Low-Down + Facts + Skinny: Springs vs Air Suspension vs Coilovers!
You see tons and tons of threads asking what suspension one should go with on their vehicle. Much like a set of wheels, a good steak, a cold beer (or even a hot woman), very few men want the same thing from their suspension. We're pretty much all different, have different driving habits, want to go in a different direction with our projects, drive our cars more or less daily (or weekly) than the next fella, and last, but not least, live in different parts of the country (or state) where driving conditions make all the difference in the world with the suspension you decide to go with. We'll go out on a limb here and say that we're probably one of the few (if only) shops around with *in-house* shop cars that run on every darn combo you can think of - air suspension (Air Lift), coilovers (both KONI and B&G) springs with shocks (Eibach Pro-Kit with Bilstein HD), springs with shocks (NEUSPEED Sports with KONI Adjustable Sports) and yet another vehicle on a different combo of springs with shocks (a KONI FSD Eibach kit), ranging from a MK1 VW, a MK2 VW, a MK3 VW, an Audi B6 A4, a Suburban tow vehicle, two VW Corrados, a Mazda3 and an RX-7. Oh, and we'll be picking up a 335xi inside the next 180 days as a Bimmer project (our first) and it'll be on a set of coilovers that are TBA once we obtain the car. Yes, we like to collect cars and take up useless (or would that be precious?) space with them. The point? That we have the best of all worlds right here at our facility on each of our own in-house cars, drive them every day (and drive them hard), giving you hands-on experience and real world situations with air vs. coilovers vs. springs with matched shocks (both adjustable and non-adjustable). Without a doubt, there is a benefit and downside to each and no two people want the same thing from their suspension, hence why we have different vehicles here within our in-house projects all with different setups on them. Below will give you the breakdown of each:
SPRINGS WITH SHOCKS:
Because of cost, this is by far the most popular combination when choosing a performance suspension for your vehicle. This setup can pretty much give you the same benefits of coilovers without the ride height adjustability (that is if using KONI Sport Shocks). Rebound dampening adjustability (if using KONI Sport Shocks) can also be tailor-mated to the spring of your choice, again, giving you the same exact options of a good coilover kit. The downside, however, is that unlike coilovers or air, you cannot adjust the ride height. Determining what drop is right for you (i.e. .75", 1", 1.5", 2", etc) and deciding on what springs to go with (B&G, Eibach, H&R, Vogtland, NEUSPEED) is the biggest challenge. How low (or not low) do you want to go? Do you want the option of adjusting them for softness or firmness, or would you simply like a non-adjustable shock like the KONI Street (Orange) Shocks or Bilstein Sport Shocks?
No different than a spring with shock combo, but with the ability to adjust ride height and rebound dampening adjustability (kit dependent). Some kits on the market today offer rebound dampening and some do not (the difference being $$$$). All will offer ride height adjustments, though. Typically used for racing (most notably for corner balancing), coilovers are going to typically cost more than a spring and shock combo, but not typically as much as an air ride system. Most "real world" coilover users today are typically buying coilovers for the "idea" of having them and not necessarily for what they're intended for (racing and corner balancing). What we've found with a majority of our customers is that they're buying coilovers for their cars, dialing them in with ride height and dampening (where applicable) where they like it, then never, ever touching them again. That is nice and all, but somewhat defeats the purpose of spending $1000+ (or more) on a "racing" suspension, no? If you're comfortable with the 1.5" to 2" range (which is where a majority of your daily drivers are), why not just do a good spring with shock kit? A quality spring and shock combo (for a lot less money) will get you the same exact results with improved handling and steering response - and again - that adjustability should you go with a KONI Sport Shock. Ultimately, it's the end user's decision on what he wants to do, but nowadays it seems that most people just want to be able to say, "I have coilovers!" as opposed to actually using them for the track or the other types of racing they're intended for.
Obviously, air is going to be the most superior in "adjustability" options when it comes to suspension. Air ride is not a full-on "racing" suspension, but nor is a spring and shock combination necessarily one, either. For real world conditions (i.e. daily driving with occasional "spirited driving"), an air setup can be the perfect solution for those wanting comfort and ride height adjustability. Air will indeed ride the best in respect to comfort, but also comes with a price tag and minor trunk space loss that springs with shocks or coilovers do not have you sacrificing (hopefully you don't play golf). Even then, however, there are kits available with small compressors and tanks where a good portion of your trunk can be retained with false floors, hiding components, etc (something we can do for you here in-house at MJM). We recently removed coilovers on one of our cars (our B6 Audi A4 1.8TQ as seen in this month's "Eurotuner Magazine") and replaced it with air and two things were immediately evident:
1) The handling did not change whatsoever.
2) The ride comfort did indeed get better after changing over to air.
Air ride, however, is not for everyone, but on the particular car we did it on here at our facility, we would not go back to any other suspension setup and the difference is night and day over coilovers. In hindsight, we wish we would have made the decision to bag one of our cars a lot earlier than we did. It's cool for only about 101 different reasons, but not exactly something we want on each and every one of our 9 in-house project cars here at MJM, and again, it's certainly not for everyone (as they say, to each his own).
Suspension makes up for a fair percentage of our business here and we have experience with pretty much every single combination of setups you could imagine. Feel free to email us through our site (www.mjmautohaus.com) for some 1-on-1 consultation on what would work best for you based on your driving style, driving habits, road conditions, performance desires and budget for suspension modding. Again, we're the sole Warehouse Distributors for Air Lift, B&G Suspension, Eibach, H&R Special Springs and KONI, NEUSPEED here in South Texas with more *in-stock* suspension part numbers than any single distributor in our region and have experience with any setup your little heart desires. Whether you want the "static" of the firm and denture-loosing setup of something like an H&R Race Spring (or Eibach Sportline) with KONI's famed adjustable Sport Shock or the OEM + and OEM feel of an KONI FSD Shock Kit (that rides better than a factory car), we're here to serve you with what most folks want to do first with their car - THE SUSPENSION! Feel free to hit us up if we can help or if you have any questions.