Its pretty expensive but is it worth it? Would it be a good first "sacrifice" if concerned about budget?
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.
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.
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...
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 :)
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.
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 cool...it was a lot for us to spend on auto door handles but...once you have it you'll love it, : )
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.
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.
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.
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.
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)?
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.
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.
But then I don't have snow or steep driveways to deal with
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.
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.
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.
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. But....it's heavy, complex pressurized to 3000psi, prone to breaking, and makes air suspension maintenance and costs seem like changing brakes.
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?
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
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.
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...
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.
less stress to tire and wheel. edit function well overdue..
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.
You're really making me want to test an S without air now..
I ordered my without air suspension. I too wondered if it was the right decision. After reading this thread, I am glad I did!
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.
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.
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.