Here’s How Adaptive Suspension Systems Work and Which New Cars and SUVs Have One

If you’re looking at new cars or new SUVs, you probably look at the standard and optional features listed. On select vehicles you may see adaptive suspension or active suspension. But if you’re like most people, you likely don’t know the difference. So, what’s the difference between active and adaptive suspension, and which vehicles have an adaptive car suspension?

What is an adaptive suspension?

A blue Audi A3 Sportback with adaptive suspension parked indoors.
Audi A3 Sportback with adaptive suspension | Getty Images

According to Auto Trader, an adaptive suspension system allows the driver to choose between a suspension suited for driving over bumpy roads or one designed for handling on smooth roads. The key components include an air compressor to push the air toward the reservoir while the reservoir collects the air. The rubber membranes cushion the impact using the air from the reservoir while the sensors show ride height and help the vehicle stay flat when air is pushed in or let out.

How does it work?

There are three types of adaptive suspension systems that work differently from one another. All three have dampers that consist of a cylinder containing oil and a piston that helps to cushion the car as it travels over bumps. According to Car Throttle, the three types are adaptive air suspension, magnetorheological dampening, and value-actuated.

Air suspension

Instead of steel springs, an air adaptive suspension has airbags made from polyurethane or rubber. A compressor and valves help fill the airbags with air and release the air depending on the driver’s preference. The driver can change the ride’s height with an adaptive air suspension to give the vehicle more clearance.

Magnetorheological dampening

Magnetorheological dampening uses fluid with metallic particles. The characteristics of the fluid change if there is a magnetic charge applied. With a magnetic charge, the fluid’s viscosity increases, and the ride becomes firmer, which the driver controls from the cabin.

Value-actuated

As the name suggests, this suspension system works by a series of valves that control how fast the pistons move. Like with the magnetorheological and air adaptive systems, the driver can control how soft or firm they want the ride with a switch in the cabin.

What is the difference between active and adaptive suspension?

Most vehicles on the road have a passive suspension system where the body of the vehicle has springs to protect it from bumpy roads and dissipate the energy on the springs. An active suspension system has sensors that detect the forces against the wheel and the connections between the wheels and the vehicle’s body to keep the vehicle level. In other words, the active suspension is always “on.” Compared with the adaptive suspension, the driver controls when they want to change the suspension to adapt to bumpy roads or potholes.

What vehicles have it?

If you have a high-end luxury vehicle or sports car, you may already have an adaptive suspension and not even realize it. Many models have an it, including:

How do I know if my car has adaptive suspension?

Other than researching your vehicle’s year, make, and model, the easiest way to determine if you have it is by going through your car’s dashboard computer. If your car doesn’t have a dashboard display system, then it’s likely you don’t have that type of suspension.

Is adaptive suspension worth it?

According to How Stuff Works, if you have a higher-end car, or a sports car, it adds versatility you wouldn’t otherwise have with a typical suspension system. If you have a sports car, you can have a smoother driving experience on bumpier streets while enjoying a more engaging drive when you engage in sports mode. The adaptive suspension is worth having since you’re likely to drive on different road types.

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