Lightweight materials are only part of the equation when it comes to what makes high-performance braking systems superior to factory equipment.
The braking system in many mainstream cars is designed, engineered and built to a price point. With mass production of affordable cars, braking systems are typically built to be good enough for the average driver and to keep costs down.
Of course, there’s always room for improvement. That’s why high-performance brakes are commonly fitted to pricier, higher-performing vehicles, and why some of these even feature further-upgraded braking system components built from exotic materials and backed by the latest braking system technologies.
Furthermore, upgraded performance braking systems are at the core of a multi-million-dollar industry propped up by tuners, driving enthusiasts and motorsports participants around the globe.
The gist? While the braking system in a mainstream, mass-produced car, motorcycle, truck or crossover is good, many better options exist — and shoppers desiring top-level braking performance have no shortage of choices.
Below, we’ll take a look at the world of performance braking systems and braking system upgrades. Whether you’re considering upgrading the brakes on your existing vehicle for a higher performance set or shopping for a new vehicle with the latest in high-end braking technology on board, here are the basics:
Weight is the enemy of fuel economy, handling and performance, which is why automakers are going to more extreme lengths than ever to make lighter vehicles. Often this involves numerous incremental weight-reduction measures throughout the vehicle. One way to reduce mass is by using a high-performance braking system with aluminum brake calipers.
Conventional brake calipers are typically made of iron and steel, which is cheap and durable, but heavy. Aluminum calipers weigh less, saving a few pounds while reducing the vehicle’s unsprung weight — that is, the weight of parts like wheels, axle hubs and brakes that don’t ride on top of the vehicle’s suspension. This contributes to improved handling response, steering feel and overall performance.
Many of the world’s fastest cars do away with commonly used cast iron brake rotors in exchange for something much more exotic. Carbon-ceramic brake rotors have been taking center stage in the most extreme performance braking systems for years; the materials used in their construction have their roots in the worlds of aerospace and motorsports.
By making the brake rotors out of this composite blend of lightweight and alluring materials, many benefits are realized: carbon-ceramic brakes are lighter, have a longer service life, are massively resist thermal fatigue and brake fade, and perform far more powerfully and consistently in racetrack and motorsport use.
Though the use of carbon-ceramic brake rotors is arguably the single best way to improve a vehicle’s braking performance, they are massively expensive — which is why they’re typically only found in big-dollar, high-performance vehicles.