Ceramic Brakes, Do You Need Them?
Like all specifications on a car - the majority of them are personal, especially when it comes to aesthetics. But what about when it comes to performance? Let us assume for one moment that money wasn't a variable in this discussion - would I be correct in assuming most people would want to spec the very best options possible for their car?
With this in mind, it is likely that on a performance car the option of carbon ceramic brakes would almost certainly be ticked. Why? Because ultimately they are the better brake. They are lighter - improving the overall weight of the car, unsprung mass and steering feel. Ceramics almost completely resist fade and typically the look better too, a personal opinion sure but nothing quite fills a wheel like a good set of ceramics and they are pure engineering porn too. There is a reason all Ferrari's come with carbon ceramic brakes these days.
So, why the debate over whether you would have them on your car or not? Well, back to reality for a minute - they cost a bloody lot of money! And this is where it not only comes down to finances but also the way you use your car.
Let's take the BMW M3/4 as an example because it's a fast yet versatile car that can be optioned with or without ceramic brakes. Even though the price of ceramics has come down over the years - the option on the BMW M3 or M4 is £6,250.00 (as of Jan 2016). Now, if you plan on using your M car as a daily driver, with the odd road trip or weekend blast here and there, the standard brakes are going to be just fine. Certain track days are going to be ok too as long as you are just looking to enjoy your car and not brake any records.
However, if you are looking to elevate your driving to the next level, maybe you hammer those track days and spend more than once or twice a year in the Alps in supercar convoys bombing it down hill, braking hard at every corner for 100's of miles - ceramics are going to come into their own.
But you cant ignore the cost I hear you say? In most circumstances I fully appreciate that, but let me share with you a personal experience of mine...
I once owned an Audi R8 V8 back in 2009, it was a great car with brilliant balance and impressive performance. However, Audi decided to fit the brakes from what were essentially from the B7 RS4 - by conventional road car standards a pretty swift vehicle. But these brakes were ultimately designed for a saloon car. Twice during my ownership of this R8 I warped my discs, boiled my fluid and glazed my pads. Once on track and once in the Alps. In fact at times i thought the mountains were more punishing than the track, the reason being that when you are in a convoy of other supercars who are all 'on it'...you don't want to get left behind and there is little to no opportunity for a 'cool down lap' like you can on track.
Needless to say the cost of replacing those discs, pads and fluid with Audi labour...twice was about the same as a set of ceramics on the options list.
Now I appreciate this is a personal and probably quite an isolated incident - but it did happen, it did cost a lot and at one point it did scare the sh!t out of me. I would strongly advise staying away from running out of brakes at speed on a mountain pass. It isn't good for the stress levels.
There is also a debate about steel rotors and ceramics having the same braking capability, and while yes some do - these are not the standard steel rotors that come with the car - you're still going to need to upgrade to AP's or something similar to have matched braking performance and by the very nature of physics these will require a larger surface area and therefore a heavier option.
Coming back full circle - there is no right or wrong answer to this, it is all circumstantial, but if you can afford, I don't see many reasons against and every reason for having the best brakes you can on your car.