Why I ‘Downgraded’ From Coilovers Back To Conventional Suspension
The street-friendly suspension setup rides nicer.
It’s the end of an era, my friends. I recently swapped the suspension in my Mazda 2 to a more conventional damper and spring setup after running very stiff Fortune Auto 500 coilovers with very little shock travel, and man, what a relief it is. Also, what a relief it is to be writing about my own Mazda 2 once again. Between staying occupied with my old Land Rover Discovery and press loans, I’ve barely driven the 2 in the past couple of months.
Anyway, back to the key source of my relief: a swap to a suspension that’s still sporty, but much more street-friendly. Low travel plus stiff spring rates meant a very controlled ride on the track with essentially no body roll, but far from conducive for everyday driving in this dual-purpose track car. Or rather, rolling over any surface that wasn’t as smooth as glass, which includes curbs on track, bumpy bits of twisty mountain roads, and the usual beat-up fare we encounter on our great nation’s roads. I wasn’t messing around with my spring rates: Eibach ERS race springs to the tune of 10K front and 6K rear. These are stiffer than the spec setup for the Mazda 2 in SCCA‘s B-Spec racing class.
Refreshingly, my 2 rides a bit differently now. I’ve got Koni STR.T dampers (often referred to as “Koni Oranges”) and H&R Sport springs in place of the rock-hard Fortune Auto 500s. I actually have some familiarity with this new setup: when I first moved to Southern California five years ago and started tracking, I was also running H&R Sport springs, but with Corksport adjustable dampers (no longer available) and thick front and rear sway bars. Overall, I don’t recall there being too much body roll on Streets of Willow, which is a particularly tight and technical SoCal track.
For those who have been reading Car Bibles since the very early beginning, first of all, thank you. But also, this all might sound vaguely familiar.
I actually attempted to swap to this setup about a year ago. Not only to get my 2 into sell-able condition, because nobody would’ve bought it with those stiff-as-hell coilovers, but moreover to make it a more pleasant place to be. It took commitment to travel more than an hour behind the wheel. I had to ask myself “is it worth dealing with the back pain to go to X destination?”
I say attempted, because while swapping parts way back then I hit a wall. From my perception at the time, the front shocks looked way too big—like, how will all of this fit under the wheel arch compared to my tiny, slim coilovers? I sold all of the new parts at the time, but not too long ago I re-bought them after doing some research and taking constructive criticism from my dear fellow Mazda 2 owners into account. The part numbers still didn’t match what the catalog said they should be, but luckily, they came with a good return policy.
Sigh, yup I was incredibly wrong. As I found out just a few days ago when I got to work bolting it all in, this spring and damper combo all fit just fine. It’s even meant for the Mazda 2’s faster, more European cousin: the Ford Fiesta ST. I went this route because Ford parts are cheaper and more plentiful than Mazda parts when it comes to this shared platform, and I’m thinking the valving for the Fiesta’s heavier 2,720-pound curb weight might have better longevity bolted up under the 2,300-pound 2.
No rubbing on the tires’ sidewalls or wheels, no spring binding, no strange side effects at all. Well, except for having to torque down the top mount nut a tad more on the passenger side after a brief test drive.
One big lesson I learned: I should’ve just lowered the car on the new suspension the first time to test fit. Surely, if everything bolts up without issue, and plenty of other Mazda 2 owners have had success running this sort of setup, just putting everything under load would’ve quickly confirmed or extinguished any doubts.
In the rear of my little featherlight hatchback, I swapped over to the new springs and driver-side damper just fine. Last time, one of the top bolts on the other passenger-side damper was stuck pretty damn well, so I actually avoided that for the time being.
The plan is to use a little more effort to remove that bolt. I intend on using a set of easy-outs to remove it eventually. Easy-outs are sort of tricky for my simple brain: carefully drill into the tiny stuck bolt, hammer in the easy-out, and then slowly twist it out with whatever sturdy method is available. Luckily I’ve got a tiny set of channel locks that I should be able to get enough leverage on. So for now, I’ve got a coilover damper matched to the H&R spring, as the rear spring and damper combo is what’s referred to as divorced, or separated, underneath the 2.
I’ve also still got some minor adjustments to make, like throwing the original front sway bar back in. This is an easy-peasy job that should take no more than an hour thanks to the OEM bar possessing the diameter of a No. 2 pencil.
The front wheels also need a fresh alignment, which thankfully was barely knocked out of spec thanks to the ride height being very similar to what it was with the coilovers.
Up front, I’ve got H&R eccentric bolts which allow for a much more performance-oriented 2.5-degree-or-so negative camber setting. This tilts the top of the wheels more inward, aiding cornering grip and stability. I’m of the opinion that it has far less of an effect on tire wear on track-centric, 200-treadwear tires than people think it does. These are my tires of choice living in SoCal all year round as our excellent climate allows it. Previously, I had the negative camber maxed out with the coilovers, and luckily was still able to do this with the new setup without the inner rim or tire touching the shock body. However, adjusting the toe will be a pain in the ass.
Toe is where the wheels point. Literally, think of it as pointing your very own toes inward or outward. Toe-in (as in, the tires are pointing inward) is good for acceleration, toe-out is good for turn-in and cornering grip. Personally, I’m a big fan of the toe being right in the middle: zeroed-out. It’s great for tire wear and a good compromise. Since my ride height didn’t change much, I’ve just got some very minor adjustments to do here. Though, to me, it’s a pain to do on my driveway with toe plates and open-end wrenches.
I’m quite excited to roll around on this conventional, non-adjustable spring and damper setup, as I’ve read good things about Koni STR.Ts. In fact, they’re the shock of choice for a lot of racers who are confined to non-adjustable shocks in certain amateur, club-level classes. I also dig the H&R Sport springs as they quite literally make the ride noticeably sportier, but not overly so. I haven’t driven very far on this setup just yet, but have already been digging the well-damped ride, lack of brake dive, and well-contained body roll. It sure is nice to have shock travel, too, which I think might bode well for me on track due to the wheels easily maintaining a better contact patch.
Time will tell whether this setup will be as fast as my previous, spine-shattering one was on track. I might end up making it harder on myself to continue dropping lap times. But if there’s one thing this whole process has taught me, it’s that stiff and track-centric suspension just gets old after a while if you’re spending more time behind the wheel on the street than on the circuit. But everyone’s tolerance and preference for ride stiffness are different, so it’s something I had to experience and learn on my own.
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