Sixteen Thousand Kilometers On Air

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On the way back from H2O the odometer on my 2004 Mazda 3 clicked past 216,000 which means that I have now traveled roughly sixteen thousand kilometers on my Air Lift Performance suspension set-up.

Since my switch to the ‘darkside’ via the final production prototype of Air Lift’s Mazda 3 kit I’ve been repeatedly asked a few of the same questions about my suspension.

These questions are generally variations of: how does it ride, how reliable/accurate is the management system, and do you plan on driving it in the winter?

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To answer the last question first yes I will continue to drive my car all year. This car is, and will always be, a daily driver and that includes driving it straight through the absolute worst of the winter conditions here in Toronto.

My immediate plans for winter prep are actually quite simple; drain the tank more often.

Air Lift tests their bags and struts to both hot and cold extremes so I’ve got nothing to worry about in that regard, and since the main issues people have running air in the winter stems from moisture freezing in the lines –or leaks of which I have none– draining my tank weekly instead of monthly should eliminate/minimize any problems I could encounter.

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Should the aforementioned not be sufficient I will add a little brake line antifreeze to the mix, if I encounter any problems after that step I will add a water trap.

I intend to do a mid winter update on this very subject so if you are particularly concerned about winter driving on bags look out for that post in February.

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In terms of reliability my set-up has thus far been absolutely rock solid. The Autopilot V2 management system really is quite the small wonder, it occupies next to no space in my hatch and performs flawlessly.

Currently I have four ride height presets, an all up, and an all down saved in my V2.

My presets (measured in psi) are as follows:

Preset Driver Front Passenger Front Driver Rear Passenger Rear
Solo 38 38 38 30
One Passenger 40 42 38 35
Two Passengers 42 42 43 40
Three Passengers (full car) 43 43 52 49
All Up 70 70 65 65
All Down 0 0 0 0

These presets put me at roughly 22 3/4″  front and 23 1/4″ rear fender to ground which equates to a very minimal amount of tire tuck with a slight forward rake.

This is exactly how I wanted my car to sit and hair lower than I was static.

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One of the biggest advantages of the Air Lift strut set-up is that as the system raises or lowers psi in the air spring the spring rates increase or decrease respectively, while the struts maintain their full length of travel.

This means that the increase in pressure at each preset above ensures that my wheels don’t hit my fenders and the car doesn’t hit the ground over bumps when more passengers are introduced.

Determining the best pressures for the above scenarios only took about a minute or two of play on manual mode when faced with a new scenario. In fact my full car preset was established in a matter of minutes in Ocean City when we decided to cruise the strip in my car.

Should a new situation arise I still have three more presets to play with, which quite frankly is more than enough.

If you are curious about the difference in drivers rear versus passenger rear, my passenger quarter was the first one I ever rolled and has slightly more pull which means in order to look right visually I run a little less psi.

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In my eight month experience the system has always come within +/- 1 psi of the preset and the only ‘problem’ I’ve ever encountered is the car not sitting quite as low as I want when transitioning to ride height from the all up preset.

The pressures read correct but the car for whatever reason it sits a little bit high. This could be attributed to the fact that whenever I use all up I also jack the car off the ground.

If I double tap the preset button with the car in motion things settle down back to where they should be. With the way my (and presumably most of you) wheels are set-up the system erring on the side of too high is easier on the wallet than too low.

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The ride quality, in a word, is beautiful. While I managed to convince myself my static ride wasn’t that bad, my passengers thought quite the contrary. Previously I had next to no travel with moderately stiff springs, which meant anyone in my car felt every bump in the road and on occasion got to know the physical limits of my suspension travel quite intimately.

The improvement in ride quality was noticeable the instant I first drove the car on air and to date I have yet to bottom out my struts in the sixteen thousand km I’ve driven.

This includes trips to Detroit, Montreal, and Ocean City.

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Despite what many assume, modern air suspension is not ‘floaty’ or under damped, and the best way to describe my ride quality now would be to liken it to a functionally set up street coilover system.

My ride quality is now worlds away from stock, stiffer than springs, but considerably more enjoyable than your standard (BC/Stance/Megan/Raceland ETC) coilovers at full down and full stiff.

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Set to 20/30 in the adjustment range I can feel at ease driving my parents around without fear of rattling their brains out, and my wife has gone as far to admit that the car is now comfortable to travel within.

At the same time I can take on/off ramps at a good clip and not have to worry about my wheels having it out with my quarter panels, or feeling like I am the captain of a particularly large sea vessel.

I’ve yet to take the car onto a track but I know that Air Lift did track test this suspension set-up and it performed quite well.

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All said and done I honestly couldn’t be happier with my car on air and can’t really think of any reason why I would switch back. The ride is firm but forgiving, the system can be counted on, the only thing I had to sacrifice was a spare tire, and I can park right on the ground.

If you have any further questions about my experiences, set-up or anything else please feel free to comment below and I will answer them as soon as I can. Every comment on this post will receive an answer.

4 COMMENTS

  1. I hope they come out with a 2011+Elantra kit soon as reading this article definitely helped sway my decision towards air! Car looks great!

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