MagneRide, the semi-active adaptive suspension damper available on all Ford Mustangs since 2018 has become the new performance must-have option. First found on a Chevy, it is now available on most performance vehicles ranging from Camaros, Mustangs, to even supercars. The technology made its first appearance in a Ford in the 2015 Mustang Shelby GT350R. The trick suspension damper has now expanded to the rest of the Mustang lineup for $1695.00 with the appropriate performance package option. So, what does MagneRide give you? What is the difference between MagneRide dampers versus traditional shocks? How does it work, and are the performance gains only seen on a road course?
To demystify the new dampers, we sat down with Ford’s Mustang Team’s MagneRide expert, Lou Santora, for a question and answer session.
Ford defines MagneRide as a “semi-active suspension system [where] each corner’s damper force is controlled independently by an electronic control module.” Multiple factors including the road surface, the driver’s setting, driving style, etc. are a few of the elements in determining the controlling damper force of each damper. They are controlled actively and independently—making calculations at millisecond intervals. “For each parameter, there are loads of data [that the system is using] to see if a change is required.”
Traditional passive dampers have a static non-changeable force setting. This force setting has to account for all road conditions, different types of driving styles, and have a factored in level of comfort or aggressiveness. These factors are finite and they do not change. If you have an aggressive race-prepped damper, it will be aggressive every time— “on the way to the race track as well as on the track,” says Santora.
To explain the difference he likens passive dampers to carburetors and MagneRide to fuel injection. “We still tune passive dampers; but it’s a lot like tuning a small carburetor: ride, handling, durability, steering… they are all like tuning the jets and adjusting the choke, but at the end of the day there is a tradeoff based on whether you’re tuning it for summer or winter.” With “MagneRide it’s like tuning fuel injection”. At any point in time, the system is adjusting itself to the environment, optimizing itself within the limits of the system. You can have a damper that is as stiff as a traditional racing damper at the track, while as comfortable as a plush shock on the drive home. It changes itself to match the situation. “Passive dampers still have their place”, says Santora “but you cannot do [with a passive damper system] what you can do with a semi-active system”.
MagneRide suspension consists of two front and two rear struts that are equipped with four-position sensors, one at each corner. A control module sits in the center of the car connected to each shock. Signals from each sensor are fed into the control module. The module communicates by “listening to, and communicating with all of the other modules”. Factors like “vehicle speed, drive mode selected, position of the sensors, are all factored in as the module listens and broadcasts out information”.
Inside the shock is a magnetorheological fluid. This fluid reacts to electricity. Its viscosity changes, making the shock stiffer and looser depending on the amount of electrical current that is sent to the damper.
So, what’s the difference between a semi-active system and a fully active system? “Semi-active can only control the level of damping force that it can generate”. The system adjusts the [electrical] current that is sent out to the dampers, but it cannot move them. “We cannot put energy into the system to move it”. We change the “current to make more force to dissipate energy in the system; we can then control how we dissipate that energy”. In a Fully active system (see Williams F1 1993) the entire suspension would be controlled as well as the force that goes into the system, so it is a suspension that moves by itself. Though impressive, Santora says that “fully active systems are not quite mainstream yet with none being ready for market”. For High-end dampers, the premiere technology that is being used in cars today is semi-active dampers.
Semi-active suspension systems like, MagneRide, were first debuted on luxury vehicles. They offered a smoother ride and comfort that traditional dampers could not, but quickly the shocks went into performance vehicles. “We have always seen [MagnaRide] as a track performance improvement. The whole idea of calculating and knowing the state of the vehicle at any point in time [has always been a huge benefit over passive systems]. For example, if you are driving on a rough road where we don’t need a lot of dampening; or a smooth road with not a lot of bumps and high lateral acceleration, the system adjusts adding or removing dampening force to make the car more controlled. MagneRide is constantly looking at the state of the vehicle. It offers a good ride, but quickly reacts in the blink of an eye to the driver’s input,” says Santora.
On-track performance, “the level of dampening force that is achieved is something that is so far beyond what we could tune a passive dampening system; Not that you could not make that dampening force in a passive system, but the drive to the track would be very poor. MagneRide can achieve similar levels of force to racing shocks, but we can do it and make it pretty predictable”. MagneRide delivers “extreme levels of dampening versus passive systems, and we see better lower speed dampening forces as compared to any other damper out there—both passive and semi-active”. These benefits allowed Ford to “turn up the performance.” Santora says, “MagneRide opens up the space for more performance with less compromises”. In developing the 2018 Mustang Performance Package Level 2, “We saw a 1-second time improvement on track versus passive shocks”.
These driving benefits are not just road racing specific. Switch the drive mode to “drag” and the system changes to a unique drag mode tuning. “For Road courses, lateral acceleration, body roll and managing those aspects are what the system focuses on. In Drag, hard acceleration, straight line, and controlling the pitch of the vehicle are the factors that dominate. The system benefits in that we can make the car more predictable and stable during shifts and during acceleration. With the system monitoring and adjusting itself based on the engine torque location among other parameters, it helps to keep the car more predictable for the best traction that you can get”.
These changes from road racing to drag racing are all the result of the selectable driver modes. “Each of the modes have 3000 calibratable parameters. Including high-level vehicle parameters and physical parameters of the car. Some portion of the 3000 parameters are always changing. Some we tune by focusing on physical testing on the road, at the proving ground, data found in the lab or analytical tools that we have developed. Some parameters are the result of many iterations”.
“The four modes (comfort, normal, sport plus, and race), some have their own set of parameters. When you switch, you are switching between different parameters. “Normal” gives the best riding experience. It’s a safe, good riding well-rounded calibration that can handle anything that is thrown at it. “Sport plus” is focused on back road driving where the steering and driving is more spirited. “Track” mode or race mode is perfect for road courses, autocross, as it offers the highest level of control. “Drag” mode focuses on pitch control for easy launches”.
“Not all of the parameters change in each mode. Some are just a single parameter with small adjustments. Sometimes it is a map of how much force we put out in wheel dampening. Parts of the body control, pitch control, and in others the algorithm changes. We have a lot of authority on a race track from one algorithm [that dominates the damper tune], and calibrating parameters—the system is constantly looking at choosing and responding to what is happening as the car is driven down the road”.
With new technology comes questions of longevity, service life, and maintenance. Ford designed MagneRide “to meet the same Ford durability standards that passive systems are designed to, so customers will get the same life expectancy and will experience no difference in performance over the life of the system. We have done lots of work on the fluid to ensure this”. Although MagneRide replaces passive dampers with an electronically controlled system with magnetorheological fluid, its module is accessible by Ford’s Integrated Diagnostic System (IDS), and can be serviced and maintenance by any Ford dealer.
MagneRide equipped cars are also able to be towed on a flatbed without any issues or special procedures. There was a question of special procedures being needed when shipping because the Shelby GT350R comes to dealers with shipping blocks installed in the suspension. Some had thought that their purpose was to stop the damper from being damaged while the car was being transported. Santora definitively answered this question by saying “that for the GT350R, Ford brought in the shipping blocks because of low ground clearance. It was a ride height issue that made it difficult to ship the cars on transports. Blocks increase the car’s ride height. They have no other purpose, and no other car comes with those blocks. There is a position sensor that set to zero position. That is done at the factory, so there is no recalibration that is needed when the shipping blocks are removed or if the car is towed”.
New technology always has a resistance factor with people refusing to adopt a new way of doing things. For so long dampers have been something that we change in our cars, replacing factory units with harder and stiffer versions. We transform our cars from a road-going all a-rounder to a car with super-stiff suspension that on works well on road racing only car, but now with this new technology, it offers us a new option: a suspension system that adapts to the road, and to our selected settings. It factors in our driving style, lateral forces, vehicle roll, throttle position, torque, acceleration along with 3000 other parameters to give you the best ride and control possible. For $1695.00, it can be added to any new mustang. Like fuel injection, which is constantly replacing carburetors in hot rods, the future may see people choosing semi-active dampers instead of traditional passive shocks. Aftermarket options will surely follow. Only time will tell, but it’s obvious that the future of dampers is clearly here.
Ford Motor Company
5900 Sycamore Canyon Blvd.
Riverside, CA 92507