A strange concept it is, handling. It’s probably the most important aspect of a car, yet it’s the hardest to describe. In his latest column for The Telegraph, Top Gear host James May offers a concise summary.

A way the mechanical forces acting on a car in motion sum up to define the way it behaves, yes, but try explaining it to someone who doesn’t know a lot about cars—and pointing to its 6,300-word Wikipedia entry does not count.

In fact, when I first became interested in cars, I was surprised to find that the term doesn’t have an equivalent in my native Hungarian—people either use cumbersome multi-sentence contraptions or just shrug and fall back to the English word, szóval ennek a kikönnyített Bömösnek elég jó lett a handlingje, something like that.


Here’s May’s take, based on observations of animals engaged in precise motion they evolved to perform:

Handling is […] the ability of the machine to feed information back to our receiving apparatus so that we can act minutely on it. The higher the fidelity of the feedback, the more precisely we can use it.

Not much of a definition, you may say. But if you think about it, May’s two sentences go a long way toward explaining what makes a car good: the less cruft, weight and imprecision there is between it and our senses, the better it can disappear and become an extension of our bodies. Thus transforming 160 pounds of water, protein and inorganics into a 2,700-pound, highly precise land cyborg, faster than any land animal that’s ever lived, pictured above in the form of a BMW E30 M3 taking Bergwerk corner on the Nürburgring Nordschleife.


Read his whole piece. It’s mostly about his cat Fusker. And wood pigeons.

Photo Credit: sweens308, grahambancroft