The Finch Formerly Known As Gold

22 June 2006

Leather-lined money pits

I was looking for something else at the time and happened upon this; it seems just as pertinent. From the summer of '03, Doc Searls warns against hyperexpensive automotive options:

The Active Suspension was a brilliant innovation. Developed for Formula One racecars, it suspends the car on four electronically controlled "actuators" instead of the usual springs and shock absorbers. When you turn hard, the body doesn't lean; and when you hit the brakes, the nose doesn't dive. Bumps leave no memory in the springs, because the system soaks bumps up and forgets they happened.

It was a magnificent design, a true innovation, and a big selling point that failed to sell because it also added $5000 to the sticker price of the car, and most drivers failed to notice the difference in ordinary conditions. (One review of a basic [Infiniti] Q[45] in 1990 noted that the car could "outmaneuver a Miata." So it wasn't like handling was a problem without the fancy suspension.

When we bought the '92 new, we managed to get an "a" for the price of the base model. This seemed like a bargain at the time, even though we knew the fluid-driven active suspension system sapped a bit of engine energy (as does, say, air conditioning) and lowered gas mileage a bit. (The mother would get to 60mph in 6.7 seconds and had a governor that held top speed to "just" 150mph.)

Then we discovered, when the actuators wore out at 110k miles, that they each cost more than $1200. Just for parts. Finally, at 210k miles, something went wrong with the fluid drive for the suspension system, which is deeply involved with the engine, at about the same time as the actuators surely needed replacing again. Things went so wrong, in fact, that the Active Suspension system killed the engine completely: it seized up. So we sold the car to a guy who loves old Infinitis for about the price of one actuator. A shame because we loved that car.

Nissan had long since abandoned this technology by the time they got around to building the I30 I just bought, but there is still plenty of reason to be fearful of tricky/spendy stuff — especially since it took me 24 hours to figure out that I had seat heaters, fercryingoutloud.

Posted at 1:52 PM to Driver's Seat


On a winter morning, if you'll remote start Gwen and let her warm up for ten or so minutes, then get in and fire up your seat heaters, you won't even notice that it's cold outside on your way to work. :)

Posted by: unimpressed at 3:24 PM on 22 June 2006

At least if the seat heaters go "rack up" you'll still be able to heat your seats the old-fashioned way, and the car will still do what most people buy a car for.

Posted by: McGehee at 10:21 AM on 23 June 2006