Quad riders eager for new technologies or ultimate performance already know the specifications and operation of semi-active suspensions, but very few have had the chance to try them. Indeed, this technology is reserved, for the moment, to sporty and high-end side-by-side vehicles…and they are not cheap!
Polaris has been offering Dynamix active suspension for the past four years (2018) on ultra-sporty RZR models, such as the RZR Pro XP Ultimate. For 2021, Can-Am has introduced its semi-active Smart Shox suspension available only as an option on the Maverick X3 X RS and Maverick X3 Max X RS.
Already, both manufacturers’ models that can be equipped with active or semi-active suspension are available with very effective conventional suspensions. However, one must change the settings according to the type of terrain, the type of driving, the driver’s preferences, etc. In most cases, we end up adopting a set-up that is the best compromise for our ride.
The active or semi-active suspensions as for them, adjust in real time in order to offer the optimal adjustments at any time. These changes are made at a rate of up to 200 times per second. In fact, the vehicle is equipped with numerous sensors that send signals such as the vehicle’s speed, the position of the shocks, the position of the steering wheel, the speed variation, the compression or reducer speed of the shocks, etc. This information is then processed by a computer that adjusts the compression and rebound of each shock absorber. All this is done in real time.
So, if you enter a turn aggressively, the outer shocks will become stiffer while the inner shocks will become softer. This will prevent the front of the vehicle from diving outward. The ride will remain properly balanced, maximizing the contact of all four tires with the ground.
Under powerful acceleration, the rear of a vehicle with conventional suspension will try to crush itself. With an active (or semi-active) suspension, the rear shock absorbers will stiffen while those at the front will soften in real time. The contact of the four wheels will then be optimal, minimizing the loss of power and the acceleration thrusts will then be at their maximum.
My test review
I had the chance to test the Dynamix suspension a few months ago and I can say that it is a game changer. No matter what the turn, no matter what the cracks, no matter what rocks are in the way of the vehicle, the suspension absorbs these irregularities. In addition, the Dynamix suspension allows the vehicle to stay level and all four wheels to remain in good contact with the ground.
This means that you don’t feel the vehicle shift to the outside of the curve. This makes driving less of an effort and more comfortable for both driver and passenger. At the end of a long day on the trails, the level of fatigue is lower.
During acceleration, the vehicle remains well “hooked”, which maximizes the speed gain. In 4×4 mode, the four tires do the work by transferring the engine’s power to the ground.
At the time of writing, I have not yet had the chance to test drive the Can-Am Smart Shox. In any case, since it’s only available on 72-inch Maverick X3s, testing it on a federated trail is out of the question.
Democratizing this technology
As I explained at the beginning of this article, you need a good budget to be able to afford a VCC equipped with an active (or semi-active) suspension. You have to be ready to spend +/- $35,000 +tx at least. So it’s not for everyone.
However, I hope the manufacturers will make this technology available on more models. I think a Maverick Sport X XC with Smart Shox suspension would be a great package. Who knows what Polaris and Can-Am will come up with in the next few years? It doesn’t cost much to hope!
In summary, active (or semi-active) suspensions are interesting but not necessarily an option for the average ATV rider. This is more for riders who like to push the limits. As I often say, for riding on federated quad trails, this type of suspension is “overkill”. It’s like using a 15 pound sledgehammer to drive finish nails!
I would like to thank the Maltais Performances dealer in Paspébiac for allowing me to test the 2020 RZR Pro XP Ultimate and the Dynamix suspension.
Have a great season!