Alex Kersten profile picture Alex Kersten 5 years ago 148

Whatever Happened To The Humble Door Handle?

In the week of excess we've just had - which included everything from supercars and their ancestors, to a V12 Aston with more sex appeal than a third date - one thing that struck me was how tricky the modern cars were to get into. So what gives?

Remind me later
Jaguar - Whatever Happened To The Humble Door Handle?  - Blog

Everyone worth their salt on CT already knows what we were filming/shooting last week: R35 GT-R vs R34 Skyline GT-R was one highlight, as was an Aston Martin V12 Vantage S Roadster. There was also a Nissan 370Z Nismo and Jaguar XJR thrown in for good measure…

While we’re currently working on video and feature content for the aforementioned vehicles, one thing that I was keen to discuss was how the humble door handle has - it seems - no place on a modern sports/super/luxury car anymore.

To give you an idea of what I mean, here is a picture of the R35’s convoluted entrance portal

Jaguar - Whatever Happened To The Humble Door Handle?  - Blog

As you can see, you first need to poke at the right-hand side of the strip of aluminium before then reaching around the back to give it a tug. While this all sounds borderline sexual, the process is anything but sexy. First-time users (particularly mothers and girlfriends) simply look, pause, fail to process information and then panic when faced with such over-engineering.

Interestingly, the Aston Martin Vantage uses a similar mechanism as the Nissan’s.

Jaguar - Whatever Happened To The Humble Door Handle?  - Blog

The reason for these hidden door handles is very simple: aerodynamics. Anything that gets in the way of smooth airflow on, over, around and under a car will slow that car’s top speed. This is why manufacturers go to great lengths to make their models as slippery as possible. It seems strange, then, that a supercar like the GT-R (which has a drag coefficient of 0.26) doesn’t feature retracting wing mirrors as standard; it’s not like you’ll be looking in the mirrors at 200mph, and I’ll bet that you’d be able to eke out another 2-3mph without them there.

Other benefits of these door handles - speaking from personal experience - is that they’re often tricky enough to act as a theft deterrent if said thief is of a more simple disposition. These handles also look insanely cool, as I’m sure you’ll agree.

Another car that uses the same hidden handle tech includes the new Jaguar F-Type (drool) although this one doesn’t require a PhD in Mechanical Engineering to get right because the handles pop out automatically when you unlock the car.

Jaguar - Whatever Happened To The Humble Door Handle?  - Blog

Historically, hidden door handles are no new thing, however. Modest roadsters like the 1989 Mazda MX-5 had fairly aerodynamic but very simple handles, while a 1999 TVR Tuscan is famous for its ‘catch me if you can’ wing mirror-mounted door release button. There are many, many more weird and extreme door handles (I’m sure you’ll be keen to point out a few in the comments section) but you get my point, I’m sure.

Until all car makers think of increasingly clever ways for us to open their doors, I’m going to enjoy the satisfying pull handle as much as possible. Hell, I might even start opening the door for my girlfriend again…