Handling

Below is a list rating the handling of various vehicles in terms of their skidpad numbers, from Car and Driver's road tests. I stuck with one source for the skidpad numbers for consistency. More numbers can be found at Autosite. For example, the BMW X5 got a 0.79g number from Car and Driver, but sources quoted at Autosite give numbers from 0.78g to 0.82g. Below I included numbers directly from Car and Driver as well as numbers that Autosite quotes as being from Car and Driver that I couldn't find on Car and Driver's website due to page-not-found errors. Also shown below are the weight and ground clearances for some of the vehicles.

There are a few things to note about the BMW X5 from the list.

Lastly, I'm less confident about stating this as indisputable, but as far as I can tell, I am primarily interested in these conclusions for reasons of safety and, to a slightly lesser extent, of driving fun. You may have different reactions to this data.

[Note: The Subaru Forester S has a better skidpad number from Car and Driver by 0.01g, but given the range of numbers quoted at Autosite for the X5 (max of 0.82g, with 0.80g being the exact middle of the range) and the fact that there are no numbers better than 0.80 quoted from any source for the Forester at Autosite, it would be hard to claim that the Forester has better handling by any meaningful margin. Also, the slalom numbers at Autosite are better for the X5 than for the Forester. Still, the Forester has impressive handling as well (it is also much lighter however). Other Forester caveats: The Forester L has worse handing (0.71g) than the more expensive S trim, and both ratings apply to the '98 model. I don't know whether the 2001/2002s are different, but there aren't any C&D skidpad numbers for later models that I've seen.]

              ground
skid          clear-  S
-pad  weight  ance    U
(g)   (lbs.)  (in.)   V model
0.62                  . AM General Hummer
0.65                  . Ford Expedition
0.66                    Chevy Express Van
0.68                  . Toyota Land Cruiser
0.69                    Pontiac Aztek
0.70                    Toyota 4Runner
0.70                    Nissan Xterra
0.71                  . Subaru Forester L
0.72                  . Nissan Pathfinder
0.73                  . Lexus RS300
0.73                    Toyota Camry
0.73                    Land Rover Discovery Series II
0.73                    Land Rover Range Rover
0.73                  . Mercedes-Benz ML430
0.74                  . Mercedes-Benz ML55 AMG
0.74                  . Acura MDX (from Motor Trend, no published C&D test)
0.74                  . Honda CR-V
0.74                    Honda Odyssey
0.75                  . Mitsubishi Montero Sport 4x4
0.75                    Ford Taurus
0.76                    Mazda MPV
0.76                  . Jeep Grand Cherokee
0.77                    Toyota Echo
0.77                    VW Passat
0.77                    Mitsubishi Galant
0.77                    Toyota Corolla
0.77                    Toyota ECHO
0.77   4926    7.9    . Dodge Durango R/T
0.77   3884    8.2    ? Volvo V70 XC
0.77                    Honda Civic
0.78                    VW Jetta
0.78                    Mitsubishi Mirage
0.78                    Kia Sephia
0.78                  . Toyota RAV4
0.79                    Subaru Impreza 2.5RS
0.79   4219  5.6-8.2  ? Audi allroad quattro
0.79                    Honda Accord
0.79   4933    7.1    . BMW X5 4.4i w/ sport suspension
0.80   3191    7.5    . Subaru Forester S AWD
0.80                    Saab 9-3
0.80   3293    5.5      Nissan Maxima
0.81                    Mitsubishi Eclipse
0.81                    Lexus GS400
0.81                    Audi A6
0.82   2644    6.1      Plymouth Neon LX
0.82   3440    6.6      Saab 9-5
0.83                    BMW 330i
0.83                    Lexus LS430
0.84   3768             BMW 540i
0.85                    Nissan Sentra
0.86                    Dodge Neon R/T
0.86                    BMW Z3
0.87                    Audi A4
0.88                    Toyota Celica GT-S
0.88                    Toyota MR2 Spyder
0.88                    Acura Integra
0.92                    Porshe Boxster
0.93                    Acura NSX
0.95                    Porshe 911 Carrera 4
0.96   3410    5.0      Dodge Viper

The X5, the Forester, and the Audi allroad quattro all have very impressive handling considering their off-road abilities and ride-height visibility. They all blow away most other off-road capable vehicles, and beat many conventional cars as well. None of these have significant rock crawling ability, but if you want to maximize handling while maintaining modest off-roading ability they are all a testament to how stable you can make high vehicles by engineering the weight to be low and using good suspensions. It is also worth noting that the Jeep Grand Cherokee, which is one of the most capable off-roaders, also has a skidpad number near the top of the SUV pack.

For me, the X5 wins over the Forester and edges out the allroad quattro for the following safety-related reasons: The Forester, like all Subarus currently, lacks side head airbag protection. Side head airbag protection is very important, as I discuss in my Safest Car page. Second, the Forester is too light to be nearly as safe as a mid-sized SUV/truck in multi-vehicle collisions. It weighs in around the same weight as typical mid-side sedans. The allroad quattro loses out for me because of crashworthiness. There have been no published crash tests for the allroad, but best guesses based on A6 crash tests suggest that it won't be as safe for the occupants as the X5. Still, the allroad might have better crashworthiness than the A6. And on the plus side for the Forester is the fact that it is roughly half the price of either the X5 or the allroad, and has quite reasonable crash test results across the board (better than the A6, worse than the X5, but better than almost all other small SUVs).

Obviously the list isn't comprehensive in any way. I just picked some representative vehicles from each class of vehicle and made sure to get all the vehicles in the blurry near-SUV class, for which numbers were available.

I wish I could find published skidpad numbers for the X5 3.0i, both with and without the sport suspension, as well as for the 4.4i without the sport suspension. Autosite lists one report of 0.78g for the 3.0i, but doesn't specify whether it had the sport option. Please let me know if you find any more specific numbers.

It would be nice to have slalom numbers as well from a single consistent source. Still, the numbers quoted at Autosite from various sources are a useful rough indication of performance in this regard. I should probably use Consumer Reports emergency avoidance maneuver speed as a substitute for slalom since they have tested most makes and models and the numbers are readily available. Eventually I'll update this list with changes like that.


More information about automobile safety.

Other health and safety related consumer info that I've collected.

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Karl Pfleger
kpfleger@cs.stanford.edu
February, 2001