later in 2002 Road & Track described "handling" this way:
"Handling is really the sum of the driver and the vehicle. The driver provides the input and the vehicle responds with feedback. Without an easy way to characterize the driver, we are left to study the vehicle response, or the vehicle dynamics".
They also went back to a guru of handling of the 50s, who put forward the following criteria:
1. Steering response to be fast and well damped, with the car showing minimum roll angle and roll/yaw coupling
2. Steering ratio appropriate for the speed range and adequate for emergency maneuvers
3. Smooth steering control force with progression in normal driving, definite on-center feel and moderately fast return
4. Minimum steering backlash, springiness and shake
5. Minimum change in car direction, pitching and control response with road roughness
6. Modest aerodynamic and tyre/road steady-state stability over speed range
7. High side forces, or ultimate cornering adhesion
8. Satisfactory skidding characteristics: adequate skid warning, gradual rear breakaway and easy natural recovery
9. Minimum change in behavior with braking and acceleration
Now it's quite funny to read this when you think it comes from the 50ies and you mentally compare an early Austin Healey with let's say a Nissan GTR.
But this brings me actually to another point: We probably all agree that the handling of modern car is superior to what we had in the 60ies or 70ies, there's been a lot of progress and it's amazing how fast you can corner these days thanks to modern tyres, suspension design and electronics. But, does better handling also mean more fun? Does handling actually equal fun? Is a modern Audi R8 really more exciting to drive than let's say a Alfa Romeo Giulia GTA?
You know what I will say. My answer is "no". Old cars offer in my eyes much more entertainment at a fairly safe speed. Taking one of my older race cars on a track like the Salzburgring is great fun and cutting the lap time in half isn't making it really better.