We got a chance to sit down with Lee Grimes, an Automotive Product Manager with Koni (and a racer himself with decades of track experience), to get his take on performance trends, suspension tuning, and some common misconceptions when it comes to suspension upgrades.
Do folks often come to you with improperly set-up suspension components?
Oh yeah. You’ll hear people come and say ‘I’ve had five different suspensions on my car and I can’t get it right.’
That’s usually because they were shopping on a budget or bought the wrong stuff.
But rather than have five, they could’ve talked to [an expert] and done it right the first time.
What do you discover when you people say their suspension isn’t right?
A lot of times, the car is too low.
A suspension is supposed to be a suspension—not a solid. It’s got to be able to move so the car can handle well and ride well.
If a car [suspension] itself can move, it’ll be much more pleasant, and much faster.
And it’s really not that difficult to do it right.
Well, how do you do it right?
Tell me your situation. Is it a family driver? Weekend toy? Are you going to take it for a track day?
Do you want to lower the car? Stick with the Koni Yellows or Koni Street.
If you have choppy roads and don’t want to lower it too much but still want to improve its handling, now we’re talking Koni’s Special Active.
We’ve got a bit of a ‘menu’ and with some of your input, we’ll be able to help you.
So a ‘low’ suspension doesn’t always equate to good handling?
When you lower the car, yes, your center of gravity goes down, but the suspension’s still got to be able to move.
How low should a car go then?
Some cars you can easily take a fair amount of ride height out of, because it’s got a lot of suspension stroke.
Other cars, like the Mini Cooper for example, it’s a good handling little car, but it has very little suspension stroke to begin with. You take a couple inches away from it, the handling’s probably going to get worse. Unless you do some other things to tweak it.
You’ve still got to work within what the car gives you.
Like this Mustang [gesturing towards a sixth-gen], look at the wheel gap. You can knock an inch, or inch-and-a-half off, no problem. It’s going to handle better and still ride well.
Is there a perfect middleground where you can get a performance suspension with an aggressive ride height, without significantly compromising performance?
Sure, what you’re looking for is just a well-engineered package. And that’s what we’re bringing to the table.
You’ve got to have good-quality internals. A damper’s real work is being hidden behind its paint job. You can’t go by physical appearance.
What is the most common misconception you’ve heard regarding a performance suspension upgrade?
Everybody’s got to have coilover [shocks].
The reality is that a coilover is a really useful tool for people with very specific performance needs in mind—but [for some applications] installing coilovers may be detrimental.
You’re saying a coilover isn’t a silver bullet?
A lot of people who want coilovers just want ‘low.’
Low can work, if you do low right.
But you’ve got to look for quality. A lot of [coilovers] look pretty on the outside, but are very basic on the inside. Then they’ll run a stiff spring to hide a poor-quality damper.
On our coilover program, we have a high-quality damper and we can get away with the same ride height with less spring.
Factory cars are becoming better and better, do you think there’s still room for performance suspension improvement?
Yeah. Detroit, for example, is generally paying about 12 dollars per strut and about eight bucks for a shock, on average. So how much real technology can there be inside that shock?
The factory engineers have to work within a technology-restrained, financially-restrained situation. They’re doing the best that they can, but [the aftermarket] has got higher technology and can ask a bit more money to get it…now we can really make big gains.
Your ROI is comfort, performance, lap times.
There’s a ton of potential then, in a suspension upgrade?
Absolutely. We can make adjustments and we can give you handling.
The interview occurred on July 7, 2018.