Take the shocks from Fernando Alonso’s McLaren Formula 1 ride, bolt them onto your personal vehicle, and you’ll undoubtedly notice a change in performance. It sounds crazy to imagine, but now you can (sort of) do that exact thing. And our findings are encouraging.
KONI’s Selective Damping Technology uses processes developed through a partnership with McLaren Formula 1 to put race technology on the road via its Special ACTIVE (Red) line, with the company unveiling its updated damper line in a sneak preview of the KONI Activate The Nation tour at its North American home base in Hebron, Kentucky. Attendees at the event were given the opportunity to compare the new Special ACTIVE shocks to the OEM and even KONI’s Sport (Yellow) technology for a compare and contrast session on curvy, rough, uneven country roads. The result, we found, is a shock that smooths the road, while also providing more grip and handling to a street car.
“Traditionally with performance dampers, when performance goes up the ride quality goes down, and vice versa,” Lee Grimes, KONI’s Automotive Product Manager, explains. “So if we can separate that ride quality from performance, we can bring both up. There are a couple of technologies that have tried that, but frequency on rebound damping is what works for us.”
As described, it is like a turbo pop-off valve in reverse. Instead of building boost until it hits a limit and releases, the ACTIVE shocks blow off the gas until the energy lasts long enough to disrupt the ride. At that point, the shock operates traditionally. Oil flows through the piston valvings, stabilizing the car and reducing what could be a tooth-rattling ride.
This is a big advantage over the OEM shocks, which tend to sacrifice one or the other in pursuit of a ride for everyone. It’s even a different process than KONI’s Sport shocks, an adjustable unit popular among autocrossers who are seeking that competition performance while also often driving the same car on the street.
“When we develop that Sport shock for a stock car, we normally suggest a full soft baseline for a balance of ride and quality,” Grimes notes. “If we can isolate ride from it, we might be able to come up 30 percent of the damping force range to have better control without suffering the negatives of the ride impact. That’s what the ACTIVE allows us to do.”
Racers with tow vehicles, especially RVs, may have already experienced this – it’s been a feature of the recreational vehicle line already. In an RV, a comfortable shock is often very difficult to control, but a stiff, easy to drive shock will rattle the dishes onto the floor and shorten the life of the chassis.
KONI has made a name for itself in the autocross market with the Sport line, which undoubtedly improves performance. As noted, however, that’s not always compatible with loading the family and the groceries into the car with you.
What KONI envisions is that every family garage may have two cars (or more) parked inside – one for spirited, all-alone-on-the-back-roads driving shod with the Sport shocks, and the everyday daily driver loaded with ACTIVE shocks – in turn, making everyone in the family happy.
“It’s a refinement,” Grimes says of the ACTIVE Technology. “It’s not like a crisp, Sport shock or something that’s really intuitive. But if you’re also not trying to hit a hard bump, it’s going to be nice, because it won’t be so jarring.”
The difference in each shows up immediately in the Activate The Nation test format with identical BMW 3 Series sedans, save for shocks, ready to roll. Each trip showcased the strengths and weaknesses of each lineup, one right after another.
The ACTIVE line lived up to its billing at the speed limit on the path – smooth, but responsive enough to hustle through some curves. It refused to bottom out even on the deepest of pot holes, and the thin rumble strips on the side of the road could be heard but not felt. Most body roll was removed from the chassis while driving, and the entire platform was both stable and soft. That feel-it-in-the-butt responsiveness isn’t there, which is exactly the goal of this product line.
The Sport suspension was everything any autocrosser or track day enthusiast already knows – responsive, stable and ready to run. If there is a downside, it’s that running at (well, near) the speed limit just isn’t enough for the old workhorse Yellows. It wants to be pushed to the edge, and street driving doesn’t cut it.
Most surprisingly was how far in the dust the OEM suspension fared. Rougher, less responsive, less feel – there was nothing the OEM suspension did better than the KONI ACTIVE line. Or, as overheard from one participant, the ACTIVE shocks is “how I expected a new BMW to drive.”
And that is the ultimate goal, isn’t it? Once in your car, you shouldn’t have to think about the shocks. No worrying about bouncing from side to side, or ride quality – just enjoy the drive.