If you're searching for a new or used luxury car, it's likely you've seen air suspension on the standard or optional features list. It's also likely you've heard negative remarks about the feature -- especially concerning its long-term reliability. If you're on the fence about whether or not to get a car with it, we've listed a few pros and cons to help you make the decision.
"Air ride" suspension, as it's sometimes called, offers several important benefits that may be useful to drivers interested in luxury cars. The primary benefit is ride quality: Vehicles with air suspension are often said to "glide" over bumps, while traditional steel spring suspension can cause a harsher ride. Also, air suspension is often adjustable. That means drivers can select a cushy ride if they're on a rough road or a harsh ride if they want to improve handling.
Another big benefit is that SUVs or trucks with the feature boast improved towing capabilities. In most of these SUVs or trucks, drivers can increase firmness when towing to account for heavier loads. That's not true of SUVs or trucks with spring suspension, where large loads can weigh down the vehicle.
While air suspension may be tempting, there are two downsides, both relating to cost. One is the cost of buying it in the first place. In most vehicles -- even luxury models -- it comes at an extra cost. Only very high-end cars and SUVs such as the Mercedes S-Class and the Range Rover include it as standard. In other cars, it can be an expensive option.
The Chevrolet Tahoe, for instance, offers it, but you have to upgrade to the luxury-trimmed LTZ model to get it. That means spending more than $55,000 -- $15,000 more than the Tahoe's base price.
For shoppers interested in a used car, the bigger drawback of the feature is maintenance costs. While air suspension is great when it works, it can be expensive to fix. And it's not a feature you can simply forget about: If it breaks, the car can tilt to one side while moving. That said, many drivers replace broken systems with more traditional steel springs -- a cheaper fix, but one that removes an important feature from the vehicle.
If you're interested in a new car that offers optional air suspension, be sure to test drive models with the feature and without it. That way, you can decide if it's worth the added cost. If you're looking for a used car with it, be sure to get a mechanical inspection before signing the papers. Note, however, that even a well-inspected system can break as it ages, so you'll want some room left in your budget for a repair if it's necessary.