Is the air ride suspension a "must have" feature?

Is the air ride suspension a "must have" feature?

Its pretty expensive but is it worth it? Would it be a good first "sacrifice" if concerned about budget?

petero | October 27, 2013

To me ....YES! I have the air and I had a loaner without it, and the ride was worlds apart.

Best thing to do is find a store that has both and drive back to back over uneven roads, speed bumps, and other regularities. Driving on a smooth road will tell you nothing.

romainiacWV | October 27, 2013

Don't forget the ability to raise and lower the AS. sounds like a nice but never use feature but it's not. Often set the AS high to clear driveways and parking lot bumpers. Also, makes getting into and out of car easier for people.

Car t man | October 28, 2013

Air suspension will also last longer and act as in top shape to point of failure. It is more costly to fix but it is possible to have the pneumatic rubber components (the ones actually wearing out) renewed cheaply like on the Mercedes (Tesla's are from Mercedes),.. In general, yes, take the air suspension. It also means constant ride height, regardless of No. of occupants and cargo...

lolachampcar | October 28, 2013

And then there is my opinion.....
(1) I dislike the disconnected feel of air suspension and prefer coil springs. If I could have ordered my P+ with springs, I would have.
(2) Modern coil springs will work the same way to the end of the car's life and typically do not degrade at all. Older technology would slowly loose spring rate over ten or so years but this is no longer the case. So, coils will outlast air.
(3) The 50mm Bilstein damper units are the same with coil and air so no difference in longevity there.
(4) The ride height is pick up truckish with the coil springs so the air cars have the handling benefit of the lower ride height and look better. For me, the ideal would be active air ride height using coil springs but then you have a low riding car without the ability to raise it over obstacles.

Practically speaking, the advice to drive the two is fantastic. I love driving my wife's S85 with coil springs and also like my P+. I guess Tesla just makes a fantastic car no matter how you slice it :)

gimp_dad | October 28, 2013

Not sure if my opinion is just because I have a very early P85 but over roads that are not rough my air suspension is inferior to the non-air in the P85.

If you like responsiveness over plushness in your ride and you don't live somewhere with a lot of potholes, the non-air is definitely worth considering. If you prefer a luxury ride over pure handling responsiveness you will probably want air because it is less harsh in general.

The lower ride height at speed is nice but I have a lot of weird feelings in the suspension when accelerating hard into a turn from low speed to highway speed (i.e. punching it on an on ramp -- OK I am an adolescent 50 year old :-)). Not sure how much of it is the original bushings vs traction control vs ride height adjustment at just the wrong time but it was totally seamless with a P85 non-air loaner I had for several days.

rocketscientist34563 | October 28, 2013

I asked the same question when ordering my S85. I went with it and now after driving the car just over a week I'm glad I did. The car is low...I went out a driveway that looked like nothing and heard the rear bottom hit. True...I did not know ahead of time and did not raise the car. However...I'm learning. I will be using it when it doubt. This car is so gorgeous, you'll want the ability to protect it. Plus the tech package is really was a lot for us to spend on auto door handles but...once you have it you'll love it, : )

AmpedRealtor | October 28, 2013

My personal P85 is equipped with air, but drove a loaner without air. Each has its pros/cons. In general, the car without air handled better and felt tighter. All cars with air - including a P85+ I drove last week - make you feel slightly disconnected from the road. The insulation from road imperfections is nice, but it comes at the expense of your car feeling like it's floating at times. I opted for air because I like a more comfortable vs. sporty ride.

Gizmotoy | October 28, 2013

I kind of agree with lola & gimp_dad.

I have less experience, maybe 40mins of drive time on air and 20 on coils, but I felt the coils provided superior driving feel. Both air cars (S85/P85+) I drove felt slightly disconnected from the road, though smoother, and the coils communicated better. If you're looking for smoothness of ride above all else, air is definitely your choice. I personally preferred the coils having come from a handling-targeted car, so I went with that on my soon-to-arrive P85.

In my limited test drives I can't say I felt like the coils sat too high as lola has mentioned (they sit .6" above the 'standard' air setting), but I'll have a better idea in a few weeks. It may be because the rally-bred car I'm coming from is designed to sit relatively high, so I simply don't notice.

Best advice I can give is to insist on driving both to see what you like.

shop | October 28, 2013

No, it isn't a must have. I have an air and recently drove a loaner with coils. I slightly preferred the air, but the coil was fine.

Car t man | October 28, 2013

Based on what was written, you will find your preference more easily but do keep in mind that AIR suspension should allow software tweaks because it behaves as programmed. So it will be able to modify its behavior via software by Tesla (could offer more settings or presets via firmware updates), or aftermarket tweaks. AIR can be made to act more directly also. Maybe not quite like coils but coils are simply a more focused "single program". It means that when focused on handling, that is what they will do very well but won't shine at comfort so much. AIR means more flexibility by covering more of the available range of possibilities. I myself am certain that over the next years, you will see a wealth of new options for air. Possibly even as
retrofit Mercedes like camera systems, spotting potholes and making
milisecond adjustments to soften before a pothole, etc..

The thing is that with an electric servo, the car never will feel quite fully direct anyway. So no perfection in terms of sport handling anyway.

My take on it, while I fully understand what coil appreciating crowd is talking about. To those, AIR will feel detached. Especially at "civilian" presets.

Skotty | October 28, 2013

I really don't care about ride quality. What concerns me is:

1) Clearing steep driveway entrances (and to a lesser degree, speed bumps and curbs)

2) Efficiency / miles per charge

This brings up the following questions I would like to have answered:

1) Is the air suspension when raised somewhat higher from the ground than the non-air suspension?

2) Do you get better mileage out of the air suspension on the highway (which might be the case if it rides somewhat lower)?

Gizmotoy | October 28, 2013

1) The coil is slightly (a tenth of an inch, if I recall correctly) lower than the air suspension on High. There's an additional Very High setting, so the coil is lower.

My current car has less ground clearance than the S and I do OK. I take anything that looks questionable at an angle just in case. No big deal.

2) Theoretically, yes. In practice, the difference is probably negligible or Tesla would tout that as a reason to upgrade.

lolachampcar | October 28, 2013

and now to throw a big wrench in the works.....

Air = lower = more negative camber in the rear =?=> high tire inner shoulder wear.

There are other factors (big ones) like 21s versus 19s and positive toe (rear out of alignment). It is food for thought and there are a ton of threads on TMC discussing the tire wear issue.

Xerogas | October 28, 2013


But then I don't have snow or steep driveways to deal with

drp | October 28, 2013

You ask a very difficult question and the bottom line is "must-have" then definitely not. I do have it and I am really glad that I do. For me, the issue is regarding deep water during heavy rain, deep snow, and the occasional car wash when I have the 19 wheels on and not the 21 inch wheels. I do take it to the car wash.

AmpedRealtor | October 28, 2013

The idea that software updates could improve the feel of the air suspension gives me hope. I thought the air suspension simply raised or lowered the vehicle, I did not know that the actual behavior of the suspension while driving could be modified through software.

RedShift | October 28, 2013

+1 Lola.

I have slight misgivings about going with air on mine. Car feels a little insulated from the road.
I'd go with standard suspension next time.

Suturecabre | October 28, 2013

I've had the air on my S550 and the car before it, so I'm pretty used to it and much prefer the ride. I'm not sure if the Model S suspension is active, but besides the self-adjusting shocks, the AirMatics have variable dampeners that can adjust depending on road conditions and driving style. You can also select whether you want a stiffer or softer setting independent of ride height. And of course, when loading the car such as getting gas, it can raise itself to compensate.

I understand stiffer handling is a priority for a lot of you. On the S550, I have to say the ride is still pretty firm and I can push it quite hard handlingwise. I wish we could get the best of both worlds and get the ABC hydraulic suspension from Mercedes (it adjusts itself something like 24 times a second so it can mute bumps but still feel rock solid.'s heavy, complex pressurized to 3000psi, prone to breaking, and makes air suspension maintenance and costs seem like changing brakes.

TeslaLABlue | October 28, 2013

Absolutely must have!!!

I have it in my 60kwh.

I got a loaner P85 without it and it sucked. Yes the P85 was fast... but the regular suspension sucked after driving 6 months with air suspension.

No idea why they would make a P85 without air?

jcaspar1 | October 28, 2013

I ordered a P85 without air. Didn't care about ride quality coming from a Dodge Viper and 4x4 pickup and heard it holds the road better. Sales person also thought the standard held the road better. Will find out on Saturday

Wooly | October 28, 2013

Have the 85. Got it in June. I purposely got it without the air suspension. I prefer the feel of a Porsche or a BMW over a Lexus or Cadillac. The air suspension is soft but disconnects you from the road. Also, if you have ever had an air suspension, over time they break. Fixing them is big bucks. It's a matter of do you prefer the ride of a BMW or a Lexus. For me this is an easy choice.

shao | October 29, 2013

I actually did a blind test drive with/without air. For me in the driver's seat, I could tell the difference but it wasn't great. My wife in the back couldn't tell the difference. I decided to get the air in my P85 anyway because I do have to deal with some steep driveways (by the way, the car is quite low, so it doesn't take a very steep driveway to scrape the front).

Having said that, after driving my P85 with air for a couple of weeks and then a loaner P85 without air (I had some minor fit/finish issues), I actually preferred the feel of the standard suspension - more responsive, as has been pointed out - but to me the difference was not significant.

My 2 cents...

Car t man | October 30, 2013

AIR is more flexible. Like the rest of the car, it can have software updates.
It does what it's told to do. To be firm, soft, high, low, act as a low rider and jump around.. :)

The new MB S class used frontal cameras too scan for potholes and soften the suspension just in time to roll over more gently, etc. This can come to Model S as a factory or aftermarket accessory down the road.

And yes, Tesla's AIR is active. It adapts stiffnes based on level of cornering, it keeps constant ride height regardless of load (passengers and cargo)..

AIR is more durable and consistent and you never know when you will face a difficult driveway, short stretch of unpaved road with rocks in middle..
It helps on snow, etc. Just more flexibility. With a 4 wheel drive, the S could actually be quite an offroader.

Tweaking ride height on good roads (possibly in connection to GPS) could allow lowering the car even a bit lower and get extra miles out of it, etc.

It just means more options. Having driven Citroens, Allroads, MB S and E class (with and without air), A8, BMW 7 series, Maserati (active suspension), Panamera and Range rovers etc.. I can tell you, unless there is a specific love you have for a very specific set of coils, much like one
can be an audio enthusiast, with analog amps, etc.. AIR is the better option for most drivers. I haven't driven or been driven in a non AIR Tesla though. The AIR is decently set but still has room for improvement

Furthermore, in connection to GPS, or manually, the car could have even more profiles, to adapt to specific roads or patches of road geographically, etc. I prefer to have manual overrides though.

And with air or hydropneumatics, the worse the road, the more fun and comfortable they seem to become. Over a trashy surface, you just glide over it. Loads of fun. It may also save you an alloy wheel or two because it is better at eating up severe shocks, leaving more stress to the wheel and tire itself.

I think of it as of AC. You could live without it but why do it? I would be upset if Tesla didn't offer it. A proper 21st century car has to have the versatility to adapt to road surfaces actively. Coils fall well short.

Car t man | October 30, 2013

less stress to tire and wheel. edit function well overdue..

ddruz | October 30, 2013

FWIW: I have air. I've driven a loaner extensively without air. If I had to do it again I would order regular suspension, without air. Only if you need air for steep driveways, etc. does it seem worth it to me. From a ride and handling perspective it is not worth the price differential IMO.

Car t man | October 30, 2013

You're really making me want to test an S without air now..

jeffsstuff | October 30, 2013

I ordered my without air suspension. I too wondered if it was the right decision. After reading this thread, I am glad I did!

lolachampcar | October 30, 2013

I'm not sure about air being adaptive apart from ride height. The air bag geometry is fixed thus a change in air volume changes ride height but there are no provisions for changing the dynamic response of the system. That is normally done with adjustable dampers or active hydraulic (like on the S Class). MS uses straight forward Contental Air Springs and nothing more. Damping is (very high quality Bilstein) fixed valving.

Captain_Zap | October 30, 2013

It is a must for me. I need it to get in my driveway and on the ferry. My driveway isn't THAT steep either.

Car t man | October 30, 2013

It is active air. The computer then decides whether to block air from passing in external side bags or not, but to be honest, I am not sure if it is active to degree of actually increasing pressure in external bags actively.

Citroen Xantia had hard core active hydropneumatic suspension, practically eliminating any diving in curves (other than tires giving a bit), keeping
optimal grip and aerodynamic stability in corners. The sucker really
cornered. The downside was that the grip level was so high, that once
it did slip due to tires simply no longer managing the G forces, you
were flying off the road. Almost no reserve. You had grip until you didn't.

So civilian cars have some body roll left in them to leave some feel and lee way.

Another good example for learning about active suspension and how widely it can be configured, take a look at the Bose suspension demo. It is based on Citroen like systems but active body control was first introduced by Lotus in formula 1 and in production by Citroen. Before that, Citroen had only non active hydropneumatic suspensions. Very comfortable and with still very good grip but with lots of body roll.

AmpedRealtor | October 30, 2013

@ lolachampcar - Thanks, it sounds like the air suspension is what it is. Sounds like any speculation regarding modifying the feel of the air suspension is nothing more than wishful thinking that isn't supported by the facts. You've actually looked at the components, you would know.

@ Car t man - I'm not sure how a better suspension would have any meaningful impact on tire and rim damage. It is the initial impact between the tire/wheel and object that causes the damage. Suspension would have no benefit here, as the suspension does nothing to cushion the impact between the tire and the object. Basic common sense prevails here.

Gizmotoy | October 30, 2013

@AmpedRealtor: On a coil car, spring rate and suspension travel will act to cushion the impact between the tire and the wheel. This can reduce the likelihood of tire damage caused by hitting an object to some degree. That said, I doubt the effect would be anything more than negligible on a modern sedan.

eking | October 30, 2013

I think that unless you are a performance car enthusiast and plan to drive the car really fast and want the extra aerodynamic aspect that air suspension gives then it is certainly not worth it. I toyed with the idea of getting it so that I can raise the car in the event of heavy rains. But this car is so low to the ground at 6", what would an extra 3" matter? Three inches isn't going to help in a flooded street situation when the car rides so low to begin with. Also FWIW, the car rides great on the freeway with standard suspension. Again, I think it is a great option if you are buying the car for performance. If you are getting a regular 60 KWH or 85 KWH battery and plan to drive like a normal person most of the time then there is no reason to pay for suspension. Get the panoramic roof instead. That thing rocks. :)))

f-tal | October 30, 2013

I have the air suspension on my S85, and have driven a loaner for a few days with the regular suspension (P85 in fact, they evidently made some P85 regular suspension cars as loaners to get some of the regular suspensions out the door). I liked the coils, the car felt lighter and more connected to the road. BUT - I prefer my air suspension since I have a long commute and like the more comfortable ride (wasn't a true test since I run 19"s and the loaner was 21"s).

If I had to do it over, I'd probably save the $, and enjoy the sportier ride. You can't lose either way.

pz1975 | October 30, 2013

No, definitely not.

I was told by an employee that they will probably discontinue the option eventually as it is predicted to lead to more repairs vs. the standard suspension with only minimal benefit.

Flyshacker | October 30, 2013

@pz1975 - You may have just changed my mind. I'm ordering in Dec or Jan for delivery next year when I can use the tax breaks. I was wondering about the Model S with so fewer moving parts compared to ICE, so much less maintenance, but then it ships with air suspension with more parts to break down than an ICE with coil suspension. Huh? Why not keep it simple all the way? Thank you!

chrisdl | October 31, 2013

Then why make a panaromic sunroof that can get stuck, rattle, or smear the glass?
Why make retracting door handles which refuse to come out or which open doors all by themselves?
Why put in a large LCD screen which can get blue lines over it or which needs to be reset like a good-old-pc every now and then?
Why sell 21" wheels which get damaged faster than a jackrabbit on a hot grill?
Why not keep it simple and sell electric bicycles instead?

Car t man | October 31, 2013


better suspension "gives" much more quickly and absorbs shocks much more quickly and effectively and will transform more of the impact force in
a shorter time. That is, if circumstances are correct and you react
properly. I know the benefits of active suspension so in any car with
it, I would not jerk the steering wheel if I cannot "miss" a pavement
and simply drive over it, without hitting brakes or jerking the wheel
too suddenly, which may stiffen it up, which would actually have
the opposite effect. I ate pavements at 90mph (being forced several
times by other opposite driving drivers coming onto my lane) without
any damage to tires. The best at it was a Citroen XM many many
years ago. In some ways, that car resembled Tesla in the sense
that it had the lowest drag (0,28) and won the car of the year
award with by far the largest lead before a runner up in history
of the European car of the year awards. Its was an European car.

Routunely, the shock absorbers there would last 500.000 km without
replacement. On a normal car, shock absorbers can lose their
optimal properties as early as in 40.000 miles.

There are many car series (VW, BMW,..) where shock absorbers were
shot at as little as 40.000 miles.

Coils degrade quickly. Just take a regular car to a suspension test.
It also increases breaking range quite a bit.

But again, I would really like to test a coil based Tesla. Maybe it is very well set up. The AIR isn't optimally yet but can be via upgrades. I would fork over for air or any kind of active suspension on any car myself.

Flyshacker | October 31, 2013

@chrisdl - My only answer is there's a sliding scale. You could just forget a car or bike and ride a bus. But I think you take the level of complexity that makes you happy, knowing you might have more hassles later. Some people have a long personal history with performance cars and all the maintenance. I already draw the line at 21" wheels with the vulnerability and wear issues. But I am definite about 85 kWh, tech pkg, upgraded interior. Still deciding about the rest. Long-term maint issues do concern me.

jeffpoel | October 31, 2013

I have my P85 with air suspension in for repairs and am driving a standard suspension P85. There is a large difference in ride between the two. My car soaks up the bumps like they are hardly even there whereas the standard does not. You feel every bump. The smoothness of the air suspension delivers much higher confidence in the turns and much better control when there are bumps. I can't wait to get mine back. They are like two totally different cars. I'm SO glad I paid the extra $$.

m.attard | August 23, 2014

Can anyone tell me if the air is better when driving the car hard and throwing it into bends? I test drove a p85 with air and was impressed by the handling. Will I be as impressed with coils?

Adapptor | August 23, 2014

Had air suspension on my Range Rover and faced huge maintenance costs when it went out of warranty - two of the front air suspension struts popped on separate occasions.

Ordered my P85 (without the +) to avoid having air, have more driver feel and hopefully less long-term maintenance costs.

Tesltoronto | August 23, 2014

As for me, I like the air suspension because it offers a more comfortable ride. I guess the decision is really based on if you want a harder ride and if you want to feel the road or not.

Anthony J. Parisio | August 23, 2014

I had Audi A6's with and without the same suspensions as MS. I like the coil springs better. I like comfortable, quiet, smooth and performance rides. To me the air was only comfort no performance. I really did not like the three years I was in the A6 with air ride. So I did not get it any car since. I am very happy with my MS!

J.T. | August 23, 2014

I just had a loaner without air and I was finally convinced that I had not wasted my money getting the air on my car. Didn't waste money on the pano either.

Brian H | August 23, 2014

Does that mean you did or didn't get air and pano? A very successfully ambiguous posting!

Thomas N. | August 23, 2014

"Had air suspension on my Range Rover and faced huge maintenance costs when it went out of warranty"

My neighbor bought two top of the line Range Rovers brand new back in 2005 and 2006. He paid $70K + for each of these. They have been maintenance nightmares. You think the Model S that Edmunds had was a lemon? Not even close. Each of their Rovers has had double that many issues.

And now that they are out of warranty the issues haven't stopped. Just the other night there was a bunch of lights flashing and it was lighting up our back bedroom. Turns out there were electrical gremlins and they couldn't stop the lights from coming on and flashing and then turning off and then right back on again. They had to pull the battery among other things to make it stop. I'm sure that was a nice little repair bill to troubleshoot and repair that.

I abhor Range Rovers. Always have and always will.

tga | August 23, 2014

Had air suspension on my Range Rover and faced huge maintenance costs when it went out of warranty - two of the front air suspension struts popped on separate occasions.

Everyone I know (including me) who owned a car with air suspension faced "huge maintenance costs when it went out of warranty". And yes, one of those (not mine) was a Range Rover.

If you are used to luxury cars, you probably want air. If you are a sports car driver (like me), you probably want coils.

J.T. | August 23, 2014

@Brian H If my car didn't have air or pano how would driving a loaner without air or pano provide any data for comparison?

Anthony J. Parisio | August 23, 2014

I want Bose suspension!