Buying advice: 3 tips to find the most comfortable ride

Are your favorite choices responsible for a rougher ride?

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Some buyers want the biggest vehicle for their dollar. Others want the fastest, the most efficient, or the most eye-catching. Others still prioritize finding the most comfortable ride their dollars will allow.

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If you are one of the latter, be sure to read on. Here are some key points and considerations that can help guide buyers to a new or used model with the driving comfort that best suits their needs, whether they’re looking for a pickup truck, sports coupe, crossover SUV, big sedan or anything else.

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Wheel and tire size

A helpful size comparison for the massive 2021 Mercedes-Maybach GLS 600 4Matic
A helpful size comparison for the massive 2021 Mercedes-Maybach GLS 600 4Matic Photo by Elle Alder

The wheel and tire sizes of the vehicle you’re considering play a big role in how comfortable it travels on the open road, back roads or highway. Since the vehicle you are considering may be available with various combinations of tires and wheel sizes that vary by model, it is important to understand the differences.

The optional 22-inch wheels on that new Explorer or Durango you’re considering add a lot of visual flair, but they can also take a toll on your ride comfort in certain configurations. The larger the wheel, the thinner the tire and therefore its shock insulation underneath. The larger wheel options will be wrapped in low-profile tires to keep the same overall girth. In tire terms, lower profile simply means ‘thinner’, which means there is less rubber between you and the road.

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On the other hand, smaller diameter wheels tend to have higher profile tires that are thicker and thicker. More rubber between you and the road means more cushioning for bumps and generally a more comfortable ride.

When considering your next vehicle, remember that skipping the models with the largest wheels and opting for a smaller tire with a thicker rim can be a benefit to ride comfort. In some vehicles, the difference in driving comfort is significant, especially in rough road, off road and back road environments.

If you’re dead set on choosing a car or truck, but find the ride too stiff and sporty, be sure to ask if there’s another trim grade available with a smaller wheel size, and try that unit out too.

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adaptive suspension

The suspension system of the Land Rover Range Rover 2022
The suspension system of the Land Rover Range Rover 2022 Land Rover photo

Today, vehicles across a wide range of segments and price points offer specialized suspension packages and technologies that enhance the ride, ride and handling.

Technologies such as magnetic ride control (General Motors), continuously controlled damping suspension (several), adaptive damping or active body control (Mercedes-Benz) and others work more or less in the same way: they use sensors that interpret the road surface in real time, to trigger a stream of electronic adjustments to the vehicle’s suspension (also in real time).

The advanced dampers at the core of these systems have multiple means of altering their stiffness, softness and spring with millisecond precision, allowing for constant ride optimization. The effect is a more stable, comfortable and planted ride on a wider range of surfaces.

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In higher performance applications, adaptive suspension can enable sports car handling and balance while dramatically reducing the ride comfort trade-off associated with this type of vehicle. In trucks, adaptive suspension systems can add stability and confidence when towing, and make the drive smoother, more comfortable and less laborious in a wide variety of off-road and rough-road situations.

Control of body movement is another benefit. Today’s best adaptive suspension systems are experts at eliminating unwanted body movements before they happen. This means the vehicle comes to a quick and smooth stop after a bump, and the driver and occupants are more stable in their seats most of the time.

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If you’re buying a new car with an adaptive suspension system that’s offered as an option, be sure to try a drive with and without it. In 17 years of testing vehicles in Northern Ontario, I’ve found that these technologies make a big improvement in ride comfort, especially on back roads and rough, uneven highway surfaces.

Avoid run-flat tires

2022 BMW X3 Review - Exterior - Wheels
2022 BMW X3 Review – Exterior – Wheels Photo by Sami Haj-Assaad

Run Flat tires are designed to remain drivable in a limited state after a loss of air pressure, eliminating the need to stop and install a temporary replacement. Run Flat tires also have a reputation in many owner communities for their negative impact on ride comfort, thanks in large part to their stiffer, reinforced construction.

Some vehicles come with flat-free tires, others don’t. Run-flat tires may be fitted to some trim levels of a given model and not to others.

When you buy your next car, be sure to identify whether or not it’s running on flat tires. If so, carefully assess ride comfort during your test drive. Remember that millions of drivers enjoy their flat-free tires every day, although they may not be the best option for a buyer after maximum driving comfort for their money, especially in larger sizes and on heavier cars.

When evaluating how well you drive a run flat-equipped car, be sure to visit a rough road surface, where you will tend to see the biggest penalty to driving comfort.

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