Air is nice! Imagine driving on air instead of something as crude as metal suspension. The most comfortable cars in the history of cars all use air suspension. Call them airbags or call them air springs, but air suspension is a formidable if quirky alternative to conventional coil and leaf springs.
Air suspension systems make use of inflatable bellows or air bags made out of rubber infused textile. Air pressure from an electric or engine driven pump is used to inflate them. The most famous example of a car with air suspension would be the Citroen DS, which in 1955 incorporated a hydropneumatic oil or air suspension. It’s widely regarded as the smoothest and most comfortable ride in the history of suspension. In addition to being soft and comfortable, air suspension has some interesting performance advantages, such as self-levelling and ride height control.
Air springs, unlike steel springs, can be adjusted to cancel out in real time all the bumps in the road, keeping the vehicle level at all times despite the rough road surface. Self-levelling is like an invisible air magic carpet under your car. To go back to the incredible comfort of Citroen suspension, in 1965, Rolls Royce for the first time utilised air suspension in the Silver Shadow with licensing from Citroen. Self-levelling is what gives you that unsurpassed flying carpet feeling and Rolls Royce knew it back then.
Ride height control allows the car to lower as it goes faster, making it more aerodynamic, but you can raise it up later to ease egress or ingress, or when driving through bumpy terrain. Porsche’s Panamera uses the versatility of air suspension to adjust the damping and spring rates for sport settings. Both the Model S and X Teslas offer Active Air Suspension to increase range by lowering the car.
The Lincoln Mark VIII took things further by linking the seat memory system to the suspension settings, so that when the seat memory button was pressed, the suspension would revert to your preferred settings as well. Genius!
But they also give a car some street cred. Slammed cars are currently the in thing, where cars are lowered to an obscene level, getting uncomfortably close to the ground and sporting a staggered stance. If that’s not cool enough for you, then how about hydraulics or air suspension as seen in many a Snoop Dogg music video?