Tech Stuff

Advances in ride control: Getting up-to-speed on electronic suspension control

Example of the magneto-rheological (MR) fluid system shown here on an Audi TT.
<p>Example of the magneto-rheological (MR) fluid system shown here on an Audi TT.</p>

Once upon a time, ride control simply referred to providing a vehicle with a comfortable driving experience while limiting excess body roll. This was primarily addressed by the automakers by the selection of the appropriate springs, shock absorbers that would dampen spring movement and anti-roll bars that somewhat tamed, or limited, excess body lean during turns or steering maneuvers.

A properly controlled suspension system, or “ride control” system, is enlisted with the responsibilities of controlling spring and suspension movement, enhancing tire life, providing consistent and predictable handling and braking, maintaining wheel alignment, and minimizing excessive body lean and body dive.

It should come as no surprise that with today’s ever-advancing and ever-encroaching computer control and management systems, the once mechanically operated suspension systems have now entered the management-by-ECU realm.

Generically, suspension systems that are “controlled” or “managed” by means of electronic aid may be referred to as “adaptive” or “active” suspensions.

Examples of vehicles that feature some sort of adaptive suspension system include such models as the 2008 Lexus GS350 with its adaptive ride control (this uses small electric motors attached to the upper tips of the shock rods to rotate the rods, changing damping characteristics much in the way that was once handled by manual adjustment on some adjustable performance shocks), 2002 and later Cadillac STS, GMC Yukon and Corvette with GM’s MagneRide system that uses a magnetic fluid approach, 2003 Volkswagen Phaeton’s continuous damping control, 2003 and later Mercedes Benz Airmatic, 2004-2007 Volvo 4-C active chassis system, Audi’s magnetic ride, just to name a few.

Basically, everyone’s getting into the act in terms of offering advanced ride control systems that may still be mechanically operated, but electronically controlled.

As this trend continues, shops, both dealer and independent, will begin to see more vehicles that are equipped with these systems.

Here, we’ll provide an overview of select systems in order to offer a bit of insight into their workings.

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